Most St. Louisans have been touched by the events now known as "Ferguson," and are aware of the big challenges facing our city. Many of us want to be part of the solution, and we want to do something tangible, impactful and effective. It’s hard as individuals to know where to start, especially as parents whose lives are already compressed and tumultuous.
Our 12 week Family Learning Program introduces parents, and their children from birth to age 8, to compelling works of children's literature that feature diverse characters, provides supportive resources and materials to help start and strengthen family conversations about race and racism, and fosters community building around these topics. You have the opportunity to join us in creating a new story for our children and our city.
We enroll new families in cohorts of 80 -100 three times a year (January, May and September), and currently support more than 700 families!
The 12 week Family Learning Program includes:
4 age-appropriate books per child that feature diverse characters, examine differences, and address race and racism
Access to a parent curriculum with resources to support family conversations
Opportunities to engage and process with other parents having similar experiences
A chance to be supported by a program alum as a source of encouragement and collaboration
A community of bonded individuals to share joys and concerns - from the personal to the regional level
Fresh perspectives on St. Louis history, landmarks and institutions
Opportunities to begin supporting existing efforts to make St. Louis a better place for all families
WHAT FAMILIES HAVE SAID
We piloted our program approach with 80 local families from November 2015-February 2016. Here's what some participants had to say about their experience:
”People would be surprised by the impact that simply diversifying your home library can have. The dialogues that can come out of reading books with pictures of people (and places) not like ourselves are incredibly powerful, and my hope is that they have a lasting impact beyond these formative years for my kids.” - Pilot Participant
“The biggest take-away for me is that it's ok to talk explicitly and openly with your kids about race. I was afraid that to acknowledge differences and poverty and the circumstances that created the current segregation we see would scare my daughter or cause her to say embarrassing things to others. Neither of these things have happened and I see an increased level of empathy forming within her now.” - Pilot Participant
“We Stories is a way to take action. as we become more intentional about the conversations we have with our kids, and with each other, we can begin crafting the kind of equitable, inclusive city we want Saint Louis to be. it is a rewarding experience and is powerful to be among other white folks doing this work." - Pilot Participant
“We Stories encourages families to not only talk about the differences in skin colors, but invites white families to really consider their whiteness. And this conversation becomes something even more powerful when little minds and hearts are invited to join the conversation.” - Pilot Participant
We have been fortunate to form some truly wonderful partnerships with libraries in the St. Louis region. Notably the St. Louis County Library System and Kirkwood Public Library in Kirkwood, MO.
In both systems We Stories curricular titles are labeled as “We Stories” and searchable in the library database. This enables participating We Stories families, and all other community members, to access a wonderful, diverse list of books at no cost. We have also developed We Stories kit libraries covering more than 26 different themes. Each kit contains 4-6 books, a discussion guide, parent resources and often an activity or toy.
Our partnerships have helped to increase the circulation of the diverse titles in our curriculum, not only because of increased patron demand but also because both library systems began to shelve and display these diverse titles more prominently.
At Kirkwood Public Library we have also engaged in a multiple-session training series for library staff and also educators with Kirkwood Parents as Teachers, made possible through a grant supported by the Institute of Museum and Library Services and Technology Act as administered by the Missouri State Library, a division of the Office of the Secretary of State. This training is focused on helping staff and educators engage more regularly and comfortably in conversations about race and racism, and empower the families they serve to do the same.
Across both library systems, the We Stories kits have proven to be popular items across our very segregated region, and our ‘sweet spot’ continues to be helping institutions think about deepening family engagement in both the library and larger civic environment.
Our organization’s mission is focused on contributing to regional change in St. Louis and we know that our partnerships with regional libraries are a critical part of achieving that. We know that our experience contains lessons for other regions who also want to shift engagement in their regions. We Stories was proud to present at the Public Library Association national conference with the Director of the St Louis County Library Association in March 2018. A copy of our presentation is available to interested libraries seeking transferable lessons. We also presented at the Missouri Library Association conference in October of 2018.
At this point we are exploring partnership opportunities and gathering interest from other Missouri-based library systems. If your Missouri-based library system is interested in exploring partnership with We Stories please send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org telling us a little about your system, your goals, and your community’s needs. We are looking for opportunities to elevate this work and connect systems together in service of engaging more families in reading diverse books and exploring conversations about race.
