I watched George Floyd plead, “I can’t breathe,” echoing the words of Eric Garner who died similarly at the hands of New York City police in 2014. Floyd and Garner joined an ever-growing list of African Americans killed by police or others claiming that authority while doing everyday things such as jogging (Ahmaud Arbery), playing in the park (Tamir Rice), going to the auto parts store (Walter Scott), playing video games (Atatiana Jefferson), driving home from dinner (Philando Castile), and sleeping in bed (Breonna Taylor, Aiyana Jones). Since Floyd died, hundreds of thousands have protested against the systemic racism and inequity that lead to this kind of tragedy over and over again.
I watched people across the country gather to demand justice for George Floyd, for Breonna Taylor, for Aiyana Jones, for Ahmaud Arbery, for Atatiana Jefferson, for Philando Castile, for Tamir Rice, for the countless other members of the African American community who have been victims of race-based violence. I watched the conversation shift, as it always does, from the destruction of lives to the destruction of property as looters and vandals used the protests for cover.
I watched police departments around the country respond with brutal and illegal violence against those crying out for justice.
I also watched as conservatively dressed members of the Church of God joined the protest in Minneapolis. I watched the African American mayor and white police chief of Santa Cruz kneel together. I watched the LGBTQ community remind the world that Pride started with a riot against police brutality 51 years ago. I watched allies from all walks of life join the African American community to stand up against centuries of wrong.
At Berkwood Hedge School, we talk about the values for which we stand. We stand for compassion. We stand for kindness. We stand for empathy. And, we stand for justice. Sometimes, people question whether social justice is an appropriate part of the curriculum in elementary school. I believe that the events we see unfolding today demonstrate that it is not only appropriate, but an ethical imperative and critical to our future to have these difficult conversations.
This week, our teachers are providing space for the children to talk about what is happening in our country in a way that honors their development and meets them where they are. I encourage you to continue these conversations at home, even if it seems daunting. Growth in social justice, like any other subject area, requires study, reflection, practice, and application. Below are some guidelines to help facilitate discussions with your children.
- Speak from your heart. While you want to be reassuring, it is ok to let your child know that you are sad or angry about people being mistreated. Talking about how you feel about racism and injustice provides a model for your child to do the same in a healthy way.
- Use read-alouds as a starting place. Story is an important tool when discussing difficult topics. The Oakland Public Library provides a list of books (by grade level), specifically chosen to help parents talk to their children about racism and social justice. Social Justice Books is another great resource.
- Do your own work, too. At school, our faculty and staff apply their growth mindset to social justice work as part of our professional development. Accessible resources for adults working toward anti-racism themselves and with children are available from many organizations and experts focused on social justice and education. Some of them include:
Now is the time to have conversations about race and inequity with your children. We cannot continue to allow systemic racism to go unchallenged. There is an ethical imperative to act. We must move from empathy to action. Help them understand the pain of being treated differently than others, and help them find the path toward treating others as they want to be treated themselves. As Dr. King stated in 1968: “We must all learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools. We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.” What we do matters. Here are some resources that you might find helpful.
- "Your Kids Aren't Too Young to Talk About Race: Resource Roundup"
- "George Floyd. Ahmaud Arbery. Breonna Taylor. What do we tell our children?"
- USA Today How to talk to Kids About Racism
- Trevor Noah addresses riots, police brutality, social justice and more
- Children’s books to support conversations on race
- Anti-racist book list - Napa Bookmine
- Books for Littles on Diversity
- Starting Conversations with children - for parents
- How to Make this Moment the Turning Point for Real Change
These can be difficult topics for children and for adults, but it is incumbent on all of us to continue our own learning and to help our children learn to address them with compassion, empathy, and a commitment to fairness and equity. I believe that remaining silent is equal to complicity.
How do we measure our school’s success? Is it through end of year math assessments or middle school admission? Our children must also learn to be reflective and to examine their own biases, to be courageous and to be upstanders, and to agents of change and to speak out against injustice.
Finally, I recognize our unique privilege being a part of the Berkwood Hedge school Community, and I hope we find the courage and determination to leverage our position and act on making the world a better place for everyone.
I look forward to continuing conversations in our community around the importance of social justice, and how we can support one another and our children to grow and learn to be the change agents we have been waiting for. I wish you strength, courage, and peace of mind.