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Black Fathers Discuss Having 'The Police Talk' With Their Children

Courtesy of The Ethics Project

Nine African-American fathers, each from different backgrounds, spoke Tuesday about their experiences with police harassment, their fears for their children and their hopes for a stronger community.

The Father-2-Father panel at Greater St. Mark Family Church in Dellwood included educators, businessmen, clergy leaders and law enforcement officials.

Ferguson resident and panelist Charles Henson, said he attended because a father to father, man to man conversation is needed.

“I think we have some opportunity and some responsibilities that we have not done well at," he said. “I think our communities need us and I think a wholesome conversations among people of color about this is certainly important.”

Many panelist shared stories about conversations with their fathers and their children about interacting with police.

Very personal experiences

Alfred Long Sr. of Jacob’s Ladder Ministries told the audience about growing up in Chicago as neighborhoods began to desegregate. As a child, he rode a bike through an affluent white neighborhood nearby, where he had recently moved.

“Grown folks came out of their house and screamed, 'Get out of here, niggers!' And I can still visualize that hate,” he said. “And then there were cars that made sure we got out. I didn't know how to internalize that and I was like, 'What's wrong with me? Why can't I go to these certain places?' So, I grew up angry.”

His father told him to control that anger near authority, including police. Later, he passed that advice along to his own son.

While many panelist shared stories of altering their behavior to avoid harassment, some argued that blacks should not have to act differently to be treated fairly by law enforcement.

Mixed feelings about having 'the talk'

Hearing a variety of viewpoints is something Mark Albrecht was thankful for. Albrecht, one of several white fathers in the audience, said he felt like he had to come.

“I know how important it is to listen to stories of others and honor their stories," he said.

Albrecht grew up in St. Louis County, where he said he was in denial about his white privilege. As he started to build relationships with diverse communities, he grew to understand privilege and became an ally for minority communities.    

Now, Albrecht is the father to a 10-year-old black boy. Albrecht said he dreaded talking with his son about race.

“Pastor Traci Blackmon and I were in a leadership program a couple years ago together and we were on our first retreat,” he said. “I remember sitting down on the couch with Traci and telling her how scared I was to have that conversation with my black son.”

It’s a conversation he finally had a few weeks after Michael Brown’s death.  

"I sat him down at the table after school and asked if he had questions. And I listened and then I felt the need to explain to him that I don't want him to think that all police officers are bad, but police officers represent the larger population,” said Albrecht. “They are people, too, and they are capable of making mistakes as well and that I don’t want him to hate police officers, but I do feel that he needs to be on alert because of the color of his skin.”

Albrecht said he hopes that last night's conversation continues and that the community can work toward solutions, so that future fathers won’t have to have the same conversation he had with his son.