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Black fathers talk about their children, their fear and ‘The Talk’

Darryl Lewis Sr.’s father had been a Marine drill sergeant and started giving him advice about police when he was 5.

He was strict: “You keep your mouth shut. You keep your hands on your lap, and if they ask you any questions, it’s always ‘Yes sir, no sir; yes ma’am, no ma’am.’”

“I was a rebel. I wanted to know why we have be so different than white people,” The Janesville man recalled.

His father replied, “Because the majority of Caucasians still have not learned to accept black people as humans.”

The Gazette for decades has marked Father’s Day with heartwarming stories, but this year is different from other years, just as this year’s focus—black fathers—is different from all those other stories of local fathers.

All fathers share advice. Many offer it as their children begin to drive or when they leave home for the first time and tell how to handle encounters with police.

But African American fathers’ words for their children include some different cautions, and they often say those words when their kids are younger. Some call it “The Talk.”

Lewis, of Janesville, has been a single father since the early months of the life of his son, Darryl Lewis Jr. Like his father, Lewis gave his son The Talk at an early age.

“My son at 11 knows to stick his hands up to the ceiling of the car and keep them there,” Lewis said, because of his worry about encountering a white officer who would shoot if given the opportunity.

“He asked why we are having this talk. He said, ‘My white friends and their parents never have this talk,’” Lewis said.

“I said it’s imperative we have this talk because I want you to remain in the land of the living.”

“My son should be able to bury me one day. I shouldn’t have to be burying him,” Lewis said.

Other fathers interviewed had the same fear:

  • “Not a day goes by when I don’t worry about my two (adult) sons, about what’s going to happen,” said Kevin Leavy, food service director for Aramark Corp. in the Harvard (Illinois) School District, member of the Rock County Board and the Beloit City Council. He texts his son, who lives in Beloit, anytime he hears a siren at night, just to check.

Leavy is the father of two daughters and two sons, all adults.

  • “You don’t want to give anybody (a police officer) an excuse. As an American, you want to say that sucks, but you need to comply today, and you can complain tomorrow. But we need to get to tomorrow,” said Sean Leavy of Beloit, cousin of Kevin, an associate principal at Westosha Central High School, father of a son, 9, and daughter, 11.
  • “At the end of the day, I want them to come home. I do not want to get the call to come to the morgue and identify a body,” said Kenny Yarbrough chief equity, diversity and inclusion officer at UW-Whitewater, father of four sons he adopted when they were teens, all now adults.

All six black fathers interviewed traced the danger to racism that reaches far back into American history. All are too aware of current events and that blacks are far more likely to be killed by police than whites or other groups. Black men between ages 25 and 29 are three to four times more likely to be killed by police than white men of the same age, according to one estimate.

“I don’t think people understand … that a simple traffic stop can lead to a funeral,” Yarbrough said. “It’s rough to have something that trivial to be that triggering, when it shouldn’t be. … When your child calls, especially your son, saying, ‘Dad, they pulled me over. I didn’t do anything,’ it drives your blood pressure up, and it makes you anxious. A lot of time you can’t breathe good, because a lot of times it ends with your child being murdered, and I specifically say murdered,”

Police in the United States overall kill more frequently than in other advanced democracy. Often those shootings can be justified, but black people deeply feel the fear based on many incidents in which black people have died in police hands in questionable circumstances.

Lonnie Brigham of Janesville, who has worked with a citizens committee advising Janesville police on relations with African Americans, is father of two adults and stepfather to one teen.

Brigham grew up in Chicago and was involved in a gang in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

“We knew the street code when it came to police, which was, if you ran, and you got caught, you’re getting a beating,” Brigham said. “And if a police officer rolled up on you and he was over 300 pounds, don’t run because he (is) going to shoot you (because he could never catch them on foot.)”

Brigham was also raised for much of his youth by his uncle, a police officer, who told him to keep his mouth closed, and if it’s night, drive to a well lighted area, and if particularly nervous, drive to the nearest police station, which does not endear you to the officers but could save your life.

Brigham, who has lived in Janesville for more than 20 years, tells his youngest that if he is stopped, call 911 and keep the phone on so there’s a record of what happens and be as polite as possible: “Keep your mouth closed. Don’t argue back.”

It was also important for his son, who is half white, to be told that he still will be considered black, Brigham said.

Beloit native Pasquell Wisdom said most of his children might be mistaken for non-black Latinos. He cautions them that they are responsible for their actions and tells them they are lucky to be in Beloit and not a big city.

