Judiciary Committee Chairman Steve Lathrop had just wrapped up an emotional day filled with stories on the black experience in Nebraska and the police mistreatment that runs through it.
He was telling those few remaining from the more than 90 people who had approached the committee on Monday that it was long after 5 p.m. and he had to turn the Scott Center in Omaha back over to the folks who run it.
There was a shuffling off camera and an 8-year-old girl hurried to the microphone. She had been waiting patiently, an hour and a half, and she just had to say something about her 7-year-old brother.
“I know you’re tired,” she said, opening her fuzzy pink, white and green rainbow notebook, “but I’m tired of black people not being treated right.”
She spoke in a quiet voice of innocence, but one that also has heard stories of pain that could be visited on a young boy so close to her own age, so much the same but different. She read her simple, to-the-point words from a notebook that held a journal of her thoughts and feelings, the songs she makes up, and now her speeches.
Her name, for the record: E-l-e-a-n-o-r-a M-a-r-i-n-k-o-v-i-c-h.
“My brother is black,” she continued, “and I hear that you all can make laws to make the world a better place for him to live.”
Even at age 8, she said, she knows he is treated unfairly, based merely on having skin color that is darker than hers.
She didn’t know what those laws might be, but knew from her lessons in school that if something goes wrong, you fix it. Please, she told the senators, fix things so her brother can dress and play however he wants, and have the same opportunities she can.
Eleanora and her brother Leo live with their parents and little sister Edda in a predominantly white neighborhood in Omaha. They have also lived in the very different, more diverse country of Tanzania in East Africa.
“She is seven months older than her brother Leo,” said Andy Marinkovich, their father. “They don’t remember time before either one of them wasn’t around or they weren’t together.”
Andy and his wife Adrianne were matched for adoption with Leo, who is from the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, when he was 9 months old, and brought him home to Omaha when he was 18 months old. They believe he had been in two orphanages before they adopted him.
His name then was Tesfahun and the family kept that as his middle name. It means “to be my hope.”
“It’s so fitting for him because he is just such a light in our family and in the world because he’s just a happy-go-lucky kid,” Marinkovich said. “He brings hope to us in just his way of being.”
The couple has been talking to their children about the protests of George Floyd’s killing and what was happening in Omaha and the country. They have searched out the best ways to have those conversations about black lives in America with their children in ways they could understand.
Adrianne Marinkovich said she and Eleanora watched Monday’s hearing during lunch that day, and the little girl turned to her mother and said: “I want to go talk.”
Later, Eleanora explained she wanted to speak to the senators because Leo is “really important to me, and I want him to have a really good life.”
She believes Leo should be able to wear his athletic hoodies, without her parents fearing for his safety. She’s heard other black youths, like Trayvon Martin, have been hurt and even killed as they were wearing hoodies, and she did not want that to happen to her brother.
In their neighborhood they think about those perceptions of clothing worn by black kids, Andy Marinkovich said. “We know a lot of the families, but what about the families that don’t (know him)?” he said.
They’ve also had hard conversations with Leo about playing with Nerf guns and water guns with friends in the neighborhood.
“We have a rule in our family that we just don’t do that,” the father said. “We try to explain it to him that we aren’t doing that to cause him pain, but there’s bigger things at play here. And it’s hard for him to understand that as a 7-year-old.”
There’s no great time to start having those conversations, he said. But you’ve got to start them young.
Leo sees his white friends doing things he cannot do.
“We’ve had the conversation so many times, but you’ve got to keep reinforcing it, and it hurts every time you’ve got to say it,” his father said. “I just think about the one time that kids not much older than him have made national news because, it’s a squirt gun, it’s a toy gun, it’s a pack of Skittles, it’s a phone.”
People don’t think twice before they react. And unfortunately that includes police officers, he said.
Tamir Rice, 12, was shot and killed in Cleveland by a police officer because he was carrying a replica airsoft gun, even though the person who called the police said it was probably fake and the gun carrier was probably a juvenile.
So doing this important anti-racism work during this critical movement, “is life or death for our family,” Adrianne Marinkovich said.
They have, in reality, been doing that work from the moment they decided as a young married couple they wanted to adopt a child from Africa.
“Right now, we are immensely grateful for the resources that are being elevated around how to do it better,” she said. “Many more people are talking about it, and we’re continuing to learn and grow through this moment, and we hope this moment just continues.”
At the forum, Eleanora’s mother had her wait until the end, because she was mindful of the importance of not elevating her daughter’s voice over any black voices that spoke to the committee.
Her father said he was moved by his daughter’s speech. He would not have been able to get up there and do what she did at her age, he said.
Leo had soccer practice and didn’t attend the forum, but he told his sister he was happy about what she had done.
“He said thank you, like four times,” Eleanora said.
The generally introverted girl admitted she was a little nervous before talking to the senators.
“I would say my legs were shaking, but otherwise it was awesome,” she said.
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On Twitter @LJSLegislature
This article originally ran on journalstar.com.