Episode 12: A mom of boys navigates the pandemic and fight for justice

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Courtesy photo. (Photo illustration by Natasha Vicens/PublicSource)

Courtesy photo. (Photo illustration by Natasha Vicens/PublicSource)

Pittsburgh resident Kim Neely was taking the pandemic in stride. It was a relief, to some degree. And it was because her family was home alongside her, and that makes a big difference for the Black mom of two Black boys and wife of a Black man. On this episode, she shares how she's been impacted by the movement against racism and police brutality and the experience of taking her son to his first protest.

JOURDAN HICKS: Kim Neely is raising two young Black boys in Pittsburgh. And she’s not OK.

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CLIP: “I have to be honest right now. I am stressed out, I can't focus, my heart hurts and is breaking. Not because of quarantine, and my kids being home and needing me ALL THE TIME, it is because I am Black, my kids and husband are Black, my family is Black.”
Kim says that she was handling the pandemic pretty well. In fact, she hadn’t minded it at all. She was home with her family and loved it. Almost felt like vacation. But when she started thinking about it more, she realized that one of the reasons why she was OK with it is because everyone she loves is home and safe -- not out in the world, subject to the potential penalty of living while Black.

CLIP: sounds of PGH protest, “I can’t breathe; I can’t breathe…”
Last week, Kim took her oldest son, Jordan, to his first protest. Here’s her story.

[00:01:17] My name's Kimberly Neely. I'm a wife and mother and I live in the Garfield area of the city of Pittsburgh.

[00:01:29] So I have two amazing young boys, a 10-year-old named Jordan and a six-year-old named Kenneth Davy. And they're amazing. They're smart. They're cute. They're funny. They're way too energetic. They're amazing. They're amazing little guys.

[00:01:50] People are like, 'your kids are so cute; they're so this, they're so that.' I'm like, OK, so when do they stop being cute and become a threat? Them walking down the street, when do they become a threat?

[00:02:01] I don't know what age that is. I don't know what that looks like. And it's scary.

[00:02:11] Parents always talk about, you know, when is that age that you really, really have to have the conversation of how to this, how to that? And it's definitely before they start driving. Oh my goodness, before you get keys to anything--how to act and what to do and call me immediately and put me on speaker phone and put your paperwork on top of the car. And you have to be as little of a threat as possible.

[00:02:39] My husband and I try to be as open as possible. We don't want to put ideas in their head. It's a delicate balance because you don't want to tell them and have them look for this. But you want them to say, hey, this felt weird to me.

[00:02:59] I can't be there all the time. My husband can't be there all the time. We can't be there to shield our children and make sure they are not treated that way. I do make sure we are heavily involved in everything that our kids do because I need to make sure more than ever that they are being treated well and people know that there's someone there. It's how do I properly teach my son to be careful of people in general, not just police, but not grow a fear or dislike for? Our first conversations, dipping our toe into having conversations with our boys about police brutality was really with Antwon Rose.

NEWS CLIP: Sources say used the Pittsburgh police officer, Michael Rossfeld, sworn in just hours before, opened fire on an unarmed Antwon Rose as he ran away from a traffic stop.

[00:04:00] We couldn't avoid it. You're in Pittsburgh. You know, we would go on walks in there like, who's that? What's that? You know, you couldn't avoid it.

NEWS CLIP: "All the way through Forest Hills, now through the Parkway. People are here on the front lines. We've seen children, adults, Black, white, there's a guy laying in front of a car right here. There are people right up to fenders of these cars right now making a point. . . "

[00:04:22] We try to keep things age sensitive, but I'm like, do you want to see it? You know, I'm trying to keep you from seeing it. But if you feel like you want to see it, that video of him being shot in the back...

[00:04:34] We had to have that conversation. I don't have the conversation with him about every one. Because they're way too many. It's hard for me to handle. And there's but so much weight I want to put on my now 10-year-old.