“On any given Sunday, a situation can go left when weapons are involved, when officers show up at a traffic stop. Anyone could fall in harm’s way,” Wisdom said.

Wisdom believes many of these tragedies can be traced to poor police work by officers who should have chosen different professions, but he acknowledges racism can play a role, too.

“If they stop you, and you didn’t do anything wrong, and they don’t have anything on you, let them take you down to the station. I’ll come get you out. We’ll fix it. But you can’t fix it right there,” Wisdom tells his kids.

Several other fathers stressed the same point: Don’t argue. Take care of it later.

“Every time a there’s a murder, a shooting, I have to revisit that, because I raised millennials,” Yarbrough said. “They’re more prone to advocate. They’re more prone to fight back. ... They have fire. They have drive. They have passion, and when they see an injustice, they want to argue it immediately.”

The most recent killings have heightened tensions among police, Kevin Leavy said: “I tell my son right now there is a fear out there, there is a danger, and not all police are bad police, but there are likely some police out there that are more anxious than they normally would be with everything going on right now.”

Kevin tells his son, who lives in Racine, to leave Beloit so he can get home before dark. For long trips, he tells his children to travel during the day, and when they must stop for gas, do so along the highway. Don’t go into small towns they don’t know.

“I look for cities where I know they are familiar with African Americans,” Kevin said.

“I don’t care what happens, don’t talk till we get there,” said Sean Leavy. “What kids need to understand is that as a parent you’re their advocate, even when kids feel—and are accurate—that they are being mistreated.”

The danger is not always physical.

Sean Leavy—whose mother was a clerk at the Beloit Police Department and knows, respects and has worked with police officers in schools—told a story about a different kind of harm.

He recalled a family trip to visit relatives in 2014 that included a stop in Memphis, Tennessee, where the National Civil Rights Museum includes the Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968.

During the tour, his daughter, then 4, said: “’Daddy, white people kill black people.’

“And you try to explain things to a kid, but what she saw was white people kill black people,” Leavy said.

The family later stopped in St. Louis to see the Gateway Arch and learn about the Lewis and Clark expedition. They arrived home to the news of the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, a black man killed by a white police officer.

“The hard thing as a parent with children at that age is it robs them of their innocence,” Leavy said. “And you as a parent, you think of their vulnerability, that you are not able protect them, and the world does not see them as you see them.

“You have to make them aware of that.”


Local
top story
Program gives older adults a playbook for healthy aging

When we are young, goals seem straightforward.

Get an education. Find a meaningful career. Nurture lifelong relationships.

As we age, the road ahead might not seem as clear, especially after retirement.

“On the day you retire, it’s like, ‘Gee, I’m done. Now what do I do?’” Barb Hefti said.

The Janesville woman is finding insight and guidance in a new course offered by the Rock County Council on Aging.

“You have to make the best of your life,” Hefti said. “It doesn’t just come to you. You have to amplify your thinking. You have to grow and blossom.”

The free Aging Mastery Program is meant to help people consider what growing older means and to challenge old preconceptions.

Paula Schutt, director of the council on aging, said the self-directed, in-home course encourages people to embrace their gift of longevity by spending more time each day doing things that are good for them and others.

“Life expectancy has increased,” Schutt said. “People who are 50 and 60 today are living such different lives than people did years ago. Some need guidance on what to do with the extra time. The course gives you something to reflect on.”

Finding new purpose

Schutt suggests that people ages 50 and older can benefit from the course’s practical tips for aging well.

Six topics are covered in detail, including how to find purpose as well as health and well-being.

“The (aging mastery) kit is a way to go through the pieces of your life and ask, ‘How can I make my life richer and more valuable?’” Schutt said. “Once you hit 50, it is a good time to start reflecting.”

She suggested that now, when many older people are staying home because of the coronavirus, is a good time to embrace the program.

Schutt first offered the course in Beloit when she worked at the Beloit Senior Center. Before the pandemic, she planned to partner with area libraries and present the course over 10 weeks.

Now that won’t happen until it is safe.

“In the meantime, we have this marvelous kit that will give people a good introduction to the class,” Schutt said.

She is passionate about the program because she knows it improves people’s lives.

Some older people suffer from depression after retiring.

“I would equate retirement to the empty nest syndrome,” Schutt explained. “When you are actively raising kids, you have a purpose. I know as a mother, it hit me hard when the kids were gone. I didn’t feel I had purpose. Retirement is the same thing.”

So many people identify with what they do.

“Once you don’t have the job and those work friends, it can become empty very quickly,” Schutt said. “All of a sudden, there is no purpose. It’s a real change of life, and you need to work your way through it. Everyone needs purpose in every stage of their lives.”

