Frequently Asked Questions
We love and welcome your questions. We want to be honest about what we offer and what we’re after! We recognize that our approach can be considered unconventional and may conflict with socialization messages that you may have received about race, racism and change. Below are some of the questions we are frequently asked. If you don’t find what you are looking for here, feel free to drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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? 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. And further we believe that their experiences in We Stories will better equip them to show up productively in additional cross-race experiences.
How do you find your books?
By reading lots and lots and LOTS of books! Hey...it’s a tough job but someone’s gotta do it!
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 continually update our selections in light of new information by experts, or as books go out of print or come back in print!
We tend to prefer books whose authors and/or illustrators 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.
As we work to uplift the voices and experiences of characters of colors in the books that we direct families towards we are particularly mindful of purchasing patterns and publishing trends. We are continuously mindful of the fact that authors and illustrators of color only make up 15% of published children’s books every year. As such, we strive to flip the script showcasing works, especially in our core curriculum, that not only feature diverse characters, but also a majority of which are authored or illustrated by people of color. Increasing you will find (AOC) (IOC) or (AOC/IOC) designations alongside our suggestions to help you support these authors and illustrators as well.
We are pleased to have a number of partnerships in the St. Louis region that make We Stories selections available to the public. We are also fortunate that it is SO much easier to access a wide range of amazing diverse books in St. Louis just a few years later thanks to these same partners.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, 2017—June 30, 2018 fiscal year. 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. Review our current funders.
Family Learning Program participants are asked to contribute a program fee that covers a portion of our costs.
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. We invite you to apply for a scholarship here.
BUT WHY SHOULD I MAKE A DONATION TO GIVE WHITE FAMILIES BOOKS? CAN’T THEY BUY BOOKS THEMSELVES?
We’re occasionally asked a variation of this question: “If I have the option of giving books to poor Black kids or to middle-class White kids, I’m going to give books to the poor Black kids. Why do White families need support?”
There's a lot underneath this question that needs to be unpacked in terms of assumptions about race, class and need. Without getting into all of that here (but take us for coffee and let's talk!), our answer is...
A majority of interventions aimed at addressing racial disparities are programmatic, and designed to help individual children and families in need — but they do not address the broken systems and structures that perpetuate that need.
We Stories is taking a fundamentally different approach, and focusing its intervention on middle- and upper-middle-class White families. These families are rarely the focus of interventions because they are perceived not to need them. And it is true that these families generally don’t need books, winter coats, or free and reduced lunch. What they need instead is a way to help them engage in the work of dismantling systemic inequities.
Because if we do not engage White families in this work — if we do not leverage their power and influence to disrupt and dismantle the inequitable system that continues to produce unequal outcomes — we will still be fundraising for books for poor Black kids generations from now.
But if we can successfully engage a critical mass of White families in this work, those families can influence sustainable, policy-level, systemic change.
We Stories has built an organization that has proven it can engage White families in this work. That’s why it’s both important and urgent to help We Stories expand its reach.
Further we believe that giving begets giving. We are often an important part of helping White families begin their philanthropic traditions and habits. We encourage our families to support a variety of racial justice efforts and initiatives, especially those that are Black-led. We are expanding our understanding of anti-racist fundraising principles regularly and see great opportunity in engaging the next generation of funders in considering the role of philanthropy in systems change and advancing racial equity.
How are you accountable to communities of color?
This question is hugely important in work like ours and is one we take very seriously and have since our founding. While the theoretical need for accountability is clear, how to do it is less clear in practice. Our main avenues for accountability include:
prioritizing relationship building with leaders of color and organizations with a stated commitment to racial equity;
ongoing advice, mentorship from leaders of color;
bringing our idea to existing diversity/inclusion/equity organizations including three lead by leader of color before launching;
leverage our privilege as white leaders to break silence about racism in mostly white spaces, and by using our social capital and time/money/effort to build an avenue to engage more white folks in racial equity work;
engaging white folks in reflecting on the harms of racism to white folks - an area where our life experience uniquely qualifies us to speak with authenticity and authority
developing a curriculum that centers the voices of authors, scholars and illustrators of color when depicting or discussing the harms of racism to people of color.
intentionally seeking diversity in our board leadership and advisory board. Four out of ten of our board members are people of color (one is not yet included on our website) and three out of eight of our formal advisors are, as are several of our partners or informal advisors.
all board members and staff have attend Crossroads Antiracism Organizing and Training program and we use their framework to regularly assess how we can deepen our commitment to racial equity;
we are thoughtful about proactively seeking diversity in our hiring decisions;
we encourage the families we work with to purchase at Black-led businesses, donate to other racial equity organizations (some of which are Black-led, but not all), and bring trainers/facilitators/consultants/speakers of color to their institutions to advance racial equity work;
we donated prize monies from Give STL Day 2018 to Black-led organizations as part of an intentional and collaborative fundraising strategy.
This is not a comprehensive list, nor is it our stopping point. Our philanthropic/nonprofit sector mirrors our larger society in not being particularly equip to model racial equity. Given that we work within broken systems, we believe there is a place for white-led antiracism work (this is a topic of some debate within the racial justice field – we are listening intently and may at some point land in a different place). For now, the key call to which we are responding is one from parents of color who ask white allies to "get your people" - i.e. calling in fellow white folks to think critically at their racial identity and to do the hard work of self-reflection and education by leaning on one another rather than burdening people of color to always educate us. This is necessary but not sufficient work toward racial equity and we don't see it as the be all and end all of anyone's racial justice journey. What we aim for is to make possible the conditions for a cross-race coalition of parents making our region more equitable, which will require white folks like us deliberately building the skills to follow the lead and listen to the needs of leaders of color. That's what we try to model and do. At the same time, we have to become sustainable within the confines of the world as it is, which means we have to fundraise and staff our organization, etc. We believe it's important to live with and into this mess - and consider accountability a practice and something we'll have to consider and reconsider as we grow.
ARE YOU PLANNING TO EXPAND OUTSIDE OF ST. LOUIS?
Perhaps. We are nurturing many conversations with parent and educational leaders around the nation. We know that what we are learning here is significantly relevant to other cities and regions. And we are compelled by a big vision to fundamentally change how this generation of White parents speak up and show up against racism. AND, we are committed to significantly contributing to regional change. Our organizational growth and pace has been fast and furious. Over the last 3.5 years we’ve been running a marathon at a sprinter’s pace. As we balance various opportunities for growth and engagement with our real capacity limitations, we constantly weigh the reality of urgency and need for sustainability and stamina.
What we are closest to realizing is the opportunity to aggregate and convene community leaders in short-term and long-term peer-learning experiences.
If you are not based in St. Louis and are curious about our work—reach out! From time to time we have welcomed leaders from outside our region who are serious about this work to come and see what’s happening here for themselves. We would love to get to know you and hear more about the work in your region.