Juneteeth and Your Community!

Today’s EveryDay Learners’ post opens up a discussion about diversity in our community. How have you taught the children in your life about diversity?

     Differences are all around us.
     Last year I worked at a preschool where most of the children were African American. My eyes were opened to a lot of differences. I’m Caucasian: things I’d always taken for granted totally astonished these kids, like freckles or how pink my sunburn was. These kids were open and honest about the surprises they experienced regarding my skin color and background, and, like most kids, they were eager to touch, feel, and to try to understand.
     I’m thinking and writing about these kids today because today is June 19th. By some it’s known as Juneteenth, a holiday celebrating the day Union troops sailed into Galveston, Texas and announced the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. Juneteeth celebrations have a long history, sometimes being more popular than other times, but I feel that it’s an appropriate time for all of us, whatever color or race, to pause and remind ourselves of where we’ve been as a nation and ask ourselves if we are any closer to understanding.
     As I realized during my time at the preschool, it is not always easy for children to understand things like race and history. But I believe that the search for understanding begins in our communities and homes. I believe that one of the most important things a child’s education can include is an increased understanding of and appreciation for the diversity of human experience.
     And I don't just mean appreciating differences like race or color: diversity includes family lifestyle, political opinions, personal challenges and hobbies. All of these things have the potential to divide us, but there's a funny thing that happens. I believe that as we go out into our communities and engage with the people of diverse background that we meet there, soon we'll realize that all those differences that seemed so huge--are only opportunities to learn from each other.
Looking for ways to teach the children in your life about race and history? Try some of these books as a springboard for that conversation.
(information about these books taken from 1001 Children’s Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up, edited by Julia Eccleshare, copyright 2009) 
Amazing Grace, Mary Hoffman (ages 3+): the watercolor illustrations in this book are some of my favorites ever. Lots of kids over the past 20 years since the book was published have strongly identified with the main character, Grace. She wants to play the part of Peter Pan in the school play, but a classmate tells her “you can’t. You’re black.” Grace’s persistence in trying for the part makes for a great discussion about family support and self esteem.
Maniac Magee, Jerry Spinelli (ages 8+): This is a Newberry award winner about Orphan Jeffrey, who runs away from his unhappy home life. The town where he ends up is divided along racial lines. Jeffrey’s attempts to befriend both black and white community members as well as his mischievous adventures make the book engaging and fun.
Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry, Mildred D. Taylor (ages 12+):  set in the 1930s Great Depression, this story about sharecropping and land ownership helped me as a child  to feel connected to the experiences of families living during that time.
For adults: last year I read Condoleeza Rice’s Extraordinary Ordinary People, her autobiography of growing up in Birmingham, Alabama during the Civil Rights movement. Rice's writing style is intriguing and her personal stories impressive and tender.

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