I wanted to share my story, my thoughts and express what we’re doing as a company in light of the death of George Floyd and the many others who have unjustly died due to racial prejudice.
You may not be familiar with my story. I was born into a really unique family. My parents were mission-driven, dedicating their lives to adopting children, and then passed away at a relatively young age.
I was raised in Texas with this large multi-cultural family. My mother once immediately cut off an extended family member for referring to two of my siblings with an uneducated racial slur. Another time she called a family meeting to explain to us why we would no longer see a close family friend because she had asked my mother, “Aren’t you afraid that people will look at you wrong for having a black child with you at the grocery store?” Racism was not tolerated, and those people that displayed any sort of institutional racism were intentionally scrubbed from our lives and would never be part of our safe, sheltered life.
I have shared the origin story of Kangarootime, and how in 2001 I took custody of my nine-year-old brother. I am a white male, born in America. Basically a lottery ticket holder. My brother and then adopted son, Chase, is black.
I was young when I became Chase’s guardian. The interesting and cutsie “Diff’rent Strokes” version of learning about his pop culture, his definition of self and his reality was an adventure. The time when he asked me if he could get braids and how humiliated he was when I called every hair salon in town bargain hunting and asking for help. But there were some definite signs that his growth into manhood was going to be very different, and while similar to mine, not equal. In 2007 I got a very disturbing call from the local police department asking me to come to the station. It was a Friday night and Chase had been over at a friends house. A basketball game had turned to boredom which then turned to mischief. The police were called when a skinny 6-foot-3 black male ran away from a backyard basketball game knocking over a few bins which ignited a full-on police pursuit. Chase was apprehended and pulled into the police station.
My wife, Jessica, drove me to the station and I was relatively calm until we got to the station. Upon arrival at the police station, I was mildly annoyed at him, but once I saw him, I was immediately sick. He was by himself and the two white friends he was hanging out with had not even been talked to by the police, and thus had not been arrested. The officer began to explain the situation, “He ran away from me and I could not see his hands, and I nearly pulled my gun on him….” I started sobbing uncontrollably because it hit me that this police officer did not see the beautiful, sweet, gapped toothed kid that loved basketball and Pokémon cards. He saw a criminal. The archetype of danger. He saw a 6-foot-3 black male with braids. He saw a teenager that was the same as the others but not equal.
That night was tough. As a white male who has never been excluded from or unwelcome to anything in life, I struggled with having that conversation that many black families have with their children about how to interact with the police. I remember not having the depth or the capacity to counsel him about how it was unfair, but that his skin and his DNA had qualified him for an unequal framework, and a large set of assumptions that he needed to be hyper aware of. It was heartbreaking and the end of an oblivious part of my life.
I am now a CEO at a company that is loved by our employees and customers. We speak (ok ad nauseum—we obsess) about our culture being one of kindness, integrity, resilience, relentlessness and thoughtfulness,and here we are a few days after George Floyd’s death, reflecting on the protests and movement across the country. I am also the son-in-law and brother of two of the best police officers to ever wear the badge.
My perspective about being inclusive and being an agent for institutional change has never been more clear. At Kangarootime, we’re discussing race and the movement that is happening across our country with our team by creating an open forum for everyone to talk about the important issues of race in the workplace. We’re going to open up the conversation and talk about how we can become a part of this movement not only at Kangarootime, but in our community as well. We are committed to creating an accepting and inclusive workplace for our employees where intolerance and racism are not welcome. We’ll also discuss this in our KT Childcare Connect Facebook group and share resources as they relate to our industry.
As a white man, born in America, I was given a lottery ticket, and people of color were not. Neither were women. That unfair lottery ticket of privilege and advantage could have never been more obvious and punctuated by the unjust treatment of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Corey Jones, Oscar Grant, Botham Jean, Sandra Bland and the many others. At this moment, I want to extend my sorrow to the systemically underprivileged and empower the educators we serve to continue vigilance for diversity, and zero tolerance for prejudice and inequality. Black Lives Matter and we owe it to our children to provide a future that will be equal.