A psychology teacher at Toledo Central Catholic High School, Kristi McKinley-David has led the study of child psychology. As a mother of four, and step-mother of four more, she has a lot of experience beyond “book knowledge.” When her sons became bullying victims, she did more than just talk, calling attention to the situation, insisting that local officials in her sons’ school do something about what she perceives as a widespread problem.
A good start
McKinley-David adopted her twin sons as infants. They are biracial, and she prepared for them to join her family by participating in classes and training offered through the foster/adoption system in Cleveland/Cuyahoga County. That training was helpful to her when her sons encountered bullying in school.
The family moved to Sylvania schools when McKinley-David learned that the system provided help for dyslexia and ADHD. Children in the neighborhood and at school were using the “N” word toward her children, on one occasion telling her sons that “all black men are disabled/LD because they cannot talk,” and, another time, choosing one son for a basketball game with the statement, “I have my nigga.”
She kept in constant contact with school administrators, asking repeatedly for the school system to invite an African-American speaker to address the students about the value of diversity. She contacted the police when her two boys, playing at the park at Highland Elementary School, were approached by older boys who called them the “N” word, then pulled a knife. She recalls that incident and her feeling that the police taking the report seemed more concerned about the bad press than about her sons. But, when one of her boys was injured, she took her case to the media.
Taking it public
In November, 2015, one of her then 7th -grade sons joined the wrestling team. During his first week, wrestling in the 120-lb class, her son was asked to wrestle a veteran 200+lb 8th grader, identified later by several parents as a “bully.” Her son, whose arm was broken during that match, claimed the injury was done purposefully. McKinley-David insisted on seeing a video of the match. Citing privacy concerns, initially she was not shown the video, but, after several weeks, when local print and TV media were informed of the incident, the video was released and she was able to view it. She received varying explanations of the incident from the coach, but the police determined that the actions of the older boy appeared as legitimate wrestling moves, no criminal charges were filed.
That didn’t stop her. Her son, unable to wrestle, or participate in sports, for four months, wore a weighted cast to pull his bones back into place. McKinley-David continued to work with school administrators and a Diversity Coordinator, with hopes that he will assist students ”to see different perspectives and just get along.” She reports that the administration has gotten to know her and her husband due to these incidents adding, “They are really listening to us and have been very proactive as advocates for our boys.”
We can’t let this go
McKinley-David insists, “We need to speak up when we see someone being mistreated, whether with words or actions. We need to protect children first and quit protecting adults when it comes to educating with respect to diversity.” Too many parents believe that avoiding exposure to people of different ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds will keep children safe.
“That attitude does a disservice to the children who need to learn the ability to see other points of view and to develop empathy to live in the real world. Parents who choose to demonstrate ‘hate,’ with subtle or blunt racial comments, and teach that thinking to their children, probably want safe schools and communities for their kids. They should remember that all parents—whatever ethnicity—want the same thing for their children.”
“This year has been hard on our family,” she concluded. “My boys have had to go to counseling, but my children are able to forgive and will be wonderful advocates for others who are in need.”