year 2, week 15: this week i'm gonna... help raise big-hearted kids
Laura Horwitz moved back to St. Louis from Philadelphia on Aug. 9, 2014, the day a Ferguson police officer shot and killed Michael Brown, a black teenager.
In the riots and other subsequent events, Horwitz, mother of a 4-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son, said she saw a deeply divided and racially segregated city. “At first, posting on Facebook was the only way I felt capable of responding,” Laura said of those weeks post-August 9th.
Adelaide Lancaster, another St. Louis mom, was also deeply impacted by the events of August 9th. “When Michael Brown was killed, the gravity of parenting hit me,” Lancaster said. “I was struck by this profound sense of responsibility.”
Both Horwitz and Lancaster said that growing up, race hadn’t been a topic of conversation in their homes, but they both sought out learning experiences about racial identity and America's rich multiracial/multicultural history in college and beyond. Now, as parents in St. Louis, they realized that talking about race was crucial.
“We spent a lot of time talking about the problems of our region and we wanted to find a way as young moms to be part of the solution,” Lancaster said. “The conversations in our homes were not reflecting what was going on around us. The more we looked into it, we found we were like a lot of white families in that we didn’t discuss race and especially didn’t do it around children. The more we looked into that, we realized that if we wanted to raise ‘big-hearted kids’ with a deep understanding of other people’s stories and truth and realities that we should work on turning that conversation around.”
Horwitz and Lancaster turned to books to help them start new kinds of conversations with their own kids and with other families. By reading books to their children and connecting with other parents, both moms felt like they could take positive actions to counter racism. “I felt like I could be part of the solution,” Horwitz said.
With children's books as their inspiration, Horwitz and Lancaster launched We Stories, a nonprofit that aims to create conversations about inclusion and diversity through children’s literature.
We Stories uses the power of children’s literature to create conversation, change, hope, and a stronger, more equitable and inclusive future for all. They assist parents with starting and strengthening conversations about racism with their children from birth to age seven, helping them approach this important and oftentimes challenging topic as part of an energized community of learners and change makers.
The We Stories approach is based on the best available research about when and how racial bias forms in children and how family habits related to addressing race differ between white families and families of color. Although their focus is on white families, their program is available to anyone who wishes to participate.
The 12-week We Stories Family Learning Program, offered three times a year for up to 100 families at a time, introduces families 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. Families have the opportunity to join in creating a new story for their children and their city.
We Stories currently supports approximately 450 families and has a waitlist of over 500 families that wish to join.
Parents in the We Stories Family Learning Program get a free starter library of four age-appropriate books; these books feature protagonists of color, teach about both historical and present discrimination issues, and celebrate racial identities while promoting inclusion. Parents also receive resources to help bring the books to life and advance their own learning. Workshops at the beginning and midway point, social media, and other organized events help to foster community and provide support for getting started and addressing more complicated topics.
After the program, parents have many opportunities to continue their learning, including programs developed in partnership with the Anti-Defamation League, Missouri History Museum, and the YWCA, among others.
Lancaster and Horwitz explained that they wanted to focus their efforts on white families because they tend to talk about race and racism less with their children. Families of color, on the other hand, talk about race and racism as a necessary part of parenting and raising children to confront a world that doesn't always treat them fairly. “It became clear to us that other (white) folks - just because they were being silent on it - didn’t mean they didn’t care,” Lancaster said.
Lancaster and Horwitz believe that in order to get white parents to talk about race, they need a community of people doing the same to make it “okay” to do so, and also tools to teach them how. Many parents don’t know how to bring up the subject, or just don’t feel comfortable talking about race.
“There is no one way to parent and no one way to solve the huge, complex problem of racism,” Horwitz said. “What we’re doing is inviting families that are interested and want to participate but haven’t been part of the larger conversation happening in our region about racial equity as of yet.”
One We Stories participant summed it up by noting, "(discussions about race) are even more powerful when little minds and hearts are invited to join the conversation.”
Notes for this week:
- April is Celebrate Diversity Month!
- Our collective givetwig donation will sponsor the cost of starter libraries and resources for approximately 15 families.
- For more information regarding We Stories, please check out their website.
this week i'm gonna donate to We Stories.