As a former HR executive, diversity was a recurring theme in my career. From inclusion initiatives to sensitivity trainings, I have been at the helm of countless conversations, both large and small, around the idea that we all matter.
But it wasn’t until summer of last year that I realized this was not just a conversation for the boardroom, but one for the classroom as well. Sixty years after the Brown decision, the question remains: What are children of color being taught now that they are seated at the educational table of equality?
Last summer, I was preparing my 6-year-old son Garrett’s annual summer reading list. I typically include recommendations from friends, Facebook and the classics. By mid-July, Garrett had already finished 13 books! But even more fascinating was the stark lack of characters that looked like him in them. As a parent, I was devastated. Surely in 2013 there were more stories based on children of color?
According to a 2013 study by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, only 124 of the 1,183 children’s books published during the first half of the year featured people of color (10.5 percent). And so, I decided to write Garrett’s story for him. Most studies show that the first three years of a child’s life are the most impressionable. It’s where they gain a foundation about who they are, a context that carries them from childhood into adolescence and adulthood.
Because of our now ultra-connected world, it’s even more necessary for parents to be intentional in the certainty that their child sees themselves in what they are reading.
HERE ARE A FEW SIMPLE WAYS FOR PARENTS TO INCORPORATE DIVERSITY INTO THEIR CHILDREN’S LIVES:
1. Seek out children’s books that tell our stories: It’s more effort, but your child reaps bigger benefits.
2. Find other activities that tell our stories: Take your child to see Alvin Ailey or to your local African American museum. Exposure to our culture will spark dialogue.
3. Let your voice be heard: Visit your child’s school and express your desire for your child to be exposed to more diverse literature during school hours.
4. Write your story: Encourage your child to let their imagination run and write his or her own short story. You can make it fun and bind the pages or even visit an art store to create a front and back cover.
5. Create open dialogue: Talk with your child about the kinds of books they are reading in school. Find out if they are connecting with them and can see themselves in the characters. Jannie Pilgrim and Garrett