In Focus: A trial and Minnesota’s search for equity and healing

Supporting Black friends and family during the Chauvin trial

This In Focus conversation is a collaboration with Twin Cities Diversity in Practice, a nonprofit association of more than 60 law firms and corporate legal departments who share a vision to create a vibrant and inclusive legal community. Watch a recording of the Zoom broadcast on the video player below or use the audio player to listen to edited radio rebroadcast.


The murder trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin has included a lot of intense imagery of the killing of George Floyd. The court proceedings are being heavily covered by the media and are being streamed live.

Floyd’s killing was traumatizing for many people, but especially Black people and other people of color. Now the world is watching it all over again.

As part of our ongoing In Focus series, MPR News, in partnership with Twin Cities Diversity in Practice, convened a panel discussion about how BIPOC and white Minnesotans are navigating conversations and how we’re experiencing the Chauvin trial. Panelists also took audience questions and shared advice and resources that can help us move forward as neighbors.

Guests:

Watching the trial can be a ‘retrauma’ for many

Panelist Jesse Ross, executive director of nonprofit Still Kickin, said the testimony of the eyewitnesses, especially the children who saw Floyd die, has affected him deeply.

“Being able to know that young people … had to see that, and they’ve had to live with that” weighs heavily on him, he said. He took the week off work so he could take care of his mental health and be with his family.

Panelist Jamil Stamschror-Lott, CEO and co-founder of Creative Kuponya, piggybacked on the idea of self-care.

“I've known for a long time that it causes harm to witness so much devastation, especially when it relates to your social identity,” he said. “Therefore I'm in a level of disassociation where I'm removing myself from so much media. And it's funny, in doing so, I still get all the details. There's not a day that I don't get it from other folks … so I don't need to be in it.”

In order to offer support to Black people, allies should be open to learning

An audience asked: “As a white woman I've felt re-traumatized this week as well. So I simply cannot imagine how my Black family members, friends, neighbors and community members feel. What is the best way to offer support during this time?”

Before offering support, recognize your own privilege and educate yourself on microaggressions people of color commonly experience.

“You can’t offer support if you’re not grounded in knowing who you are,” Ross said. “Understanding your own privilege and understanding your resources, understanding where you are” in the bigger picture of our society.

White people should be thinking about racism and its impacts regularly, not just when a traumatic event occurs, Stamschror-Lott said.

“You now are only reacting when someone got shot,” he said. “But we have been trying to communicate to you in many different ways” about racist systems in place in the U.S.

Making real connections can expand your empathy and understanding

It’s great to read about anti-racism, or to watch documentaries about it. But it’s even better to build real relationships with people of different races, the panelists said.

Human connections are the best way to support others and understand what they’re going through.

“In Minnesota, we have a lot of nice people,” said panelist Salma Hussein, an assistant principal at Central High School in St. Paul. “However, the nice people don't find the time to be in relationships with people that look like us … I have to ask people, ‘I see that you're reading “How to Be an Antiracist.” That's awesome. Tell me who are you inviting to your table. Who are you choosing to have coffee with on a Saturday morning and just being able to be honest and open?’”

When you ask someone how they’re doing, really mean it.

“I’m always going to bring it back to building relationships with the people that are around you,” Ross said. “It could be just asking that question — the genuine question after the first one. Like, ‘No, how are you doing, really?’ A question that I ask people often. too, not just, ‘How are you doing?’ but ‘How's your soul?’ This is the work that should be done in alignment with your values.”


Stamschror-Lott answered a couple more audience questions following the live conversation. The answers have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

What are ways people in positions of privilege can be intentional in their interactions with others?

As a male, I try to not talk as much in meetings. In other related circumstances, I try to facilitate the conversation in such a way that female or nonbinary voices are amplified.

How might proactive counseling make a difference in the lives of students of color? What steps are needed to actualize that experience for all students?

Proactive counseling for students of color puts students in a position of offense as opposed to playing defense all the time. Dealing with racial impostor syndrome, stereotype threat, racial battle fatigue and so on — combined now with COVID-19 — has grave impacts on the student’s health, sense of worth and ability to be positively productive in school.

Proactive counseling would equip students of color with tools necessary to solve a problem as opposed to seeking therapy because the problem has now consumed them.

We need an investment. We need to make discussions around mental health the norm and point out the stark data that informs us of how our students are undergoing great mental health ills currently. Self-harm and suicide rates are higher than ever before.

Do you have recommendations for culturally appropriate mental health services accessible to our Twin Cities students?

Help keep the conversation going. What thoughts or experiences do you want to share about Minnesota’s progress toward racial equity? Join the MPR News In Focus group to ask a question about the event or share your experience. Check out the MPR News In Focus project page for different ways to share your experience, and to watch our previous conversations:  

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