Poverty: 3-5 Minute Child Chats about Social Justice

20170820_111007.jpgParents and guardians should be brave and create space for conversations with their children about the important topics of our society. We can no longer live in silos nor can we live in silence.

Last month I wrote that I would be sharing ways in which I have conversations with our 7-year-old son about topics related to social justice (and equity, acceptance, helping others, advocacy, etc.). My 1st disclaimer is that we live in a multicultural city in a neighborhood that is multiethnic and multi-income. We have many opportunities for us to engage with our community and have experiences that lend themselves well to discussing social justice. We also travel by car to other states and ask him to observe and ask questions. I am, after all, a social worker with a sociological imagination! My 2nd disclaimer is that we have enough resources to do what we need to do in life and a little bit more. Finally, my 3rd disclaimer is that our son is naturally curious and asks many questions, so it makes these conversations easier to initiate, but him being 7, the conversations end quickly because his attention span is short!

It is difficult for many children to understand poverty. Many parents & guardians do not discuss money with their children. So understanding that not having enough resources is connected to so many institutional and societal factors is complicated. To just say “Well…their parents do not have a job…” is such an insufficient explanation. Such a complicated issue (and the same goes for racism, sexism, disability, homophobia, etc., etc., etc.) require exposure that is consistent and wrapped in age-appropriate conversations that earnestly display your values of equity and justice.

So here are some examples of what we have done so far. What we do is very simple and we hope that as he gets older our experiences and conversations will become more complex and meaningful. I welcome your experiences and questions:

  1. We start with us & him and our & his money:
    1. We tell him how much he has, how much grandpa sent him, etc. We tell him that he has to save, give, and then he can spend a small portion of it.
    2. When it comes to giving, we make suggestions and then let him choose. We do not give online because we want him to have the experience of going somewhere to make the donation in person. It is usually at church, but he has also chosen to give to someone standing on the street corner or give to a jar at the store counter.
      1. “We believe that helping others is important.” “What do you think?” “Do you like it when someone helps you? Do you have an example of a time someone helped you?” “Why is it important to you?” “How do you feel when you help someone else?”
    3. When it comes to spending, we have taught him how to read prices. We talk about not buying more than what you need. We use the word greed (Eric Carle’s Greedy Python can be used in many ways!)
  2. We have served meals through a program that operates out of our church for people with not enough resources. We have done this on a weekend and on Thanksgiving (not as consistently as I would like). We tell our son what we are going to do and explain to him who comes to eat a meal
    1. “Do you know what we are going to do today?” “Do you know why we are going?” “What questions do you have?”
  3. We donate books, clothing, toys, etc. to a local organization and to the school when they collect coats, toys, etc.
    1. “Let’s look at what you have…what can we share with someone who doesn’t have any of this or enough of any of this?” “Can you imagine not having coat/gloves in winter?” “How do you think the child who gets this coat will feel?”
  4. We have conversations about the people we see on the streets holding signs.
    1. He has initiated these conversations. He asks why people stand on the street with signs asking for money. Our responses have varied, but the answer to his questions usually starts something like: “Sometimes people are unable to work and if you are unable to work you probably do not have enough money to pay rent or buy groceries.”  “Sometimes people cannot work because they are disabled…”
  5. Finally, we admit our privilege. We cannot have an honest chat about poverty if we do not talk about our own privilege. It is often uncomfortable, but it is part of what needs to happen.

Remember: 

  1. Keep it simple and short.
  2. Use words, language, and experiences you know your child can understand and handle. Try to relate it back to what they may already know (being helpful, being kind, being fair). AND use a book (some suggestions below).
  3. Do not overwhelm them by trying to do too much or have too many experiences in a short period.
  4. Do not force it. It should happen with the natural context of what you already do. The New Year is a good time to start new habits of justice.
  5. Be consistent and nurture their curiosity and their desire to engage in acts of social justice.

Children’s books related to this topic:

  1. Maddi’s Fridge by Lois Brandt
  2. The family under the bridge by Natalie Savage Carlson
  3. Poverty and Hunger by Hanane Kai
  4. On our street: Our first talk about poverty by Jillian Roberts and Jaime Casap
  5. Everybody can help somebody by Ron Hall and Denver Moore

 

 

 

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5 minute child chats about social justice

The other day I realized that it only takes 3-5 minutes to begin to teach our children about social justice and equity.  As a female social work educator of color raising a brown boy in the U.S. this is very important to me. But I also realized ALL parents can do this. And the way to do it is very simple. In the next few blog posts I will be sharing examples of how I have done this. Our son is very curious and is a keen observer. He asks lots of questons which provides opportunity for us to teach him about diverse populations, inequity, justice, acceptance, and social action. 

