Transcript

Growing Up Poor in America

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FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Now the governor of Ohio ordered all schools in the state to close for three weeks.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

—governor ordering schools K through 12 to go on an extended spring break.

GOV. MIKE DEWINE (R):

We have to do everything that we can to slow down the spread of this virus.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Now that he’s made that decision, what exactly is this three-week break going to look like? Well that really depends on where your kid goes to school.

MARCH 2020

The Plains, Ohio

SHAWN:

My name is Shawn, I’m 13 and I live in The Plains, Ohio.

Coronavirus scares me. I know it’s really dangerous, potentially deadly, probably. We’re trying our best to not have it come in here. We use disinfecting wipes to wipe down the knobs, the light switches and a lot of things that we touch a lot.

I don’t like cleaning, but, I mean, it’s a "have to do" thing, really.

Mom, do you want me to spray?

CRYSTAL:

Sure, I’ll let you take over after I spray this stuff in here and you can—

SHAWN:

Curtain.

CRYSTAL:

—spray the curtain and the rod and we’re good.

SHAWN:

I live in a trailer with my mom and my sister, Dior. There’s not enough room in the house for my brother to stay, so he lives with my grandparents and he comes down to visit as much as he can.

EDWARD:

You can make it.

SHAWN:

This is my first time living in a trailer.

SHAWN, 13

SHAWN:

The walls, you can—they're really thin and so you can hear a lot of things. The reason we moved into a trailer is because it’s something that she can afford.

CRYSTAL:

Here, you can hang this up.

I’m a single-parent mother. I’ve always worked, up until I found out I had a kidney disease and was told by my doctor that they didn’t want me to work.

SHAWN:

She couldn’t really get a job because when she'd stand or something, her feet would get swollen.

CRYSTAL:

Because of the fact that I couldn’t keep working, I do get benefits right now.

SHAWN:

That’s not a phone, missy!

My mom gets food stamps. HUD pays the rent. That helps us out a lot because she only has to pay one or two bills. So she has other money to buy—pay for other things, like clothes, shoes and that type of stuff.

CRYSTAL:

Right now I am getting assistance until I get back into the workforce. So I do have to work hours off. Working off hours are basically hours that I'm assigned to be eligible for my benefits.

CRYSTAL

Shawn's mother

CRYSTAL:

Thank you for calling the Salvation Army. This is Crystal, how can I help you?

SHAWN:

She works at a place called the Salvation Army. They give out free food, free clothes to other people.

CRYSTAL:

We have sliced potatoes.

What I get is $485 per month and I get approximately $400 in food stamp assistance. So I take $885 times 12 equals $10,620 for three.

SHAWN:

My mom stretches the money that she gets to last out the whole month, but some things I can’t get that I want.

The grocery stores are running out of supplies and stuff, like toilet paper, bread, meats—I don't know, a few things.

My mom, she does still work, which kind of scares me. They have to do something called "curbside pickup."

CRYSTAL:

OK, we have Evner and Edding for right here.

SHAWN:

She goes up to people's cars and puts the food box in the trunk.

CRYSTAL:

OK, we gotcha.You guys have a wonderful day.

MALE CAR DRIVER:

Thanks a lot, guys

MALE SALVATION ARMY VOLUNTEER:

Have a good one. Stay safe.

SHAWN:

If I had my choice, I probably wouldn't want my mom working because there's still a chance of her getting sick from contact with other people. Even their cars—they could have coughed or something and it could have gotten on the car. I don't know, there's still any chance that she could still get the virus.

CRYSTAL:

I am still required to work my hours for my assistance that I’m getting.

Peaches.

Long-term, I don’t know how that’s going to change, and the virus could very well change that. If we're not allowed to work then that means I can't complete my hours, so maybe my assistance could get shut down. I don't know. I guess that’s something that's all coming down the pipeline, but as of right now we're at a standstill with knowing what's going to happen.

MIKE DEWINE:

My fellow Ohioans, we have not faced an enemy like we are facing today in 102 years. You have to go back to the 1918 influenza epidemic.

SHAWN:

Dang.

MIKE DEWINE:

We are certainly at war. I don't know any other way to describe this but to say that we are at war. In time of war, we have to make sacrifices. Dr. Acton just signed a stay-at-home order for all Ohioans.

COLUMBUS, OHIO

KYAH:

I’m Kyah, and I am 14 years old. And I live with my sister and my mom.

KYAH, 14

KYAH:

I would say we were a poor family because we really don't have a lot of money at all.

I’m bored.

We've been homeless basically for a year, or something like that. We had moved into an apartment and we couldn't afford it so we had to move out. So we've just been living with people. We’re just in one room and there’s three of us.

BECKY:

I’m homeless, I’m just not your typical what it looks like to be homeless. But I have no home—I can’t provide a home for my children right now.

