What To Say When There Are No Words

Sandra M. McCroom – President & CEO, Children’s Services of Roxbury
Carole Charnow – President & CEO, Boston Children’s Museum


We write today as leaders of institutions that strive to honor and preserve the sanctity and integrity of childhood, to promote a child’s welfare and healthy development, and to create social cohesion and equity for children and their families.  We represent institutions with long histories of serving a large cross-section of children and families, throughout Massachusetts and from around the world.  As leaders, caring adults, and responsible members of society, we all have a moral obligation to give every child every opportunity to succeed.  We firmly believe that children do not fail, it is society that fails our children. Our respective organization’s missions are focused on bringing opportunity, agency, wellbeing and peace of mind to the children and families we serve.

COVID-19 began to magnify the inequities facing poor children and children of color. Children of color are disproportionately impacted by poverty, health disparities, poor education systems, generational trauma, and community violence. These, combined with the pervasive effects of racism, result in many children not having the opportunity to fulfill their potential and pursue a full and meaningful life. 

On Monday, May 25, 2020 the world witnessed the cruel, inhumane and brutal death of 46 year-old George Floyd. Sadly, Mr. Floyd’s death is the latest of countless other unarmed African-Americans whose lives were taken at the hands of those who hate and seek to divide and destroy our dream of peace, civility, and opportunity. The killing of George Floyd unleashed a deep anguish, not just in the Black community, but across humanity, sparking protests around the world.  The determination to be heard, to demand justice and recognition of a people’s humanity superseded the risk of becoming ill with the coronavirus.  In fact, we are reminded that in this nation, racism, has been and continues to be the most pervasive pandemic in our American story.

We know that children are already stressed and anxious from being confined at home for several months, deprived of seeing their friends, attending their playgroup or school, visiting their grandparents, playing in the park, and all the many experiences that fill the days of a happy and healthy childhood. And now, even if their families have not mentioned the events of the last week, children may also sense the stress and anxiety that their families are experiencing and are fearful and worried themselves. What can we say to our children when there are no words?

At this time, we know that our young children need to be comforted by their parents, grandparents, educators and caregivers, even though so many of us feel despair and are unable to find the words. But it is our role and our responsibility to offer hope, guidance and comfort, even though we may not have the answers.  While you alone cannot right all the wrongs of the world, it is important to know that you are the world to your children and that you can provide emotional validation and comfort to them.  Children’s rights activist, L.R. Knost, writes, “Do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the world….love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally. The broken world waits in the darkness for the light that is you.”

At this moment, we need to keep our children close and show them our ever-present unconditional love. Even the youngest children have a keen sense of fairness and right and wrong so we can talk to them honestly about justice in a way that is appropriate for their age and stage of development. Through loving touch, joyful play, engaged conversation and honest sharing, we can help our young children feel secure, safe and loved, even while we grapple with the turmoil of this moment in history. In this way we can help ensure that our children emerge from these difficult days, stronger, braver and more confident to meet the many challenges ahead; so that they can rightfully fulfill their potential and inherit a world that they truly deserve.


Resources

Here are some tips and resources that we hope will help you be able to speak to your child about race and racism:

From Social Justice Solutions: A Parent’s Guide to Discussing Racism http://www.socialjusticesolutions.org/2019/05/13/a-parents-guide-to-discussing-racism/

  • Be honest. Acknowledge what your child already knows: People are different, and the world is not colorblind. Pretending that the world doesn’t or shouldn’t see color detracts from the experiences of people of color.
  • Brace for impact. Being honest with children also means expecting an honest response — a dynamic for which children are notorious. Additionally, other adults may not be supportive of your discussion, so be ready by asking for help from supportive friends and family if you encounter obstacles.
  • Engage in self-reflection. You need to know where you’re beginning before you chart a path for your child. Start by asking yourself what biases, privileges and experiences you have that could affect how you think about racism. This important step is often overlooked but is essential — and it should be ongoing.

Articles

Organizations

Books

Something Happened in our Townhttps://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/something-happened-in-our-town-marianne-celano-phd/1127888005 (and check out this webinar from Embrace Race featuring the three child and family psychologists who collaborated to write this book)

Noni Speaks Up:  https://www.amazon.com/Noni-Speaks-Up-Heather-Hartt-Sussman/dp/1770498397

A Kids Book About Racism: https://akidsbookabout.com/products/a-kids-book-about-racism?fbclid=IwAR2mX1Ox5cBAqaqov7g3cQbzZihlzBQS0lSDKqFnhNM6c4qlqKFalSPHZak


Blog Guest Writer:

Sandra M. McCroom is the President and CEO of Children’s Services of Roxbury. From the beginning of a career that began with her U.S. Peace Corps Service through three decades of public and non-profit leadership; Sandra has spent her life in service to others. Sandra was raised in Ohio and is a proud graduate of Spelman College.


Carole Charnow has been President & CEO of Boston Children’s Museum since 2010. In her long career as a non-profit leader, she has dedicated herself to serving the community through arts and culture, and by ensuring access for all.

4 Thoughts

  1. Beautiful. And is also so relevant when thinking about the support that we can all give to each other, as well as our grown children.

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