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.


  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




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. 

Being True to Me: I am an ecclectic sporadic blogger with average writing skills!

ecclecticIt’s been a while since I’ve blogged. I’ve had a lot going on – finishing the semester, getting the boy ready for summer, grieving, … Lots going on that needed to be settled and cleared.  I have spent some time pondering this blog.  I read a LOT of other blogs and know that the authors of blogs which attract the most readers (and make money) have a consistent theme/topic on which they write.  I contemplated finding one or two topics on which to write in order to be consistent and have dedicated readers.

I could blog about motherhood, academia, cultural competence, Alzheimer’s, being African American, being a mother to a black boy, being married to an immigrant, being a social worker, etc., etc., etc. Not one of those topic is more important to me than the next. So I decided that my blog will be an eclectic mix of the things that interest me.  Be prepared to read about our summer jaunts, my summer readings lists, my sabbatical, my volunteerism with the Alzheimer’s Association, my attempts to explain racial relations to my 4 year old, the adventures of my niece who will soon be here from Africa, our adventures as non-Catholics in a Catholic school, soccer, futbol, food, wine, and so much more!

Stay tuned. Be patient with my writing. I hope to post interesting stories and/or tips and I hope you’ll keep reading and leaving comments!

Thanksgiving Thanks (day 18): Honoring My Mom’s Legacy of Cultural Capital

daughter and momA stream-of-consciousness because that’s how I flow blog without regard to the scholarship on this topic (I can take time off form being an academic right?).

I’m always reflective in November. Even before my mom passed away. It happens to be the month in which so many people I care for were born, including my mom and son.  My mom left me a great legacy. There’s stuff, but what is most meaningful is the non-tangible.  These past couple of weeks I have been particularly reflective on the legacy of cultural capital she left me.

I teach a class on cultural competence.  That class is about human service workers being able to work effectively and compassionately with people of different social identities (race, ethnicity, religion, ability, sexual orientation, etc., etc., etc.).  There is a different type of cultural competence that I’ve been reflecting on lately.  The first snow has fallen on Loon Mountain and folks are going skiing….

In undergraduate and again in our doctoral program I read Bourdieu’s work along with some post modern takes on cultural capital.  The term is broad, vague, ill-defined, not ethnically relevant, maybe even unnecessary, except when you realize it is necessary…I am sure that in proper society no one goes around speaking of their cultural capital, but we know it when we see it.  I’ve been particularly reflective about ethnic-specific and regional differences in cultural capital.  I’m not ready to write a thesis about this, but I am aware of that in my travels around the country, living in different regions and being blessed enough to have friends from different backgrounds, I’ve noticed that we each have cultural capital in different ways.  And even with our country’s growing diversity I am struck that we still revert to a WASP standard of cultural capital (orchestra outings, certain types of art, music, skiing, apple picking, specific books, etc.).

When and how does cultural capital become diversified? I know that in the African American community there are organizations that have been formed in an attempt to inculcate children with some forms of cultural capital. And while depending on the region of these by-invitation-only groups a child may get the typical reproduced messages about cultural capital with some sprinkling of ethnic-specific cultural capital (i.e. sharing of some art by famous black artists and musicians). But for the most part the cultural capital being instilled and passed on is still lodged in the WASP world. It’s o.k. and it’s not o.k. Every ethnic and racial group has much to contribute to the mickle bag (a term one of my eccentric high school English teacher used ad nausem…I think she made the term up!) of what can be considered to be part of the cultural capital suitcase. I’m sure someone has written an article (or two) about this; and maybe I’ll go look it up…but my point is that some of our parents do an amazing job of providing some elements of cultural capital (which we then hopefully build upon for ourselves) and I’d like the scholars, theorists and pundits to consider adding futbol (soccer), and Gordon Parks, and hair braiding, and making tamales, and…you get me right? Cultural capital should be culturally competent & relevant.

For me, I am thankful that my mom laid a foundation in our multi-cultural, multi-value, multi-activity house and elsewhere that allows me to move with some ease within and between cultures with my well-packed cultural capital suitcase. It’s that ability to code switch (a show on NPR now) that really makes me a culturally competent individual with capital. And I’m thankful. Thank you mommy! I’m hoping to reproduce some culturally relevant capital with our son. Here’s hoping I can build upon my mom’s legacy and also hoping I don’t drive our son crazy in doing so!