We need a dentist appointment bad. She got some cavities.

KYAH:

Lately they’ve been hurting all the time, for some reason. I think it’s because I was just—I’ve been eating a whole lot of candy.

We're homeless because we're not financially stable. And my mom’s just been struggling because she's a single parent, and it's really harder than people think.

KELIA, 18

KELIA:

Prior to losing her house, she just couldn’t afford paying the bills anymore. She still has not gotten back on her feet with a job, which—and she doesn’t want to move into another place where she knows that she can’t afford it and then we'll be out.

BECKY:

All of my jobs have been temp jobs.

BECKY

Kyah and Kelia's mother

BECKY:

I haven't had any income coming in since before COVID started because I had just ended a position and I was going into a new position in March and then I got a call, said we're not going to be able to move forward with your job. So I have had no income coming in, no child support. So I have tried other programs to assist in helping us get through this portion of life. If you was going to start work and COVID-19 interrupted that and/or if you had a child in your home whose schooling was interrupted by COVID-19, this unemployment is just specifically for that.

They’re going to be giving me a weekly benefit of that much money until I find a job, but everything is still pending, though, so I haven’t gotten anything yet. Every little bit will help with the necessities of life like toothpaste, toothbrush, stuff that we need, for feminine products or summer clothes, for example, since our stuff was frickin' taken away through storage, auctioned off.

KYAH:

We had it in a storage unit. And we didn't have enough money to pay for the storage unit, so they auctioned our stuff out. I lost important things like pictures that I can't get again. Some of our clothes were actually in there, and a whole lot of other stuff.

KELIA:

I live in a packed bag, and all my stuff is in there. I just keep it packed because at this point there's no reason to keep unpacking it, so I just keep it all packed. So, that is stressful, but I’ve gotten used to it, so I guess it’s really not anymore.

KYAH:

This is the first layer, then I put this on there like this. I just lay these out and then in the morning I put them away. And then when I go to sleep again I take them out. I really make this look like a little twin-size bed.

I have to sleep on the floor and my sister and my mom sleep on the bed. I feel like I should because my mama’s back is more fragile than mine.

I go like this.

I don't like living in other houses. I wish we had our own. I couldn't imagine living like this forever, and I don’t want to live like this forever.

BECKY:

I have never appreciated having a house until it's gone.

So today they have bananas, strawberries, pears, lettuce and sweet potatoes.

KYAH:

It's not only a house that we need support or help with. It's also getting food, because just—more than her not having money for houses just in general. We don’t even own the car. We borrowed it from my mom’s friend.

Sometimes we go to get food at the food pantry. Sometimes when my mom does have a little bit of money, we'll get it on our own.

BECKY:

Y'all still have strawberries?

FEMALE FOOD PANTRY VOLUNTEER 1:

We have different stuff everyday.

KYAH:

Please let there be strawberries. Please let there be strawberries.

BECKY:

I hope they have them.

FEMALE FOOD PANTRY VOLUNTEER 1:

All right, baby, you can go. See you.

BECKY:

All right, thank you!

FEMALE FOOD PANTRY VOLUNTEER 2:

Hi.

BECKY:

Hi!

FEMALE FOOD PANTRY VOLUNTEER 2:

We have chips and apples—

BECKY:

OK.

FEMALE FOOD PANTRY VOLUNTEER 2:

—and premade lunches.

BECKY:

Oh. Want those?

FEMALE FOOD PANTRY VOLUNTEER 2:

Do you want some of those?

BECKY:

Sure.

FEMALE FOOD PANTRY VOLUNTEER 2:

I can give you four or five? Or—

BECKY:

We’ll just take three, yeah. Thank you, though.

FEMALE FOOD PANTRY VOLUNTEER 2:

Yeah.

BECKY:

Thank you.

FEMALE FOOD PANTRY VOLUNTEER 2:

You’re welcome.

BECKY:

Y’all have a good one.

FEMALE FOOD PANTRY VOLUNTEER 2:

Yeah, you, too!

BECKY:

There you go.

FEMALE FOOD PANTRY VOLUNTEER 3:

Have a nice day, guys!

KYAH:

I like her mask. I wish they'd give away masks.

BECKY:

You, too. Oh, Jesus!

KYAH:

What makes me the saddest about all this is seeing my mom like this. I try not to show my feelings because I know it would be overwhelming, and it makes things worse. I don't think I should have to carry these worries as a kid, but I just choose to. Because when my mom—when I can see that my mom feels like that, it makes me feel like that, then I start to—not blame it on myself, but feel like I wish I could help, but I can't. So it's just like, I feel like I stress myself out even though my mom tells me not to worry.

My stomach is hurting.

