A short family guide to supporting racial justice now

Photograph by Janet Yieh New York, NY

As I write this, tens of thousands of people have gathered for a tenth straight day from New York City to San Francisco, in every state and at least 11 nations, to protest racism and police brutality. We live in Brooklyn, and daily, protesters of all ages and colors stream down the sidewalk past our apartment with their handmade signs to join in gatherings just a mile from us. At night, we go to sleep to the sounds of police helicopters, because the protests do not end when the citywide curfew begins.

I’ve been taking my son to protests since he was 8. He’s been on a street corner with a handful of people and in a crowd of 500,000 in the nation’s capital. He’s walked out of class for a student-led protest in the middle of the day not sanctioned by the school. (Parents of teens joining protests now will find sound advice here.) I believe protests are a necessary and effective means of enacting social change. For our family, participating in protests and other actions are a natural extension of our Christian faith. From the prophets of the Hebrew scriptures to the life and teachings of Jesus, the religious mandate to stand with and work alongside those seeking justice is clear, and as the Bible and American history both show us, justice and freedom are not always achieved peacefully.

Protests themselves are not civil disobedience; our freedom of assembly and freedom of speech are guaranteed by the First Amendment of the Constitution. Civil disobedience is often called for at protests, especially to protect the most vulnerable, and right now that means our siblings of color. If you are new to protesting or new to protesting against racial violence, you will need to do some homework before joining in. Educating ourselves is the first step, and that includes identifying local Black-led organizations that are already engaged in racial justice work in our own communities. Google is your friend. One good place to start is with the website WhiteAccomplices.org, which will help you find local organizations, decide whether you are an Actor, an Ally, or an Accomplice, and commit to at least three actions in the next month. This article on what to consider before bringing children to a protest is both practical and reassuring.

Of course, not all kids are new to protests and acts of civil disobedience. Often, they have led them. A 15-year-old girl in Portland Oregon, started a petition called Justice for George Floyd which now has more than 16 million signatures, the most in the history of Change.org. Let the Children March by Monica Clark-Robinson and illustrated by Frank Morrison is an excellent picture book about the 1963 Children’s March for civil rights in Birmingham, Alabama, appropriate for ages 6 and up. Kids ages 9 and older can watch the riveting Academy Award-winning 2004 short documentary Mighty Times: The Children’s March on Vimeo. Ron’s Big Mission is a picture book (by Rose Blue and Corinne Naden, illustrated by Don Tate) about the courage of astronaut Ron McNair, who at age 9 used civil disobedience to get a library card.

If for any reason you don’t feel safe going out right now, there are many ways you and your family can join in the work of racial justice from home, which is where we always begin. The Brown Bookshelf sponsored an online KitLit4BlackLives Rally with authors Kwame Alexander, Jacqueline Woodson, and Jason Reynolds, which you can watch here, and respond to their calls for action. If you missed the CNN/Sesame Street Town Hall on racism, it’s also available to watch online.

Parents, our children learn most from what we do, so let’s do this together:

Carry each other’s burdens and so you will fulfill the law of Christ.Galatians 6:2

Loving God,

In Jesus you were bullied, beaten and killed.

You are always on the side of those

whose souls or bodies are mistreated;

help us to embrace those who are hurting;

fill us with your Spirit of healing,

and give us the courage to stand beside them,

and the wisdom to prevent violence and abuse from happening again. Amen.

From Common Prayer for Children and Families by Jenifer Gamber and Timothy S.J. Seamans, p. 112

If you are just beginning to talk with young children about race and racism, you may want to start with my earlier post on this subject.

Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents.

Grief in a time of injustice and COVID-19

Trinity Churchyard, Lower Manhattan

We are all learning to live with grief. Some of us are grieving the death of a loved one, some of us are grieving the loss of a job or the death of a dream or simply grieving the way things used to be. My Black siblings aren’t just grieving, they are traumatized, and the losses they bear are incalculable. How do we mourn, and how do we help those around us who are mourning?

