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Al Roker, Craig Melvin and Sheinelle Jones lead honest talk about raising black children

The 3rd hour of TODAY co-hosts discussed how they talked to their children about racism in America and the death of George Floyd.
/ Source: TODAY

The protests across the country in the wake of George Floyd's death have prompted TODAY's Al Roker, Craig Melvin and Sheinelle Jones to share some of the tough conversations they have had with their children about being black in America.

Al reflected on the 3rd hour of TODAY on Monday about what he has told his 17-year-old son about interacting with the police, while Sheinelle shared the emotional exchange she had with her three young children when they asked why a white police officer would put his knee on Floyd's neck for nearly 9 minutes.

Craig expressed his frustration about the lack of meaningful change in the wake of incidents of unarmed black men being killed by police and his hope that this time can be different.

Al led the discussion by talking about the speech he has given the youngest of his three children, son Nick, and his fears when he took the subway to and from school in New York City every day before the pandemic.

"I've got an almost 18-year-old son, and I've had to have this conversation with him," Al said. "If you're stopped by the police, you are polite, you are quiet, you just say yes, you say no, you don't get belligerent.

"I don't breathe a sigh of relief until Nick walks in that door because I am afraid of what could happen. He's in this New York City subway system, police officer, something happens, and I think this (death of George Floyd) brought that to a head."

Sheinelle's three children are much younger than Al's three kids, but she said they are old enough to ask questions about Floyd's death after they watched the news as a family.

Her son Kayin, 10, and 7-year-old twins, Clara and Uche, weren't satisfied with just hearing that officer Derek Chauvin, who has been charged with third-degree murder in Floyd's death, did a bad thing.

"They looked at me, and they're like, 'Your little mom answers are not good enough,''' Sheinelle said. "Clara asked, 'Why would he do that?' I said, 'Well, Mom doesn't have an answer, and the little guy goes, 'So it's because he has brown skin like us, that's why he's being mean to him?'

"And then Kayin goes, 'So why are they being mean to people with brown skin, are they going to be mean to me?'"

The children then asked her why the four police officers involved in Floyd's death aren't in jail. The talk ended with all three children in tears.

"Kayin runs crying, and the next thing you know I have three crying kids, crying because they're afraid," Sheinelle said. "They went to sleep crying. I'm over here trying to come up with things to say. ... It was really traumatic for me, for them. I went to bed with such a heavy heart."

Floyd's death and the resulting outrage has been a reminder for Sheinelle and her husband, Uche Ojeh, that they can't shield them from ugly events in the world.

"We do all the things we're supposed to do, get Clara her black Barbie dolls, get Kayin his books about strong black men,'' she said. "You want to build them up, but the world is the world, and it will strip away everything you've built them up with.

"It's out of your control, and I think that is why I cried out of my sleep because my beautiful brown children with their big brown eyes, I can't shield them from the things that happen, and the truth hurts to talk about."

Craig has two biracial children with wife Lindsay Czarniak, who is white, but he agreed with Al when he said that the world will most likely view their son, Delano, 6, and daughter Sybil, 3, as black.

"Oh, no doubt, and Lindsay and I have had this conversation," Craig said. "I think sometimes people, unfortunately, they make certain perhaps assumptions. I'm a relatively young black man who's rearing a young black man, living in the United States of America. Don't be fooled by the suits and some status.

"The number of times where you walk in a store and you know. You're constantly reminded. We like to think that we live in some sort of post-racial America, and the reality is we are reminded time and time again that we do not."

As the protests over Floyd's death continue across the country, Craig thought back to when he covered the protests that ensued in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014 after the fatal shooting of unarmed black man Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson.

"I think one of the things that's most frustrating is this happens, we have these conversations, people march, we pledge to do better and then we move on,'' he said. "We haven't healed, we haven't come up with some sort of comprehensive plan to actually do better, and then lo and behold, a few months pass, a couple years, and then something worse happens.

"I remember being in Ferguson, 5-6 years ago, and people were adamant that this was going to be the catalyst for change, and it wasn't. It wasn't. I don't know what it's going to take to affect real change because the reality is you can't legislate hearts and minds."

Al has already seen some changes in the wake of Floyd's death, including many white colleagues reaching out to him about it.

"This time, it's like they're apologizing,'' he said. "They're checking in. ... That's never happened before, and that's not a criticism. I think that this has affected everybody."

Dylan Dreyer said her husband, Brian Fichera, reached out to Sheinelle as the protests raged across the country.

"We need to address what is going on,'' Dylan said on TODAY. "We can't just turn it off and go on to the next thing."

The co-hosts expressed their hope that meaningful change can take place this time.

"This feels so different than anything else," Al said.

"I hope that we can find a way to harness this energy," Craig said. "Burning down your house because you're pissed at your neighbor doesn't do a lot to advance the cause. I do hope that we can figure out how we can stop the violent protests — not the protests, but the violent protests — because unfortunately that is starting to overshadow the murder of George Floyd."