One day…little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “I Have a Dream” speech, March on Washington, 1963
Dr. King spoke and wrote a lot about children. By invoking the image of children, I believe he was setting his intention – an intention of hope for the future where the innocence and love of childhood would win over hate, where race was not a dividing line between people and where racism was a thing of history books. We are painfully aware that despite the passage of more than 50 years since Dr. King’s death, his intention is far from being achieved. This is true in our world, our nation, our state and our community.
I believe Dr. King was sending us another message by focusing attention on children – that it is the job of adults, as protectors and educators, to teach and nurture our children to internalize and achieve his intention of love conquering hate.
Prior to spring break, we had a couple of deeply distributing racial incidents occur in our middle schools. The words and images of these events hurt individual students of color and our school community as a whole. Certainly, we cannot tolerate incidents like this but I believe it is our job as adults in our schools and our community as a whole to use these moments to teach, support and nurture understanding among our young people.
In District 97, we take very seriously the safety and well-being of each of our students. Our district vision and goals, as well as our day-to-day interactions with students, reflect this. In response to these recent racial incidents, we are meeting with all of our middle schoolers to talk about the impact of these events. And throughout the school year, in our daily work with students, District 97 is providing various opportunities for our students to discuss their experiences in our schools. Both middle schools have established social justice clubs and we have conducted student focus groups in each of our schools to surface their concerns and perspectives (view the video here). And in our broader community, we have held listening sessions, such as the event facilitated by Reesheda Graham-Washington on March 21.
Finally, parents have asked what more they can do at home to support their children’s understanding of issues of race and racism. Unfortunately, the national and local news provide an endless number of “teachable moments” that you can use as a prompt for a conversation about issues of race, equity, and how we show respect and love for one another. I also recommend a more proactive approach perhaps centered around a discussion of a shared resource. Here are a few resources which may help you:
- “Exploring the Controversy: The ‘N’ Word” from Huck Finn in Context: A Teaching Guide (PBS)
- “Straight Talk about the N-Word” from Teaching Tolerance (Southern Poverty Law Center)
- “In Defense of a Loaded Word” by Ta-Nehisi Coates (New York Times)
- “Beyond the Golden Rule” by Teaching Tolerance
- Additionally, every fourth Tuesday, EmbraceRace hosts a free, online series titled, Talking Race & Kids. This series provides insight, resources and discussion on a range of topics related to race and children. Sign up to be informed of upcoming online conversations and other EmbraceRace offerings.
We must do what is expected of us as adults to support our young people. We all need to do our own personal work to understand and address the impact of racism in our country, our community, our schools and ourselves. Continuing our own educations through reading and reflecting and having difficult discussions and opening ourselves up to unpack and question racism in all its forms, in all corners of society, is essential to supporting our young people and to ending the ugliness of hate.
Dr. King was clear about what he wanted for our children and our world. It is now up to us to teach our children and nurture the very best of who we are as people to realize his intention.
Dr. Carol Kelley