Like many parents, Michael W. Waters looked at his newborn son and thought him the most beautiful baby on earth. He also knew that his son’s black skin put him at risk in a polarized world that judges and discriminates on the basis of race. For Beautiful Black Boys Who Believe in a Better World (2020) is Waters’ attempt to help children and adults wrestle with this reality.
Try these activities with children ages 6-10 years as you read this award-winning picture book together.
1. As Jeremiah sees and hears news reports about White-on-Black violence, he asks his dad what has happened. But once he hears that someone has died, he doesn’t want to talk about it anymore. Ask children to imagine Jeremiah’s feelings as he is listening to the news. What face would he make when he hears someone has been hurt? How might his stomach feel as he thinks about the event? Why does he say he doesn’t want to talk about it anymore?
2. One of the things Jeremiah wonders about is a vigil. Look carefully at the image of the vigil. Notice together the different things that people are doing. Count the number of candles. If children have been to a funeral or memorial service in the past, talk about how a vigil is similar because it is a time to remember someone who has died. Point out that a vigil is also different because those who gather also want the community to change an unjust situation that led to this person’s death.
3. Eventually, Jeremiah says that he is ready to talk. He states that he is tired of all the violence and wants it to stop. Invite children to share social justice issues that they want to talk about. Ask: What bad things are happening that you don’t understand? What questions do you have that I might answer? Then share your thoughts and ideas. And if you don’t have an answer, help children research the issue online or find someone who can provide the information they are seeking.
4. Jeremiah wonders what he and his family can do to change things. His parents provide several examples of transformative actions, from donating, praying, and loving others to marching and speaking out. Suggest children create a storyboard or comic strip that shows an issue that needs to change and what they would do to make a difference. Encourage them to include actions that they can do immediately and others that might require planning.
5. Social change, like growing locs, can take a long time. Help children create a timeline showing the different events named in the book. [To get you started, Trayvon Martin died 10 years ago on February 26, 2012.] Note that this problem has been going on for longer than they have been alive but we still aren’t going to give up on making changes. Invite them to add a second set of events to the timeline that suggest what they hope will happen in the future (e.g., Black and White children march together for justice, police show respect to Black people 100% of the time, new laws protect people of color from violence).