Our nation continues to wrestle with the plague of police brutality and the senseless murders of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Tony McDade and Breonna Taylor. These actions spark mistrust, discomfort, anger, unrest, confusion and a never-ending range of emotions. As a result of these recent incidents, this week I have received several messages from friends of varying backgrounds who have inquired of my well-being. I felt they all used very effective communications that felt affirming, loving and less draining. Below, I will share their communication styles and my takeaways while offering a few examples of conversation starters.
Note: In most cases, I preserved the original spelling & punctuation of the messages received.
1. Soft entry: I received a text from my friend Ja’lessa (African-American woman) that simply read, “Hi, Krishauna, Just wanted to check in and send love.” Next, I received an email from my friend Wess (white male). The subject line was, “Thinking of you.” The message read, “I just wanted to send a note to say I’ve been thinking about you and your family in this time.”
These are good examples of soft entries that landed well. Neither Ja’lessa nor Wess solicited too much of my emotional energy, and their messages were quick check-ins that did not require detailed responses.
2. Inquiry: My friend Micah (African American woman) sent a text that read, “Do you have time for a call tomorrow?”
Micah and I made plans to speak the next day. I appreciated Micah’s self-awareness. She knew that she needed deeper engagement. However, she gave me the space to determine when or if I had the availability and willingness to speak.
3. Sharing: My friend Beverly (African American woman) sent me a video of a white man who took a billy club from two white police officers, fought with them, beat them with their own club and then stole their police cruiser. Although the officers struggled with the suspect, they continuously attempted to deescalate the situation by speaking calmly and trying to rationalize with the assailant. As shown in the video, the officers never pulled their guns. The white aggressor drove away in the police cruiser while the two officers chased on foot. Other than a few scratches from the scuffle, the assailant was relatively unharmed. The narrator of the video illuminated the obvious discrepancy.
Given my relationship with Beverly and previous conversations, I was fine with receiving the video and having the liberty to watch it when I was ready. I acknowledge that too much sharing can be overwhelming and should be balanced. To this end, I have received many other videos and resources that I have tucked away and filed. I will view them when and if I am ready.
4. Authenticity: My friend Precious (African American woman) shared, “Girl, these last few weeks have worn me out!”
I appreciate that Precious is not pretending to be all right. Just as I need friends to wrap their loving arms around me in moments like these, friendship must be reciprocal. Iron sharpens iron. When my friends need me, I am here for them.
5. Value: My undergraduate student Nina (Afro-Latina woman) sent this message, “Chantea, Yasmeen and I were talking about how much we valued the DEI and IEC office during times like these. For the past four years, we had a community and village who were there when we needed to talk about the tragedies of this world. Without y’all having this zoom call tomorrow night, idk where I’d be.”
Nina worked as a student ambassador in my office all four years of college. She just graduated in May 2020. She and her friends are expressing how our office team served as a safe haven for them. When many of us are fighting for relevance and purpose in the midst of a world that feels unstable and destructive, it felt great for my students to remind me that the work that we do has value.
6. Affirmation: My friend Ashley (white woman) sent me the following text. “I love and appreciate you!! Just want you to know. [insert heart emoji] I hope you have a great day!”
Ashley is a close friend and a strong ally. She is in her last trimester of pregnancy. I have been lifting her up given the sensitivity of being pregnant in the midst of COVID-19. On top of the pandemic, she is also struggling with the stain of police brutality. Given these factors, it meant a lot that Ashley took the time to send such a beautiful message.
15 Conversation Starters for Approaching Difficult Topics
You can use the following questions to engage in conversations regarding police brutality, COVID-19, or other difficult topics. These questions are in no particular order. Some questions may be more appropriate depending on the context and/or the relationship that you have with the individual. These starters can be used for conversation, quiet reflection, meditation or rumination.
- I am just checking in. How are you [and your family]?
- How are you holding up?
- Are you open to discussing this topic at this time, or do you need some space?
- How are you processing these events?
- How are you taking care of yourself during this time?
- What are you doing that is good for you right now?
- Is there anything on your heart or mind that we need to lift up?
- What words or thoughts come to mind when you reflect on what has taken place?
- What emotions rise up for you when you think of these recent events?
- What frustrates you regarding this situation?
- What do you wish people understood about this situation?
- What questions do you wish people would ask regarding this situation?
- What questions do you wish people would stop asking regarding this situation?
- I want to share a video/resource with you. Is that okay? Take a look whenever the timing is right for you.
- May I share how these events have affected me?
 DEI: Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, Guilford College
 IEC: Intercultural Engagement Center, Guilford College
 Zoom call: Referencing a panel in honor of victims of police brutality organized by Community and Justice Studies and DEI Office of Guilford College.