BECKY:

Want to lay down? You sure you don’t want to lay down? Huh? Sit up, kind of?

KYAH:

When I'm trapped I actually feel—I actually am—I feel depressed, even though kids shouldn't be depressed, but I feel like it really makes us depressed. And when I feel that way, I actually—sometimes I do cry. I feel drained and dark.

BECKY:

Oh, she’s crying.

KELIA:

She's crying?

BECKY:

Yeah, something's wrong for her to be responding like that.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Ohio food pantries are feeling the weight of the health crisIs.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Food pantries are finding new ways to keep our communities safe while providing their much-needed services.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Many Americans face the new challenge of putting food on the table.

MARIETTA, OHIO

LAIKYEN:

I’m Laikyen, and I’m 12 years old. I live in Marietta, Ohio, with my mom and my sister.

MIRACLE:

[laughs] Your aim sucks.

LAIKYEN, 12

LAIKYEN:

I am not in school right now because of the coronavirus, for three weeks.

You can’t even throw a football! All you can do is throw pompoms.

It's kind of sad because it's kind of boring. I don't get to see my friends.

My mom works at a gas station. This week she’s worked all nights. Next week she’s going to work mornings and sometimes she has midshift.

FANTASY:

Mox, come on.

MIRACLE:

He’s happy you’re home.

FANTASY:

You’re happy I’m home? Did you have a good day today, girls?

MIRACLE:

She woke up at 12. I woke her up.

FANTASY:

Did you do dishes?

MIRACLE:

No.

FANTASY:

Is it just too much to ask for?

MIRACLE:

I could sweep and do laundry.

FANTASY:

Dishes ain’t hard.

MIRACLE:

Dishes suck.

FANTASY:

Well, what are you gonna do when you get older? How are you gonna make it in college?

MIRACLE:

Paper plates.

FANTASY:

Paper plates.

MIRACLE:

Yep.

LAIKYEN:

I don’t think it’s good that I’m missing lots of school because my grades right now, my schoolwork is not very well. I watch my movies and that's really all I do. And eat. That’s what I do. Eat, sleep, sometimes learn.

I have to take ADHD medicine, but I don't take it because I don’t like it.

Sorry, I was in Laikyenland. I have a land that’s called Laikyenland and when I—you guys know when you just zone out, when you just stare and don’t blink? I have that and I have Laikyenland. It’s where I think. I think it's when I get stressed or something, when I'm like—I don't know. And I just stare something and it calms me down and I don't know why, but, yeah. I just stare at something and then I zone out and everything except what I'm staring at becomes blurry. See how I’m cross-eyed? See how I'm doing this right now? It looks blurry. I stare at it.

MIRACLE:

My mom has food stamps. Our food stamps have not stayed the same probably throughout my whole life.

MIRACLE, 16

MIRACLE:

Depending on my mom’s raise or decline or what job she’s had, they’ve always gone up and down. She doesn't really use her paychecks from work to buy our food because that’s more important to put towards bills or other stuff that we need.

FANTASY

Laikyen and Miracle's mother

FANTASY:

My paycheck yesterday was $214 and it's already gone because I had to get everything I needed. Plus I had a bill I had to pay, and I literally have $20 left to my name.

LAIKYEN:

In my opinion my mom don't get paid as much as she should because my mom works hard and she deserves a little bit more. But yeah.

FANTASY:

Being a single mom is hard. I mean, I can't—there's days I'm like, "How am I even gonna pay my electric bill?" If I could feed my kids without having assistance, you best betcha I would. But I can’t, especially when I’m doing everything alone. Thank God I own my house or I wouldn't be able to make it, period. There's no way I could afford rent right now. I don't know how people do it. Now insurance on my home, that I don't have, and that's the risk I have to take everyday waking up and hoping to hell it don't burn down to the ground.

FEMALE FOOD PANTRY VOLUNTEER:

How many in your family?

FANTASY:

Three.

FEMALE FOOD PANTRY VOLUNTEER:

Any veterans?

FANTASY:

No.

Some weeks I’m paycheck to paycheck. Most weeks I'm paycheck till the next day.

Stop.

FEMALE FOOD PANTRY VOLUNTEER:

How many children in your family?

FANTASY:

Two.

FEMALE FOOD PANTRY VOLUNTEER:

Two? Are you a single parent?

FANTASY:

Yes.

FEMALE FOOD PANTRY VOLUNTEER:

Is there anyone disabled?

FANTASY:

No.

Thank heavens there's the pantry down the street.

MALE FOOD PANTRY VOLUNTEER:

How are we doing?

LAIKYEN:

Good.

MALE FOOD PANTRY VOLUNTEER:

Flour, salt. Any chicken or—?

LAIKYEN:

Beef! If you have beef.

