Victor Cruz isn't shying away from sharing the truth about systemic racism with his daughter.
In the wake of George Floyd's death and subsequent protests, many calling for police defunding and/or reform, the former NFL star spoke with PEOPLE about how he handles the subject of race with 8-year-old Kennedy.
"I just try to be as real as possible," says Cruz, 33. "Nowadays, with the amount of information that's out there that's accessible to these children at an early age, they have access to everything. My daughter knew about George Floyd before I even had the conversation with her about it because of her friends that she talks to … and I'm just like, 'Wow, my daughter's 8 years old and having conversations about this with her peers.' "
"Being honest" with Kennedy has been the Pop of the Morning co-host's main priority, he says, recalling a "long conversation" the father-daughter duo had while watching a Floyd-related protest on CNN.
"I had the whole conversation about slavery and how that transpired all the way through to now, and then understanding where we are now and educating her on things we can do moving forward to better ourselves," Cruz says. "She may not have understood everything I was saying at 8 years old, but I think she understands the severity of the plight of the Black community, and I think she can put two and two together."
"As she gets older [and] more educated — the more I give her information, and [from] books and knowledge at school — she'll start to understand exactly what Daddy was talking about," he adds.
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Cruz emphasizes that "being honest is the best thing," saying "kids appreciate honesty" in all aspects of life.
"I think you'll find out in the long run that your kids will understand the honesty and reciprocate that in the things that they do," he tells PEOPLE. "I've noticed that with my daughter — that whenever I'm brutally honest with her and I talk to her about things, when things come up in the future that may be about what we spoke about, she'll bring it up to me. She'll ask me about it."
"So don't be afraid to have that transparency with your child on difficult topics and difficult things to talk about because I can tell you, it was not easy having that conversation with her about what was going on, but I knew it was necessary," the father of one advises.
Equally important, says Cruz, is the "empowerment" aspect that he drove home when speaking to his young daughter, advising her to stand strong and understand her worth.
"I was like, 'You need to understand that you're a beautiful Black queen and that you will always keep your head up high — you will always be strong and confident and feel empowered because you're a Black queen,' " he recalls. " 'Don't ever feel discouraged or feel in a negative way because of who you are, and love the skin that you're in.' "
To help combat systemic racism, consider learning from or donating to these organizations:
- Campaign Zero (joincampaignzero.org) which works to end police brutality in America through research-proven strategies.
- ColorofChange.org works to make government more responsive to racial disparities.
- National Cares Mentoring Movement (caresmentoring.org) provides social and academic support to help Black youth succeed in college and beyond.
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