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Talking to kids about Ryan Gainer, a boy who deserved to grow up

By Maryam Zahid

Ryan Gainer

15 year-old Ryan Gainer lived in East Los Angeles with his family. He was autistic. He ran track, and wanted to be an engineer when he grew up because he loved robotics. He had siblings, and was very protective of his mom. On March 13, 2024, Ryan was tragically shot and killed by San Bernardino police. 

Ryan Gainer’s killing, and the remarks by officers about Ryan’s size as a defense for shooting to kill a boy in mental distress wielding a garden tool, underscores a narrative all too familiar and profoundly distressing: the perpetuation of racial stereotypes that paint Black youth as inherently menacing and predestined for violence. Black kids, Black boys especially, are often denied the innocence of childhood, expected instead to navigate a world that prematurely imposes upon them, not just the burdens of adulthood, but also the burden of assumed criminality. 

Black kids deserve to grow up. They deserve to grow up. 

Black people deserve to feel and be safe. It is the bare minimum we should expect from our society. 

The killing of Ryan Gainer is a wrenching reminder of the persistent threat of police violence. It raises questions about the value placed on Ryan’s life - a Black boy experiencing a mental health crisis - compared to the value placed on the safety of those sworn to protect us.

We must grapple with these painful truths. And we must support our kids to do the same. Black and Black multiracial kids and families will have different needs than kids who don’t see themselves in Ryan Gainer. But all our kids need our support and attention to racial injustice, with caregivers paying attention to age and stage and the identities of the kids we are supporting. Our Color-Brave Caregiver Practices are a useful tool to guide your caregiving in this moment and in so many others. 

The Color-Brave Caregiver practices should help you navigate the delicate balance of fostering a sense of safety without illusion, encouraging all kids to embrace the world with optimism and a deep sense of their boundless potential, even in the face of systemic injustices that seek to narrow the paths of some. All kids need to feel those big feelings, call out unfairness, and stand up for those being marginalized. 

The work of raising kids who are informed, thoughtful and brave about race in this country can be challenging, but we hope you are able to do it alongside us, not from a place of fear, but rather with a belief that our fates are linked and the hope that we can create a better world for everyone. 

Maryam Zahid

Maryam Zahid is Senior Communications Manager at EmbraceRace. More about Maryam >
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