Raising Kids to be Socially Conscious

Evie was about 1 year and 9 months when she first saw Black Lives Matter run through downtown Seattle on Black Friday. She was with us in a hotel lobby when we first saw news of the Baton Rouge shooting at 4 years old. It all seems like a little much for a little person to understand, but can you get in front of it all for them?  How can I as a parent keep open lines of communication for her to ask me about it without giving her more than what her little mind can take?

There are many reasons that my husband and I support the Black Lives Matter movement.  This is NOT saying we don’t care about ‘All Lives…’ or even ‘Blue Lives…’, but that we understand there is a systemic injustice in the world and right now that has been around for a long time and it’s about standing up against it.  I hope that whether or not you agree with what our stance is on this, you can still be open to discussion and debate.  The second we choose to not be a part of  social justice issues, the second we look away from the injustices and not even try to have some empathy for victims, is when we all fail in our morality.

So how do you talk to a 4 year old about it?  What can you discuss about THIS injustice that won’t be too scary for them?

It seems like Oakland only gets media attention when there’s a riot in the streets and local businesses are being smashed as they were 8 years ago when we first moved here.  I am so happy to report that times have changed.  I would not feel comfortable bringing Evie to a march that has the potential to turn violent, so I was happy to see an email from her school inviting parents and their kids to take part in this family-friendly rally.

In preparation for this, I started asking her questions about what she’s seen or what she knows.  We’ve also been reading a page at a time of Rad American Women A-Z by Katie Schatz.  One page at a time is basically one person at a time, so we have some time to really talk about these women.  From Dolores Huerta to Hazel Scott, we’ve created a little routine of reading about someone then looking them up on the computer for photos and videos of them.  The book does go into some of the struggles that these women faced and how they persevered.

When it came to the rally’s activities, I knew there would be an altar for pictures and cards from the kids to remember those who have passed and I wanted to talk to Evie about that as well.

This is where it got a little tricky with a 4 year old.  I did’t want to give her too much information about how we lost some of the victims, but I wanted her to understand that they were victims.  We talked about Aiyana Jones from Detroit.  She was 8 years old when the police shot her while she was asleep in bed.  Since she had her life taken from her at such a young age, I thought she would be more identifiable for Evie.  I showed her a photo of young Aiyana and she drew a picture of her for the altar.

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So how did I explain little Aiyana?  I fumbled a little trying to find words for her.  I didn’t quite get into too many details about her, only that she was lost in violence.  Instead of the details, I talked about how we remember people by drawing them or looking at photos.  I have photos of my grandparents up in her room, so this concept was easy for her to understand.

Then I turned to Oakland’s rally for help.  We went there with our drawing and immediately saw a mix of people at all ages.  I felt relieved to see all the volunteers helping to create a space where we can find the words to talk about it together.

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Evie and I read a couple books that they had available to us.

The Oakland Library provided a handy list for those interested:

Talking to Kids About Racism and Justice: a list for parents, caregivers & educators

They had crayons and coloring pages available for when she wanted to do her own thing.  Which this was pretty frequent; maybe it was the overstimulation of all the kids, maybe the books were just going over her head, or maybe it was just too hot to be sitting outside… I’m not completely sure.

At times, she was ready for a couple heavy questions:

  1. Can you name a time where you saw something unjust?
  2. What did you do when you saw this?
  3. What can we do when we see injustice?
  4. Who can we talk to about these things?

Evie and I sat around rally and talked about some of these things.  She saw the altar going up and decided to run up and add her picture to it.

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After all the activities, we met up with my husband Peabe just in time for the march through downtown Oakland.  Since we had a lot of shorter legs with this group, there were larger groups already walking who met up with our family-friendly group who was going at a slower pace.

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It was incredible to see so many people coming together and supporting each other for a greater good.  We walked peacefully, with helicopters hovering above, holding up signs and singing along, “Black Lives Matter, Black Kids Matter!”

Maybe she gets it and maybe she didn’t, but I know for sure that she can come to us to discuss it whenever she’s ready.

I am thankful that Rice & Beans, Bay Area SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice), and Abundant Activism came together to facilitate conversations by age group for kids at Oakland’s most recent activities for BLM.  Thank you to the Oakland Library for showing up with the book cart full of relevant materials for me to read to her. Thank you to Sama Sama Cooperative for showing her how she as a Filipina can stand in solidarity and be activists for change. Thank you Oakland for coming together to make a difference.

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We live in an unjust and violent world, where chances of death are directly related to the color of your skin, and we should all be outraged. I’m not asking all my friends and family to get out and march for the cause but I’m asking everyone to at the very minimum, be aware of the discriminations.  Kids understand concepts like oppression and inequality, let them know that they have the power to do something about it, and their voice matters.  It is up to us, we have a moral obligation, to teach our kids to have mindfulness and be responsible for themselves and each other.

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” -Desmond Tutu 

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