MALE FOOD PANTRY VOLUNTEER:

Yeah, we've got beef.

LAIKYEN:

Why do I have to hold it? You’re the mom!

Food pantry is like what Miss Candy does, and she helps people that needs help. She can give you food if you need it.

[gasps] Miss Candy!

CANDY:

My princess! Oh, Laikyen, I love you!

LAIKYEN:

I love you, too!

CANDY:

How was school for you before you guys had to—

LAIKYEN:

Oh, I’m failing.

CANDY:

—take a break? You're what?

LAIKYEN:

I’m failing.

CANDY:

Oh, my. Yeah?

LAIKYEN:

I have all Ds.

CANDY:

Get them up a little bit.

LAIKYEN:

Mmm hmm.

CANDY:

Apply yourself. Yeah, don't stress about it, just work a little bit at a time and get them up a little bit each time.

LAIKYEN:

OK, I will.

CANDY:

Just work on one thing at a time, OK?

LAIKYEN:

Mmm hmm.

CANDY:

OK.

LAIKYEN:

I'll let you get back to—

CANDY:

Cruisin' around!

LAIKYEN:

Yep. On your new—what’s the word? Wheels.

CANDY:

Yeah! Yeah. I love you.

LAIKYEN:

I love you.

CANDY:

And don't you forget it.

LAIKYEN:

It is not fun being off school this long at all. But we possibly may not even go back to school. But yeah. And Miracle’s very depressed about that 'cause now she probably won’t have prom.

That’s my sister’s prom dress. That black one.

MIRACLE:

I got it from my cousin. She wore it as a bridesmaid dress and she only wore it once and I thought it was cute. This is my first actual prom. I also have a date. I’m looking forward to having a date 'cause I’ve never had a date to a dance before, so—

LAIKYEN:

It’s beautiful! Want to see it walk?

FANTASY:

Laikyen, don’t wrinkle your sister’s dress up, now.

LAIKYEN:

Oh, I actually look pretty in it. [laughs] It's my sister's prom dress.

SHAWN:

I haven’t done schoolwork yet. My mom got a message by someone, she works at the school. Today the school is planning on delivering Chromebooks.

CRYSTAL:

He’s going to be getting his Chromebook and it’s going to be his homework and studies.

SHAWN:

Want to put some of her animal crackers on the tray?

CRYSTAL:

Not right now, honey. Shawn. Slow your roll.

SHAWN:

Transportation is difficult because my mom don't have a car because hers broke down.

CRYSTAL:

I was told that they think that it's a blown head gasket. It's basically my car is dead. When you have a vehicle you have to have money saved back for that, and—it’s not always easy.

So, we are gonna have to just go. See, that says "stay in your cars." All right, we’re just gonna get in line here. Here you wanna—you hold your sister. You just hold your sister back there.

FEMALE SCHOOL STAFFER:

Are you guys here to pick up computers?

CRYSTAL:

Yes, ma’am.

FEMALE SCHOOL STAFFER:

Do you have a vehicle?

CRYSTAL:

I don't have a vehicle. I live across the street and I have no way to get here.

FEMALE SCHOOL STAFFER:

Who are you picking up for?

CRYSTAL:

Shawn and Edward.

FEMALE SCHOOL STAFFER:

What grade?

CRYSTAL:

Eighth, both of them.

Sorry, my car is broke down, so. It's been unfortunate, especially during this time. Thank you so much. God bless you.

FEMALE SCHOOL STAFFER:

You're welcome. You, too. Take care.

CRYSTAL:

Let’s put these under here so they don't get wet. Nice Chromebooks. Ready to start your education. You want me to push? I am so, so glad—

SHAWN:

I'm not.

CRYSTAL:

—that you get to start doing some schoolwork, son.

SHAWN:

Why? Then I'm going to be asking if you’re homeschooling me, yup. Yup.

CRYSTAL:

Yeah. We’ll figure it out together.

SHAWN:

What's important about school is that I have support by my teachers, counseling and some of my friends.

Hey, really?

One of the main teachers that helped me a lot was Mrs. Matters and I haven't seen her since lockdown. But I know that she does have cancer, which really worries me.

Is there anything that I have to do, assigned?

CRYSTAL:

What?

SHAWN:

Is there something that I’m assigned to do yet?

CRYSTAL:

I don’t know, we'll have to read. Let me see my phone and I'll read the email. Let's check the emails.

This email—Shawn, I have to tell you something.

SHAWN:

I’m listening.

CRYSTAL:

The email said that Mrs. Matters passed away.

SHAWN:

Nuh-uh.

CRYSTAL:

It said she passed away at her home surrounded by her family and friends. Come here. It’s all right.

