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FERGUSON, Mo. — Darius Pikes' 10-year-old wants to know why black men are harassed.

Pikes tells his son the answer is racism.

"My son has asked me: Why is it that black males are harassed? He's asking why is it, the police are supposed to protect and serve the citizens, then why does it seem like they're bullying the citizens? He actually used that word," Pikes said. "He said, can the principals of the schools, can they come and talk to the people about bullying because they talk about it in school."

Pikes has been teaching for 13 years, currently as a music teacher in Ferguson, Mo. The death of Michael Brown, a black teenager, has sparked protests here for more than a week. Brown, who was unarmed, was shot by white police officer Darren Wilson on Aug. 9. For Pikes, the incident is a chance to have important conversations.

"A lot of the kids are confused about what's going on, but I think this is a really good opportunity to talk to them about racism because racism is alive and well," Pikes said.

The situation in Ferguson presents an opportunity for parents to speak with children about issues of fairness, said Jennifer Baker, director of the Robert J. Murney clinic in Springfield, Mo., which offers counseling and psychological services.

Parents should acknowledge to their children that bad things happen, but added that they should not unnecessarily expose their children to violence. Parents should also tell children they do everything they can to keep them safe.

Baker said parents can ask children questions about how they respond when they think situations are unfair or whether they have ever treated someone different because they were not like them. For children older than 10 or so, more specific conversations about racism may be appropriate, she said.

"What do they know about Martin Luther King Jr.? What do they know about Jim Crow laws?" said Baker. "They might not even be aware that at one time African Americans had to sit on the back of the bus, go to different schools, use different water fountains. This is a good place to give a little history lesson and say, 'What do you think that would be like?' "

For Pikes, the answer to what racism is like is deeply personal. He tells his son that even though he is an educated man, he still experiences racism.

On Wednesday afternoon, Pikes was bicycling through a residential area in Ferguson. He said driving attracts the attention of police, whom he said will pull over black drivers. According to data from the Missouri Attorney General's Office, blacks in Ferguson are more likely to be stopped than the general population.

As Pikes describes it, the world is "governed by racism." Pikes said it is "wishful thinking" that his son could someday live in a world where that is not the case.

"I'm preparing my son to live in a world governed by racism and not selling him the false dream that racism will ever be eliminated," Pikes said.

Contributing: Jackie Rehwald, Springfield (Mo.) News-Leader

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