The moment I heard the name Philando Castile in a news report several days ago, I felt anguish.
In a matter of seconds, the news story took me on an emotional roller coaster ride from feeling weary to feeling hopeful.
The mention of Philando Castile’s name moved my thoughts immediately to the dashcam video that was released by police in June, four days after a Minnesota police officer was acquitted of fatally shooting Castile during a traffic stop.
You remember Philando Castile, right?
He’s the school nutrition supervisor who was shot and killed while trying to reach for his identification during a traffic stop in July 2016. He, his girlfriend and her four-year-old daughter were on their way home from buying groceries.
I admit that I don’t know all of the ins and outs of what happened that day. But I do remember being horrified when I heard about the shooting because it appeared that Philando Castile had done everything he was supposed to do –he was respectful, polite, and cooperative in handing the officer his insurance card – but he still ended up dead.
As I searched myself for the source of my despair, I came to the realization that for me, the Philando Castile story highlights the daunting reality of being black in America – living constantly with the distressing reality that racial and ethnic disparities are pervasive and trying constantly to figure out how not to hate yourself while navigating a society that hates you, just because your skin is brown.
There is nothing ordinary about being black in America. It can sometimes be mentally exhausting to simply navigate through a day.
And then, someone like Pamela Fergus comes along and renews your faith in humankind – gives you the kind of hope you need to keep from feeling hopeless.
Pamela Fergus is a Minneapolis-St. Paul area college professor who was also devastated by the dashcam video of the shooting of Philando Castile. She is the reason Philando Castile’s name was in recent news headlines.
The professor was moved by the compassion of the adored Montessori school cafeteria manager — who paid for the lunches of a countless number of students out of his own pocket and took the time to know each student by name — to set up an online fund-raising campaign called “Philando Feeds the Children.”
A couple of months ago, Pamela Fergus enlisted the help of her students to raise $5,000 to pay off the lunch debt of children at the elementary school where Philando Castile worked.
Within weeks, the campaign had raised $50,000. Now that number is in excess of $90,000 – more than enough to pay off the debt of students in all of the St. Paul, Minnesota public schools.
Pamela Fergus’ effort raised my awareness about the nearly 20 million children who are on the free and reduced lunch program in America.
According to the School Nutrition Association, 76 percent of America’s school districts have children with school lunch debt.
School districts handle lunch debt differently. Some students have their hot lunches taken away and are given an alternative meal (like a cheese sandwich and milk). Others are required to work off their debt or wear wristbands, identifying them as being unable to pay for their lunch. It’s embarrassing that students in America are shamed in such a manner.
But back to Fergus’ campaign.
“Philando Feeds the Children” now has a goal of creating a permanent fund to not only pay off school lunch debt but to educate parents and guardians about assistance programs in a long-term effort to reduce lunch debt.
What a wonderful tribute to the legacy of a man who made a difference in the lives of the children he came into contact with every day.
I am thankful to Pamela Fergus for radiating hope, which gives me the much-needed energy to continue moving toward justice for all.