Stay tuned for specific lessons. But for now, here are a few tips to get you started:

1. listen to your child and answer their questions. Invite them to ask questions. Peak their curiosity. 

2. Don’t ignore them or brush them off. 

3. Don’t hush them. 

4. Don’t shy away from uncomfortable topics. 

5. Don’t be afraid to look up what you don’t know or refer to a friend. 

6. Keep it simple. Use a children’s book or story to help you. 

Between Privilege and Vulnerability: Riding the Current Storms

joy-comes-in-the-morningThere have been quite a few articles written about the negative emotional and physical effects of post-election trauma.  Many people have reported an increase in high blood pressure, migraines, heart issues (palpitations, etc.), generalized anxiety and stress, and symptoms that mimic depression.  It seems like the nation is experiencing a crisis similar to that of being engaged in a war. It also seems as if for many people, this is the first time they have ever experienced such deep confusing maddening distress.

As a woman of color who was born and is living in the U.S., raising children of color, and married to an immigrant I can fully relate. My distress is as high as anyone else’s. The difference is maybe that I straddle privilege and oppression with coping skills that I have had a lifetime to develop, such that my blood pressure or heart or overall health have yet to be affected. While I feel enraged or sad at times, fearful and confused at others, I am not steeping in any of those emotions.  I do not have that luxury. I do not want to speak for all people of color or other vulnerable and oppressed identities living in the U.S., but I (we) cannot afford to be distressed to the point of being sick, hospitalized, and/or immobilized.  Further, and quite plainly – we are accustomed to this type of distress – for some of us, it is part of our daily living. And still, we rise and press on towards the goal.

I know the distress is real. I want to honor that there is pain, confusion, anger, sadness, fear. I also want to say that many of us who have been vulnerable and oppressed for some time know that “this too shall pass.” My great-grandparents and grandparents and parents did not survive racial and gender discrimination in the deep south by lying down and moaning. They did not have the luxury of sick time or mental health days. From them, I (and other people like me), learned how to press on and cope; how to find joy in the morning. So until “joy comes in the morning,” from my humble social work self, here are some tips for my friends who are experiencing pain, sadness, anger, confusion, discomfort, uncertainty for the first time:

  1. Keep breathing and engage in some self-care (and care for those around you). No social justice activist is any good if you are sick and weak and down-and-out. Stay well, healthy, and focused.
  2. Surround yourself with like-minded, caring, productive people. Together you can find comfort, vent, and strategize for the future.
  3. Call on a higher power. We are only human and can only do so much – meditate, pray, find a way to connect yourself spiritually or religiously to something outside of your human earthly self.
  4. Get a soundtrack. Music, art, poetry are all useful forms of protest as well as useful forms of uplift, care, and relief. My current soundtrack is a mix of Destiny Child’s “I’m a Survivor” and Kirk Franklin’s “Revolution.” I gotta keep a mix of hip-hop/rap and gospel to stay sane and focused.
  5. Find inspiration in those who came before us and did this work in the face of extreme obstacles. Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Nat Turner, Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr. to name a few.
  6. Act locally. The national and global picture is important AND overwhelming. Take action in your city/town, your state, your local schools. Get connected with what is happening in your area. Small bits may be more manageable and help to ease some of the distress of looking at the larger situation.
  7. Limit your social media and hard news intake. Really. Even as a professor who needs to keep up with the current events, I am limiting how much I log on and turn on. I still know what is happening and I am still able to act and I am less stressed about the daily changing landscape and environment.
  8. Don’t engage in identity politics that divides who you are from others. We are an intersectional people and our battles are all important. Combine efforts, work together, move forward.
  9. Remember that there have been many eras of social injustice. Many eras of social movements. And many victories for people who are distressed, oppressed, and vulnerable.
  10. Finally, remember joy does come in the morning. It may be the morning of next week or next month. But joy is counted in each small victory, and waking up with the ability to help make change is a victory for today!

 

This is my 10 cents on riding the storms of today.

What’s your self-care and care for others plan? Who is inspiring you to stay focused and fight the good fight?  What’s on your soundtrack during these trying times? How are you coping and pushing up and forward?