[00:04:50] We've had conversations about there are things your friends are going to be able to do and you can't do. We frame that in the way of, you know, you've got different parents than who your friends have. But, you know, we also say there are certain things you are going to get in more trouble for doing something than some of your friends are. I'm always in your corner, but you are going to be judged harsher than others. I think we're a little harder on our kids because of that. I think that's a common practice in Black families that we're harder on our kids because, it's like, if I can be harder on you, if I'm harder on you in love, then maybe I can keep those other people from being harder on you in hate. Because a lot of people don't see our Black and brown children as children.

NEWS CLIP (Tamir Rice's mother): “When you see that video how they sped up so fast, you would think a child would run. My son wasn't running, he was scared. He was scared like, what's going on?”

[00:05:54] I will never get over Tamir Rice.

POLICE RADIO: Shots fired, male down. Um, Black male. Maybe 20?

NEWS CLIP (Tamir Rice's Mother): Two little boys came knock on my door and said the police just shot your son twice in the stomach.

[00:06:12] A 12-year-old on a playground. I don't care if it was a real gun. Alone. He was not a harm to anyone. A police officer pulling up and within seconds shooting him dead.

NEWS CLIP: Word came yesterday that a grand jury in Cleveland will not indict two police officers over the fatal shooting of a 12-year-old African-American boy last year.

[00:06:39] I grew up in a town right outside of Pittsburgh in Mount Lebanon, so it's a predominantly middle to upper-class neighborhood, predominantly white neighborhood.

[00:06:50] There were very few African Americans in our school. Very quickly, I had to learn how to make it work and get along and get through. There were things that definitely affected me and I carry with me. But there are also things of being able to see someone else's point of view, because I'm quite often the only one in the room.

[00:07:19] I remember standing in line. I was in kindergarten and coming home from school and telling my mom that some kid was calling me chocolate milk. And her just being furious. And I didn't know why; I didn't understand why; I didn't know. But I remember her being furious.

[00:07:46] I've really taken a moment to let people know I'm not OK.

[00:07:52] I've said some things at work. I said something to my boss and I sent her a message and I was like, I'm not 100 percent. She's like, what's wrong? And I just, here it is. And she called me. And I was, oh, man, I don't want to do this, you know, I was like, I need to keep my job. And, you know, we had a good conversation. And I did get to say, here's how I'm feeling. I'm hurt. I'm crushed. I'm tired.

[00:08:20] And she said, OK. If you need a moment, you need to take a day, whatever you need. You've got it. Do what you need.

[00:08:28] After that, I posted an article, "White People Your Black Colleagues are not OK." It was an article and I sent it to my boss. And I also sent it to my boss's boss, which is huge for me because I really try to keep as much work stuff because I don't want to give anybody a reason to fire me. But they were very supportive. And my boss's boss was like, can I share this? He's like, I hear you. And can I share it with other people? Can I share it with upper-level leadership? I said, please do. You know, I really just want people to understand the fear we deal with every single day. Every time my kid walks out this door, every time my husband walks out this door, every time I walk out this door. You never know.

[00:09:16] I've had multiple people on occasions like, 'how do I get Black friends?' And it sounds crazy, but it's true. People are like, I don't know how. Like, I want to, like, I hear what you're saying. I need to diversify. How? When you go to school, you naturally can make friends. As adults, how do you make friends with people? And then how do you make friends with people who are not where you are? It's one of those step out of yourself. Learn to be the only one in the room and learn to be uncomfortable. That's why I'm always willing to talk to people because it is hard. As an adult how do you find a diverse friends group as segregated as we are? Especially as a city. And it is set up that way. It is very intentional that we are segregated. It's not easy. And I know that. But you gotta keep trying. You've got to keep pushing. You've got to keep doing it because it's worth it. And we all would be better that way.

CLIP FROM PROTEST: "And we have to stand together in solidarity, united under a message of love. If we don't stand together, we will fall apart."

[00:10:32] When I found out about the protests on Monday, I said, I want Jordan to go. You know, last year with Antwon Rose protest, he wanted to go, but it was at night. And I was like, no, you know, protests can go left very quickly. I'm not a big crowd person anyway, so I was like a daytime peaceful protest - let's do this.

CLIP OF PROTEST CHANTING: "I can't breathe, I can't breathe...".

