GUNNISON—“When does a cute Black boy turn into a scary Black man?” asked Jordan Stewart at a Gunnison Valley Coalition meeting last week.
The meeting took place over video conference on Tuesday, March 23. Jordan and Nickie Stewart of Gunnison spoke on the topic of raising an interracial family in the valley.
“Perspective is the biggest thing I’ve gained,” said Jordan. He appreciated that “most people judge Zach on his character, who he is, rather than on a stereotype.”
The couple has four children: a 21 year-old, biological son; an 18 year-old, adopted, African American son; a 16 year-old, biological daughter and an eight-year-old, adopted, African American daughter.
Nickie said 18 years ago when they adopted Zach, fewer white babies were up for adoption, compared to ten years later when they went to adopt again.
“We appreciate the perspective and the experience we’ve gained” from raising a child of color, she said.
“My world experience was not great. Having a Black child changed me greatly,” Jordan added.
They said the life experiences of their two sons, one white and one Black, couldn’t be more different.
“In raising them to prepare them to be adults, we have to prepare Zach in a much different way,” Jordan said.
They have not often been worried if their oldest son was out late at night. But for Zach, it has not been allowed to be out late at night, especially driving alone. When his group of friends wants to travel to Richfield or Provo, the Stewarts always offer to pay gas money if someone else will do the driving.
Nickie said they’ve trained Zach in what to say if he ever gets pulled over, to the effect of asking questions such as, “Is it okay if I reach into my back pocket to get my wallet?”
He knows not to make a move without speaking to an officer first.
“We aren’t teaching our children this to scare them,” Nickie said, “but they are not always going to be in our small town.”
They want their kids to be prepared. She said they pay special attention to keeping car registration up-to-date and how they dress, for example, and they have to be respectful.
“They have to do, think, and be better,” she said. “The consequences for them are much higher than for white kids.”
Jordan said he’s learned to listen to people’s perspectives. “I may not have had that experience, but I don’t discount others’ experiences.”
The Stewarts said the children who have grown-up with two races in the home are very aware of other kids at school who might feel left out. They are accepting of all people. Their family experiences have motivated them and shown them how to be inclusive of people of all backgrounds.
Coalition member Staci Jackson asked about Zach’s experience in our community. The Stewarts answered that it’s been pretty positive.
But, said Nickie, “Things happen. Outliers come out.”
Last fall, someone wrote the “n” word on Zach’s car. “Our daughter hears that word every day while walking the halls at school,” said Nickie. She believes the kids are just copying what they’ve heard in songs or on the internet, and they think there’s nothing wrong with it. “They don’t understand that it’s hurtful.”
At an out-of-town basketball game, some kids in the opposing team’s bleachers called Zach the “n” word. The Stewarts asked the administration of that school to talk to their student body about it. Soon after, Zach received some texts from his acquaintances at that school, apologizing for what had happened.
Coleen Ogden, the group leader who invited them to speak, asked what could be done to help.
Nickie answered that February was designated as Black History Month by President Gerald Ford in 1976, to celebrate the bicentennial and said she was sad that none of her children’s teachers ever mentioned it in school.
“I do feel that my kids have learned more about Black history than I did,” she said. But she believes more teaching of Black history will help students understand the struggles others have gone through.
She said, “Be willing to learn. Be respectful of others’ experiences, even if you don’t agree.”
Also at the meeting, the Gunnison Valley Hospital will be opening its front doors sometime in April, reported Arien Nay, a hospital administrative assistant. Since the COVID-19 quarantine began last March, the only public entrance to the hospital has been the Emergency Room door, where everyone temperature is taken upon arrival.
Nay also reported that the hospital is putting together a psychiatric help group.
Doug Knapp talked about his business, called Visiting Angels. It’s a home-care company that offers different types of services, including bathing, dressing, medicine reminders, companionship and shopping to the elderly and those with disabilities. It can be paid for through Medicaid. Knapp’s office is in Manti, and his number is 801-473-3342.
Libby Hinckley reported that she’s looking for high school-aged students to attend the Youth Summit on July 19 and 20. The youth who attend will be trained as prevention leaders for the upcoming school year.
Coleen Ogden encouraged everyone to like and share the coalition’s Facebook page, entitled “Gunnison Valley: a Community that CARES.”