Tell me more... FAQs
Attempting to dismantle racism with young kids has taught us a lot of the real challenges that are out there, from our own communities and from our trainees. Here’s our perspective on common concerns.
How should I get started?
Find a partner who shares your passion, desire, and faithful commitment to the journey of dismantling racism. Any true commitment to this will have a component that takes place internally. We sometimes get frustrated at our limitations in changing other people and systems, but we all have the ability to change ourselves. It is from the internal work that we become the change we want to see in the world. Along with requiring God's help, that requires having a trustworthy partner so that you're not alone. This is why we always encourage participants in our trainings to bring an auditor at no extra charge, so they can experience the growth with a friend.
Dismantling Racism is important to me, but my community isn’t ready.
Just as Abraham argued with God on how many faithful people were necessary to spare a city from destruction, how many families need to be ready for you to take a step? Can you find 3? Plan to start small and invite and share what you are doing more broadly. If it is invitational it might prompt the conversation in a more fruitful direction. There will always be reasons to wait, to say you’re not ready. Don’t ignore those reasons; instead, go deeper, find out what they have to tell you. If you are waiting for perfection, you will be waiting a long time. There is a Christian beauty in moving forward while feeling imperfect because it means we are being vulnerable - it means we are moving with faith. This work is important enough to take a step in faith, even if we don’t have it all figured out. What step can you take now; literally this minute? What parent or administrator might be an ally? Is there a neighboring church with whom you could partner? Start small and watch it grow. That’s our story.
Parents in my community say their kids don’t see race.
We wish that were true, but many well respected studies of children as young as one year old have discovered that children not only notice racial differences but also place value judgements on them. This developmental phase of the brain continues through early childhood, and ends at around 8 years old. Children are immersed in a culture which tells them stories about who they are and who others are, a culture in which systemic racism is entrenched. They will learn to absorb these racial biases and repeat them unless we interrupt those stories. What’s more likely true is that the parents you’re speaking to are unwilling or afraid to “see race” or recognize the systemic racial bias in our culture. Consider that even parents who recognize systemic bias can be paralyzed by their own discomfort around talking about it, and they might welcome guidance from their church leaders. In other cases, parents are unable to see race because the systems hide it “in plain sight”. Therefore, be gentle and invitational with parents; bring them into a process that allows them to grow and to begin to discover where race lives in society, too. We’ve done this with book study groups using Raising White Kids by Jennifer Harvey to prompt discussion. Also tell our stories to adults and wonder with them. " Check out this episode of the Early Risers podcast to hear from experts in the field about how ignoring difference is more than a missed opportunity; children will rely on messages from our culture to draw their own conclusions, which are contrary to what our faith tells us.
Aren't Kids too little to learn about racism?
As storytellers, we have experienced how sad it is to tell kids these stories, and we have also been amazed that, while still being saddened, kids receive the stories with much less weight. That’s because we as adult storytellers have already internalized systemic racism in our lives, so there is a lot at stake when we condemn it and expose its ugliness and unfairness. We realize the story indicts us, because we have accepted systemic racism and moved on with our lives. We had to! How else were we to make sense of the world? No one was there to tell us that the story was a lie. Quite the opposite; most adults were told that “slavery is over”, and that noticing race is impolite. Children do not receive the story the same way. Instead, as Louise Derman-Sparks has said, "Talking with children about hard issues helps them learn to cope with them. It's the silence that is scary and painful." Children receive this discussion as a sad reality of things that happened before their story started. They leave after the 6 stories feeling empowered and respected, not ashamed. This is why we frame our work as a gift to children, because we have the chance to free them from internalizing these lies before they become fixed. As Desmond Tutu is often quoted as saying ““There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they are falling in.”.
It would be too political for me to embrace this work in my community.
You might be right. The national discourse around issues of race has become so polarized that it can be dangerous to your career and even to you personally to embrace this work. Don’t be a hero, and worse, don’t be a white savior! Rather, start small, be careful, and find allies who are ready to support you. We find that many people, when they hear about our program, think they need to implement it for a whole congregation or school-wide, and get (rightly) nervous as to how risky that might be. Instead, start a wondering group, and lean on the faith elements that emphasize how this is about Christian formation, not political indoctrination. Allow your community to lead the discussion instead of applying this program onto them. For instance, the stories have several places where local truths about racial struggle can be inserted. Wonder about the history of racial tension in your community: red lining, sundown towns, or school segregation. Wonder about what native people lived where your church or school is now? What happened to them?
What does this work offer to predominantly White communities?
Dismantling racism is not something that is only done by white people to fix injustices wrought on others who are “less fortunate”. Dismantling racism needs to take place within white communities as well, to liberate them from debilitating burdens of perceived superiority and the shame and guilt carried from the actions of their ancestors. The faith based language used for this process is that racism has told people a lie that some are better than others. Through our faith we know that all people are equally loved children of God. Racism distorts all people, white people and people of color, away from the fullness of life God has for them. For some the lie is that they deserve to be inferior and for others the lie is that they deserve to be superior. Any system of human hierarchy where anyone is made out to be intrinsically better than anyone else is not the Gospel message that we know of God through Jesus Christ.
How did this work start?
Tell Me the Truth About Racism began as a pilot program between the congregations of St. Chrysostom’s Chicago and St. Christopher’s Oak Park in the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago. The former is found in Chicago’s dense Gold Coast neighborhood but draws parishioners from around the city. The latter is found in a near west suburb of Chicago amid a walkable residential community. Both congregations are predominantly white and affluent, but otherwise have unique characters. Families in both congregations displayed surprisingly high enthusiasm for the brand new class introducing the difficult history of racism to children during the 2021 Lenten season. Over 30 children from 20 families participated in nearly every session. The effort was shepherded by the parishes’ directors of children’s ministries, Jennifer Holt Enriquez and William Bouvel. Learn more about us here.
The stories we made for kids we served in our churches leaned into our faith to make sense of an overwhelming history. We leaned heavily on their love of Montessori principles, prioritizing visual storytelling aids, simple language, and wondering. Historically we have relied on many sources, notably Ibram Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’ An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States, and primary sources like Columbus’ travel logs. We wrote the stories by connecting the dots between historical evidence and the story of our faith. The result offers a chance to see this big story from a high level perspective, and to wonder where the story is still living in our own world.
Theologically, we rest our stories on the basic Christian belief that each and every person is a child of God, a mystery that takes a lifetime to explore. This derives from our reading of Genesis and the Gospels, and is developed by the Episcopal Church’s Baptismal Covenant. This approach frames racism as systemic sin which distorts the image of God in every person and in ourselves. To capture this in children’s language we emphasize that racism tells us a "lie" about who we really are. Tell Me the Truth About Racism counters this lie with the Truth Christians know, that every person, in all their uniqueness, is equally loved and cherished by God. Unfortunately that is not what centuries of Christian influence have demonstrated. Deliberate and incremental lies were told by some to create and maintain a perceived advantage over others. Only God’s Truth can give perspective to recognize racism as a lie and to anchor the work to dismantle it. The heart of this work is to Tell the Truth about that painful story and to give room to wonder, grieve, notice where God was, and notice where God is now.