[00:10:56] My husband made signs for us. He wanted his to say Black Lives Matter. This was our first act together and his first act of civil disobedience. It was great. I think part of it was also our ability to semi-break quarantine with his best friend, Elliot and Elliot's mom, my best friend Annie. So it was really cool to be able to spend that time with them and to be doing something together that was so important.

[00:11:33] I think this feels different because you cannot look at this and look at this man on the ground, handcuffed, not fighting and say this is OK. Like, I refuse to watch a video. I refuse. I can't do it. Like, my heart can't take it. But for the people who watched it, who look at this man, you can not find a way to make him not human in that moment.

[00:12:04] The video that people were watching and him crying out for his mom, people couldn't hide from it because you can't get out and go do something else. You're sitting in your house. You've got to see it. You have to see it. But I think all of these things in such a short time and that people are seeing it and people are like, 'this is unbelievable.'

[00:12:26] And it's like, yes, this is our every day.

[00:12:29] You know, I've had conversations where people like, Kim are you okay? And I have to tell them and I have to start being honest: This is my every day that I live with. So people like, oh, you know, Black women are angry, Black men are angry. Please understand the weight that we carry every day. It's heavy. It's very heavy.

[00:13:00] After the protests, I believe, the next day, my best friend Annie, she had asked her son some questions and he wrote his feelings about the protest. She had four questions like, what do you think? I was like, oh, my God, that's an awesome idea. And so I presented those same four questions to my son and I said, you know, go take your Chromebook and go ad tell me what you think. You know, this isn't a test, it's not a quiz. Just put out there how you feel.

[00:13:30] And I really thought it was a great idea because I never do that. I'm like, okay, that was an experience. We might talk about it. But to have them actually sit down and put his words to paper, I think it was probably really helpful. And it's something that we'll have forever and be able to he'll be able to look at look back on that and remember what he did do and how he felt.

JORDAN NEELY: Hi, my name is Jordan. I am 10 years old and I go to PPS Liberty and I am an African-American man that lives in Garfield.

[00:14:04] I am going to tell you about my first protest. Why did we go? Because George Floyd got assassinated and ended up dying because of the racist police. And the store person thought his 20 dollar bill was fake. What was it like? It was good because I got to yell Black Lives Matter and I got to take a very, very long walk, 2 hours to be exact. The best part was being outdoors with my friend Elliot. It was fun and tiring, very tiring. How did it make you feel? It made me feel mad because police would not stop stalking us and we were walking past Target. And on the rood were police just sitting there watching us. And there were two police helicopters in the air circling us everywhere we went. And after, when I went home, I was watching the news to see if I was on it and I saw something bad happen to the remaining protesters. So I felt mad. What did we do while we were there? We got to protest and yell and have a lot of fun.

ELLIOTT QUINN: Hello, my name is Elliott. I am nine. I live in Greenfield and go to PPS Montessori. I am white. My best friend is Jordan. This is my essay. Yesterday I went to my first protest. We went because George Floyd got strangled to death by a racist cop. That's why we went there, in support of African-Americans. I met my friend and we both made signs. Mine said, My Friend's Black Life Matters. His said, Black Lives Matter. Kim's one said, Good Cops Help Us. Help Us Get Rid of the Bad Cops. We walked holding signs together. It was fun and tiring. We sat and blocked Penn Avenue and some other roads, too. It made me feel sad and curious. I had many questions. Cops shouldn't murder somebody just because they have a different skin color. We did lots of things. We did lots of chants. Sometimes they let somebody lead a special chant sitting and blocking a road. I learned so much. Police were blocking the end of the protest so no cars could hit us while we were protesting. Jordan's principal was there, but Jordan didn't see them. Sadly, at the end of the peaceful protest, some people continued marching and things got violent. That made me sad. Our protest was peaceful. As you can see, I went to my first protest. It changed me a lot.

This podcast was produced by Andy Kubis and edited by Mila Sanina and Halle Stockton. If you have a story you'd like to share, get in touch with us. You can text a voice memo to 412-432-9669. Or email it to jourdan@publicsource.org.

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