It’s OK. And the school says that they're sorry that your life has been disrupted and they'll be making every attempt to support you, and if you want we can request a phone call from your counselor. OK? You want to give him a hug? You want to give Bubby a hug? Do you know—was there something—was she was ill?

SHAWN:

Cancer.

CRYSTAL:

She’s been battling cancer.

SHAWN:

When was it?

CRYSTAL:

This was just sent today, honey.

SHAWN:

The loss of her is really big to me, and I don't think anyone else can take her spot. She was there for me when I needed her. She taught me how to read. She’d just brightened up my morning by just simply saying—by smiling at me and saying "good morning."

KYAH:

Coronavirus has had a big impact on us because the place we’re at is getting annoying. It's such a tight space and it's three people. Sometimes we’ll go to my mom’s friend’s house to get away.

BECKY:

Nikki has a degree, she’s a surgical tech.

KYAH:

So that’s one of my options.

BECKY:

Of what?

KYAH:

Surgical tech.

BECKY:

As a career? You didn’t tell me that.

KYAH:

Yes, huh. I did tell, a lot.

It's a relief being here. You just feel like you have more freedom.

This is what I would look up.

MALE VOICE ON YOUTUBE VIDEO:

—bonus cottage, with sauna, steam, massage area—

KYAH:

I used to watch these all the time.

MALE VOICE ON YOUTUBE VIDEO:

—$40 million, $500 thousand. Let’s take a look.

BECKY:

Forty million. [laughs] Can you imagine a $40 million house, Kelia? Can you imagine a $40 million house?

KYAH

KYAH:

I like looking at houses on the internet to know that someday we're going to get that again.

BECKY:

The next move is getting a job to bring that income and saving and then we can apartment hunt, because I have to have the application fee and the processing fees. I don’t have another $185 for every place that I apply for.

Imagine the pivot with your foot still there, though. Now just turn.

Where we find housing is important to me because Kyah has already expressed to me, time and time again, that she wants to stay in her school district. Her school district is a lot more expensive, and that kind of does make the search for housing harder.

KYAH:

Well, I would choose not to change schools because I used to not like going to school because I used to get bullied a lot. So I used to beg my mom to stay home. And I don't think it will just be wise to go through that all again and messing up my education. I just think that education should be your first priority.

So every time I call, she say she's gonna call me back. Every time I call her, she say she gonna call me back.

When I was going through getting bullied it made me—I don't know, it just made me really sad and self-conscious about myself. It can affect people more than it affected me, because I know people who have actually cut their self and stuff like that over bullying. And a lot of people take their lives over it, but luckily, I was younger. My mindset wasn't there and I wouldn't think about suicidal stuff. I would just not want to be there.

When I'm dancing, I feel like I can just let all my emotions out and just breathe, and don't have to worry about anything else that you know you’re going through.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

First, Ohio children were to stay out of the classroom and focus on virtual learning until April 6. Now, it’s May 1. State leaders say it was a difficult decision, and what you can do to make sure your child does not fall behind.

LAIKYEN:

You got this.

LAIKYEN

LAIKYEN:

The government shut down school for the rest of next month and we'll go back to school on May 1, but we possibly may not even go back to school.

FANTASY:

There you go! Good job.

MIRACLE:

I got a Twitter notification about the announcement. The governor tweeted about it.

MIRACLE

MIRACLE:

It kind of made me a little bummed out because it meant that I don’t get to see my friends or really anybody else for another month. Prom I knew was gone by the—Trump’s announcement of the 30—April 30 being in quarantine.

FANTASY:

During this time of mandated school closures, it is important that our students keep their skills and continue to grow as learners.

FANTASY

FANTASY:

Helpful tips for parents: [laughs] remain calm. Monitor television and viewing on social media.

LAIKYEN:

[laughs]

FANTASY:

Maintain a normal routine as much as possible and make yourself available.

LAIKYEN:

If we can’t finish the rest of the year, we may get held back again. I was held back in kindergarten. I was held back because I was not smart.

Fifth grade assignment packet! Seven timetable targets—we have not even learned any of this. I think there's this teacher thing and I think it helps us learn it.

FANTASY:

There might be something in there.

LAIKYEN:

I can watch videos.

FANTASY:

Yeah?

LAIKYEN:

Oh, lord, I hate these things.

MIRACLE:

I do worry about Laikyen a lot. She's going to be the wild child, I can already see it, 'cause I got my head on my shoulders and there's always that one.

LAIKYEN:

That’s too much. Oh, God, more reading.

FANTASY:

Don’t say that.

LAIKYEN:

Nine times two is 152, right?

FANTASY:

No.

LAIKYEN:

I’m thinking.

FANTASY:

If they keep these schools shut I’m going to go crazy. I cannot teach her. I don’t have the patience.

