Children March – Three Stories of Support for Parents & Students

This blog was written with the help of the community at three Hilltop Schools – Riverdale, Horace Mann, & ECFS. We hope it sparks conversation and gives parents the courage and support to engage children during the holiday break and beyond.

After my son and I watched Mighty Times: The Children’s March (www.vimeo.com/83236126), an amazing 40 minute documentary about children and activism in 60′s Birmingham, I was convinced that it, and the anticipated movie, Selma could be the balm and the template we need to finally have race and class on the table with equitable outcomes in our court and prison systems, with education, jobs, life and the quality of it. Today, children are becoming change agents similar to the kids who changed everything in Birmingham. Private independent school kids of color are no exception, many of whom are caught right in middle of race and class as they try to balance two worlds.

Indy school mom, Ebony Tyler felt the urgency to experience a civil protest with her young sons and another indy school family so that her sons could hear their voice and those of others standing up for justice. Her son was nervous about the police presence but was encouraged by their respect and the peace and energy of fellow activists!

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Many of our member schools are helping by including entire communities in conversations around grand jury rulings, race and class by providing students and faculty with safe and trained resources to help un-pack the complex issues and realities. What we know is that students want and need to be HEARD.

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When RIISE asked 8th grade Riverdale student, Elon Collins, what kids her age want parents to know, she said parents can first support by simply listening. We’d be surprised by how much they are filtering. Delia Farquharson, LCSW, agreed with Elon’s desire to be heard during her blog radio show dedicated to the emotional needs of our children at this time. (listen to Delia’s show).

Horace Mann’s head of school Tom Kelly & diversity dir., Patricia Zuroski let us know that at Horace Mann the HM Community Council and the Union, a diversity club, provided students and faculty with a safe space to share thoughts, reactions and reflections on the recent Michael Brown and Eric Garner rulings. They said topics ranged from the police system to the failure of the judicial system to the stereotyping of black males. One student said, “How can I take the power I have to dismantle the system that disadvantages people of color?” Another student commented, “It’s maddening to think that my eight year old brother, a black boy, is thinking that ‘The police could shoot me.’ Growing up in a world where that’s acceptable is not OK.” Like many schools, HM is in it for the long haul and with full support from a plan of action that includes student leadership training, an upcoming student-led forum and a Justice Workshop. 

If parents listen too, we can help our children find the answers and courage to move forward in leadership roles that acknowledge and empower them. Take for example Nina Hay an upper school student at Riverdale Country School, who lead a successful WALKOUT among students and faculty giving all who took the megaphone a voice. We thank Nina for giving her fellow RCS student, Elon the courage and the voice that day to share her greatest fear – that her white peers, that she’s known since kindergarten, would not be willing to identify and acknowledge her pain. Nina, your courageous actions didn’t just interrupt business as usual, but it gave a lot of people a voice and helped create an agenda!

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RIISE: When did it click for you?
Nina: After reading many articles about the non-indictments, I realized that this issue is too big to be kept to myself. I started talking to a couple of my friends about the cases. I wanted to find a way to bring the school together to mourn the victims of police brutality and talk about the issues of it. I thought a walk out would have been the best way to peacefully protest and bring awareness to Riverdale about the wrongful death of Eric Garner and Mike Brown.

RIISE: What did you hope would happen?
NinaI hoped that a lot of people would show up and engage in discussions about the cases. However, I wasn’t sure if students were as passionate about the non-indictments. So, I didn’t expect that many people to show up especially since it was during class.

RIISE: What surprised you?
Nina I was  surprised by the amount of students, faculty, and administration that showed up, but I was even more surprised by how so many people spoke in the discussion at the walkout. There was such an interest in the topic and range of emotions even from sixth graders. I think that day really changed how Riverdale connected as a community.

Nina’s mom weighs in…

RIISE: Your daughter demonstrated a tremendous amount of initiative leading a movement around complex & painful issues. What advice would you give a parent about how to support their indy school child of color?
GraceI would advise parents to support their children by keeping the lines of communication very open. These are very heavy issues that adults are still struggling with, much less teenagers. Its important that they have you (their parent) and/or a trusted faculty member that they can share their feelings with safely. At Riverdale, Nina has been surrounded by several wonderful faculty members who have been supportive and we are very grateful for that.
RIISE: Thanks, Nina & Grace!

I had a conversation recently with Liz Fernandez, a friend, student advocate, RCS Mom & ECFS faculty member and two mothers who have 8th graders that attend ECFS. We hope you’ll be inspired and find it useful as you engage and support your children over the long break!