We also invite interested institutions to check out our past webinar with Embrace Race, a national multiracial community of parents, teachers, experts, and other caring adults who support each other to meet the challenges that race poses to our children, families, and communities. A copy of the webinar can be found here, and supporting materials, here.
Many of our participants and supporters are excited to bring We Stories to the institutions that they care most about - their Early Childhood Centers, Schools, Libraries, and more. We always love hearing from parents, community members and educators who are enthusiastic about our work. Like you, we know that diverse books and truthful conversations about racism belong in all aspects of family life and play an important role in helping our communities and region get unstuck. We’ve found that sometimes we're the right partner to help make that happen, and sometimes we're not.
We are especially well-positioned to:
* Speak to groups of parents about the importance of talking to kids about race. We have specific expertise working with white families, what tends to hold parents back and what it looks like when it works.
→ This is often at a PTO meeting, equity group meeting, or other family gatherings or engagement opportunities during the school year.
* Support parent-led efforts and initiatives to think about engaging a broader parent community in the work they do, and liaise more effectively with school leaders and staff, and understand the typical pitfalls that surface in this work.
→ This is often best accomplished when some parent leaders are engaged in the We Stories community and have participated in our program.
* Provide thematic We Stories Book Kits designed to help families bolster their conversations about race and racism.
→ These are often made available for families to check out. Please read below and our Book Kit FAQ page for more information.
1. Conversations & Presentations
Our work has put us close to the experience of more than 750 white families as they open up conversations about race and racism. Our perspective is an important component of community-wide equity work.
We can speak with parents and families about:
why it is important to talk with children about race;
the formation of bias and how to counteract it;
promoting healthy race-conscious conversations in families, particularly white families;
and also the power of children’s literature as a vehicle for anti-bias education.
If you would like We Stories to speak to your school community on one of these topics, please contact email@example.com.
2. “We Stories Goes to School” Seminar Series
We support and equip families who have completed our initial Family Learning Program to be skillful and effective advocates for racial equity in their schools. We do this by hosting training seminars; helping parents in our network connect with one another; and highlighting the stories of our members who are already acting as leaders in their school community. Together, our families practice civic leadership, change making, and coalition building skills, while also examining the role of race in their own advocacy and institutional process. If you have participated in We Stories’ initial Family Learning Program and haven't yet connected to this work, please email us for details about the next gathering.
3. We Stories Kits in Schools
We Stories has developed unique, thematic collections of books and resources that help start and strengthen family conversations about race. These book kits are great tools to jumpstart parent engagement with racial equity work happening in your school community. We work with schools to install check-out libraries of ten or more kits. Ideal partners have a significant presences of families who have participated in our Family Learning Program, a demonstrable commitment to racial equity work including two point people - one staff, one parent - who can carry forward implementation, and the funds available to commit to this work.
The We Stories kits, which come in a variety of themes, are appropriate for children ages 5 and up and prompt families to explore important questions related community, identity, history, empathy, understanding and equity. Each kit is themed and comes with 4-6 books, research, a set of resources, as well as specific discussion prompts.
If you are interested in learning more about having a We Stories Kit library at your school, please first read the Book Kit FAQ page and then contact firstname.lastname@example.org. We generate orders on a quarterly basis. Please contact us for the next order placement deadline.
Currently We Stories Kit libraries are in place in all 6 elementary schools across the Webster Groves School District as well as Ambrose Family Center, at Captain Elementary in Clayton School District, at Tillman School in the Kirkwood District, and soon to be at Craig Elementary in the Parkway District.
Racial Equity Curriculum Partnership
Many educators are also looking for opportunities to start and strengthen conversations about race and racism in their classrooms. And like us, many would like to leverage children’s books to do so. To help support that work we have formed a partnership with Educators for Social Justice a local network of educators called Racial Equity Curriculum Partnership. These educators form mentoring relationships and develop book-based curriculum to use with We Stories families at our events. Educators have the opportunity to learn out loud with a community eager for more in depth conversation opportunities around racial equity and intersecting issues, (language, nationality, gender, ability, sexual orientation, etc...). Our families and children have the opportunity to not only be exposed to a variety of teaching styles and critical literacy techniques but also engage with a wider range of voices on the topic of race, racism and difference, which serves to normalize the experience.
If you are an educator and are interested in learning more about or joining the RECP with ESJ and We Stories, please vist here