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Tyrone Howard: Explaining Racial Violence to Children

Tyrone Howard

As founding director of the Black Male Institute at UCLA, Tyrone Howard has examined the complex issues of education for young males of color and led his undergraduate researchers in projects that seek to improve the trajectories for these youth. However, as a father of four, the professor of education has had to teach his children to face some hard truths about race relations.

A recent Los Angeles Times article focused on the ways that parents explain to their children the racial dynamics behind events such as the violent deaths of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and five police officers in Dallas. In it, Professor Howard shares how he spoke to his children about race when they were very young, and taught them to be proud to be Black. He also let them know that they would be held to a higher standard than their non-Black peers and about societal fear and institutionalized violence against Black people.

“The conversation is continually reinforcing the strengths, gifts, and accomplishments that each one of them possesses,” says Howard. “It is an ongoing conversation, that despite the negative stereotypes that exist about various groups, they are not defined by those depictions. I think that this is an approach many parents of color use to combat the societal stereotypes that are not always positive.”

In the article, Howard says that he contacts his three sons – who are now between the ages of 17 and 24 – whenever there is a police shooting and reminds them to comply if approached by officers, although his oldest son reminds him that even Black men who respond peacefully to police are still treated with brutality or are killed. He describes the challenge that parents of young men of color have in protecting their children with caution.

“Many parents of color, and parents of young Black males in particular, can share stories of their children being profiled, stopped, or questioned by law enforcement and in schools,” notes Howard. “There is always a difference across racial boundaries, in terms or how they are treated in schools and in communities. It is frightening, because you cannot always be present with them, so you just reinforce what you have always told them about such situations.”.

Professor Howard is currently analyzing data from a project funded by The California Endowment on counternarratives of high-achieving young males of color in Los Angeles County schools. Howard, who serves as principal investigator, led a team of BMI researchers in identifying and interviewing young men between the ages of 14-18 who live and attend schools in Los Angeles County, and have demonstrated academic achievement, family and community engagement, or leadership skills. The results will be published this fall.

“For me, the issues happening across the country are real, because me, my sons, and other men of color, can easily find ourselves in an uncomfortable position around these issues,” says Howard. “So my work is intimately connected to how young men make meaning out of situations in their schools and communities.”

Last year, Professor Howard was recognized with two UCLA awards – the university-wide Distinguished Teaching Award and the Harvey L. Elby Art of Teaching Award. He has also been honored by the American Educational Research Association (AERA) with the Dr. Carlos J. Vallejo Memorial Award for Lifetime Scholarship (2015).

To read, “Why are people mad at each other?: Explaining another shocking week of violence to your kids” in The Los Angeles Times, click here.