“Whenever I talk to my daughter about racism, she wants to know what we can DO about it. Honestly, I don’t know what to tell her.” This is a common refrain among the parents I talk to.
Children have an innate sense of fairness. During the elementary years, this sense of fairness begins to extend beyond themselves to consideration of others. By 8 or 9, many children are capable of thinking about societal issues and are upset to learn about injustice in the world. At the same time, children of this age are beginning to look for ways to reach out to others and make a difference in the world. Many upper-elementary and middle-school-aged children are naturally drawn to activism.
Parents, on the other hand, may feel powerless to effect change. Adults are often discouraged by the enormity and complexity of problems such as racism. It can be hard to believe that individual acts actually make a difference.
For the sake of your children (and your own mental health!), I encourage you to seek out opportunities to participate in meaningful social action, no matter how small.*
So where do you start?
I recommend plugging into organizations and projects that are already in motion. There’s power in numbers and joining with others in common cause can help to dispel the depressing feeling that it is you against the world. The upcoming MLK Day national holiday presents a perfect opportunity to take action in community with others.
MLK Day is officially designated as a national day of service—the only holiday to have that designation. It has become a day to remember Dr. King’s work and, just as importantly, to continue along the path he paved towards justice. Many organizations sponsor or organize community service events on or around MLK Day that are open to all comers, including children.
How does an experience like this address a child’s desire to do something about racism? Many of the youth who work with More Than Words have been harmed by structural racism. Their opportunities have been limited due to generational poverty, the school-to-prison pipeline, and other broken systems. As my kids and I worked on the book drive, we had several conversations about structural racism, privilege, and our shared humanity. I did my best to help the kids understand that, by helping More Than Words, we were helping create opportunities for youth marginalized by racism.**
Did we solve racism? Of course not. But we did build our muscles for engaging in ongoing antiracist action. Occasions like MLK Day are an established way to get involved in the work that needs to be done every day.
Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.”
What small things will you and your family do this MLK Day to serve justice in a great way?
Hit the contact us button and request to be added to my Family Action mailing list. Approximately twice a month you will receive an email with family-friendly opportunities to take action for racial justice. Many of the ideas for action come from BIPOC-led groups in the Boston area that are doing racial justice work. Do you have an idea to share? I’d love to hear from you.
Founder & Director
*If and when possible, seek out racial justice action that is led by people of color from the communities most impacted.
**Ideally action should be accompanied by learning and reflection. Learn about those who are most impacted by the problem. Explore the root causes of problems. Consider your own role in the problem.