“Look for the helpers” is a quote that is often attributed to Fred Rogers. It circulates via meme every so often on Facebook, usually in response to news that is hard to bear. We’ve always loved that quote and even incorporated it into the curriculum for our Family Learning Program.
And while it is true that Mr. Rogers spoke these words, he didn’t say them first. His mother did.
“Look for the helpers” was what Fred Roger’s mother would tell him when something tragic happened. It was her way of seeding hope for her son when things felt impossibly sad and hard. And that lesson stuck, shaping young Fred’s worldview which he later shared with the world.
The meaning of this quote has deepened as our We Stories experience has grown. You see, we tap into the very same power of parents to shape hope and possibility for the future.
October and November bring us the holidays of Columbus Day and Thanksgiving. Two moments on the calendar that require us to reckon with the way Native people have been treated historically and how we retell that history in the present day. Often times parents find these holidays as their first opportunities to reflect on how to address Native American history and learn more about tribes today. This time of year offers the chance to highlight a counter narrative that Native people are not static - confined to a time in place in history - but dynamic, and very much present and facing oppression today.
Yet confining them to October/November goes to further perpetuate Native people only being present in a specific time - instead of seeing them all around us, all of the time. (And here I am doing just that. I recognize the hypocrisy here, and also firmly believe that today is a great day to start a new pattern of noticing Native voices. #joinme!)
Because we do see Native People everywhere - we just haven’t been taught to recognize their presence. Many states and cities in the United States get their names from the tribes that used to inhabit that land, even Missouri (from the Missouria tribe, present day Ote-Missouria tribe) and Illinois (from the Illini tribe, present day Peoria tribe)! There is so much history that we can be learning about year-round.
The last few months have shown us so many inspiring examples of individual people joining together, in the name of democracy, to fight for the issues that matter to them and to push for racial equity. We’ve seen what the person-to-person, hour-by-hour, small-moment work looks like and how it adds up to big change.
We know that what we say to our kids matters - but what we DO matters more.
We Stories families are raising children who not only prioritize racial equity but who understand the importance and power of civic engagement. Who know deep in their bones that it’s their responsibility to show up and that when 1+1+1+1+1 work together, change is possible.
Because progress needs people, pressure and perseverance. If nothing else this election was marked by incredible people power. Initiatives and races that weren’t destined to succeed but captured the readiness of many individual people willing to work for the future they desire.
READ MORE HERE…
In some ways We Stories is about the very small. The intimate moments like bedtime stories, memories from childhood, private hopes for the future, the starting of new habits, the subtle but significant changes in language and conversation that shape a family.
And in many ways We Stories is about the very big. Interrupting systemic racism, engaging a critical mass, building towards a tipping point, disrupting the status quo, embracing the unconventional, pushing everyday in every way towards transformation.
As an organization it is part of our work to bridge these two spheres: the small and the big. To mobilize these personal shifts and shape them into waves of lasting change.
That bridging takes a tremendous amount of relationship power. Our ability to make impact, to help transform is directly related to our connectedness...to our members’ sense of belonging and being known, and our overall community cohesion.
Something Happened in Our Town: A Child's Story about Racial Injustice was published by Magination Press in May 2018. This picture book was designed to help parents talk about race and racial injustice with children ages 4-8. As the story begins, some schoolchildren overhear news of a police shooting of an unarmed Black man. The story follows two families as they address their children's questions about this incident. WeStories had an opportunity for a virtual conversation with the authors of this unique and timely book, and we wanted to share their responses with our community.
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…”