Tykeshia Henry-Burch thought it was a joke. Her 14-year-old son enjoys watching prank videos, so when he showed her a video of a woman using a racial slur while berating him for dropping a gum wrapper on the ground Sunday in St. Petersburg, it never occurred to her it could be real.
“Did you make this up?” she asked. “How did you get this on video?”
“No, mom, I didn’t make this up,” her son, Barry Henry, assured her. “You can call Grandma and ask her.”
When Henry-Burch realized that what she was seeing had actually happened, her reaction changed completely.
“I was livid,” she said. “I really couldn’t even process it. I was literally shocked.”
The video, shot by Henry’s cousin, has received more than 2,200 reactions, almost 3,000 comments and more than 5,800 shares since Henry’s sister, Deysha Adriana, posted it on Facebook on Sunday. You can view it here.
The incident occurred after Henry, a ninth grader at Pinellas Park High School, left a FedEx store near Williams Park Sunday in downtown St. Petersburg. His grandmother, a mobile notary signing agent, had dropped off some documents. Earlier, Henry, his cousin and his grandmother had attended a service at his grandmother’s church. Before that, Henry had attended a service at another church with his mother.
Henry bought a pack of Extra gum inside the store. As he was leaving, he removed a piece from the pack and thoughtlessly threw the wrapper to the ground. He said he meant to pick it up, but then a middle-aged white woman started yelling at him.
“Nuh uh, don’t even act like that!" the woman can be heard yelling at Henry, who is black. "Pick it up! Find it! Get down on your knees and find it!
She points at the ground.
"Get down on your knees and find it!”
Wanting to avoid a confrontation, Henry’s grandmother tells him to get in their car.
As Henry turns and walks away, a nervous smile on his face, the woman continues her rant, adding a racial slur.
“No account little n-----!” she shouts. "That’s how you are! All y’all, no account f------ n------! Walking around here acting like something!”
She then turns to Henry’s cousin, who is recording the exchange. “Film me, f------! Film me!"
Henry was “a little traumatized the day it happened,” his mother said, “but he’s doing fine" now.
“He knows he’s not any of those words.”
Said Henry, “You never imagine somebody would ever call you that in public in any type of way. You’d never think that. It was like a shock.”
After watching the video, Henry-Burch said she asked her son to send it to her, then texted it to her other two, older children.
“It was so unbelievable to me,” Henry-Burch said. “I was so hurt and just couldn’t believe she had said those things to my son. He’s only 14. He’s never been called those things in his life.”
Henry-Burch said she would have preferred her daughter not post the video on Facebook, but she understands her thinking.
“She posted it against my will,” Henry-Burch said, “but I think her reasoning was to heighten awareness that racism still exists in 2019.”
The family has received mostly supportive responses to the post, Henry-Burch said.
St. Petersburg City Council member Steve Kornell shared Adriana’s post on Facebook. He offered to honor Henry at this week’s council meeting, citing “his extreme politeness towards this woman who did not deserve it at all."
Henry-Burch said her son and nephew were offered the chance to attend the Rays playoff game Monday at Tropicana Field but couldn’t go because it was during school hours.
Henry-Burch said she had a conversation with her son on Sunday about the gum wrapper: “You know we don’t litter,” she told him.
“Mom," he responded, "I didn’t even think about it.”
As for the woman in the video, Henry-Burch said she isn’t interested in knowing her identity.
“I don’t care to know who it is,” she said. “She needs help. We don’t wish any ill will on her. If she needs some mental health, I would hope she would get it.”
Henry’s sister echoed her mother’s sentiments in an update to her Facebook post.
“My family would like to first thank those who have expressed their genuine concern towards my younger brother in regards to the video," her post reads. "The point of this post is/was to continue to raise awareness regarding inappropriate behavior, and racism in our city, country, and world. Please note that we are not a confrontational family, and we are not looking for vengeance towards this woman, nor are we looking to fight racism, with racism.”
When Henry returned to school this week, teachers and fellow students told him he handled the situation as well as anyone in his position could.
“They told me I did the right thing,” he said. “Walk away and smile. Don’t even think about it.”