Young eyewitness to George Floyd’s killing writing a children’s book
BY JENNIFER BROOKS
MINNEAPOLIS – Judeah Reynolds watched the police officer grind his knee into George Floyd’s neck and hold it there until the man on the ground stopped moving, stopped crying out for his mama, stopped breathing. Judeah Reynolds is 9 years old.
Too young to walk to the corner store alone. She coaxed her 17-year-old cousin Darnella into walking with her to Cup Foods as Memorial Day was winding down. She had $3 in her pocket to spend on candy. Jolly Ranchers, maybe. Or Starburst. Together, they walked to the store, and into history.
At the corner of 38th and Chicago, the kneeling officer locked eyes with Judeah, giving her the same look he leveled at Darnella as she pulled out her phone to record the scene. A look that said, “There’s nothing you can do about this. You have no power, little girl.”
Until Darnella Frazier posted her video and the whole world could see what the cousins had seen. The weeks since have been weeks of protest and unrest and promises from politicians. All four of the officers involved in George Floyd’s killing are facing charges in connection with his death.
“The person who tells the story has the power,” said Lily Coyle, owner of Beaver’s Pond Press in St. Paul. Judeah Reynolds is going to tell her own story. The story of what happened that day she walked to the store, and in the days that followed.
The children’s book she’s writing with the help of the staff of Beaver’s Pond is set to publish in early 2021.
“I’ve got a lot to express in my book. I can’t wait,” Judeah said, sitting in her publisher’s bright, book-lined offices last week.
Nightmares and hugs
“A Walk to the Store” – Judeah came up with the title – will be a picture book about a little Black girl who witnessed something unspeakable and found her voice. Judeah explains how scary it was.
How hugs from her mom helped her through the nightmares that followed. How she worked up the courage to return to the corner of 38th and Chicago a few days later and found it full of people planting flowers, painting murals and marching for justice for George Floyd.
Judeah painted a protest sign of her own that day and held it high: “It can be better.”
We don’t need to stop children from finding out what happened to George Floyd. We need to stop what happened to George Floyd from happening to anyone else’s child.
Judeah’s not sure how many books she might sell. Maybe 700, maybe a zillion. Maybe, she said, she could sell enough books to afford a home.
Living in hotel
Her family is living out of a hotel right now. Minneapolis’ problems with equity and racial justice didn’t start or end with George Floyd. But Judeah’s mother, Diane Reynolds, has faith. Faith in God and faith in her community.
“In the days I was down on 38th Street, I saw the strength and the diversity and the richness of Minnesota,” Reynolds said. “It was all walks of life down there. Different races, different creeds, and we were standing in solidarity. There was no hate.”
At Beaver’s Pond, Judeah played Barbies and make-believe with another young publishing star, Cameron Brundidge. Cameron’s mother, Sheletta Brundidge, wrote a book about Cameron’s first day of school – the first book Judeah had ever seen with a little Black girl, just like her, on the cover.
The families connected, reached out to Beaver’s Pond – publishers of “Cameron Goes to
School” – and soon Cameron was explaining what it’s like to be the hero of your own story.
“It’s not easy. It’s really hard work,” Cameron explained last week. “You have to sign (all those books), you have to make the pictures and the words in the book.”
Dearth of diversity
But it’s worth it, Cameron said, looking over at the shelf where her book is on display: “My book is famous.”
It’s not surprising that Judeah made it nine years without seeing herself reflected in the stories on her bookshelf. A 2018 survey of children’s book illustrations found that half the faces were White, more than a quarter were creatures like animals or aliens or trucks, 10% were Black, and other races showed up in the single digits.
Sheletta Brundidge hopes parents and teachers read Judeah’s book to children of all races. “What little White kid’s not going to read this book and say, ‘Mama, I don’t want this to happen … I want to be an ally. Mama, they’re marching, I want to be out there,’?” she said. “That’s going to have a ripple effect on how children are going to perceive racism.”
More to come
Judeah knows that telling a story can change history. Just like she knows she’ll have many more stories to tell in her life. After she finishes her first book, she said, “Then I’m going to (write) a part two. I’m going to make a chapter three, chapter four, chapter five, chapter six – all the way to 11.”
This is Judeah’s story and she’s the hero of this story. “I’m powerful,” Judeah said. “I can’t be afraid.” Friends of the family have organized a fundraiser to help them get into more stable housing.