“It’s not your kid today, but it could be tomorrow.”
This message encouraging empathy is at the heart of the mission of It Could Be Your Kid, the non-profit organization founded by Stephanie D. Pearson-Davis to solve the problem of bullying. Future plans of the group also include tackling homelessness, drug addiction, domestic violence and so many more problems found in our society.
Following the May 25 murder of George Floyd, Pearson-Davis became hyper-focused on combating racism across the globe and locally in the Chicago suburb of Frankfort, where she has lived since 2011.
“When George Floyd was murdered, I was like a zombie. I was having a hard time processing it. I had never felt this before. I had been very upset and traumatized by Black people being killed previously, but somehow this felt very, very different for me. It might be because of the manner in which it was done. It wasn’t someone being shot, it was the gross cruelty of it that triggered something in me and actually left me incapacitated emotionally and mentally for a couple of days. I couldn’t do anything. I was stuck,” explained Pearson-Davis by phone in June.
Pearson-Davis quickly got unstuck and recruited her “dear friend and ally,” Southwest Suburban Activists’ Emily Biegel, to join her in organizing a car caravan protest in downtown Frankfort on May 31. She surprised herself by speaking at the event, sharing truth and emotion—and the community responded with positivity.
As with many things, Pearson-Davis soon found added inspiration from her four children. Her 18-year-old son explained that his friends wished they had known about the protest – which came together very quickly without a lot of publicity – and she answered the call by wielding It Could Be Your Kid’s platform to help local students organize a youth rally against racism.
Again, things happened fast. On June 6, hundreds gathered at Breidert Green in Frankfort to hear junior high, high school and college students share their personal experiences with racism – everything from a coach brushing off racial slurs as a case of “boys will be boys” to a neighbor calling the police on a 10-year-old who was starting a window well cleaning business – while calling on the community to make important changes.
“For me, one of the most beautiful parts of the rally was watching this very shy young man speak, finding a piece of himself that he did not know was there. I’m so grateful for that, and I’m grateful for these youth who were all incredibly brave,” said Pearson-Davis. “I imagine this will not be the last time that any of them get up, share their voices and stand in their power in this way.”
It Could Be Your Kid prioritizes awareness and knowledge as important first steps to institute change, and the Youth Rally Against Racism placed a spotlight on the racial divide. Invited by Pearson-Davis, Mayor Jim Holland and Police Chief John Burica were among the members of the crowd witnessing the bravery and passion of the speakers as they detailed their experiences with racism in Frankfort. From supporters and allies, to curious neighbors, to those who happened to be brunching within earshot of the event, at the end of the rally no one could deny the very real hurt the young speakers shared. Change seems inevitable.
Pearson-Davis founded It Could Be Your Kid after her 11-year-old was victimized by bullying at school. She used her experience as a mother and an educator – she is a former Chicago Public Schools teacher with a Master’s in Education – to develop concrete steps to raise awareness about bullying, to combat toxic thinking and to offer resources to institute positive change.
“So much of what’s happening now in terms of racism and bullying is a lack of knowledge, a lack of awareness. So much of what we expect is just tradition steeped in trauma and toxicity. People really don’t know that you can decide to not accept this. You can say, ‘I am rejecting this and this is not the way that you will treat me,’” said Pearson-Davis. “Our anti-bullying work has given children the tools to stand in their power and tell people that bullying is not OK. What you did is not OK. We need to teach children about this and how to address racism. Sometimes white children know when something doesn’t sound right. They don’t like how their friend or their classmate feels, but they don’t really know how they’re supposed to address the problem. We help them with that. Our most immediate work is to educate people.”
The manner in which It Could Be Your Kid holds up a mirror to the community, encouraging people to reflect on their own biases, microaggressions, lack of action or apathy, demands attention. The group capitalizes on this captivated audience to share resources for schools, businesses and other community organizations to use to eradicate bullying and racism. Parent and educator workshops, child-centered activities, and community outreach are cornerstones of the organization’s mission, and new programs are always being developed.
This summer, It Could Be Your Kid is joining forces with Purple Path, the restorative justice organization founded by author and advocate Dr. Shaniqua Jones, to host a book series for adults curated to unpack race in America. Pearson-Davis is also running a variety of anti-racism book clubs for students in grade school and junior high.
Big change often happens slowly, and Pearson-Davis is starting to see those small but important shifts in the community.
“People are ready to have conversations,” she said with a sigh that can only come from someone who has poured her soul into the fight for a better world. “They’re ready to sit at the table in a way that perhaps they haven’t been before. In some instances, I’m still weary of people who sit at the table now because I’ve sat with some of these people at the table before and they’ve said one thing and done nothing. This feels different, though, because there’s more leverage. I don’t mean that in an egotistical sense, but there’s a different level of accountability now because the entire world is watching and the entire world has been activated.”
Nobody is perfect and mistakes happen, but Pearson-Davis finds inspiration in continued learning and having conversations. She hopes everyone, especially adults, will take time to encourage each other, advocate for change and reach for their dreams, no matter how big or small.
“We need to hear from one another. We need to express our love and the value we see by telling each other you can. You can. You still can,” she said recalling how a friend encouraged her to dive into the unknown and develop her organization’s website. “I am so transparent. I do not know what I am doing. I just keep doing it. I want other people – women, children, Black people, minorities, marginalized underrepresented people – to know that you don’t have to know what you’re doing. You just have to do it. It doesn’t need to be perfect. It just needs to be done.”
More information about supporting It Could Be Your Kid or scheduling a workshop can be found at Itcouldbeyourkid.org.
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