Between Privilege and Vulnerability: Social Responsibility

familyOur Pastor has been preaching on the “Great Ends of the Church.”  I am embarrassed to say that I missed what all the great ends are.  Last week’s sermon (which was awesome) was about telling our truth. We had a great Black History Month litany honoring truth tellers in a variety of fields (art, music, science, education, etc.).  This week Pastor Heather is leading a group in Israel so Rev. Cindy came to preach. I LOVE Cindy, really I do. You know you meet someone and you instantly feel like “I could hang out with her often.” Yep. That’s how I feel about Rev. Cindy Kohlman.  Today she ROCKED the message on Justice and Social Responsibility.  As a social worker I was “Yea. Right on! We are about justice and helping others, and spreading the good news, and social responsibility.”

I wish the sermon had been tapped so y’all could see because I am not able to do her justice! She asked if some folks were uncomfortable. I ask this in my diversity courses all the time, with the premise that my space is safe and there will be discomfort because diversity…justice…social responsibility is challenging, controversial to some, and uncomfortable to many. The question for today’s sermon was “What Shall We (You) Do?” Justice and Social Responsibility is ACTIVE work! (Ephesians 4:25-29, 5:8-7 and Luke 3:1-14).

Our son, who has no enemy that he knows of and everyone he meets is a friend knows how worldto do justice and social responsibility in a very nice 5 year old way.

  1. On the playground or in a play setting he may notice that a child is different in some way and that does not stop him form playing with that child or inviting that child to play if the child was not already playing.
  2. Three times now at school I have received an email from his teacher saying that our son shared his costume with someone who forgot to wear their costume for that day (Whakcy Dr. Seuss Wednesday, or some other day…)
  3. Whenever we go out – to a friend’s house, to church, to a meeting, wherever…he insists that I pack enough snacks for him to be able to share with others. Sometimes he doesn’t get a snack he’s so busy sharing!
  4. While he likes to consider himself a BIG boy at age 5 and tends to gravitate to the older children (ages 10 and up), he always first looks out for those younger than him – giving them his toys to play with, a snack, a hug, before running off to be a big boy!
  5. When he is tired of a book or toy he always says “Mommy, you should give this to so-and-so.” We then discuss making a bag of toys and clothes to give away either to friend or to an organization.

His heart is so BIG and sensitive.  I am heartened that even though he has faced not being included because of his age or gender or race, he still takes the time to make sure to include and give to others.  (He by the way is often oblivious to being excluded…that’s a blog for another time). The scripture that come to mind is Matthew 25:45 “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.

We, of course have done some prompting on giving, being generous, being aware of others and their situation. But our son has done a lot of 5 year old social responsibility work on his own.  Our job now is to continue to nurture that and make sure he continues to become more aware, ask bigger questions, and continue to actively work for justice. Because even those who have been oppressed or fee vulnerable or discriminated against have MUCH to give!

If your child has the tendency to ask questions, be generous, include others, give of him or herself – ENCOURAGE it and engage him or her in age appropriate discussions about justice and social responsibility.  One of the things I see missing in the larger society is justice being enacted across cultures, ethnicities, ages, genders, religions, political affiliations, religions – it’s OUR world and we ALL have a responsibility to do GOOD and RIGHT!

 

The TRUTH was spoken about Movements

(I’m not even sure I can adequately capture what I just experienced. I am so moved. You know those moments full of food for your head and soul – full of em)

20160125_105527Today I came out of my sabbatical world and ventured onto campus. My nephew was being honored at the SSU MLK, Jr. Convocation (“A Movement, Not A Moment”).  We are all so proud of Anye, especially after the ordeal he endured at Lowell H.S. on his path to becoming student body president (you can see ongoing coverage along with my Op-Ed in the Lowell Sun about the situation). He has graciously, humbly, and proudly risen above the hatred and carried himself with dignity and intelligence.  Today he was honored for writing an outstanding essay about Martin Luther king, Jr.