MOM TO MOM…a conversation

Gina: Liz, describe what you witnessed last week.
Liz: The nation has been engrossed in deep disbelief over the recent non-indictment decisions in both grand jury cases. Some people have chosen to change the channel, others have taken to a fundamental right we are guaranteed in this country…to assemble and speak up when we see injustice. On Monday morning, I witnessed the power and strength of youth stepping up and making their voice and presence heard throughout the ECFS campus.
I saw grass-roots organizing and coalition-building between grades, friendship groups and across social identifiers. The common themes…? “I Matter, We Matter, They Matter. This Injustice is Inexcusable and I am speaking up and against it…my voice will be heard…change begins with me…change begins with us…” I was moved by them.
I shared the experience and the pictures I captured with my 4th grade son who attends RCS. Thanks to his SOCS group, he was also having conversations and processing his own disbelief and confusion. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Too many adults feel that the issues are too divisive and complicated so they’ve opted out of the national conversation. I’m proud that my son and his SOCS leaders are having conversations that help him process what’s happening and work for justice everywhere, starting at home and school. Talking leads to action and youth are indeed, paving the way for change.

Gina: Liz, thanks sharing those moments and for asking 8th grade mothers of ECFS student leaders, Robin Hart and Lynne Hurdle-Price, to talk to us about their roles as parent advocates.
Lynne and Robin, what is it about your children’s activism that makes you proud?

Lynne: I remember being in my room and on my cell phone when Nai’im came in, apologized for the interruption and said “we have something to talk about.” he told me that he and some of his friends had just been talking on group chat and they were upset about the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases and they had to do something. He told me they organized a walk out and that he needed me to know that he was not asking permission, he was doing it! That’s the moment I am most proud of because he was involved in the most important educational experience of his life and was committed to it whether I supported it or not and that is what his Dad and I have been preparing him for.

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Robin: Our 8th graders’ intense desire to “Do something!” to right a clear injustice, pushed them to act, even as their peers felt powerless, no matter the consequences. What could be more awe-inspiring!

Gina: Robin, when you think about protest, or what you may have experienced in relationship to it, what were your initial gut feelings learned about your child’s leadership role?
Robin: I felt immense, heart-bursting pride! When my youngest son came to me with this well-thought out plan of action, suddenly I had real hope that this generation will be ok. Certainly, at his age we weren’t walking out of school, marching, staging die-ins, or coordinating teach-ins! These kids are much more conscious than our generation was. That’s a beautiful thing!

Gina: Thanks Robin, that’s awesome! Lynne, Do you feel independent schools have a responsibility to engage and support the entire community regarding the racial, emotional, & social justice issues of our times.
LynneOne of the reasons the 8th graders chose to organize the protest is because there was no social activism taking place on this issue within the school. I think it is particularly incumbent on an Ethical Culture school to be in the forefront of activism. I was happy to witness the support of the administrators and staff that turned out during the protest and the dialogue that the student’s actions inspired. 

Gina: Robin can you share a way parents can support their independent school children of color around the complexities and injustices?
Robin: Without a doubt, the necessary support for children of color around racial complexities and injustice is not limited to independent schools. Let’s be clear, when we speak about people of color we are talking about people who have been disproportionately shut out of society by all social indicators (e.g., police shootings, education, healthcare, housing, incarceration, unemployment). To a large extent, this means black and brown people. Attending an independent school does not exempt our children from the impact of these realities. So, first it’s important for our children to have a strong positive sense of identity and responsibility to community. If your school is less black and brown than you think is healthy (my personal critical mass benchmark is at least 30% in NYC), push for it! Develop strong ties to other families of color and faculty within your child’s school. Simultaneously, build a network of children of color and caring adults of color outside of school. Enroll them in them in that Jamaican soccer team. Send them to Tae Kwon Do taught by a Puerto Rican sensei. Loving and being loved by lots of people who look like you and share your experiences, helps you feel connection to your own identity and to that community. So even while attending largely white independent schools, our children will recognize when injustice impacts communities of color and want to defend against it.

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Equally important, it’s never too early to talk to our children about standing up when something is wrong and saying so in a clear, loud voice. For this conversation to be meaningful, they must see us “walking the walk.” In our home, protesting injustice is an act of patriotism. For example, our children know I was arrested and spent the night in jail for my participation in the protests surrounding the police shooting of Amadou Diallo. And it’s no an accident that all of my son’s co-organizers have parents who exhibit high levels of long-term, deep-trenches social justice commitment, in their work, their communities, and in their children’s school. Our children knew we’d have their back. And, just as important, they knew they could count on a core group of committed, like-minded faculty in their school to support them.

Gina: Ladies, from one mom to the next, thank you!

 

 

 

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