“I can’t believe what you say because I see what you do.”
— James Baldwin
Seared into my mind are the images of black and brown people dying and their anguished loved ones grieving yet another loss. But one picture from recent days stands out for me: one of a young black boy holding a sign that says, “Am I next?” Today, I want to respond to this young black boy by saying, “ We will do right by you. We will do more for you. We will do better for you! We recommit ourselves to you with every breath.”
As an educator and leader at a non-profit organization that cares deeply about young children, I feel we must do everything we can to prevent hate and fear of death for children who deserve to grow up with love and to always feel safe and protected. In our organization, we acknowledge the pain and trauma that black and brown children and families experience daily. We also acknowledge that what we say and do with white children greatly benefits a more equitable society and teaches them how to exist in this diverse world. When we stay with this, hold space for conversation, commit to more learning, and show up differently than we have before, we can bring about systems change for all.
These systems have perpetuated the racism that makes black children feel unsafe, that keeps them from opportunities to achieve their full potential. Historically, these murders and injustices come from a pattern of institutionalized racism that limits people of color at every level: employment, housing, health care and education. People create the systems, but the systems still are not for all people. Black infants are dying at a higher rate than white infants, black boys in preschool are disciplined differently than white boys and are expelled more often, and school districts with the largest populations of Black, Latinx and Native American children receive $1,800 less per student on average.
As individuals working in organizations and systems, I offer these questions to reflect upon. What will we tell the children? How might these questions help us really show our children that we are in solidarity:
Will we hold the critical dialogue that is needed around history and facts, so we can better understand the systems and the voice of people within those systems?
Will our policies and practices be grounded in diversity all year long and not just during Black History Month?
Will we challenge the white-dominant processes that make decisions for children without their families' voices included?
How will we engage Black, Indigenous, and Latinx led and under-resourced organizations and members of the community?
Will we step away from white dominant processes and try on new approaches that do not center whiteness?
How will we hold our decision makers, board members, and staff accountable and rooted in the principles of equity?
Will our brochures, websites, the data we use and the stories we share be diverse and empowering?
And, because we must breathe and push forward with action, I ask: How will we step into this work? How will we go beyond this moment and be part of a movement that centers humanity, values black lives and moves us all from anguish to action? How will we go beyond just issuing a statement? Our children deserve a dignified future and black and white children deserve a future not riddled with guilt, nor inherited fear of their neighbor, but to live in a world where equity is at the center.
With strong, brave hearts, rooted in what we believe, we at Smart Beginnings Virginia Peninsula will do the work, hold the conversations, fight, educate, organize, and advocate. Our children’s future demands it!
Diane Umstead , Executive Director
Click on the link for a list of resources including podcasts, articles, and books that you can use with your children to talk about race.