Over the weekend, my nine-year-old declared, “all lives will matter when black lives matter.“
It was a proud moment for me as a mother, as I have made a conscious choice to raise socially aware children.
Hearing him voice that statement helped me to understand just how important that choice has been. This generation of children will be our next generation of leaders, and the type of leaders they will become is dependent on what level of awareness they cultivate.
Like many people, I was unaware of the myriad of social issues present in our society when I was younger. Although I grew up in a mixed race family and knew a little about racism, poverty and social issues, it wasn’t present in my mind until I witnessed my older brother being subjected to racism in high school.
That experience left me feeling powerless. There was nothing I could do to stop it from happening and it thrust me into an awareness of my perceived place in the world. I felt helpless. I had no idea where to start or where to seek resources.
In college, I took a woman’s studies course and suddenly found language for what I’d experienced. I realized that I was not alone and that there were entire books written about it. I began to be more aware, more active and more outspoken on these issues as they happened. My sense of powerlessness diminished as I realized there was indeed something I could do to contribute to changing the world.
When I became a mother, I wasn’t terribly concerned with these issues, as my children were younger. Then, Trayvon Martin was killed and the harsh reality of our society set in. Over the course of the years, as I witnessed more and more social injustice, it became clear to me that I had a responsibility to speak to my children about it.
I made a conscious choice to speak to them about social issues in our world so that they might be more aware, more capable of advocating for themselves and others and, mostly, more deeply empathetic and keenly aware of the many ways in which they are privileged.
Raising socially conscious children is one of the many ways in which we can change the world. After all, we know that bigotry is taught; if we can influence children, we can counter the messages they will inevitably encounter.
Over the years, I’ve had many other parents ask me how I’ve addressed these tough issues with my kiddos and so I‘ve complied a list of things to do here:
1. Expose your children to other cultures as often as possible.
There are often festivals celebrating other cultures, such as the Greek Festival in Denver and Art+Soul in Oakland. Go, and allow your children to be immersed in these celebrations. Take them to diverse restaurants and encourage them to try new things.
2. Choose your library carefully.
Our bookshelf contains a broad selection of books that will educate children on cultures, social issues and leaders. One of our favorites is the Rad Women collection written by Kate Schatz. We will often read a book and then do an art project depicting what we learned from the book. It’s both fun and educational. Be active in your child’s reading habits and make it a point to give them books that will expand their minds.
3. Talk to them.
Many parents hesitate to talk to their children about tough social issues such as poverty, racism and sexism. However, with the proper language, you can discuss even hard subjects without scaring your children. The more you talk about it, the more of a foundation they have and can begin to understand complex subject matter later.
4. Encourage social advocacy.
Since July, my children have participated in a number of advocacy initiatives. They have handed out flyers at a homeless awareness walk, marched in the Gay Pride Parade, purchased and handed out food to the homeless in our community and participated in the Black Lives Matter Rally. We are planning to volunteer at a local homeless shelter on Thanksgiving. All of these experiences serve to help them deepen their understanding on social issues and find more compassion for others. My seven-year-old daughter has decided to take a knee in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick—and was able to clearly articulate to her teacher why she felt it was important.
5. Present the facts, discuss, and let them decide.
I work hard not to force my kids’ opinions, and I never make them do something they don’t desire. When we discuss things such as racism, I share with them the historical context and current issues, and then we discuss. I’ll ask them their thoughts and allow them to come to their own conclusions. Sometimes, they aren’t clear about what they believe in the beginning, but over time they become more solid in their position. Then, it is their choice—they have grappled with their own conclusions—and not something they are regurgitating from me.
Raising socially conscious children is a sacred duty. We have the opportunity to raise children who are awake, able to think critically, advocate and take their knowledge into the world. These children will be the leaders of the next generation—and unlike many of us, they won’t have the baggage to unlearn. They will build their consciousness on a solid foundation of justice, equality, fairness and humanitarianism.
In my view, there is nothing more important we can teach.
Author: Lisa Vallejos
Editor: Toby Israel