During the Black Lives Matter protests of 2021, my home city (Richmond, VA) struggled with the legacy of several prominent confederate monuments. Families would visit Monument Avenue to look at and talk about graffiti-covered statues of Civil War slavery defenders. Many parents lamented the lack of communal structures for these conversations because of pandemic restrictions.
The celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day offers an opportunity for organizations to promote and facilitate race-related conversations with kids. King is famous for having a dream that black and white children would one day play together like siblings. He longed for kids to be valued for themselves rather than because they were light-skinned vs. dark-skinned. While adults bear much responsibility for helping to realize these goals, children also have the ability to wrestle with race relations.
One of the ways to begin such discussions is to follow King’s lead and invite children to dream of a world free from racism. Encouraging children to use their imaginations creates space for them to envision possibilities on their own rather than simply respond to others’ ideas. It affirms their agency as change-makers. And it increases their interest in implementing their visions of racial equity.
A simple dreaming exercise might begin by reading or playing a recording of the end of King’s I Have a Dream speech and then asking them to finish the sentence, “I have a dream that…” with their own vision of equality. They might answer verbally, in writing, or by drawing a picture. Ask each child to share why they chose to finish the sentence as they did.
As an alternative, you might lead children in a guided meditation that focuses on race relations. Invite children to find a comfortable place to sit with their eyes closed. Say: Breathe in (pause) and breathe out. (pause) Imagine that you are playing with friends. (pause) You notice another kid watching your game. (pause) Their skin is a different color than yours. (pause) You want to invite them to join you, but your friends say, “No, they’re not like us.” (pause) How do you feel? (pause) What do you say in response? (pause) What would you like to happen next? (pause) When you are ready, open your eyes. Take turns sharing what you imagined.
Help kids take their dreams to a new level by imagining how to get from where we are now to their envisioned future. Use a graphic organizer such as a concept map, timeline, or flowchart to identify things that need to happen for change to occur. For example, if the goal is a racially mixed group of kids working together on a service project, steps might include identifying stereotypes about who helps and who needs help, deciding how to delegate tasks fairly, agreeing on equitable ways to acknowledge diverse kinds of contributions, and/or developing a fair process to manage conflict.
As you wrap up the conversation, provide children with an opportunity to identify one thing they will do right away to make their dream a reality. Remind them that even small actions can make a big difference. Affirm their ideas and suggest that you hold one another accountable by checking in weekly or monthly.