Here’s what I know from my own experience:

  • The best thing you can do for someone who is grieving is to show up and keep showing up. In these days of physical distancing, that’s hard but not impossible. Call, text, write an old-fashioned letter. Send food. Check in, just as a reminder: I’m here for you. De-center yourself. Do not require a response of any kind.
  • Showing up for our Black siblings means educating ourselves about racism, both structural and casual, and then actually doing something about it. Call it out when you see it. Understand what is meant by White privilege and White fragility. Follow and support Black leadership. Vote, and make sure everyone else can, too.

Our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, has joined with other faith leaders to ask us to observe a National Day of Mourning and Lament on Monday, June 1, as we pass the terrible milestone of more than 100,000 lives lost in the Coronavirus pandemic.  

Here are three recent articles about grief. The first, from Vox, is about the profound grief of Black mothers. This article, from The Atlantic, explores grief in the time of Coronavirus. And this article in the New York Times is aimed at helping children who are grieving.

This downloadable toolkit from the National Alliance for Grieving Children is designed to help families navigate change and loss as a result of the pandemic. As is so often the case, the tools here designed for young people will help adults, too.

Lutherans and Episcopalians around the country have committed to praying this prayer for the next three months:

A Prayer for the Power of the Spirit Among the People of God

God of all power and love,
we give thanks for your unfailing presence
and the hope you provide in times of uncertainty and loss.
Send your Holy Spirit to enkindle in us your holy fire.
Revive us to live as Christ’s body in the world:
a people who pray, worship, learn,
break bread, share life, heal neighbors,
bear good news, seek justice, rest and grow in the Spirit.
Wherever and however we gather,
unite us in common prayer and send us in common mission,
that we and the whole creation might be restored and renewed,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

May it be as we have spoken and acted.

If you are ready to do something, Justice for George Floyd has identified some ways you can help right now.

If you are wanting to talk with your children about race and racism, I have just updated this post, which I originally wrote right after the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville in 2017.

Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents.

Talking with our children about race

IMG_0413 copyThis post originally appeared in August, 2017 after the racial violence in Charlottesville. It has been substantially rewritten as of June 1, 2020.

What do we tell our children about race and racism? We begin by reminding them that we are made in the image of God who loves us—all of us; that we promise in our baptismal covenant “to seek and serve Christ in all persons,” to love our neighbors as ourselves, and “to strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being.” There is no room for misunderstanding in these words. Love and peace are words our children hear us use often, but what about justice? “Justice is what love looks like in public,” says Cornel West. It is the work of the church, and of families, too.

How do we start? Jareesa Tucker McClure has great advice and several excellent resources to share from the days following the march in Charlottesville in this blog post. She doesn’t sugarcoat the challenge: “We owe it to our children to tell them the truth, no matter how uncomfortable it makes us feel. There are people in the world who hate others because of their skin color, religion or nation of origin. It’s our duty as parents to prepare our children for the real world. Sharing the truth helps build trust with your child, as they’ll know they can come to you to answer the hard questions with honesty.”

This is long, deep work, and for white parents especially, it is likely to push us out of our comfort zones. Parent Toolkit has some excellent advice on having conversations about race and racism. For white parents who want some training or conversation, take a look at the options offered at Raising Race Conscious Children. Older children, youth and adults will benefit from the “Talking About Race” resources offered through the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Books can give us a window into history and experiences vastly different from our own. Here’s a newly updated book list from Embrace Race and an older but still strong list from Parents Choice Foundation which includes books for middle and high school students with brief descriptions and age guidelines.

If in 2017 it seemed to be enough for white parents to talk with our children about racism, it’s now imperative that we also talk about the violent legacy of white supremacy and the endemic nature of racism, both structural and personal, that has brought us to this moment in the United States. This article from USA Today specifically addresses how to approach the topics of police brutality and the riots of the past week with both white children and children of color.

White friends, eradicating racism and white supremacy is our work to do. Centering Black experience is an essential part of understanding what is happening now, how the past has shaped our attitudes and our institutions, and what needs to change. This reading list is a great place to start. Don’t have time for a book right now? Try NPR’s Code Switch podcast or the Race/Related weekly newsletter from the New York Times. Seek out the good work already being done locally in organizations led by people of color. Support businesses owned and run by people of color. Read, or better yet, subscribe to The Root.

