“Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.” – Maya Angelou
It will take courage to not only speak out against the racial and social injustice of today, but to continue challenging it in ways that create sustainable change. Neighborhood North stands in solidarity with our black and brown neighbors down the street and across the globe in denouncing systemic racism, police brutality, and the killing of black men, women and children. Black Lives Matter, and so we will do the work of listening and building more equitable systems together.
Neighborhood North is part of a network of children’s museums that strives to create community and helps preserve the wonder and integrity of childhood. We believe that children thrive when family, school and neighbors partner together, and we seek to build meaningful relationships within the community in order for all to flourish. We strive to create social cohesion and greater educational equity for all children and believe that we all have a moral obligation to help give children every chance to succeed. At Neighborhood North, we do this by inspiring children, supporting families and building a creative community that promotes curiosity, agency, opportunity and well-being to children and families.
The events of the past weeks and months have challenged all of these things. COVID-19 began to amplify the inequities that our children of color and in poverty face and brought that conversation from the periphery to the forefront. Children of color are disproportionately impacted by negative social factors such as poverty, poor educational systems, food deserts, health disparities, generational trauma and community violence. Unjust systems and pervasive racism combine to create a society in which many children are not being provided with the opportunity to fulfill their potential, pursue their fullest life and, most impactfully, contribute their best to their community. This is society’s failure, and silence can no longer be an option.
It was within this environment, that we and our children witnessed the cruel and appalling death of George Floyd on Monday, May 25, 2020. George Floyd’s death is sadly the most recent in a long list of countless other unarmed Black Americans whose lives have been taken at the hands of those who hate and who seek to destroy opportunity and peace. There is a deep mourning and lament felt, not just among the Black community, but shared across humanity that is demanding justice and a right to be heard. People have been gathering in protest, risking illness from the coronavirus and reminding the world that racism is a more lethal and pervasive disease than even the pandemic.
We can only imagine what this moment in history must look or feel like for a young child. Their world has literally stopped in many ways, and it is upside down in many others. Children are feeling stressed and anxious from being separated from friends, teachers, and the daily routines that make up the normalcy of a healthy and happy childhood. The events of the last week create even greater stress for our children, whether they have been spoken of or not. How can we help our young learners navigate these tumultuous times and, more importantly, what do they need from us?
As adults, it is our responsibility to establish the spaces that help our children feel safe, to feel loved, to feel comfortable and to feel free to engage in conversation at an appropriate level. We may not have all the answers, but we can hug and play with our children, enjoy the time with them, and help them to feel close. Even young children have a strong sense of fairness and right and wrong, and we can speak with them honestly about justice in ways that are developmentally appropriate for them. Picture books are a wonderful way to give children language around a hard topic and to help them make sense of what they are feeling and experiencing. Just as importantly, reading together can help kids feel safe. Likewise, creating art together can allow children to express their feelings in a healthy way and opens the door for generative conversation, expanding their curiosity and resilience. When we help our children feel secure and loved as they struggle through these challenging times, our kids will emerge stronger, more confident and more courageously equipped to meet the challenges they will most certainly encounter as they help to shape the future that lies ahead.
It gives us hope to imagine a future where children will lead the conversation equipped with the language and the lens of equity and justice.
The Association of Children’s Museums is compiling a collection of resources from member museums, so we will direct you there once that list is available, but we thought we’d add a couple of book recommendations here to get you started.
Picture books are a great way to talk with your children about challenging issues. We like these as ways to discuss both Black heritage and the subject of racism with your young child:
Additionally, the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) has made its Advancing Equity Initiative Resources available. These are great resources about addressing long-standing inequities.
Black Boys Matter: Strategies for a Culturally Responsive Classroom
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Honoring Fred Rogers, creator of Mr. Roger's Neighborhood, "Won't You Be My Neighbor Day" is on March 20th. Neighborhood North will dedicate the full week of March 20-25 to exploring emotions through mask-making in the Maker Space, followed by stage or puppet show performances.