In many ways, that has been true but some of the stories that people may have expected our kids to know at really young ages, we’ve waited to share with them. In this post, I am going to share why and what we are doing now.
As you read our perspective remember that every family does what works for them. If you shared with your children earlier or later, know that this is a judgment-free zone and I support you as we all try our best on this journey!
To be honest, back in 2015, and 2016, I was really burned out. After Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and Black murder after Black murder, I, like many other Black people, was exhausted.
The reality that our sweet boy who was blessed with the gift of Blackness but would live in a world where Blackness is treated as a burden really made me stop and ask, “What’s important for this sweet brown boy to know?”
We decided to first focus on his belovedness as a black boy. We simply wanted him to know that he is loved and that he is worthy of love.
We did this in many ways. We intentionally read books and watched shows with Black characters in them. We learned about Black astronauts and inventors, both topics that were important to him. We also made observations about the world, admired his brown skin, and noted out loud when books didn’t include characters that looked like us.
We knew from studying slavery and The Civil War in depth during college, that slavery is just one part of our people’s story and it’s a very heavy part. And we wanted him to be so firm and clear in his belovedness that once he learns about the atrocities of slavery that he easily sees that the oppression of Black bodies had nothing to do with their worthiness and everything to do with the self-centered of white oppressors.
He is six going on seven now, and with this foundation solidly laid, I’m actually excited in a way that I didn’t think I would be to talk about slavery. We are using Juneteenth as an opportunity to celebrate Black resilience and resistance in the midst of hardship. The social studies teacher in me is shining bright and we’ve got sixteen picture books lined up that tell the larger story of the way Black folks have always pursued and paved the way for freedom.
I’ve had a few friends ask me recently about how we navigate this, so I’ve created a Juneteenth Reading and Activity Guide. It includes 16 book recommendations, over 70 questions and activities, and detailed parents’ notes on how to answer questions about slavery and race.
My goal was to make it simple for your family to talk about slavery and Juneteenth together. I’ve included small things that I think will make a big difference like the letter for you to sign and read to your kids.
Juneteenth felt like the perfect opportunity to teach about slavery in the context of Black resilience because our ancestors paved the way for their own freedom through everyday acts of resistance.
With this guide, it is my hope that together, we: 1) celebrate the ways in which our ancestors paved the way for their own legal freedom; 2) honor the ways in which our ancestors resisted and overcame the institution of slavery; and 3) share in the joyful memory of our ancestors learning of their legal emancipation.
You can see all the books we’re reading by visiting Bookshop here.
It’s a tall order, but I think these 59 pages really do help tell the story of slavery in a way that is honoring to enslaved peoples and appropriate for young children.
It was sweet to think of my own two boys as I created this. There are questions to go along with each reading and lots of hands-on activities that will generally work for all elementary-aged students and can be appropriate through middle school, too.
A few other things you want to know about the guide:
We have a second sweet boy who will turn 3 this year. I imagine that with him we will introduce this topic around 5. This is mainly because many schools introduce slavery in Kindergarten, and although we homeschool, little friends are always sharing new learnings and we want to be sure that he learns about this topic in the safety of home first. Now that this guide is already created, I’m sure we’ll return to it for years to come.
You can grab your Juneteenth Reading & Activity Guide here.
You can see all the books we’re reading here.
P.S: When did you learn about slavery as a child? How did it impact you? When did you teach your kids?