Mommies in Black and White

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Month: April 2016

How to Talk to Your Kids About Race

If you’re reading this then you are already engaged. You care and are curious. You likely “want to do this right.” But, most of us don’t have a clue where or how to start talking to our kids about race and racism.

Do we start the conversation? Wait for them to make a comment or ask a question? Lean into that teaching moment at the grocery store? How do we know if we’re doing it right or inadvertently reinforcing negative stereotypes and unhealthy assumptions?

Yes, we can do it wrong. But we shouldn’t be fearful of trying. Engaging is a step toward breaking down the taboo of speaking about race and racism in our communities and recognizing its numerous manifestations. Engaging is a powerful statement that you won’t ignore it or let is reside in a place that “doesn’t effect you.” Engaging means you are willing to listen, learn, and grow along with your kids.

A few weeks ago I started digging through my teaching resources and searching for additional tools to share in this post. Ironically, that same day the link below popped up in my inbox. So, instead of recreating a list, I’m sharing Musing Mamma’s post. She has great insights and links to some key resources to get those race and racism conversations flowing with your kiddos in a healthy and productive way.

Engage away!

Talking To Kids About Race: Resources for Parents

 

A Lesson from the Orange Street Vendor

I’m a first generation immigrant who fled Liberia in the early 1980’s with my parents to escape civil conflict. When my parents fled they brought only a handful of pictures, but they brought a wealth of stories. Oral history and storytelling is a huge part of my Liberian heritage.

These stories are locked inside my parent’s minds and passed from generation to generation. Some of these stories are solemn, about surviving the civil war. Others are humorous, like Spider Stories — about a trickster spider who always ended up with a taste of his own medicine. My parents, aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents all had stories about our family’s beginnings, faith and the importance of life. My favorite life lesson story, shared by my mother, was about the orange street vendor.


 

The Orange Street Vendor

Every morning before the sun rose an old Liberian woman, who sold oranges, would set up her stand on the street corner and meet with her other vendor friends.

The old woman took pride in how she peeled the orange and how people felt once they bought her oranges. One particular customer, a pregnant woman, craved this vendor’s oranges. The old woman had a special technique for cutting the orange ornately, so that you could squeeze the top of the orange and drink right from it. The pregnant woman would summon her husband and send him to the old woman’s stand to buy those specific oranges. After several trips back and forth to the street vendor’s stand, the husband told the old woman that he would buy the rest of her oranges.

The old woman looked at him cross and said “no.”

The rich husband asked her, “Don’t you want the money?”

The old woman responded, “It’s not the money that brings me to my stand every day. I look forward to setting up my stand. I take pride in how I peel the oranges and cut them for my customers.” She explained, “This is my purpose in life. If I sold everything to you, what would I do with the rest of my day?”


 

My mother helped me see the lesson: no matter where you are in life or what your circumstances, everyone wants to feel worthy. Feeling worthy is priceless. Money cannot replace the sense of fulfillment we have from interacting with others, from finding and serving a purpose.

Our oranges can be anything, but for me, as a teacher and a mother, they are my children, my own and those I am entrusted with in my classroom. We have the privilege of working with our oranges, of shaping them and molding them. Some days it would be great to sell them all to the highest bidder, but without them what would be our purpose in life?

Painting by Dehru Cromer

Painting by Dehru Cromer

Next time you get up in the morning ask yourself: how will I cultivate my oranges today?

Lessons from Mr. Rogers and “The Butler”

http://www.mprnews.org/story/npr/469846519

I came across this story last month and filed it away. I wanted to share and comment but didn’t initially have the right words. Last night I (finally) watched the movie The Butler. And there they were – the words I wanted to write.

Two powerful lessons revealed themselves both in the story about Mr. Rogers and Mr. Clemmons and in The Butler. Lessons that I hope we will all consider, share, and let influence our perspective and actions.

  • Mistrust is built through life experiences and continued systemic racism.

Think about the effort it takes to trust again when your heart is broken, when you feel betrayed, hurt, or mislead by someone. Now, consider this on the grand scale that African Americans (or other minority groups) have experienced. Mistrust must be healed with patience, understanding and real work that earns trust.

  • Servitude is a powerful weapon.

I saw this in The Butler and I recognized it in the article referenced above. Servitude is a powerful weapon. It not only spreads compassion, hope and love; it battles ignorance, hate, and mistrust.

We must all find our own ways to support healing and rebuild trust in our communities, schools, and homes. I encourage you not to shy away from these efforts. It might not always be easy or feel good, but hard work usually isn’t and usually doesn’t. Undoing hundreds of years of mistrust is hard work.

Even better, if your efforts include servitude you will be wielding a powerful weapon in the battle for healthy, happy, just, and inclusive communities.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Butler

 

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, My First Graders, and the Secret of Forgiveness

desmond

Every March of every school year my classroom earns the nickname March Madness. March brings unfavorable student behaviors. Most teachers can relate. Which means I look for ways to reteach classroom procedures and model ways to act kindly and responsibly.

One way I reteach is through books. My students love when I read books with special purpose or meaning. My building principal gifted me a book called, Desmond and the Very Mean Word, written by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Doulgas Carlton Abrams. This book is impressively powerful with a great message. It follows little Desmond who encounters a group of white boys that seem to be bullying him. They shout a “very mean word” at him, but the book doesn’t reveal what the word actually is.

Little Desmond seeks help from his priest, Father Trevor. Father Trevor tells Desmond the “secret of forgiveness.” The secret is not to expect an apology, but to expect yourself to forgive others. In doing so, you are freed from the power of any negative words or actions.

I reminded my students that words can be extremely powerful and negative, that this particular word was so negative that the authors refused to write it. This story engaged all of my students in a way that I never thought possible. When I asked my students to write about forgiveness in their journals one child wrote: “I can show forgiveness by saying I forgive them and ask them to play. There is only one way to change the world that way is by love and always being peaceful.”

These lessons are so simple and yet so powerful. I am grateful for this book and others like it that showcase how we, as human beings, are meant to treat each other. As a teacher, I’ve learned that when life starts to feel a little ‘mad,’ especially with my darling first graders, returning to simple lessons such as teaching a forgiveness narrative can have a powerful impact.

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