MIRACLE:

All of the younger grades, it’s really hard for any of them to do their work because they’re younger, and they’re used to having that structure at school where their teacher tells them to do their work. And if they’re at home, their parents are at work or just don’t enforce it how they should of how they need to do their school work.

CANDY:

Democracy is—

LAIKYEN:

They gave me a packet. And I go down to the Gospel Mission and Miss Candy helps me.

CANDY:

We’re going to get that D up.

LAIKYEN:

I don’t care.

CANDY:

Yeah, you do. Yeah, you do care. I care. Jeff cares. And you'd care. It’s just a lot—

LAIKYEN:

I don’t really care.

CANDY:

It’s just a lot on you right now 'cause you didn’t get it done. We could have done it, and now we’re just—

LAIKYEN:

I just can’t. I can't—

CANDY:

It’s all right.

LAIKYEN:

No, I can’t concentrate.

MIRACLE:

If Laikyen doesn’t do her work then she's probably going to struggle. It's harder for Laikyen because she has ADHD and her mind's all over the place.

LAIKYEN:

I can’t concentrate.

CANDY:

The leader of North Korea—

LAIKYEN:

I’m reading it! I have to read it myself.

CANDY:

OK.

LAIKYEN:

I just need to know what I'm doing and I know what I'm doing. I just need—just—

CANDY:

You just need what?

LAIKYEN:

I don’t know. Just let me try to figure it out.

If I was held back again I would be sad because I want to go to the middle school already.

SHAWN:

So, are you getting the cheeseburger?

EDWARD:

Yeah, Shawn. What are you getting, chicken nuggets?

EDWARD, 15

SHAWN:

What I miss most about school is spending time with my friends, talking to them, being able to communicate. Some classes where I had a lot of friends in, like gym class or recess, stuff like that. Because of the virus, don’t do a lot of contact with other people other than family.

EDWARD:

Great, McDonald's is packed today! Yo, it’s gonna be a minute before we order our food.

SHAWN:

You might want to hurry up, then.

SHAWN

SHAWN:

I only have so much to do at home inside, and I usually like to go outside and play basketball, but now I can’t really do that because of the virus. You’re not supposed to be in a group with a lot of people. Being online, I can still talk to people and communicate with them, but I’d much rather communicate with them in person.

You want a cheeseburger or nuggets?

DIOR:

Nuggets.

SHAWN:

Nuggets?

EDWARD:

Yo, a Mustang.

SHAWN:

I usually spend time with my brother and my sister, Dior. I usually take her on walks sometimes. I walk to McDonald's because they have a free lunch for school-aged kids.

EDWARD:

Hello?

DIOR:

Hello! Hello!

EDWARD:

We’re here for the free lunch.

SHAWN:

My mom thinks of me as a father-figure to her 'cause she don’t really have one.

CRYSTAL:

He is the little man of this house. He takes on that role.

SHAWN:

Oh, really, now. Oh, really.

CRYSTAL

CRYSTAL:

Help me feed her, get her diapers together, carry her, watch cartoons with her, play with her—those type of things that a father would do. So, I tell Shawn that he is her brother-father and he likes that. [laughs]

SHAWN:

Family is really important to me. My family was like my role model. Now that I've—now I’m older, now I have to be Dior’s role model. It’s a lot of pressure on me, but I try to do my best.

If I feel sad or something, I have a counselor to talk to. I told my mom that I needed one because there aren't as much people with my skin color down here. I just keep building up stuff that I really want to talk about. I first had a counselor I’d say in fifth grade.

JESSE:

What I like about this location is if it ends up being rainy, we could probably then meet here if we need to.

SHAWN:

OK.

Jesse is my counselor. Since this virus and stuff hit, I haven’t seen him much—maybe around once a month.

JESSE:

Where should we start? Where would you like to start? We got finishing the school year, dealing with coronavirus and all of the things that's done in our life.

SHAWN:

If I feel sad or something, and I express to my mom, that would make her feel sad, and so I just would keep it to myself.

If my anger keeps building up, I could get mad and do something that wouldn't be good or do something that would get me in trouble instead of talking to somebody and releasing all the anger and stress and just—it’s like—it’s pretty much gone.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Hundreds rally to protest police brutality after the death of George Floyd.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Demonstrations have popped up in cities small and large, including places like Cleveland and Columbus.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Protests are happening during a pandemic, so they are advising people to wear their masks.

KIM:

OK, y’all good? Can I wear those? Those are adorable.

KYAH:

My grandma actually does help us sometimes. She’s been more of a help than anyone else. My grandma doesn't have lots of money, but she can do what she can. She does a lot in the community. She actually gives back a lot.

KELIA:

Through her work I’ve watched her be an advocate for people who don’t have voices.