A new chapter

Hefti was eager to learn from the playbook provided with the Aging Mastery Program.

“You have another life when you become a senior,” the 71-year-old former teacher said. “The book helps you focus on positive things and to get yourself into a healthy routine.”

She praised the course for tips on how to:

  • Decrease isolation and reduce depression.
  • Increase brain activity.
  • Set small goals that can make big differences.

“For a while, the coronavirus was getting me down,” Hefti said. “All of a sudden, life kind of stopped. I wasn’t getting much done. Now, I am getting things accomplished.”

Hefti has had health issues but refuses to be grumpy and negative.

“I learned not to take my life for granted when I was diagnosed with MS,” she said. “I became a person who appreciated a good day of feeling well and accomplishing something. It’s all part of the book.”

Mary Shepherd of Beloit also is reading through the program.

“I find the playbook offers great suggestions and offers things to my life I have not thought about,” Shepherd said. “I reread a lot of things and mark pages that pertain to me. It has really helped.”

The 73-year-old said she doesn’t want to be “a little old lady in the house watching TV.”

She was in the day care business for more than 40 years when she retired.

So far, the class has helped her open herself to new experiences.

“I was kind of closed,” Shepherd said. “Now, I want to try new things. You never know when you might find something you really like.”


Obituaries and death notices for June 19, 2020

James Cusack

Darlene Jacobson

Thomas G. Leontios

Leon “Lee” Moore

Renee S. Ryan

Joan M. Waier

Wayne “Woody” Woodard


Luis Angel Reyes Savalza, left, raises his fist as he listens to speakers at a rally of immigrant youths and supporters in San Francisco on Thursday.


Washington
AP
Supreme Court rules for ‘Dreamers,’ rejects Trump’s repeal of immigration program

WASHINGTON

In a striking rebuke to President Donald Trump, the Supreme Court on Thursday rejected his plan to repeal the popular Obama-era order that protected so-called Dreamers, the approximately 700,000 young immigrants who were brought to this country illegally as children.

Led by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., the court called the decision to cancel the program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, arbitrary and not justified. The program allows these young people to register with the government and, if they have a clean criminal record, to obtain a work permit and be assured they will not be deported. At least 27,000 DACA recipients are employed as health care workers.

Trump had been confident that the high court, with its majority of Republican appointees, would rule in his favor and say the chief executive had the power to “unwind” the policy.

But the chief justice joined with the four liberals to rule that Trump and his administration had failed to give an explanation for why it was repealing a popular and widely lauded program, a violation of federal law.

But the justices did not decide that Trump’s repeal violated the Constitution or immigration law. Instead, the majority blocked the repeal on the grounds that Trump’s team had failed to explain its rationale as required by the Administrative Procedure Act. Adopted in the 1940s in response to the New Deal and the massive growth of government, the act requires officials to explain and justify abrupt changes in regulatory rules.

Usually, the chief justice and the court’s conservatives argue for deferring to the federal government on regulatory matters, particularly in an area like immigration. But that policy of deference also requires the justices to have confidence in the decision-making process within the government.

Thursday’s decision is the latest sign that Roberts, who spent much of January presiding over Trump’s impeachment trial in the Senate, could be growing increasingly skeptical about decisions that come out of the Trump administration.

The decision made for an unusually bad week for Trump and conservatives.

On Monday, the court rejected the Trump administration’s position that a 1964 civil rights law should not protect LGBTQ workers from discrimination, and separately it sided with California in a legal battle over so-called sanctuary laws protecting immigrants. The justices also turned down a series of appeals urging the court to expand gun rights.

Until this week, conservatives had been confident that they had a lock on the high court with Trump’s two court appointees—Justices Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh. But Gorsuch wrote Monday’s 6-3 opinion upholding civil rights for LGBTQ employees. And Roberts has now joined the liberals to knock down one of Trump’s signature immigration initiatives.

“Do you get the impression that the Supreme Court doesn’t like me?” Trump tweeted Thursday.

Trump dismissed the ruling as “highly political” and “seemingly not based on the law,” and used it as an opportunity to campaign for his re-election. “These horrible & politically charged decisions coming out of the Supreme Court are shotgun blasts into the face of people that are proud to call themselves Republicans or Conservatives.”

He said it underscored the need to appoint more conservatives to the Supreme Court and repeated his promise to only appoint future justices from a list of candidates hand-picked and vetted by conservative groups.

The fight over DACA already promised to play big in the 2020 election, with presumed Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s campaign emphasizing his commitment to providing a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers as it seeks to mobilize Latino voters in key battleground states such as Arizona.

