family storytime | black history month

After attending the Children’s Social Justice Reading Group at East Lansing Public Library last month, I jumped at the chance to volunteer in any way to help broaden awareness about this much-needed program in the greater-Lansing community (much-needed and instantly popularthey initially anticipated 30 participants, had 150 register, and 209 attend). So I was geeked when the Youth Services Librarian contacted me a few days later to assist with a Black History Month reading for their Family Storytime.

It was such a pleasure to collaborate with Miss Eva on book selection and to share ideas about activities. In fact, I knew we were on the same page the moment she pulled out Be Boy Buzz by bell hooks from a stack of first picks. I was over the moon to get the chance to read it at storytime! It will always be one my favorites not only because it’s a celebration of black boy joy, but also for creating one of my sweetest memories of K when I read it to him years ago — inspiring my then-toddler to recite the words along with me unprompted for the very first time. Sharing this story with her, we both agreed that instead of focusing strictly on historical figures — who were either dead or old and less relatable — it was important to show black characters and real life black kids doing ordinary and extraordinary things. Simply living, enjoying time with family and friends, using their imaginations, building, playing, problem-solving, taking care of pets. Just like them. Just like their friends, classmates, and neighbors. Just like the little girl in another book on our list that I got to read: Lola at the Library! And just like brave and talented kids such as fellow Michigander Amariyanna Copeny, who wrote to President Obama about the Flint water crisis, and Robby Novak, the adorable ambassador of kindness popularly known as Kid President. Both were among the group of smart and creative kidtrepreneurs and big dreamers featured in the Who Is Your Hero? craft, which Miss Eva modeled after the Black Heritage Series stamps with blank frames for the kids to create portraits of people they admired.

Offering lessons specifically tied to Black History Month, we decided to open storytime with We March; let the kids get their wiggles out by playing the Stoplight Game, which was the ideal moment to teach them about its inventor, Garrett Morgan; and created a final interactive activity based on 28 Days: Moments in Black History that Changed the World. The latter was too text-heavy for the age group, so I suggested we invite the kids to pick a number and have their parents read about the corresponding day (check the photo gallery to see how Miss Eva set it up). For Day 29, there’s a beautiful poem that I thought tied perfectly to the question Miss Eva would ask the kids and parents to consider — a question that we hope will resound beyond this moment — What Kind of Community Do You Want to Live In?


Today

What will today bring,
what will today be,
will today be the day you make history?

Will your thoughts evolve science,
will you skill earn gold,
will your life story be
one worth being told?

Will your questions change laws,
will your words inspire others,
will your name be passed on 
by fathers and mothers?

Will the fire in your spirit
spark a revolution,
will your actions advance
humanity’s evolution?

Will others follow you into battle
to defend liberty,
will today be the day
you add to history?

Today is the day,
today is to be.


 

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Family Storytime Reading List

See what else we’re reading:
bodhicitta bookshelf | not just black history

 

Other teaching resources:
ABC Me Flashcards
Buzzfeed List of 26 Children’s Books That Celebrate Black Heroes
9 Craft Activities That Teach Preschoolers About Black History + Culture

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bodhicitta bookshelf | not just black history

I chose these books well before Black History Month to help answer my observant child’s questions and expand his understanding of social justice after we’d watched and discussed the post-election episode of our favorite show black-ish (“Lemons“). Though K had been plugged into the campaign from catching clips when my husband watched the news (for my sanity I opted to read articles when I was in the headspace to manage small doses of the absurdity), he only learned of the election results when black-ish aired them in mid-January. Even though I’d explained the night before, during our beloved president’s farewell address, that Obama had less than two weeks left in the White House, it didn’t sink in that someone new would be occupying his office. When K asked if we could vote over the next 10 days to keep Obama as president,  I told him about term limits but still didn’t have the heart to announce who would be next.

So my baby, who had rallied hard for Hillary Climpton, was thoroughly shocked when No. 45 was revealed! (He had made HRC and the “other one” into LEGO figures and built a version of the White House with my niece one weekend.) That black-ish episode reflected every emotion and tension-filled conversation that my friends and I had experienced. At 6-and-half years old, K clearly understood and stated in his own words: “[That man] made the brown people and white people turn against each other.”

When the show ended, our bedtime lesson on the mistreatment of people of color began. I touched on the decimation of the Indigenous when this country was colonized by Europeans, slavery, segregation, civil rights and the current fight for justice and equity. I talked about our own family’s history, pointing out that we wouldn’t be who we are if those who came before us had not been able to marry because of their different races. That he wouldn’t be possible if those laws were still in place to prevent his dad and I from being together. I explained that those same harmful attitudes and actions are still present today and that No. 45 spewed dangerous words and ideas that encouraged bigoted people to think they were free to hurt anyone who was different from them. Worse yet, he picked more bigoted people to be on his team and together they can help make decisions that hurt everyone in our country, especially those who are not white, Christian, rich, educated and male.

I shared some hard truths about how scared and angry people are with what has been happening, pointing out that the same disagreements we watched unfold in a scene with Dre and his co-workers on black-ish were occurring in real life between friends and family members. K asked if people had known about all the mean and offensive things that had been said before they cast their vote. I explained that, sadly, those hurtful words had been stated loudly, publicly and repeatedly. Even still, people who would be considered decent, intelligent, and kind endorsed the candidate who incited so much hate.

Wanting to know how he was processing this all, I asked how he would feel if he learned that people he knew had voted for No. 45. Without hesitating, he said, “It’d break my heart.” I admitted that I felt the same way then turned the focus to how we can work to love and protect our community. (I checked in with him the next day, asking if he’d forgive them. To which he shrugged and replied, “Probs.“) As we finally settled down to sleep, I assured him that we’d keep him safe and then sang the metta-prayer I wrote for him when he was an infant with more fervor:

as the day turns into night, it’s time to send our love and light near, far and wide to everyone.
be happy. be safe. be well, have peace. good night, sleep tight, dream sweet until morning light.

I immediately picked out these books to give K a clear picture of the people who took bold and courageous risks to fight for our freedom to be treated as humans. This particularly troubling moment in our country — where the politics of the new administration are steeped in racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, Islamophobia, injustice and inequity — demands more than ever that we pour into our babies that which nourishes their spirits, builds their esteem, cultivates their resilience, and strengthens their love for self and heritage as well as their understanding and respect for others. Whether fictive characters or historical figures, I am committed to selecting stories for my son that feature people of various ethnicities and cultures…every single day of the year. Representation matters and the history of North America belongs to all of us and is ours to tell.

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I, Matthew Henson: Polar Explorer | Carole Boston Weatherford

Rosa | Nikki Giovanni

Malcolm Little: The Boy Who Grew Up to Become Malcolm X | Ilyasah Shabazz

The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage | Selina Alko

Barack Obama: Son of Promise, Child of Hope | Nikki Grimes

Mother-Daughter Duo’s Photo Project Features 5-Year-Old as Iconic Black Women

I adore this! What a wonderful way to teach a child about these iconic figures in U.S. history. View the photos on For Harriet.

to tv or not to tv: history + heritage on nick jr.

to tv: I appreciate that Nick Jr. teaches and celebrates diversity.  For Black History Month, I was thrilled to see them honor Dr. Alexa Canady!  She is not only one of my hometown’s (#lovelansing) most notable history makers, but also one of my childhood role models: Celebrating Dr. Alexa Canady.

not to tv:  It’s hard to support networks, particularly those with children’s programming, that don’t use their broad influence to go beyond simple entertainment and create fun teachable moments on culture, history, science, technology and the arts.  No moment spent teaching our kids something–anything–new is wasted!