KIM:

Back in our days, they were—they were fighting. People were dying just to get the right to vote. Back then it was just the boys. But now we have to tell our daughters if you get into a confrontation with a police, just keep your hands up and don't get smart.

KELIA

KELIA:

I was aware of racism and being Black at a very young age. In third grade, I remember bringing a Baby Alive doll to school for show and tell. And the baby doll was Caucasian, and I was a little Black—little African American kid. And everyone was asking me, "Why is your doll a different color than you? You're not Caucasian. You need an African American doll." And that's when I became aware of the difference in skin tones and how people could treat you.

KIM:

We have to get involved. You got to encourage your friends and your older friends to vote. Kelia, you gotta vote. You're 18. You're gonna vote. You registered? We can get you started on that right now.

KIM

Kyah and Kelia's grandmother

KIM:

I get phone calls now all the time from friends who are asking how do they activate white lives to change or be effective in awareness of what's happening. I think that this grew different because of just being on lockdown, being told what to do. I think y'all probably experienced that Black life that we do every day. That the knee on the neck is also the pandemic locking down the whole America. We can't breathe, we're done. You know what I'm saying? And that helplessness.

You’re a registered voter. High five. The power of one, you're now part of the team. You are going to be a law-changer. You get to vote for the president of the United States. You can keep that favorite person in there now or you can vote for somebody else.

KYAH:

If this is still going on, I’m not having no kids.

KIM:

The younger generation are part of the bigger heart. And I believe that this generation is a generation of change. And they have more answers than they think.

KYAH:

This is my first year ever doing stuff like this, so I just think that I should get all the experience I can. We shouldn't have to do all this stuff. We shouldn't have to riot or protest just for them to hear us. Your color doesn’t define anything—well, it shouldn’t.

KIM:

It's so many layers. It's easier to give up. It's harder to fight and win.

CROWD [chanting]:

Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot! Don't shoot!

BECKY

BECKY:

I think that them having an education, going to college, just being able to live the life that statistically they say we will fail at. So, yeah, this affects every dynamic of where we go in life. Because the color of our skin, it’s always been an issue.

KYAH

KYAH:

I think it does make it harder to get out of poverty. I actually am worried about the future because I just want us to be good and don't have to worry about how we're going to get the next thing or how we're going to get food. I just want us to be all right.

KELIA:

I have hope, though. I have hope that this is where the struggle stops for my family. Because I'm a female, maybe I'm not as—I don't feel as scared or threatened. But I think the males have it way, way, way harder than Black females.

CRYSTAL:

What about that? That's awesome. I like that one right there.

EDWARD:

I’m going to do that.

SHAWN:

I think being Black could affect my opportunities in the future. If I want to get a job and it’s a white person that don't like Black people, they just would turn me down.

SHAWN

SHAWN:

So, yeah, I think it could affect my opportunities in the future.

CRYSTAL:

I want you guys to experience what it’s like tomorrow when people come together and when you stand up for what you believe in. I don’t want you to be afraid to do that.

When I turned 18 I moved into an area where it was predominately Black. And when I first moved to that area my first feelings was, "Oh, my gosh, there’s Black people, roll up your windows." I was scared because I was never exposed to that culture, and my father always made it something for me to fear. I ended up meeting Edward and Shawn’s dad and learned it was OK to love somebody that wasn’t of my skin color. It just made me feel like what my father taught me was ignorant, disgusting and stupid. I’m just glad that I didn’t follow in his footsteps. I wouldn’t have Shawn, Edward or Dior. [laughs]

Their dad isn’t an active part in their life. I was with him 11 years but ended up separating.

CROWD [chanting]:

No racist police! No justice, no peace! No racist police!

SHAWN [chanting]:

Black lives matter! Black lives matter!

CRYSTAL:

My boys prove that I broke the chains. It's a scary world for them to live in right now because that racism does exist. I want them to know that they can stick up for themselves. When I was their age I wouldn’t even be allowed at a place like this. It was a very, very different world that I live in today.

CROWD [chanting]:

I can’t breathe!

SHAWN, EDWARD AND CRYSTAL [chanting]:

I can’t breathe!

CROWD [chanting]:

I can’t breathe!

SHAWN, EDWARD AND CRYSTAL [chanting]:

I can’t breathe!

CRYSTAL:

I can feel why people are sad, especially when they said, "I can't breathe." To think that that's the last words that he said before he died. How cruel that is. [cries]

It makes me feel good that I broke—broken that cycle. I think if I can do it, anybody can do it.

LAIKYEN:

My mom, she says my ADD kicks in because I don’t get to see anyone.

LAIKYEN

LAIKYEN:

ADD, ADHD, same potato-potahto. ADD. It's AD, AD, AD. Cats and boots, and cats and boots, and cats and boots.