“The Supreme Court’s ruling today is a victory made possible by the courage and resilience of hundreds of thousands of DACA recipients who bravely stood up and refused to be ignored,” Biden said in a statement. “As president, I will immediately work to make it permanent by sending a bill to Congress on day one of my administration.”

Democratic leaders said Thursday they believe the court’s decision—and Trump’s reaction to it—will motivate Latino voters even more.

“If Donald Trump wins in November, he will end DACA,” said Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez, in a call with reporters. “For every voter who cares about Dreamers, please understand this: The future of Dreamers depends 100% on the outcome of the November election. … We can’t lift our foot off the gas, and we won’t.”

The DACA case, whose outcome affects the lives and careers of hundreds of thousands of young people, is the most far-reaching immigration dispute to reach the high court during Trump’s tenure.

The decision, in Department of Homeland Security v. Regents of the University of California, is similar to last year’s ruling that blocked Trump’s plan to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

On Thursday, Roberts spoke for the same 5-4 majority, and his opinion follows the same reasoning. The chief justice said Trump’s Homeland Security Department did not put forth a valid reason for revoking the DACA program, just as he said Trump’s Commerce Department did not provide a valid reason for adding the citizenship question.

“We do not decide whether DACA or its rescission are sound policies,” Roberts wrote. “We address only whether the agency complied with the procedural requirement that it provide a reasoned explanation for its action. Here the agency failed to consider the conspicuous issues of whether to retain forbearance and what, if anything, to do about the hardship to DACA recipients. That dual failure raises doubts about whether the agency appreciated the scope of its discretion or exercised that discretion in a reasonable manner.”

The court ordered that the case be remanded so that the Homeland Security Department could better explain its actions. Meanwhile, DACA will remain in effect. While the administration could now devise a new explanation, there is little or no chance a second attempt to end DACA would win approval from the courts this year.

“It’s not that Chief Justice Roberts is a closet progressive. He’s not. It’s that the Trump administration is really bad at administrative law,” Stephen Vladeck, a University of Texas law professor, tweeted in response to the ruling.

It is a remarkable turn of events for Roberts and the court. Two years ago, the chief justice wrote a 5-4 opinion deferring to Trump and upholding his travel ban on foreign visitors and immigrants. Now he has switched sides in several momentous cases and blocked Trump’s action as unwarranted and unjustified.

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan joined in the decision. Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr., Gorsuch and Kavanaugh voted to uphold Trump’s plan.

The decision is likely to prove popular with the American public. Opinion polls over the past year have found that three-fourths of Americans believe the Dreamers should be granted a permanent status and allowed to become citizens. Both Republicans and Democrats have voiced support for them.

The ruling also likely closes the door on any action in Congress this year to resolve the issue. Trump had hoped that, if he won, he would have been able to use the decision as leverage against Democrats by offering to assist the Dreamers in exchange for new restrictions on legal immigration. Democrats had already rejected such a deal. Now they’re likely to wait until next year, when they hope to have increased their numbers in Congress after the November election.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra celebrated the outcome. “Ending DACA would have been cruel to the hundreds of thousands of Dreamers who call America home, and it would have been bad for our nation’s health. Today we prevailed on behalf of every Dreamer who has worked hard to help build our country—our neighbors, teachers, doctors and first responders.”

President Barack Obama extended relief to these young people in 2012 because he said they had done nothing wrong. They had been brought to this country by their parents as children, had grown up here and started families and careers. It made no sense, he said, for the government to target them for deportation.

Although Trump lauded the Dreamers during his 2016 campaign, his administration took a hard line on immigration from the start and announced in 2017 the DACA program would be ended. It was not clear why the program was being ended, other than that then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions believed it was illegal.

The announcement triggered a long legal battle in the courts that began in California.

University of California President Janewt Napolitano, who launched the DACA program when she was Obama’s secretary of Homeland Security, filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration in federal court in San Francisco along with Becerra. They argued that Trump’s lawyers had not put forth a valid reason for terminating the popular program.

U.S. District Judge William Alsup agreed in January 2018 and handed down a nationwide order that put the repeal on hold. Trump’s lawyers had acted based on “a flawed legal premise,” he said, adding that “DACA was and remains a valid legal exercise” by immigration officials.

The administration appealed, but in November 2018, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court upheld the judge’s order in a 3-0 decision. The Supreme Court refused to intervene for a time but last year agreed to hear the government’s appeal, along with parallel cases from New York and Washington, D.C.