Trial witness Derek Chauvin writes book to help children deal with trauma


Darnella Frazier would never have recorded the video of George Floyd’s death, which helped convict Derek Chauvin, if she had said no to her cousin’s request to walk to the store.

Her cousin, Judeah Reynolds, 9, wanted to buy candy but was too young to walk on her own. Reynolds persisted, and Frazier eventually agreed to walk. Reynolds and Frazier would soon be caught up in history.

On Friday – the day Floyd would have celebrated her 49th birthday – Reynolds released a book about what she witnessed and ways to help children deal with traumatic events.

In his book, “A Walk to the Store,” Reynolds writes, “When we get to the store, we see something bad. At first we don’t know what’s going on, but we know it’s bad. My cousin uses her phone to make a video.

“I can’t stop thinking about it and I feel so sad,” Reynolds adds later in the book. “I have trouble sleeping. When I sleep, I have bad dreams. When I wake up from a scary dream, my mom hugs me. Hugs help me feel better.

The book contains a worksheet with questions and exercises to help children deal with traumatic events. The guide, for example, recommends keeping the same things. A child who has experienced a disruptive traumatic incident needs normality and routine. He also says to use honest language and seek professional help if things don’t improve.

Reynolds, now 11, was shocked when she saw the first copy of her book.

“I said, ‘It’s me.’ It was surprising,” she told CNN, describing the book cover showing her wearing a teal shirt with the word love written on it. It resembles the shirt she wore on the day Floyd died. .

When asked how many copies she planned to sell, she replied “1 billion”. Yes, she knows that’s a lot of copies.

Reynolds says she got the idea to write the book from another child – Cameron Brundidge – who used the power of storytelling to educate people about autism.

“She made me want to write a book. I saw her book the day I met her and I was like, ‘I want one too,'” Reynolds said.

Reynolds told his story to Cameron’s mother, entrepreneur and activist Sheletta Brundidge. Brundidge, who has written three children’s books based on her children’s experiences, is an advocate for representation in media and literature. Reynolds says she received a copy of Cameron’s book from Brundidge.

“And that was the first time she saw a little girl on the cover of the book who was a central character who looked like her. Hair like hers, nose like hers, and skin like hers. that’s why it’s so important that we keep saying representation matters,” Brundidge said.

Reynolds was the youngest witness to testify in the trial against Chauvin, who was convicted on three counts in Floyd’s murder. Reynolds asked his father what guilty meant on the day the verdict was read. Today, it has its own definition.

“It means like when you lie and they find out your truth,” she said.

In this image from a police body camera, bystanders, including Darnella Frazier, filming, third from right, witness Derek Chauvin, then a Minneapolis police officer, pressing his knee on George Floyd's neck for several minutes, killing him on May 25, 2020, in Minneapolis.

Outrage over the incident has helped spark an international movement of protest against police brutality, while elevating the national conversation about race and social injustice.

The four officers involved in Floyd’s death have been fired and charged.

Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane were found guilty of violating Floyd’s civil rights. Thao and Kueng were also convicted of an additional federal charge earlier this year for failing to intervene to arrest Chauvin. Thao and Kueng were sentenced to three and a half and three years in federal prison, respectively.

Thao and Kueng still face state trial for aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter. They pleaded not guilty.

Lily Coyle is the owner of Beaver’s Pond Press, the publishing house behind Reynolds’ book. Coyle says she didn’t want to tell that story. She struggled to find a way to tell the story that wouldn’t be hurtful.

“It’s kind of an honorable burden. It was a beautiful thing to work on, but it was so painful,” she said. “How many other kids have seen this video or witnessed something else traumatic, whether in person or online?”

The illustrator gave her time, others agreed to be paid later or offered their services. Coyle says they bear all costs associated with producing the book and pay Reynolds 60% of the profits. As Coyle and Brundidge had writing sessions with Reynolds, they awaited clarification on the direction of the book.

Judeah Reynolds book cover

“I don’t want to release a children’s book to the world that hurts children or makes life more difficult for people. It has to be a healing tool, and we want to bring grace to this horrible situation,” Coyle said. “We really want kids to understand that bad things happen, but there are so many more good people in the world. See evil but not be consumed by it. You can be part of what is good instead of fueling the flames of what is bad and letting it consume you.

Almost two years later, the pain is still deep. At Creative Kuponya, it’s not just children who need help dealing with traumatic events.

The mental health practice is a few blocks from what has become known as George Floyd Square. Mental health professional Jamil Stamschort-Lott says about 85% of the clients he treats at the practice he shares with his wife identify as people of color. On average, they treat about 120 patients who identify as young (7-24 years old) each year. Stamschort-Lott says he sees kids, lawyers and professional athletes, including Minnesota Timberwolves players.

“Covid and George Floyd exacerbated what was already there. After George Floyd, our number quadrupled. We have hired three new clinicians and we still cannot meet the demand,” he told CNN. “As a black clinician, I see black men coming to the table, and it goes against the stigma that has been pushed – 95% of my clients are black men. If you build it, they will come.”

Stamschort-Lott says research shows that about 90% of successful therapies are related to the power of the relationship. And Renolds’ book is a way to help the community. Stamschort-Lott says adults should give children space to process and allow them to share how they feel.

That’s part of the reason Reynolds planned to distribute about 150 books on Friday to students at Josie R. Johnson Montessori School in Minneapolis.

Reynolds says that by sharing her story, she learned she can help make things better. She told CNN she wants other children who may have survived a traumatic experience to believe they can too.

“I’m too small to walk alone to the store,” she says at the end of her book. “But I’m big enough and brave enough to make things better in a really BIG way.”

Angela C. Hale