Just listen, OK? Everything will be OK if you make me feel—

MIRACLE:

Ow!

MIRACLE:

I worry about her. I really hope she gets everything done and grows to be a little bit more responsible. She's gonna be behind because she hasn't done her work at the end of this school year.

MIRACLE

MIRACLE:

Some of her friends could be in higher classes and she’ll be in lower classes and it could separate her from her friends or other stuff like that.

LAIKYEN:

I have a hangry. My mommy, I need food. I don’t even think I’ve had a drink today.

FANTASY

FANTASY:

Hopefully she goes up a little bit and realizes I have to do this and this to make it through.

LAIKYEN:

I’m hungry!

FANTASY:

There is no way I could pay for extra schooling for that child, not even tutoring. I have received extra food stamps cause of COVID. That stimulus, that paid half my bills, but now it’s getting down to the nitty-gritty again.

I get disconnects every month. I just got a disconnect on my electric today. Get a disconnect, you either pay it or it gets shut off. That ain’t getting paid right now.

This is our new normal. I might need a washer now [laughs], by the sounds of it!

Why do you want to move away from me for?

MIRACLE:

Because.

FANTASY:

Because why?

MIRACLE:

I want to leave here. Explore the world.

FANTASY:

Are you going to take me with you?

MIRACLE:

No.

FANTASY:

Thanks.

MIRACLE:

I need some time without my mother. Mom, I need time to be free, be myself.

FANTASY:

Well, you’re yourself now!

MIRACLE:

No, away from you.

FANTASY:

Thanks!

I've lived here my whole life. You can only get up out of it if you want up out of it, want a better life for yourself, and that is something Miracle does. She does want a better life for herself.

MIRACLE:

The biggest barrier would definitely be money going to college because I'm going to be a first-generation.

FANTASY:

Then the little hoodrats busted out the windows and stuff.

MIRACLE:

It was an antique shop, too.

FANTASY:

After the Harmer grocery, yes, yes, it was.

MIRACLE:

See, I know stuff.

The perfect picture of my future would be to live in a suburb-type area and be teaching at an elementary school with a big happy family. If it all went wrong, well, I’d probably be poor. [laughs]

LAIKYEN:

'Cause Miracle—I know Miracle. She’ll become a teacher, not even think about her mom, maybe call her once in a while, move to New York or California. Because Miracle will just leave her, and when Mom needs me, I'll be there. I'll be the good daughter. Because I want to live a very good life with my very good children I hope to have one day. But, yeah. Meow.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Signs that the economy may be recovering as consumer confidence is up. Businesses are reopening across the country.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

The hope is, though, that the worst might be behind us.

KYAH:

Recently, my mom just started doing nails at some girl’s shop, and she's the only nail tech in there. So what services they get determines on how much money she makes.

BECKY:

Things were closed. When we opened back up, salons opened back up, right? I called a salon and they were looking for a nail tech, and it just worked out. I've been here for about three weeks and I'm just excited about being able to start making a little bit of money.

KYAH:

She is really good at doing nails. She's doing good. She's doing really good. I just love her.

BECKY:

With being back, just kind of nervous and hoping and praying that we don't get shut back down because of this pandemic. For right now I'm taking it one day at a time and just saving as much as I can.

KYAH:

There’s way more kids like this that's going through the same thing as we are, because sometimes life just happens and things go the wrong way, and maybe you end up losing a job or something and it just doesn’t go right. I just want us to be good and in a house. Just happy.

BECKY:

Ten count!

KYAH:

10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.

FANTASY:

Well, if you keep chewing your fingernails you’re going to get the coronavirus.

LAIKYEN:

I hope I don’t get it.

FANTASY:

I hope so, too, but—

LAIKYEN:

Because if I get it, you'll be emotional, and if I die, you'll be emotional.

FANTASY:

I’ll be a mess. I’d rather have it than you have it.

SHAWN:

When I get older, I wouldn't want to live here. I’d want to get a good, stable job. I want to live somewhere where there’s a beach.

To climb out of poverty, it's probably a really hard struggle, but I think it is possible and that I hope I really try my best to.

CRYSTAL:

[sings] You are my sunshine, my only sunshine—

KELIA:

I don’t think nobody would choose to be poor. Sometimes it may look like that, because sometimes people can just give up and accept it. But I don't think nobody would choose to be poor.

MIRACLE:

I’m going to be a first-generation. So, I’m going to show that it’s OK to get out of this. So, yeah.

KYAH:

It's not going to be easy at all trying to meet my dreams. I feel like I'm going to have to work very hard and stay focused and be determined so I can get there.

54m
Demonstrators clash with police during a protest in Oakland
Policing the Police 2020
FRONTLINE returns to a troubled police department after four years to examine whether reform can work.
September 15, 2020