Who is the family learning program for?

We Stories is available to any family in the St. Louis region with children birth to age 8 that wishes to participate. We leave the decision up to you. It is designed for families looking to start or strengthen conversations about race and racism. We have found that those families tend to be white families. Whereas many families of color consider these conversations to be an important part of family life, most white families consider explicit conversation about race to be a choice. In fact, many white institutions (families, schools, communities, and organizations) don’t believe it’s appropriate to talk about race at all. We have, for more than a few generations, tended to embrace a philosophy of colorblindness, which explicitly avoids addressing race and racism out of fear that noticing difference in and of itself will reinscribe bias or suggest it anew.  We now know from research and personal experience that this approach doesn’t work in reducing bias or increasing equity. We have therefore created We Stories as an alternative approach for families to engage in. Most people who want to be deliberate in the messages they give their children about race and racism seek support and community in doing so.  We are also very cognizant of the fact that we are white women raising white children. Much of our curriculum reflects our experiences growing up, coming of age, and parenting during an era where most white families chose not to talk about race and racism; therefore, we face a particular set of concerns and challenges in doing so.

About fifteen percent of families who enroll in our Family Learning Program identify as multi-racial. We provide an affinity group for these families to engage in the We Stories program with others whose experiences more closely mirror their own.

 

My child is too young to have conversations, should I wait until they're older to go through the program?

Choosing when to participate in the program is a choice we always want to leave up to the families; you know your situation best! But if that's the only hesitation, we very purposefully include kids as young as newborn in the program.

Most of us weren't raised having conversations about race. Because of that, and the perception that talking about race is inappropriate or taboo, it's important for parents to practice! How can you be expected to initiate conversations about race with your child, at any age, without a knowledge base on the subject yourself yourself? In the same way that we read parenting books before our kiddos are even born, because we want to learn how we can help them grow to be the best people they can, we can learn about race and teach them to set good habits around it - FROM THE START.

We've found that the success of our Family Learning Program is found when parents spend energy on learning what they can to increase their racial knowledge AND when they have the most opportunities to practice, increasing their own level of comfort talking about race. With your newly acquired knowledge and increased comfort, you can plant the seeds of  growth and model good habits for your child. You will be more than prepared when they are ready to engage in a dialogue with you about race.

 

My kids are older than 8, can I still participate?

We leave that up to you. Every family's journey looks differently!

We focus on the ages that we do for three main reasons. The first is that our program is based on research that tells us about the formation of bias and how early it occurs for children, beginning to cement by age 7. We see these early years as a critical window to interrupt the patterns of bias formation in kids. The lessons we focus on are applicable to every age however, and especially illuminating and instructive for parents as well. If you would like to know more about what research tells about racial bias in children, follow this link.

Secondly, we know that these (0-8) are the ages that parents are most likely to be reading with their children. Regular shared reading time is an important component in our curriculum and in generating conversations with your children. And yet there are still many ways to accomplish this with older children.

Finally, it is these early years when parents and family tend to have the most influence on the attitudes and perceptions of children. As children age we begin to see that it's their peers that have some of the greatest influence over what children believe and see. Our program is designed to capture families at a critical stage for children, their parents (who themselves are often forming new habits and patterns), and at a point in family life when influence from family members is at its strongest.

All of that being said, no age is the wrong age to be engaging in this work! We have welcomed families with older children participate in the past, and be very happy with that participation. Further to that point, approximately 20% of the 1000+ children in our community are 8 or older.

 

Why is a program about race designed for white families? Wouldn’t it be better to have cross-race conversation?

Cross-race dialog is an important part of dismantling racism. Yet, lots of important race work happens within racial caucusing or affinity groups, which is a leading practice in race scholarship.  Our area of focus is closing the family conversation gap. White families tend not to talk about race and racism with their young children, whereas black and brown families often consider talking about race and racism a necessary part of parenting and raising children in a world that will not treat them fairly. This disparity creates a huge conversation gap, one that we believe is detrimental to creating relationships, institutions, and communities that have true anti-racist potential. We believe that an important part of creating a stronger and more inclusive St Louis is encouraging white families to address race and racism independently, developing their own intrinsic connection and motivation. In order to do that, white families need opportunities to develop their comfort and competence talking about race and racism. However, we also encourage our participants to engage in a variety of cross-race experiences offered by other organizations and throughout the community.

 

How do you find your books?

With a lot of hard work! In general there is a dearth of picture books featuring racial minorities. Titles that do feature black and brown characters are often not marketed to white parents. Aside from using children’s literature to explicitly explore themes of race and racism, we believe that all children’s bookshelves should reflect the rich diversity of our world. Books with black characters are for everyone. Books with brown characters are for everyone. That said, not all books are created equal. We have been careful to select books that have been endorsed by literary associations, educators and librarians who are attuned to racial bias in literature. We also look to books that have won awards designed to reward stories that feature positive representation and also cover themes of social justice.

We tend to prefer books whose authors are people of color. We tend to select books whose main protagonist is a person of color. We screen all books for stereotypic portrayals. Many of our books address race, racism, and the history of both in explicit, age-appropriate language. Others address these topics less directly but introduce incredible role models and stories that all children should encounter.

Some simply feature positive representations of young people of color being awesome, fun, amazing kids.

We are pleased to have a number of partnerships in the St. Louis region that make We Stories selections available to the public. The St. Louis County Library system and The Kirkwood Public Library carry We Stories curricular books as well as fun, educational discussion kits. Novel Neighbor, a bookstore in Webster Groves, and EyeSeeMe, an African American children's bookstore in University City, have many, many diverse titles available for purchase.

 

Does the program exclusively address anti-black bias and African American history?

No. Yet given the stark black/white racial disparities that our region faces, our curriculum is heavily weighted in dismantling anti-black bias and addressing the particular history of slavery, segregation and modern-day discrimination against African Americans. These are important parts of American history and St. Louis history.  Our core curriculum includes stories of other racial and ethnic groups as well.  We know that no single book or program can represent the richness of American experiences.  It is our intention to select titles that open doors to further engagement and deeper exploration of race and racism in all its permutations and complexity.  We think of our work as creating entry points for families to join a lifelong journey of discovering what it means to be part of a multiracial, multicultural 21st century city.  We know we have blind spots ourselves and look forward to continuing to learn along with our participating families.

 

How are you funded?

By generous individuals like you! We are proud to count many of our participating families, their friends and relatives, and community leaders among our supporters. For more detail, see our annual report for the July 1, 2016 - June 30, 2017 fiscal year here. We have also received grants from the United Way of Greater St. Louis, the Lisa and Maury Friedman Foundation, the Awesome Foundation, the Regional Business Council's "It's Our Region" Fund, Ascension Charitable Fund, PNC, Centene, and Saigh Foundation.  

Family Learning Program participants are asked to contribute a program fee that covers a portion of our costs. Scholarships are available to ensure access for families that wish to participate regardless of financial circumstance.

Thanks to a generous gift from Eugene and Debra Horwitz, We Stories' Scholarship Fund was established to honor the memory of Zelma Horwitz (August 2, 1925 - July 16, 2016), the grandmother to one of the organization's founders and a lifelong supporter of arts, literature and culture.  Zelma held a particular fondness for Native American arts and multicultural literature, and introduced these topics to her grandchildren.  She was a docent at the Detroit Institute of Art and volunteer at the Heard Museum of American Indian Art and History in Phoenix, Arizona for many years.