Trial witness Derek Chauvin has written a book to help children deal with trauma




CNN

Darnella Frazier would never have recorded the video of George Floyd’s death, which helped convict Derek Chauvin, if she had refused her cousin’s request to walk to the store.

Her cousin, 9-year-old Judeah Reynolds, wanted to buy candy but was too young to walk alone. Reynolds was persistent, and Frazier eventually agreed to the ride. Reynolds and Frazier would soon become enshrined in history.

On Friday, the day Floyd would have celebrated his 49th birthday, Reynolds released a book about what he saw and ways to help children deal with traumatic events.

In his book “A Walk to the Store”, Reynolds writes: “When we get to the store we see something bad. At first we don’t know what’s going on, but we know it’s wrong. My cousin uses his phone to make a video.”

“I keep thinking about it and I feel very sad,” Reynolds adds later in the book. “It’s hard for me to sleep. When I sleep, I have bad dreams. When I wake up from a scary dream, my mother hugs me. Hugs help me feel better.’

Embedded in the book is a worksheet with questions and exercises to help children deal with traumatic events. The guide, for example, recommends keeping things the same. A child who has experienced a disruptive traumatic event needs normality and routine. She says to use honest language and seek professional help if things don’t improve.

Reynolds, now 11, was shocked when she saw the first copy of her book.

“I said, ‘It’s me.’ It was amazing,” she told CNN, as she described the book’s cover, wearing a colorful T-shirt emblazoned with the word love. It looks like the shirt Floyd wore on the day of his death.

When asked how many copies he plans to sell, he said, “1,000 billion.” Yes, he knows it’s a lot of copies.

Reynolds says she got the idea to write the book from another child – Cameron Brundidge – who used the power of storytelling to educate people about autism.

“He encouraged me to write a book. The day I met her, I saw her book and said, ‘I want one, too,'” Reynolds said.

Reynolds told her story to Cameron’s mother, activist and entrepreneur Sheletta Brundidge. Brundidge, who has written three children’s books based on her own children’s experiences, is an advocate for representation in media and literature. Reynolds says he received a copy of Cameron’s book from Brundidge.

“And that was the first time he saw a little girl on the cover of the book, who was the central character who looked like him. Hair like hers, nose like hers and skin like hers. And that’s why it’s so important to keep saying that representation matters,” Brundidge said.

Reynolds was the youngest witness to testify at the trial of Chauvin, who was found guilty of three counts of Floyd’s murder. Reynolds asked his father the meaning of guilty the day the verdict was read. Today, it has its own definition.

“It means like when you lie and they reveal your truth,” he said.

Outrage over the incident ignited an international protest movement against police brutality, while elevating the national conversation about race and social injustice.

The four officers involved in Floyd’s death were fired and charged.

Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane were convicted of violating Floyd’s civil rights. Thao and Kueng also pleaded guilty to an additional federal charge earlier this year for failing to intervene to stop Chauvin. Thao and Kueng were sentenced to three and a half years and three years in federal prison, respectively.

Thao and Kueng still face state trial on charges of aiding and abetting second-degree involuntary manslaughter and aiding and abetting second-degree murder. They have been declared innocent.

Lily Coyle owns Beaver’s Pond Press, the publisher behind Reynolds’ book. Coyle says he didn’t want to tell this story. He tried to find a way to tell the story that wouldn’t be painful.

“It’s kind of a burden of honor. It has been a beautiful thing to work, but it has been very painful,” he said. “How many other children have seen this video or witnessed something else traumatic, in person or online?”

The illustrator donated his time, others agreed to get paid later or donated their services. Coyle says they are covering all costs associated with the book’s production and 60% of the profits are being paid to Reynolds. As Coyle and Brundidge had writing sessions with Reynolds, they waited for the direction of the book to be clarified.

Book cover by Judeah Reynolds

“I don’t want to release a children’s book in the world that hurts children or makes people’s lives more difficult. It should be a tool for healing, and we want to bring grace to this terrible situation,” said Coyle. “We really want kids to understand that bad things happen, but there are more good people in the world. See the bad, but don’t consume it. you can be part of it, instead of feeding the flame of what is bad and letting it consume you”.

Almost two years later, the pain is still deep. At Creative Kuponya, it’s not just children who need help processing traumatic events.

The mental health practice is located a few blocks from what is known as George Floyd Square. Mental health professional Jamil Stamschort-Lott says about 85 percent of the clients he treats in the practice he shares with his wife identify as people of color. On average, each year they treat around 120 patients who identify as young people (between the ages of 7 and 24). Stamschort-Lott says she sees children, lawyers and professional athletes, including players for the Minnesota Timberwolves.

“Covid and George Floyd amplified what was already there. After George Floyd our numbers quadrupled. We hired three new clinicians and we still can’t keep up with demand,” he told CNN. “As a black male clinician, I see black men coming to the table, and this is against the stigma that has been pushed — 95% of my clients are black men. If you build it, they will come.”

Stamschort-Lott says research shows that about 90 percent of successful therapy is tied to the power of the relationship. And Reynolds’ book is one way to help the community. Stamschort-Lott says adults should give children space to process and allow them to share what they’re feeling.

That’s part of the reason Reynolds plans to distribute about 150 books Friday to students at the Josie R. Johnson Montessori School in Minneapolis.

Reynolds says she’s learned that by sharing her story she can help make things better. She told CNN that she wants other children who can survive a traumatic experience to believe that they can too.

“I’m too little to walk to the store alone,” she says at the end of the book. “But I’m big and brave enough to make things better in a BIG way.”