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The following is a copy of a talk the creator of Reflections gave at BECA's 2nd Annual Talking to Children About Race Conference. The contents of the speech explain a little about why and how Reflections was developed.

An Invitation to Participate: One Davis Parent's Journey

About a year and a half ago my then three-year-old daughter started noticing differences in people. She would point out the person in the wheelchair at the grocery store, the boy with freckles at the restaurant, the girl with braids at the park. She had no judgment about these differences she was simply noticing the world around her. I however felt uncomfortable and didn’t always know the best way to address these observations. Trying to be a few steps ahead of her next questions, I started to think about what I would say when she mentioned racial differences and I realized that I had absolutely no idea.

At the park I asked other parents what they said when their children brought up race and I was given strange looks and told that “their children didn’t notice racial differences”, their children “were color blind” and it was implied that I must be a racist since my children noticed these differences. I was afraid to bring up the subject again but I knew that I had to if I wanted to get any answers to my questions. In one playgroup, that happened to be more diverse, I found a safe place to bring up the issue of race. One mother pointed me in the direction of the book “All the Colors of the Earth.” She also mentioned this conference “Talking to Children About Race” which I attended. I came away from the conference last year knowing that one book was not going to do the trick and I had a lot of learning ahead of me if I wanted to be a better teacher to my children.

I went to several talks, discussions and book groups on the subject of talking about race. I talked to my friends of color about their experiences. I did research on the internet and found that yes it is completely normal for young children to notice racial differences and that we actually are doing a disservice to our children by ignoring these observations.

Although my intentions are good, I often seem to go a little overboard when it comes to my own children. One night, after reading “All the Colors of the Earth” and “All the Colors we Are” for the hundredth time my daughter said to me, “I know, I know, we all have melanin!” and I realized that I was coming across as lecturing to her and that what I really needed was a dialogue.
I started out simply wanting some photographs reflecting racial and physical diversity that I could hang in our playroom. After days of searching the Internet, I could not find anything that fit my need so I decided to make something myself. Over the next few days I downloaded and printed hundreds of photographic images. Using images of people of all sorts of size, age, hair texture, eye shape, and skin color I came up with art projects we could do together. As the kids did the art projects I could start discussions or make observations. Using the images we could have discussions not only about racial differences and similarities but physical differences and different family compositions. I decided this might be something that other families would find useful. Here came the scary part for me, sharing my idea with others, afraid that I would again get those looks that somehow I had done something wrong as a parent that I even needed to bring up these topics, or worse yet, that I was being offensive in the way I was doing it. But, I took a leap of faith and nervously shared my idea with a friend. She was very encouraging and helped me find ways to word questions and discussions. I decided that this project might be useful to other people in our community. I again had to leave my comfort zone and start asking for help.

Then the floodgates opened. One person suggested I apply for a grant to fund the project, another person knew of a grant that fit my needs, as I started writing the grant proposal I had a dozen people help me. Having no formal training or experience in education, curriculum development, grant writing, public speaking or photography, there were many times I found myself in un-chartered waters. To me the process became a great learning experience of learning to talk about something I had never talked about. I made many mistakes, stuck my foot in my mouth a dozen times, and many times, especially at night, wished I had never started this project. But the enthusiasm from others kept me motivated and last spring I was awarded a grant to fund the project. What we developed is called Reflections of Community. Reflections is an anti-bias curriculum for young children. Through art projects parents or teachers can broach the subject of race with children. Reflections comes as a kit with the photographic images, art project suggestions, topics of discussion, and a suggested reading list. Reflections will also include information for a web page that will include a bulletin board discussion area. By next summer, Reflections will be available, hopefully free of charge, to anyone in Yolo County.

When I thought about why I was asked to present here today I think it is because of this: I am a perfect example of a woman who could have easily continued going through life enjoying white privilege and turning a blind eye to racial issues. I could have just as easily shushed my children when they noticed racial differences and by not educating them, I could have made it easy for them to unintentionally hurt the feelings of friends of color in their classrooms or at the park. I could have continued ignoring these issues and perhaps someday it would be my children yelling racial slurs at a basketball game and not understanding why what they were saying was offensive. As parents and teachers in a community that is not very racially diverse, it is even more important that we address the issue of race with our children. I choose to use art projects, books, and my own continuing education in our home. I urge each of us to figure out what works best for our own families and act upon it. If it isn’t something you can find or that comes easily, then ask around and figure out how to make it work. Talking about race can be uncomfortable at first for many of us, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it. I hope for the sake of all of our children and for the future of our community that we don’t take the easy way out.

I came to this conference last year a different person. I arrived here very nervous, not sure of what to expect, not really certain what my questions were, and with positively no idea of any solutions. Now, a year later, I feel much more empowered. Through education and talking, I now have a much stronger comprehension of racism and how it affects us all in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. I also have a much better understanding of how to address the issue of race with my children. Now, instead of cringing when they ask a question, I am happy for the opportunity to talk about our differences and similarities, confident in my answers.