Q: You have 20+ years of experience working on equity and inclusion with students; can you share with us what that journey has looked like?
A: Of course! As a white woman engaged in social justice, the most important part of my journey really centers the evolution of how I do it. In my work today, I’m much more humble than I used to be. The greatest lesson I’ve learned is how much more I have to learn. When I was younger, I thought I knew it all. A mentor would give me a book to read and suddenly I was the expert, and everyone needed to listen to me.
I have a much different perspective now! The world is our teacher, and it is our job to be humble, attentive, engaged and active students. Instead of being fearful of making mistakes, I’m eager to learn whatever I can from mistakes I make. I do my best not to get defensive or allow my ego to overwhelm my capacity to be present. That’s hard to do when it comes to self-reflection around racial justice. I know that I am able to be of greatest service when I listen carefully, take time to understand deeply, and then take action toward lasting change.
Oh, and KIDS! Kids are EVERYTHING! They are our greatest teachers. Children’s unshakable commitment to fairness is a powerful model for a more equitable world. And they are our greatest partners in dismantling oppression. I truly believe that if we raise and teach our kids, particularly white kids, to be race conscious and social justice minded, we will see an end to racism and marginalization.
Through the years, I have always assessed how I can be of greater service. That’s why I developed Social Justice Kids, a consulting and coaching firm that focuses on how parenting and teaching can make a difference. My job there is to give parents and teachers the tools they need to partner with kids for racial and social justice.
Q: What was the catalyst that sparked your work?
A: I worked for a very long time in higher education before shifting my work to include PK-12. Over the years I observed that the majority of white college students arrive on campus with very little capacity to engage in authentic discourse and action around race, sexual orientation, gender identity, ability and other marginalized social identities. One of my jobs throughout my time in higher education was to better prepare college students to engage in conversation and action around ending social injustice. The 4-year cycle of undergraduate life felt like it never gave us enough time to make as much of a difference as I wanted to make. As soon as I felt like we were getting through to the students, they would graduate, and we would have to start all over again. I began to wonder how to connect with kids earlier in their lives.
And then I had kids of my own. When they entered daycare and Pre-K, I started to see more closely and clearly how common practices among white families and predominantly white educational institutions were doing kids a disservice in terms of developing these critical capacities. Folks were avoiding these topics entirely. But unless we start early, giving kids race conscious language, empowering them to humbly partner with people and communities who have been fighting this fight much longer than we have, we are setting them up to inadvertently and unknowingly be part of the problem.
At Social Justice Kids, parents and educators often come to me because they don’t know where to start. Talking to their kids about racism and social injustice feels overwhelming to them. My job is to break it down into bite sized ideas, age-appropriate language and tools, and model how to do it. We have a great community of powerful change agents (parents and educators) across the country, from Harlem to right here in the Harbor. I feel very fortunate to be able to do this work every single day.
Q: What is the most rewarding thing about doing this work?
A: The most rewarding part of doing this work is seeing the fruits of the labor. Watching kids recognize examples of cultural appropriation, stereotypes, and inequity, and then use clear language to name it. They step into their greatest capacity to make positive change, and it gives me incredible hope.
I also love seeing the aha moments for parents and teachers, recognizing for the first time issues with teaching and parenting practices, and inaccuracies or misrepresentations embedded in the curriculum, in books, toys, games, and activities. It is so exciting to watch them shift their practices, and then come back with stories about how their kids/students are responding.
And then there is the hard and necessary work of acknowledging when harm has been done, especially when we are the ones who have caused it. At Social Justice Kids, we learn together how to circle back, own what we’ve done, and do better. It can be so painful, but it is so worth it.
Finally, and somewhat selfishly, I love what I get out of it. It is my greatest form of accountability. As white people, we are able to opt in and opt out of this work whenever we want. Folks with marginalized identities don’t always have that same luxury. It is my job to find ways to stay in the work, even when I am tired, even when I am realizing uncomfortable truths about myself. I have really come to appreciate the process of uncovering things about myself that I don’t like, or don’t align with who I strive to be. I want to know better and do better, and that can’t happen without sharp awareness and deep reflection. These are things I work on with my clients, and deepen my own practice as I do.
Q: What is a challenge you’ve faced while doing this work?
A: The biggest challenge I face is that white people, like me, don’t usually like to talk about race, much less our own whiteness. It makes us really uncomfortable to think that we, as individuals, and as a collective, could possibly be part of the problem. We like to think that the problems of whiteness exist somewhere outside of us – those white people over there are the bad ones, but I’m one of the good ones – that kind of thing. We like to think of ourselves as good people, treating everyone equally, treating everyone with kindness. But what I’ve come to know as a universal truth is that unless we are actively working against racism and marginalization, we are allowing it to remain as it is. There is a growing body of research, literature, activism and practice backing this, particularly around engaging white kids. I am very intentional about centering whiteness because unless we as white people come to know and do better around race and marginalization, then racism and marginalization will continue to thrive.
Q: You have young children. What actions do you take to incorporate your work at home?
A: What a great question! All of these questions are great! Giving my kids the tools to dismantle racism and marginalization is a key part of my parenting. We start with them as babies, narrating our world and exposing them to the language they will need to name social identities (race, gender identity, etc.), and fairness. It is never too early to talk about race with our kids! This is something that happens more organically in families of color, because naming patterns of racial inequity can literally be a matter of life and death. If we don’t have the foundation of language, or if we are afraid that somehow naming race is racist (it isn’t), then how can we ever dismantle racism? So, we start with race conscious language.
We have a pretty extensive social justice children’s literature library at home, too. I take great care to include main characters and author with marginalized identities, and particular care to avoid books that appropriate cultures or promote stereotypes. When we do find books that show unfair representation, appropriation and stereotypes, we lean in to the conversation. The same is true for toys and games at home. Accurate, positive representation is very important.
And then we just keep race on the table for conversation. For example, every Saturday night is movie night at our house, and we always watch with a race conscious, social justice lens. My four-year-old (a proud HMS Alder Room kid!), will says things like, “That’s Han Solo. He’s white. There are more white people than black people in Star Wars. That’s not fair.” And my ten-year-old (who loves her HMS Madrona Room!) asks bigger questions, wondering about stereotypes, native appropriations, and positive/negative representation, and how writers, directors, and industry leadership could do better.
Not too long ago, we had a group of kids over. They were gathering in our library, making signs thanking my husband for his service just prior to his deployment. A few of them started making fun of the titles of the books they were seeing there – “Queer Theory,” and other books on LGBT+ identity development, pride, and community. My older daughter simply said, “I don’t see what’s funny about that,” to which the rest of the room quickly aligned. “Oh, you’re right… yeah, no, I didn’t mean anything by it… no you’re right, not cool…” kind of thing. One Social Justice Kid can make a big difference.
What if one of the children in that room was questioning their sexual orientation? Now they know that they’ve got at least one friend who’s got their back. It makes the world a little less scary, a little more inclusive. That’s the goal of my work at Social Justice Kids. We want to be part of creating a more equitable and inclusive world with and for kids… and everyone else, too.
Q:What is your favorite quote about diversity?
A: I have so many favorites! If I have to choose just one, though, it is this:
“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.” –Nelson Mandela
Interested in continuing the conversation? I welcome emails! firstname.lastname@example.org