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Fredricka Whitfield: What keeps me up at night

I’ve tossed and turned more in the past year than ever before. I’ve cried more, too.

On Friday morning, I woke up before my alarm, which I set at 5:45 a.m. to tackle breakfast and snack-making before getting my three kids and husband out of bed and off to the races.

The routine is both a grind and a gift.

This morning, however, it was worry and fear that jarred me out of my slumber.

I woke up thinking about the tears of the mothers who were starting a new day without their children: Daunte Wright, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Adam Toledo, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin and Jordan Russell Davis, to name a few.

Tears streamed down my face thinking about all of them, taken too soon over the years.

Also replaying in my mind: the images on live TV on Thursday.

Just then, my husband happened to reach over with a warm embrace.

Still in the dark, my tears dripped quietly.

I caught them before they could splash onto his arm.

I wasn’t ready to verbalize what was bursting out of me.

There was too much sadness … from just too much.

I thought about the inconsolable pain of Daunte Wright’s parents Aubrey and Katie Wright, in the most horrible position: burying their child on Thursday in the glare of an unimaginable spotlight after body cam video captured the inexplicable shooting death of their beautiful, promising young son.

As a journalist, I’m supposed to maintain emotional distance between the duties of my reporting and the news being reported.

Yes, I can feel.

But not too much.

And certainly not too much, out loud.

But it’s been quite a year.

The pandemic.

The deadly pandemic.

Trying to protect my family members and others from the virus.

Remote learning for the kids.

No more road trips or plane rides to visit family, including my octogenarian mom, my kids’ only living grandparent. And on my husband’s side, our kids’ 93-year-old great aunt.

Then roughly three months into Covid-19, a video that showed a Black man named George Floyd being killed in broad daylight.

That moment and the collective hurt that followed led me to walk away from the TV, sit on the stairs leading to my 16-year-old son’s bedroom as he slept, with my face in my hands.

I cried for George Floyd and too many others who have been senselessly killed.

My tears flowed for Floyd, and for Black boys and men across the country, including my family members — all while praying for their protection against evil, ignorance and hate in all forms.

Others taken too soon:

Twenty-five-year-old Ahmaud Arbery was jogging in Brunswick, Georgia, when he was chased down and shot dead.

Twenty-six-year-old Breonna Taylor, was not just somewhere in Louisville, Kentucky. She was not pulled over in her car while driving, but in her own apartment. Shot dead.

Even more recently, 20-year-old Daunte Wright shot dead after what started as a traffic stop.

This culmination is too much.

In my on-air discussion days before the jury found former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin guilty of murdering George Floyd, legal analyst Areva Martin reapplied the famous exasperation of activist Fannie Lou Hamer when she said people watching that trial were “sick and tired… of being sick and tired.”

I’m sick and tired, too.

I’m sick with worry.

I’m tired because I can’t sleep, worrying about my two sons and daughter — and other sons and daughters like mine.

This comes at a time when I’m supposed to be over the moon about the milestones ahead for my 16-year-old son, who is nearing the end of his sophomore year in high school, starting his first job in a few weeks and looking forward to trading in his driver’s permit for a permanent driver’s license in a few months.

I am hugely proud of my son John.

His kindness.

His intelligence.

His growth.

His ambition to find a college or university in the next year-and-a-half that will be a perfect fit for him.

His more immediate aspiration is to rip 90-mph pitches.

Yes, my husband and I are thrilled and excited about all of his hopes and dreams.

This is where more tears come.

I wish, like any parent, that our love for him would be enough to shield him against the unthinkable.

I don’t even want to go there. But among the worries keeping me up at night is the idea that my teenage son will walk or drive through the neighborhood he’s known since birth, and someone who doesn’t recognize him or value his athletic, 5-foot-10-inch frame wearing grown out, natural curls, will bring harm.

I pray.

I pray for all of our children.

This is a burden passed on from generation to generation.

My mother is 88 and she still worries about her 60-year-old son — just as she did when he was a teen. I carry the same weight — not just for my brother, but for my nephew, my husband, my sons and my daughter.

I’m reflecting on advice given to me when my now teenage son was just 5 or 6.

My husband and I were at a lovely dinner at a friend’s home, where the Rev. Andy Young was among the guests. I was telling the former Atlanta mayor and UN ambassador about how upset I was that racism, discrimination and oppression were being discussed in my son’s kindergarten.

That classroom conversation sprang from a talk on the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and his letter written from jail, responding to White clergymen after they criticized his non-violent protests “I am in Birmingham because injustice is here,” King wrote. Other lines of the letter read: “We were the victims of a broken promise” and “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

This was too complex a topic, I thought, for my son’s age group.

What sensitivity came from providing the context or any breakdown of the circumstances from which King was speaking?

I shared with Young that I was irked and would have preferred this kind of enlightenment when my son was older.

Young listened intently as I shared my thoughts.

He started shaking his head from side to side.

I said, “No? I’m wrong?”

Young said something like, “You have that talk early,” and added, “He needs to hear it from you, parents first. You can’t save it for later.”

Racism, and the disparities and injustices produced from it, sadly continue to be America’s living nightmare, painfully being felt at any age.

Young and King’s words still ring clearly.

It is urgent.

To talk.

To educate.

To unite and help each other break this horrible cycle so that we might stop this sadness and find rest in harmony.

So that we may all reach our promise.

Article Topic Follows: US & World

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