How to Address Racism with Children
On Friday, August 14th the faculty of SHV gathered for their second in-person meeting at the Villa in preparation for the beginning of our new school year. After spending the majority of two ZOOM meetings and a day and a half of in-person meetings on topics involving Covid-19 restrictions and precautions, the tide changed to another timely, important topic: addressing antiracism in early childhood curriculums. Kris Doder reached out and invited Teresa Steinkamp, a mother of 5-year-old twins who had attended the Villa, to speak to the staff on teaching antiracism. In June, Teresa had been featured in an article in the St. Louis Review entitled We Stories Uses the Power of Children’s Literature to Guide Conversations on Race. She told how the events of Michael Brown’s death in 2015 coincided with the birth of her twins. Teresa explained that when growing up Catholic and attending only Catholic institutions from preschool to graduate school, she had learned or heard little about the topic of racism and antiracism. This topic was never really addressed. She felt she could not ignore this topic anymore and wanted to find help to prepare her for raising her twins as informed, antiracist citizens.
Teresa believes in the power of books to influence people’s thoughts and visions. She heard of a program developed in St. Louis by two mothers that uses children’s literature to launch conversations among white families who feel ill-equipped to have these conversations about race and racism. She wanted to get involved. We Stories was developed in 2015 by Adelaide Lancaster of Webster Groves and Laura Horwitz of Clayton. They were searching for ways to talk to their children about the events in Ferguson after the death of Michael Brown. Their effort grew into a nonprofit organization by 2016 and now includes a 12-week Family Learning Program, library kits with children’s books available through several area libraries and an online discussion group for those who have completed the family program. The program has now launched into a national cohort. The Steinkamp family participated in the Family Learning Program when it began as a pilot in 2016. Teresa now helps with the program as a volunteer facilitator. She shared with our staff some of the children’s books she has purchased that either features characters of color, diversity, and/or the topics of racism and antiracism. She also shared with the staff how this program has changed her life. It has broadened her perspective and has enabled her to understand better the experiences of the black college students with whom she works to assist them in getting financial aid. The Steinkamp family makes conscience decisions to support businesses owned by people of color and to have discussions with schools about racial inequities. Teresa encouraged our teachers to use literature and other materials in their classrooms which represents the diversity of humanity. The staff discussed how verbalizing terms such as race and racism can help them have conversations with their students. A teacher needs to point out people’s humanity and diversity, the beauty of every person no matter the color of their skin, and how are all deserving of love and respect.
For families who are interested, the St. Louis-based cohort next available training is being planned for January 2021.