Sixty persons representing 25 congregations in northern Illinois gathered on Saturday, August 25, for lively conversation about how to confront and challenge racism as it impacts the lives of our children and youth.
The Colors of Love: Raising Children in a Racially Unjust World workshop featured a presentation from Dr. Jennifer Harvey, professor of religion at Drake University, whose research addresses the encounter between religion and ethics, race, gender, activism, politics and spirituality in the U.S. Dr. Harvey challenged parents, clergy, and educators to consider how to be effective in making their children aware of U.S. racial realities, while simultaneously nurturing their children’s emotional resilience and a healthy sense of racial identity. In particular, Harvey used personal stories to demonstrate how the common approaches of “colorblindness” and “diversity” fall short in responding to our deeply racialized and hierarchical society. She offered suggestions for how parents and church leaders can stretch themselves to adopt “antiracist” ways to communicate with and empower our children and youth.
Following Dr. Harvey’s provocative presentation, three high school youth shared their personal experiences and reflections on how they have confronted racism in their lives and relationships. Lucy Hermann (Trinity UMC, Mt. Prospect), Abigail Mendoza (First UMC, Park Ridge) and Jaelyn Pirtle (Gorham UMC, Chicago) talked insightfully about what they have learned and who has influenced them in observing and challenging racism at their schools, churches, and home.
Rev. Darneather Murph-Heath, Elgin District Superintendent, opened the workshop with a prayerful and impassioned invitation to the attendees to be open to being changed by what they heard that day—and then to be that change they want to see in their families, communities, and churches.
“I appreciated Dr. Harvey’s caution that if parents, teachers, church leaders and other caring adults practice ‘white silence,’ our children’s default formation about race will come from TV, friends, school, social media, and others. White silence occurs when white people become silent in the face of racism rather than engaging our children by stepping in and stepping up to name, confront, and challenge actions as racist. Ignoring manifestations of racism by silence fosters and festers racism,” reflected Kim Coffing, United Voices for Children (UVC) President.
UVC board member Ed Miner left the workshop realizing that, “We need to talk to kids about our attitudes about race. They know more than we think they do and they learn it earlier than we think. Our own attitudes may be incomplete but we need to talk to our kids anyway.”
Another UVC board member, Meg JungEun Park, succinctly identified helpful components of Dr. Harvey’s parenting strategy: 1) create a race-conscious schema in children’s early development by talking about difference early and often; 2) develop “racial scripts” to become attentive, careful interpreters of the stories of/from others; 3) develop an anti-racist “agency” by complicating history (and stories people tell) at every turn. Park noted that “Our kids need to wrestle with the complex stories of what actual people have done and what people actually still do.”
Christine Hides, UVC board member, expressed hope for what we can do: “What was most powerful for me was seeing a diverse group of faith-filled people confront an issue that impacts the lives of all our children. With practical tips and resources like this workshop, churches can and should place where the evils of racism are identified and actively resisted.”
UVC President Kim Coffing also looked ahead to next steps after the workshop: “UVC is committed to confronting the issues that put children at risk in all of our communities and equipping churches to advocate for our children’s well-being. Racism puts us at risk of losing our children. Racism in our churches destroys our credibility of being witnesses of a God who loves us all. It is our task to let God make a difference through us.”
Colors of Love: Raising Children in a Racially Unjust World was sponsored by United Voices for Children (www.unitedvoicesforchildren.org) in collaboration with First UMC Elmhurst, Christians Engaged in Faith Formation, Commission on Religion and Race in Northern Illinois and the Northern Illinois Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Dr. Jennifer Harvey’s 2017 book, Raising White Kids: Bringing Up Children in a Racially Unjust America is published by Abingdon Press and available from Cokesbury.