Dr. George Henderson: Do Not Spare Children the Difficult Conversations

Joe Dorman, Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy 
OKLAHOMA CITY – The highlight of the 2021 Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy Heroes Ball came from the powerful message delivered by Dr. George Henderson
If you are not familiar with this man, he is regarded as one of our state’s pioneers in race relations and civil rights.
Since joining the University of Oklahoma faculty in 1967, George Henderson’s name has become synonymous with efforts to promote ethnic diversity and interracial understanding on the OU campus and throughout the country.

Dr. Henderson was the keynote speaker at our recent Heroes Ball, held in both Oklahoma City and Tulsa and connected by video link. He spoke about what we must do to improve society by breaking down the racial divide that is all too real, and how can these discussions impact children.

To say he moved the audience, made up of some of the most conservative and liberal child advocates from across our state, undersells his impact. Despite being pre-recorded, Dr. Henderson received a standing ovation from the audience in both cities.
I would strongly encourage you to listen to the 15-minute message; is time well spent. The video of this available at:  https://oica.org/2021-heroes-ball-archive  – don’t just watch it yourself, encourage others to do the same.

Dr. Henderson implored the audience to have the “tough conversations” with children about the past, and to leave the “shaming, naming, and blaming” out of the dialogue. As he said, “The truth shall set us free, but it will first make us miserable.”
He courageously shared two tales of his own personal biases from his youth toward others who were different from him, and how he let his prejudices sway him at an early age. As he grew older, he learned it was important to look inward and recognize the cruel and oppressive things we all have done to others, and to change as you learn and know better. He learned quickly that labeling and generalizing, especially as a scholar, do harm to those the conversations are about. We must acknowledge that the vast differences among people, and in the many racial, economic, and other categories in which we prejudge people do not do justice to them.

In essence, even scholars must remind themselves to not be “educated fools” when it comes to the needed conversations of building towards a better society. We must do a better job of telling these stories to the next generation, encouraging them to move beyond the biases of the past, keeping he conversations “uplifting” to bury the hateful terms that corrupt children. It is important they learn their most important lessons of tolerance by hearing adult conversations, as this is where children often shape their world view.

We must have those difficult conversations, not only with children but between adults; this will build toward a better future with less prejudice toward others for the color of their skin or the identity that they have. It is important for each of us to try to be the best people possible and understand that this will not come easy. From trying, only then will be do better, and from this the children will also learn to start life with fewer biases than our generation faced.

Thank you, Dr. Henderson, for sharing this lesson. We all are better for you having this conversation with us.

About OICA: The Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy was established in 1983 by a group of citizens seeking to create a strong advocacy network that would provide a voice for the needs of children and youth in Oklahoma, particularly those in the state’s care and those growing up amid poverty, violence, abuse and neglect, disparities, or other situations that put their lives and future at risk. Our mission statement: “Creating awareness, taking action, and changing policy to improve the health, safety, and well-being of Oklahoma’s children.”