It is not like me to get quiet. I am rarely quiet. Last night at the board meeting for my son’s daycare when the meeting was about to adjourn I heard myself asking if I could add one more thing.
Their daycare is small. The board meetings take place in a small room in a basement of a church. The daycare itself is non faith-based but housed there. I have been on the voluntary board for over a year. There are only thirty or so families in the entire school, and only eight parents and the director were there now. Not one person in that room intimidates me-in fact it is quite the opposite. Lovely is a word you could use to describe the group as a whole. White is another word.
My sons are two of three children of color there. In a few weeks a fourth and fifth child of color will start there. None of the staff are of color. One parent is.
Before the meeting many of the parents were talking about what a great place this is to raise kids. I wanted to chime in; “unless your kids are black,” but this was not the time to have that conversation. I am the one who chose to live here. No one in this room forced me to move from New York City over ten years ago. And in fact, I moved here when having kids went from the abstract column to the must-accomplish-in-this-lifetime page of my chic red Fil-o-fax.
And, things are changing, even here in Maine. In light of what I wanted to blurt out, it took me even more by surprise what I was about to share with the board.
“I would like to have the minutes reflect my gratitude to (Director’s name here) and to the staff for all of the work they have done since last Dr. Martin Luther King day to this one. They have created an environment that is not only welcoming but clearly reflective of my family’s background and ethnicity as well as everyone else’s here.”
Silence and gentle smiles.
“A year ago there was one rather tired picture of Dr. King on the wall to honor the event. Now the walls have posters year-round that feature children from all backgrounds and colors. The library is packed with books that feature as many characters that look like Sam and Marcel as everyone else…” I pause and look up. Heads are nodding. People are genuinely happy to hear what I have to say. “And, all the teachers are so receptive to ideas, and curriculum suggestions that I have to say you get it, and it shows.”
With what could be described as a hopeful and humble grin the director responds in kind; “We have tried so hard to learn and be responsive Catherine. Thank you for all of your encouragement and help.”
Expressing gratitude is not something I am that used to. It felt good.
Oh, you need to teach me that tactic. Well done. C. Seriously.
Gratitude is such a difficult thing to express sometimes, but it truly is the catalyst for larger social change. Everyone needs positive reinforcement & knowing that what they do matters encourages them to do more, allows them to feel invested in their own process of growth, and just feels GOOD! You rock, Cat, and I’m sure you show appreciation & gratitude more than you know–you always have.
Good for you for speaking up and sharing your thoughts. Your childcare center sounds much like the one we send our little one to in its feeling and tone. It prides itself on being a “diverse” community and there are many multiracial families. We are continually circling around what this means and how “diversity” is integrated into the classrooms and the curriculum. I’m curious if you had explicit conversations about this at your center, or what you think lead to the changes you’ve noticed over the past year.
It has been a collaboration on many layers. I have spoken up on several occasions, and they have always been receptive.
Think about what you’re teaching the white kids too, with steps such as these, and with your very presence in the (daycare) community. The numbers of children of colour don’t matter; the relationships they and their parents are building do. I didn’t know I was “white” until a beautiful biracial child came into my family; then because I love her as her aunt I started to think about the kind of life path I hoped she’d have ahead of her, and by putting myself in her shoes I could imagine what might stand in her way. Because of her I was inspired to learn more about privilege and equity and found myself in the company of educators who’ve had their eyes opened to difference and what it means and how it plays out in educational settings and more broadly in society. I know that I would have been open to learning about all of this so much earlier if I’d had some guidance from teachers who might have been inspired by the parents of the other children of colour I loved at school as a friend. It’s important to keep talking about race and diversity in all its forms and it should be integrated into the curriculum of every school, whatever the makeup of its teachers, students, and families.
You have been inspiring to me since I met you; your strength and courage to say what’s right and do what’s right has definitely allowed the daycare to evolve into a greater place to play and work. Can’t wait to see you and the boys!