We have less than a month to go until election day. Present in this campaign season are issues that have plagued our nation for centuries: racism, populism, immigration, inclusion and representation among others.
Embedded in every advertisement, news article, and speech are the questions - Who are we as a nation? How does our past intersect with our promise? What is the meaning of democracy?
As children, we’re taught a fairly simplistic version of democracy - a form of government in which people choose leaders by voting. This simple framework can, at an early age, help bestow the power of the vote. American children are told: your vote counts.
But our nation's history is more complicated. READ MORE HERE.
We’ve seen such amazing growth with the Family Learning Program over the past 3 years since our first cohort. And as we prepare to usher in our 11th (you read that right, ELEVENTH!) cohort, I’m filled with such energy around the wonderful families we have the privilege of calling our community and the things that they’ve done and said because of their connection to We Stories.
Our original original pilot group of around 80 families that went through the program has grown to a community of more than 700 families! Our families come to us from over 75 zip codes from the greater St. Louis area, with kiddos that range in age from newborn to middle school. Because while our program is focused on kids in the 0-8 range, it’s never too late to start practicing conversations about race and creating habits in our homes to break down the taboos around speaking out about race, particularly for white people.
Here’s what some families are saying about their We Stories' Family Learning Program experience:
I have three messages I want to share today: the importance of defining problems, the power of apology, and the role of community in supporting action.
As anyone will tell you, you can’t solve a problem until you’ve defined the problem. Or as Nicole Hudson, one of the most consistent and courageous voices for racial equity in our region has put it - “diagnosis determines treatment.”
I spent a lot of time preparing for this rally by conducting imagined conversations in my head with quite a number of white folks - folks who worry that a rally is divisive, who bristle at the word racial profiling, who think this topic has been given far too much time and attention already, who use their position or power to wonder aloud if racism is OR isn’t a problem holding our region back, and who with equal fervor declare that they could not, would not, are not racist as if their individual intent alone is all that truly matters.
So let’s be clear…
St. Louis is truly a tale of two cities. Neighborhoods of high crime and high poverty eerily exist in a region that also contains communities with family-friendly attractions, beautiful housing, and good schools. This divide is well-known and historically accepted in our region.
One city deals with disinvestment so devastating, it is regularly and nationally recognized as a worst place to live. This is adjacent to another city so enriched and safe that it’s regularly and nationally recognized as a best place to raise a family.
It is this contrast that we tend to focus on most when we talk about segregation. And we should. It’s real. It’s startling. It’s damaging to our region and the people who live here.
This reality alone should be enough to muster the political will to change it. But it's not. And that has everything to do with the shadow of racial bias in the city of abundance. This shadow blinds people from seeing a national and local history of policy advantages that got them inside this bubble. It makes them complicit in policies and ways of life that put this region among the 10 most segregated in the country.
“But, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I HAD to say yes. Because in the 6 years I’ve lived in St. Louis, I have learned something important, and I do want to share it with you today.
What I have learned is that everyday people, citizens, parents, and students can make a big difference.
I think intellectually, I always knew that. I think intellectually, you probably all know that, too. But my experience has made that idea real to me in ways I never expected when I first moved here…”
Days after Michael Brown was shot and killed I stood on my front porch staring at the street in front of my house. I was pushing my then 6 month old son in a swing and watching my two year old son and four year old daughter run around in the front yard. I was nauseous thinking about Michael Brown’s body on the pavement and the hours that he lay still in the street. I was nauseous knowing that that wouldn’t happen to my white boys. I knew that someone like me would never be held back by law enforcement from my wounded child, as Michael Brown’s mother was. I couldn’t pretend it was a normal day. I couldn’t pretend I was fine...or that this was fine.
It was then that I first knew that I had to talk to my kids about race. Actually it was really then that I fully confronted the truth that I HADN’T yet talked to my kids about race.
Change often starts with a nudge, a subtle but intentional shift that can’t always be seen by others. A push against what’s stuck, perhaps an old habit or limiting belief. A small step towards a new connection or way of thinking.
Over time, the nudges and small steps add up, turning into strides. A new pace is established. It feels good…like progress.
Most people have experienced something like this.
But it’s different when this is happens in community… when those nudges are known to others, and those strides are taken together. When there is a common purpose and an eagerness to help each other push against the forces that hold us collectively in place.
This is the magic that we experience.
On Friday, September 15, a local judge in St. Louis City ruled that Jason Stockley, the former SLMPD officer who killed city resident, Anthony Lamar Smith, would not be found guilty of any charges from the case. As region-wide protests and economic direct actions ensued, Forward through Ferguson co-chairs wrote an open statement to the region—reminding us of the history and tools we embody to catalyze change and inviting regional civic and social organizations to help forward efforts to racial equity and police reform.
Recent events in our community have brought conversations about protest back into the spotlight for many people and families in our region. We have found it valuable and important to use this opportunity to expand the conversation about protest in general. We share these points in hopes that they help to add to the narrative of your family conversations.
1. Protest is Part of Our National Identity – and Always Has Been
Protest has been a part of our national fabric and national identity from the very beginning. Specific acts of protest, from the Boston Tea Party on, lead to the very creation of our nation. Protests have continued to be a part of every single social change and advancement across our national history, including civil rights. Our founding fathers protected the act of protest by including these two important rights in our constitution: the right to “peaceably assemble” and the right to “petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
...read more here
All the weeks are busy but last week was busy in a particular and exciting way; our whole community was alive with activity. When you’re building a small organization or community there’s a long time where you as the founder(s) are the energy source for everything. People can help but ultimately you are fueling that process.
Growth is all about establishing and strengthening coordinated renewable energy centers across the system. Over the last year we’ve been working hard to expand our capacity by establishing these energy centers in the form of volunteer leaders, participant leaders, and now paid staff. Last week was one of the first times we were able to turn all of the lights in the house on…and keep them on.
Don’t get me wrong, last week still took everything we have, but there was so much more generative input than just the two of us. And you could feel it. Twice Laura and I looked at each other and said, “wow, this is amazing.” It is remarkable just how many people have truly committed their resources, talents and time to moving this work forward. We want to share this thrilling and humbling experience with you. Hopefully this piece: a week in We Stories will give you a sense of the kind of electricity that we are fortunate to experience.
A Week in We Stories