I grew up in a predominately white suburb of St. Louis where I attended a public school district that participated in the Voluntary Student Transfer program. While my school had some amount of racial diversity, deep and meaningful relationships were difficult to form across racial lines. Most of the white students lived near the school and most of the black students traveled on long bus rides to the county. So at the end of the school day, we returned to our separate communities. There was a lot of, "I'm not racist, but..." statements. Neither the students nor the parents had the tools to understand, unpack, and analyze privilege or to bridge the divides. It was not until I lived out-of-state as a teacher that I experienced what it was like to live in a place where not everyone looked like me. For the first time, I was living and working in a place with a vast amount of diversity and was able to reflect upon all that I had been missing.
When I moved back to St. Louis in my mid-twenties, I did NOT want to live in the suburb where I had grown up. Although I had a wonderful and nurturing childhood, I knew that I wanted to live in a more diverse community and to have the conveniences of walkable city life. However, a few years later, my partner and I began to look at purchasing home. Our top priorities were finding a good value for our money and living in a good public school district. At the time that meant things like good test scores and good ratings. We eventually found a beautiful home with the large yard and closets and the “good” schools that we wanted, even if we were a little disappointed that it was further out from the city than we initially desired. It wasn’t until a couple of years later that I truly reflected on how heavily messaging and conditioning had affected our decision – “We don’t want to send our (hypothetical) children to that district.” “That area is not safe.” “That school district will affect our resale value.”
In 2014 I became a parent. It was then that I began to become more deeply aware of my own racial identity and the implications of my privilege. It has been an awakening experience. I just didn’t know what I didn’t know. After having my first child, I was horrified to learn from research how early biases form in children. But I was fortunate enough to find two fellow moms of young children with a glimmer in their eyes soon to be known as We Stories. From the second I attended the first focus group, I was hooked. I knew that I needed tools and support to not only help me on my journey, but to support me as a parent in counteracting the overwhelmingly biased messages I knew my child would receive, especially living in an area as segregated as ours. Becoming involved in We Stories has completely transformed me and my family. Not only by providing us with the tools and support to have conversations about race at home, but also with the support to take meaningful actions within our community. My experience has truly shifted my parenting priorities.
While there is much I love about our current home and community, I am now acutely aware of the lack of diversity we experience in our daily lives - unless I work to intentionally seek it out. In addition to purposefully choosing books and toys with diverse racial representation, we visit story times and extracurriculars in other neighborhoods. We travel to a different YMCA that is further away so that we encounter more people of other races – me in my classes and my children through the caregivers and fellow playmates. And if we were to look for a school district now, we would be more concerned about diverse racial representation and socially just and equitable curriculum. These are all small, but intentional, actions that I feel I must take in order for my children to have a different sense of “normal” than if we only stuck to our neighborhood. We Stories has helped me understand how important these small but intentional actions are for me and my family. The community has also helped me understand how our region has become so divided, the cost of those divides for us all, and also the roles I can play in helping to bring about change - big and small.