Aspiring to Create Conversation, Change and Hope – One Family at a Time
Last spring Laura and I met and started going on walks in Forest Park together. As we would walk we talked a lot about our experiences, both similar and different, in St. Louis. We talked a lot about what it meant to be a white person and white mom living in St. Louis post Ferguson. What was our role? How could we help to propel change? What should we be doing inside our homes and within our own lives? How should we participate and engage in the larger community?
Many great things came from these talks. We started a Facebook group for parents with a similar desire for a stronger and more equitable St. Louis. We found organizations to follow and volunteer opportunities. We read reports and advocated in our communities for the changes that leaders in our city were highlighting. We dove into research about childhood development and cognition as it relates to racial awareness and stereotyping. We started writing and sharing our opinions. We aligned ourselves with the great work that was being done (such as For the Sake of All and The Ferguson Commission) and we made ourselves known as white moms who were interested in working towards greater racial equity in our region.
Along the way we also fretted a lot. We felt hopeful, then discouraged. We thought a lot about when and how to amplify the voice of others. We thought a lot about when it was our responsibility to break the silence in our communities. We worried about the reactions of those close to us. Would anything we had to say be appreciated? Did it matter? What costs might we incur by speaking up? Did it matter? We had felt alone in our individual journeys but together we felt stronger.
And the more we continued talking, the more people in our own communities started talking back. Until it became clear that we really weren’t as alone as we had felt. Our conversations became richer and more nuanced and soon we were seeing that there were in fact a lot of parents like us who wanted to change – change the way they thought about race; change their understanding of themselves, our region, and the persistence and prevalence of racism; change the conversation they were having in their homes; and change the way they showed up in the community.
So then we started to think BIG about encouraging parents to start small. For both of us children’s books had had an incredibly transformative influence on changing the conversation around race in our own homes. They helped us start conversations that we weren’t having. And they filled in knowledge gaps of our own. Our previously whitewashed bookshelves became more and more rich and our children began talking about race and humanity in a new way. They now know and love the stories of Josephine Baker, Ruby Bridges, Misty Copeland, Jackie Robinson, Ron McNair, the Loving Family, Sacajawea, Malala Yousafzai, and Cesar Chavez in addition to the historical and civil rights greats like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. They also know and love the fictional characters of Ezra Jack Keates, Spike Lee, Mary Hoffman, Jacqueline Woodson, Grace Lin, Cynthia Leitich Smith, and Yuyi Morales.
For us these children’s books have been the best framework to introduce and develop conversations about discrimination, segregation, slavery, and a present day reality that is completely apparent to our children but had previously remained undiscussed. These books have provided windows into other realities and experiences, and they’ve provided mirrors about their own existence as a child, part of a family and part of a community. They have been an invaluable part of our journey, so invaluable, that we began to wonder, what if we invited other parents to join along? So we did - first, through a few informal gatherings at our home, and then through a hopeful email expressing our desire for something different. Something pretty amazing happened. Within 3 days, 110 children applied to be part of our program. 110. We had started with the big goal of 60. The parents of those 110 children applied before they saw a logo, a website, or even really knew who we were. That tells us there is a tremendous appetite for change, and community, and participation. We don’t know what will happen from here, but we are really excited to find out.