Some other really amazing things occurred.  A young man (whose name escapes me) sang an amazing rendition of Marvin Gaye’s (or is it Sam Cooke’s song?) “A Change is Going to Come” and the first verse of “Life Every Voice and Sing.” His voice made the words of those two songs touch the core of my soul! Before I could gather myself, Charlene Carruthers took the stage. OMG! Do you know her? Look her up! Currently she is the National Director of the Black Youth Project 100 (BYP100).  My 5 y.o. son, who was getting restless was immediately captivated by her and insisted to video-tape her.  He wasn’t sure what she was saying, but he was captivated anyway! And he was right. She spoke TRUTH about the lack of inclusion in previous social movements, in particular the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s. She spoke passionately and eloquently about the exclusion of women, and young people, and individuals from the LGBT community. She encouraged the university to not engage in tokenism (my paraphrasing of her deeper more thoughtful speech). She encouraged us to not just add a black man and stir and say we are diverse; to not just add a queer woman stir and say we are diverse, etc. She encouraged tough conversations, real work (policy and action) and she encourage discomfort (a common occurrence in my diversity class)! She had 3 main points which I have to email her to get because I got so caught up, I didn’t take notes! Most importantly she encouraged the students to find their voice(s), be heard, be persistent, and keep pressing for change. And then…

The students took the podium and stated their demands. 20160125_124206They said “You didn’t hear us.” OMG that feeling of not being heard. OUCH. I felt it! It brought tears to my eyes – the songs, Carruthers’ speech and then the students. As a faculty member of color (1 of only a handful at a university with 300+ faculty) I heard them. As a woman of color who attended a campus where people who looked like me made up 2% of the student today, I heard the students at SSU today. I let them know I heard them.

Kudos to Rebecca Comage and the Planning Committee for choosing such a dynamic and bold speaker and for honoring the students’ voices today! I know my nephew and his parents were moved and my 5 y.o. in his own way heard some important things and experienced something powerful. I know my syllabi are about to experience some important revisions!

My sabbatical has been lots of fun. LOTS of self-care, time with family and friends;  some research and some writing. Today I got renewed! I got inspired! I got motivated to continue the work of being part of a movement, no matter who is uncomfortable and to not just participle in a moment! So much more I think I could write….

What moves or inspires you to be part of a movement?

Thoughtful Tuesday

familyOur son was not yet 2 years old when Trayvon Martin was shot in Sanford, Florida. That night we held him tightly and I prayed that I would find the words as he grew up to talk to him about vulnerability, oppression, being a person of color, racism. My parents who were born in the south but grew up in the North and the West did a poor job of preparing me for the harsh realities of the isms. I was sheltered and protected. I believe my parents thought that because we moved out of Inglewood into Pasadena, enrolled me in private schools, exposed me to those upper-class activities that they did not participate in, I would be spared or safe from racism, sexism, etc. Otis Graham, author of Our Kind of People wrote a column about how privileged status does not protect our children from being called a N—- https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2014/11/06/i-taught-my-black-kids-that-their-elite-upbringing-would-protect-them-from-discrimination-i-was-wrong/

Since February 2012, so may incidents of racial injustice and violence have occurred that I have honestly lost track. All I know is that I am trying to remain calm, not panic, and talk to our son in ways that make sense. My husband and I have different approaches, which is o.k. I think. There are different ways to expose our children, talk to them, and prepare them as best we can for their futures. Our differing approaches collided when our nephew was elected president of his high school student body and social media erupted in racial slurs and threats of death. For the first time since our son had been born I was called to action. I participated in a rally, but our son did not go. Our nephew was on the front page of the paper and on the nightly local news almost daily. Our son is learning to read and pictures speak volumes. I felt we could not hide or sugar-coat the truth. We have responded simply or used religion or sports analogies to help.

The simplest response possible: “He won and some people were not happy, they are sore losers, and they said mean things.” And our son would say “Are they going to get in trouble? Did they apologize?” The truth was that no, those kids did not truly get into trouble and we were not sure they had apologized. So another type of conversation was had. We turned to religion: “Sometimes people do or say mean things and they do not apologize. God knows our hearts and will always protect us.” God is still a vague being/concept to our son, but he kind of got it.  IN other situations, we have turned to sports (his favorite activity): “You know how in a game there is a referee that monitors the players and when a player creates a super bad foul the player gets kicked out of the game and then later he has to pay a fee?” “Yes.” “In life there are referees who patrol our world and kick people out and make them pay fees.”

But then the news images of police, protestors, shot boys that look like him become too much to ignore. Even if we were not watching the news in his presence, he sees the front page of the newspaper as we bring it into the house, the news has a preview on t.v. as we are turning to his kid’s channel, our gatherings are a mix of adults and children and he over-hears our conversations. We cannot and will not live in a bubble under the guise of shielding him. So the real challenge is how to navigate this harsh reality without burdening his 5 year old mind, soul, and heart.

