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Teachable moments greet children at 38th & Chicago

The mothers of 8-year-old Devean Carter and 6-year-old Elle Towne have been bringing them daily to the corner where George Floyd died.

MINNEAPOLIS — A heart was stilled at what’s become the center of a circle of flowers laid on the pavement at 38th and Chicago.

But life still pulses at the edges.

That’s where we found 8-year-old Devean Carter and his 6-year-old friend Elle Towne, handing out pictures of George Floyd, who died a week earlier. It happened just a few feet from where Elle and Devean now stand. 

“A cop was on George Floyd’s neck with his knee, so that’s how he died,” Devean says matter-of-factly.

Across the flower circle Devean’s mother, Vernita Meier, helps grill hamburgers and hot dogs to give free to demonstrators, or anyone else who walks up with an appetite.

She is joined by her spatula-wielding friend Chelsea Holte, Elle’s mom.

“You see things that are burned down right now,” Chelsea says. “We’re out here feeding people that can’t go grocery shopping.”

It’s a lot for children to take in. Yet, their mothers say, it’s important that Devean and Elle do.

“I’m raising a young black man, so this affects him,” Vernita says. “I have to forewarn my kids every day, the color of your skin when you walk out of the house, 'You can’t say nothing, you can’t talk this way, you can’t talk that way,’ otherwise it’s deemed aggressive.”

Devean and Elle are still struggling to make sense of it all.

“I feel sad, but then I don’t understand why the cops killed him,” Devean says.

“Me too,” Elle echoes. “Why the cops killed him.”

They are questions the children have brought to their moms over the past few days.

“When he asked me ‘What is justice?’ I felt he needed to come and see this aspect of it,” Vernita says overlooking the protesters from a curb across the street from Cup Foods, where George Floyd was accused of passing a fake $20 bill.

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Devean hands out bottled water.

Elle holds up a paper plate. “Would you want a hot dog?” she asks, as a protester accepts the gift.

Responsibility is another lesson their moms are trying to teach them.

“We need people to become the cops that they don’t like, that have become corrupt,” Vernita says. “We need them to become the lawyers, we need to get in there and vote.”

When asked if things will get better, both children nod in the affirmative. “Yeah,” each of them says quietly.

It’s something else their mothers are teaching them.

“I just want to show her anything she puts her mind to, she can do it,” Chelsea says.

A week after Floyd’s death, Vernita says she wants her son to grow up also knowing the good in the world.

“My days have gotten brighter,” she says, “so my kids know their day will be brighter than our day, because they’ve got to change it.”

At the center lies the pain, at the edges lives the hope.

“That’s the day we pray for,” Vernita says.

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