"I would like for this to never happen again," says Alicia Smith, a Minneapolis mother of two young sons

By Wendy Grossman Kantor
June 04, 2020 10:14 AM
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Courtesy Alicia Smith

Alicia Smith has been at almost every peaceful protest in Minneapolis since the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died when a police officer knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes on May 25.

As a mother of 11 and 7-year-old sons, she saw her children when she watched the video of Floyd’s death.

“What I saw was my son. What I heard when I saw him scream out and call for his mother -- I heard my son calling my name and begging for help,” says the 37-year-old Executive Director of the Corcoran Neighborhood. “My sons are going to grow up to be black men, and they will be criminalized because of the black skin that they show up in. That’s why I got to be here. That’s why. No matter how amazing they are, no matter how intelligent they are, no matter how giving they are, some people will only see black men and instantly be intimidated.”

Smith has barely slept. When she’s not at protests handing out water, food and face masks, she’s patrolling her neighborhood.

“My 11-year-old son asked me when I got home from a really late night -- I was only coming in to get a sweater -- he said, ‘Can you please be careful? I just want to know, is someone gonna kill me too?’” she remembers. “How do you explain that? You can’t even promise your son that he will have access to a long life. I can’t promise him that, because he has to go out into the world. I can’t assure him that he will be treated fairly. So I have to chip away at his innocence by preparing him to exist in this world as a black man when he’s just a little boy.”

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On Thursday, Smith was at the protest at the Third Precinct Police Station from 3 p.m. until 9 pm. She and about ten women stood in a circle in the middle of the road.  They brought with them a group of men to stand between the protestors and the police officers.

“We shifted that energy,” she says. “We spoke positivity into this space for six hours. People got to cheer, they got to chant, they got to be angry, they got to be heard, but there was no violence.”

But, people at the other protest location – where Floyd was murdered -- were calling Smith, insisting she was needed there. Smith feels guilty she left the precinct, she says.

"Five minutes after we got to our car, we could hear someone say, ‘They’re starting a fire,'" she says. If she had stayed longer, she wonders if she could have prevented it.

At 2:30 a.m. that night, she went home, showered, watched her sons sleeping and prayed. By 4:30 a.m. she was back outside patrolling her neighborhood, making sure it was safe for kids to sleep.

Smith knew Floyd casually.

“I’d only met him in passing," she says. "But most importantly, I know millions of Georges. I would like for this to never happen again."

To help combat systemic racism, consider learning from or donating to these organizations:

•Campaign Zero (joincampaignzero.org) which works to end police brutality in America through research-proven strategies.

ColorofChange.org works to make government more responsive to racial disparities.

•National Cares Mentoring Movement (caresmentoring.org) provides social and academic support to help black youth succeed in college and beyond.