He is obsessed with playing “jail.” He also loves soccer, football, play dough, and coloring. But inevitably whatever he is building with Legos turns into a jail. His soccer players end up in jail because they cause d a foul or his play dough creation is a jail. Even his beloved TMNT are in jail! My social worker antenna is buzzing!!!! So I ask “Why is everyone always in jail?” “Because they’re bad.” “What did they do?” “They were fighting.” “Oh” I say weakly, wondering if I should continue the questioning, which I do not but instead say “I think you’ve played jail long enough, let’s read….”

Our son is very intuitive, he is smart and savvy. He listens to everything people say. He is not naïve. At the same time, we do not want to give him more information than he needs at this age. We also do not want him to be shocked (which he will be) when a classmate or a classmate’s parent says something racially cruel or he doesn’t get invited to the party because the parent doesn’t like black people, etc., etc. I also do not want to be a helicopter parent, but I can easily see how trying to protect your child from injustice based on his race or biological sex or religion or ability…could lead a parent to helicopter…patrolling the books in the library, the holidays celebrated at school, etc.

I am too often overwhelmed by that state of our country and our world. I feel paralyzed and fearful. Then I remember that I need to model what our son should be (my husband does too) and I just make sure our son hears and sees me engaged in social justice. I also remember that I have gotten through it with minimal protection and I have grown stronger, more passionate, braver.

I also just hope and pray that there are parents of every race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, and orientation out there who are just as concerned as I am and are having age-appropriate conversations with their children about the same issues and about how to be an ally. I just hope and pray that there is better police academy screening and training. I just hope that the post-modernists, whom I do not always understand or agree with, are right and we reach a post-label-identity society…where we are all equal and treated as such.

Do you talk to your child about difference? Vulnerablitiy? Racism? Sexism? Current events? How do you do it?

Some of my favorite articles on related topics:

  1. To The White Parent of My Black Son’s Friends – http://www.amusingmaralee.com/2015/12/to-the-white-parents-of-my-black-sons-friends/#sthash.mZuLFa7R.dpuf
  2. Respect what black America is feeling – http://www.salon.com/2015/04/29/dear_white_facebook_friends_i_need_you_to_respect_what_black_america_is_feeling_right_now/
  3. Five recovery steps from a form helicopter parent http://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2016/01/05/overparenting-5-recovery-steps-from-a-former-stanford-dean/
  4. What it’s like to be the only black kid in class http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/this-is-what-its-like-to-be-the-only-black-kid-in-class_568a847be4b014efe0dae77d

 

A rambling opinion: Why Student Protest Matters

multicultural-kids-holding-blank-banner-sign-23449953The short answer to the question “Why does student protest matter?” is that because those young people are our future.  I was one of them in the 80s. Now I’m a social work educator with a platform for social justice. I blog, I write Op-Ed pieces, I teach social justice and cultural competence.  I was hunger striking and camping out on the admin lawn on campus.  I had an opportunity to voice my concerns.  I was heard and acknowledged.  That propelled me to continue to be an active, critical, concerned citizen.

We should not judge, criticize, chastise, condemn, or discourage those students.  Yes, someone (they and/or family members) are paying for them to be in class, learning, studying, doing homework, earning grades and degrees. AND A LOT of learning on college and university campuses occurs outside of the classroom.  We should value the life lessons and experiences that enhance a young person’s life.  Being aware of, concerned about, actively in changing a social ill is an important lesson.  There is a lot of learning that occurs from organizing and participating in a protest. You may end up on a bus to your state’s capital to speak before the legislature.  You may end up in a conference room with the Chancellor and Board of Trustees to state your concerns.  You’ll most definitely end up speaking to the media.  Your name and picture will end up in your college’s archives as someone who worked to make a change for the better.

Those young people at Missouri, Ithaca, Smith, Yale, and all the other campuses engaging in social protest deserve their time and space to do so.  They have legitimate concerns to which we should listen.  They will eventually go back to class and to the routine of taking notes, writing papers, etc. But for now, today they need to say their truth.  That truth is the truth of our nation.  We have a dismal record of positive race relations.  These students, like the students from the 1906s are waiting to be heard. Maybe we can learn from our students.

Whether it’s at your high school or college, the voices of students matter! Their protest matters because history repeats itself and we are slow to change.  Their protest matters because we need to wake up, listen, take positive action, and make true social change.  Their protest matters because they speak truth.  Their protest matters because they are our future. I stand, sit, lay with our students wanting to be heard!