Meaningful Mondays #2: Adoption in Black and White

From NPR story (link below): “The cost to adopt the Caucasian child was approximately $35,000, plus some legal expenses. “Versus when we got the first phone call about a little girl, a full African-American girl, it was about $18,000,” Lantz says. The cost for adoption of a biracial child was between $24,000 and $26,000.” http://www.npr.org/2013/06/27/195967886/six-words-black-babies-cost-less-to-adopt

My mom’s life work was caring for children. As a social worker she was a child welfare advocate. She often bucked the system and did things not the way the state of Cali wanted her to do them, but they way in which she knew would be best for the welfare of the students.  She was amazing to watch. She walked the walk and talked the talk of child welfare and protection. I would have followed in her footsteps, but social work called me in another direction. She would take any child, of any race, ethnicity, ability, etc. regardless of cost. AND she knew fully that some children would live in her groups homes longer than others because of his/her race or ability.

Adoption and foster care often carries a stigma by those who do not understand the needs of children and families.  I feel this NPR story may add to the difficulties and misunderstandings people have about adoption and foster care.  The NPR story is not shocking to me, but may be to some.  It is difficult to place children with disabilities, severe behavior problems, and non-Caucasian children in loving and caring homes.  With the latter there is the debate about whether children of color should only be placed with families of the same race and ethnicity….http://www.nabsw.org/mserver/PreservingFamilies.aspx

There are many U.S. children who are in need of a loving home. I hope this story does not turn adoption into some stigmatized affirmative action program in which people take pity on children of oclor or only adopt African American kids because the cost is lowest (in some states).  I hope people adopt and foster because they have enough love, room, and resources to welcome a child or children into their homes.

I hope the NPR story (and the continuing NPR series on Race, http://theracecardproject.com/ helps to bring awareness of the needs of individuals, families, and especially children of color.

Get informed: http://www.nationaladoptionday.org/ National Adoption Day

Thoughtful Thursday (late edition): News Madness, Some Quick Thoughts

Image  WOW! Tuesday my head was spinning from so much news coming in so fast! I was watching 3-5 channels, on my Twitter feed and on Facebook trying to keep up with the Zimmerman trial, Aaron Hernanzez, DOMA, Nelson Mandela…! It was the same way during the chase of the 2 “Boston Marathon Bombing” suspects.  I was up at 1 a.m. watching news and reading Tweets to follow the madness.  I remember when I first became obsessed with news coverage – I was in college, when Magic Johnson was announcing he has AIDS.  Since that day I devoured news like my life depended on it (and sometimes it does).  I recall being a college student in California when the Rodney King police office trial was going on, and waiting anxiously for a verdict, which at that time, we could only watch on t.v., no Twitter, Facebook, or internet feeds or updates.  Those were sloooooow news dissemination days by today’s standards. Then I got to thinking….

Am I always a critical news consumer? No, but I should be. Especially since I am a mom. I teach my students to be critical consumers of knowledge, including news, and I should do better to do the same.

In order to lead by example & teach our children to be critical consumers of news, we must take the lead.  I have developed the following guidelines for myself (guidelines, not rules because sometimes I “break” them):

  1. Acknowledge that all news reporting has biases; even our favorite papers and/or reporters.
  2. Try not to react viscerally (especially in front of small children) to the breaking news of anything. Stories change quickly and the first report is not always the right report. Anyone remember CNN’s coverage of the Gore-Bush election???
  3. A tough one for me:  No “hard-hitting” news before work (only weather and traffic) and no news right before bed (switched from 11 p.m. to 6 p.m. broadcast).
  4. If I’m following a breaking story, I look for different perspectives. I have my favorite stations and I check out what my least favorite news reporters are saying also.  I cannot teach a class on social welfare policy and only present the CNN, MSNBC  perspective…I gotta get the FOX and others side too.
  5. I use Twitter and Facebook not as a primary news source, but as the quickest way to stay ahead of the t.v. folks. On Tuesday the Tweets were flying about Trayvonn Martin’s friend testimony. I got caught up in the madness! A day later more thoughtful responses to her came out….

There are all kinds of blogs and articles out there about children and news, here are my tips (remember I have a toddler who I do not feel is ready yet for news beyond weather & sports…):

  1. Discuss what your child about the news only what is age appropriate and what will affect his/her daily routine
  2. Add news reading to their reading list when he/she is old enough to discuss with you what he read

Other tips I found out there about critical news consumption:

  1. From PBS: http://kidshealth.org/parent/positive/talk/news.html
  2. From Children Now: http://www.childrennow.org/index.php/learn/twk_news

A good place to start with kids:

  1. newsnick.com
  2. http://www.cnn.com/studentnews
  3. http://www.timeforkids.com/news