Who is the family learning program for?
We Stories is available to any family in the St. Louis region with children birth to age 7 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 an 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 two dozen multi-racial families are currently part of our Family Learning Program. We provide an affinity group for these families to engage in the We Stories program with others whose experiences more closely mirror their own.
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, also maintains active We Stories titles and has 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, including Maxine Clark, founder of Build-A-Bear workshop and CEO of the Clark-Fox Family Foundation, among our supporters. 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, and Ascension Charitable Fund.
Starting this fall, Family Learning Program participants are asked to contribute a program fee. 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.