A Statement in Solidarity by Defending the Early Years

We at Defending the Early Years are deeply saddened and troubled by the continued assault on Black lives that claimed George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Nina Pop, and so many more. We recognize the historical and racial trauma that many children and their families continue to experience in a country that claims we are all created equal. Our work at DEY is grounded in the belief that all children deserve a just and equitable early childhood education. We cannot make this vision a reality when Black women, men, and children live in fear that someone will callously bring about an end to their lives. We believe that a just and equitable early childhood education for Black children means valuing and affirming that their life matters. We proudly say #BlackLivesMatter to stand in solidarity with all Black children and their families that continue to fight for their rights as citizens in this country. Our work extends to all children, but at this time we are focusing on the needs of Black children and their families.  

As we strive to identify how we can be in solidarity and support those most affected by anti-Black racism, our first thoughts are always to protect children. We know that young children have the capacity to understand race and racism and that we must capitalize on their ingrained sense of fairness and justice to help them become anti-racist. We know that silence speaks volumes to young children, and often teaches the wrong lesson, so we encourage teachers and parents to talk with children about what is happening. These conversations may be tough and cause discomfort, but we cannot expect to be comfortable fighting racism. To be anti-racist is to face the discomfort, sit with it, and allow it to guide our thoughts and actions as we strive to dismantle systems of oppression.  

Below are some guidelines for talking with children about the murder of George Floyd and the protests/uprisings in the wake of his death: 

  1. Let the children lead. Ask them what they know about the situation and give them the space to share their thoughts. Ask “do you have any questions about what you’ve heard?”
  2. Provide the right amount of information. Children do not need a lecture on the history of the enslavement of African people to understand what is happening. You should strive to give them enough information related to the current situation.  
  3. Share how you feel. Model the importance of naming your emotions so children know it is okay to be sad, angry, scared, etc. 
  4. Let them know there is no quick fix. Unlike when they get injured, the pain the country is feeling right now will not go away anytime soon. Explain that the process of healing from racism and discrimination takes time. 
  5. Emphasize the positive aspects of the protests. Yes, many are choosing to focus on the agitators and clashes with law enforcement, but the protests are not about the violence. Children should know that good people are taking to the streets to show solidarity with Black people and they should understand the value in marching and speaking out as a collective. 
  6. Help them find some joy. In the face of so much pain and hostility, we must all find joy to maintain our peace. Share funny stories or read a funny book. Reassure them that it is okay to laugh and be happy when bad things happen.  

We hope that we will not have to write statements like this in the future. We hope that in the future Black lives will matter and Black children and Black parents will not live in fear of anti-Black racism. Until that day comes we will continue to work to ensure our vision of a just and equitable early childhood education for all children. 

Resource: Talking About Race

The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), has released a powerful new web portal Talking About Race

“Talking About Race” provides digital tools, online exercises, video instructions, scholarly articles, and more than 100 multimedia resources tailored for educators, parents, and caregivers, as well as individuals committed to racial equality. In releasing this resource now, we hope to help individuals and communities foster constructive dialogues on one of the nation’s most challenging issues: racism, and its corrosive impact.