Minister, activist and Christian ethics professor Jennifer Harvey’s work focuses on white anti-racism in her newest book, published in January 2018, is Raising White Kids: Bringing Up Children in a Racially Unjust AmericaIt’s full of examples and practical advice for parents and educators, and is a significant and much-needed addition to the conversation . Here’s an interview with her on NPR about how to talk about racially charged events with white kids.

As Christians, we must talk with our children about race and racial justice in the context of our faith. Pastor and parent Erin Wathen, in her book More Than Words: 10 Values for Modern Families, writes about environmental racism evidenced in the lead-poisoned tap water of Flint, Michigan. Yes, there is the immediate need to provide the community with safe water, but Wathen reminds us that the “transformative work of relationship takes place in community.” Speaking as a white woman and a member of a predominantly white denomination, it’s clear to me that in our families and in our churches we have the opportunity and the imperative to reach out to those whose experiences are different from our own, to really listen to and know one another and to strengthen existing relationships in ways that deepen our understanding, compassion and respect. “The act of service does not transform the deeper reality; the work of justice does.” When the deeper reality is transformed, the kingdom of God is revealed.

My book Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents includes a chapter “Meeting God in Others” that you may find helpful as part of this conversation. I keep a Pinterest board for resources about talking with kids about racism here. You may also want to read this earlier blog post about the life and witness of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

slide_395786_4865090_free

Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Church for centuries has observed the feasts of saints on the day of their death. In this case, however, let’s remember and honor the life and ministry of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. when our nation does, on the Monday closest to his birthday, January 15.  What our kids learn about him in public school isn’t enough: his Christian faith and his calling compelled Dr. King to make civil rights his life’s work.

There are some wonderful  picture books that help tell Dr. King’s story. If I had to choose just one, it might be Martin’s Big Words by Doreen Rappaport, with illustrations by Bryan Collier. My Brother Martin by Christine King Fariss tells compelling stories from their childhood. A more recent book, also for older elementary kids, is Love Will See You Through: Martin Luther King’s Six Guiding Beliefs (as told by his niece). Kadir Nelson has beautifully illustrated Dr. King’s most famous speech in I Have a Dream, which includes an audio CD of the speech.

The lesson from the Hebrew Scriptures appointed for his feast day is taken from the story of Joseph with the coat of many colors, whose brothers were jealous of him and decided to get rid of him. Eventually, they sold him into slavery, but Joseph became a powerful leader in Egypt. Pharaoh, Egypt’s king, believed Joseph’s dreams and because of that, Joseph was able to save the Egyptians and even his own brothers from a terrible famine. It is taken from Genesis 37:17–20:

They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; then we shall say that a wild animal has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams.”

Read or listen to the “I Have a Dream” speech, beginning at the line, “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’” Continue to the end of the speech. Talk as a family about Dr. King’s dream, and how it has continued after his death.

Families with young children could try beginning this conversation with a brown egg and a white egg. Crack the eggs into the bowl one at a time. No matter what we look like on the outside, inside we are the same. Dr. King’s most famous speech is about his dream that everyone will one day live the way God wants us to live, treating each other fairly and with love, no matter the color of our skin or how different we might be. Read this quote: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” What we have inside us is the most important part of us. Talk together about what we dream of doing to make the world a better (more peaceful, just) place. Read the excellent picture book God’s Dream by Desmond Tutu.

 Parents, we are our children’s primary pastors. Decades of research show that the faith and values our children carry with them into adulthood are largely taught at home. The Reverend Martin Luther King, Sr. made a point of serious conversation around the dinner table every night, telling his young children about the injustices he encountered as a black man in the South in the 1920s and 30s, and how he confronted them. Years later, his daughter wrote, “These stories were as nourishing as the food that was set before us.” We can imagine how these stories inspired his son. The stories we tell from the day’s news, the office, the classroom or the playground give us the opportunity to reflect on where God is in them, and where God is calling us to be.

In 2018 at March for Our Lives, we heard Dr. King’s nine-year-old granddaughter Yolanda Renee King tell people across the nation about her dream. One of my favorite quotes of Dr. King’s is this: “Life’s most important and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?'” We share our stories, our dreams, to help us live the answers to that question.

If you are new to the process of talking about race with your children, here are some helpful resources.

Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents.