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This Black Family Is Having A Frank Conversation About Race And Police

Stella M. Chávez
The Rodgers family from left: Nia, Kenya and Zion. Back: Derrick.

Over the next five days, in a series called "The First Week," we’ll listen in on the conversations students, parents, educators and police officers are having after a summer of racial turmoil in the U.S. and police shootings in Dallas. First, we look at race through the perspective of a black family in Arlington.

The KERA Radio story: The Talk Part 2

For Zion and Nia Rodgers, the subject of race is not something they usually talk about. They’re siblings and students at Martin High School in Arlington.

“I’m friends with, like, a lot of people of different races, so, like, I don’t really think about race too much,” says Nia, 17.

Nia is starting her senior year at Martin; Zion is a freshman.

Recent incidents nationwide involving police officers and black men and women, however, have given them some pause. Zion says the violence is unfair and thinks people who were shot by police should haven’t been.

“They’re just trying to explain themselves and a police [officer] thinks they’re doing something wrong,” Zion says. “Not all the time, but sometimes because they’re black that [the officer] thinks something bad is about to happen.”

For their parents, Kenya and Derrick Rodgers, recent events are a big concern. Kenya Rodgers says it's hard not to be worried.

“I think about Zion and think, ‘Oh my goodness,’” she says. “We really need to make sure that we talk to him about how you’re supposed to react around authority figures, but more specifically police, and how it’s different for him as a black child than it would be for some of his friends and how he has to be careful.”

She’s also concerned about her daughter. Like last year, when a white McKinney police officer pushed a black female teenager to the ground, an incident that attracted national headlines.

“I could very much see her being in that situation, out with her friends, after school, after the school year. Kids are kids,” Kenya Rodgers says. “Teenagers don’t think a lot of times. They just sometimes have these attitudes and entitlement perspectives and they aren’t as respectful, I think, as when we were growing up. So I could very much have seen my daughter reacting in a similar way, just not thinking about it.”

The Rogers say their kids don’t think about race like previous generations. Still, like other black parents, they’re having “The Talk” with Nia and Zion. Derrick Rodgers gives his children advice on how to behave around police.

“It’s always if you get stopped, be very respectful,” he says. “Everything is ‘Yes, sir. No, sir. Yes, ma’am. No, ma’am.’ And it’s extra polite and just making sure that, you know, even how you move, no sudden movements – ‘just be very conscious of your speech and how you move.’ ”

Derrick is not just concerned about his own kids. He says he doesn’t even like taking a walk by himself in his own neighborhood. He’s worried about what could happen. He says he’s been worried about that for a long time.

Years ago, his wife wanted to check out a neighborhood under construction.

“She wanted to go walk around that neighborhood and look at the houses and I was like, ‘Nope. I’m not doing that,’ ” he says. “I stay on the main road where I can be seen. I don’t want anyone to say, [if] something happens, ‘I saw a black man there.’ And so right or wrong, that’s just kind of how I am.”

It’s not like that for his wife. Like when it comes to planning a party for their daughter Nia’s upcoming graduation.

“There’s gonna be a lot of people, and he’s like, ‘I don’t know, do we need to talk to the neighbors? There’s gonna be so many cars here,’ ” Kenya Rodgers says. “He’s just concerned that people are going to think there’s something wild going on. And I don’t think about that at all. I’m like, ‘Whatever, this is our neighborhood.’ ”

“And I think there is the idea of making sure I represent African Americans in their best light at all times,” Derrick Rodgers says.

The couple says how they view race is largely shaped by their upbringing. He grew up in a black neighborhood. Hers was middle class and diverse.

Both of their parents lived through the Civil Rights movement. His parents always told him to be aware of his surroundings. And he tells Nia and Zion the same.

Kenya Rodgers recalls the advice her mom gave her.

“You have to be better than your white counterparts. You are a minority. You are a black woman. You have to be smarter. You have to work harder. You have to prove that you can do things. You don’t walk in the door and get the benefit of the doubt that you can do the same things as someone who’s not a black woman,” she says.

It’s advice that still sticks with her. And both parents say that even though their kids may not worry about how they’re treated because of their race, they'll continue to worry about them.

Stella M. Chávez is KERA’s immigration/demographics reporter/blogger. Her journalism roots run deep: She spent a decade and a half in newspapers – including seven years at The Dallas Morning News, where she covered education and won the Livingston Award for National Reporting, which is given annually to the best journalists across the country under age 35.