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ABCs of Racism Parent/Educator Workshop with Wee The People

Wee The People, a Boston-based arts and social justice project, recently brought their “ABCs of Racism” workshop to the Watertown (MA) Free Public Library. (Hi, children’s librarian Kazia Berkley-Cramer, former Horn book intern!) I’ve been to several Wee The People events, with my kids, but this was something different: a workshop for parents and educators.

The co-founders of Wee The People are Francie Latour, author of the picture book Auntie Luce’s Talking Paintings, 2019 Américas Award Honor Book; and Tanya Nixon-Silberg, whose upcoming puppetry performance is based on the book My Night in the Planetarium by Innosanto Nagara. In their work with children, Francie and Tanya use picture books as a way to “find out what kids already know” (and notice) about systems of implicit bias, white supremacy, and racism, with the latter defined not just as “being mean to Black people,” but with all acts of racism classified as acts of violence. “If you see someone being hit with a baseball bat, even if the person with the bat isn’t doing it on purpose, you should help the person being hurt. It’s about the person who needs help.”

In the workshop, we examined picture-book examples such as Zetta Elliott’s Milo’s Museum, Mary Hoffman’s Amazing Grace, and the classic Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? Francie and Tanya displayed an active “ACT” model of book discussion — Affirm, Counter, Transform — to help guide young people through the “cloud of oppression…don’t just leave them there.” Also: Integrate books centering people of color. Detect — and disrupt — dominant narratives. Recognize whiteness in the moment. Listen and believe the experts. Allow young people to imagine themselves as change agents. Acknowledge times when “I messed up.”

This is all difficult, and necessary, work. "Whose job is it to fix racism?" Wee The People asks both child and adult participants. (Kids' answers include: "MLK? Obama?") Remind them: "It's not People of Color's job to 'fix' racism. It's People of Color's job to heal from racism." And it's all of our job to: expose racism, name it, acknowledge it, and "explicitly encourage anti-racist values."

Wee The People will be at the Boston Book Festival on Sunday, October 20, from 3:30–5:00pm, with their "Wee Wear the Crowns: Celebrating Black Identity and Experience" crown making drop-in for kids. The Horn Book will be at the festival on Saturday at Copley (booth 9). The complete schedule is here. Come say hi!

Elissa Gershowitz

Elissa Gershowitz is executive editor of The Horn Book, Inc. She holds an MA from the Center for the Study of Children's Literature at Simmons University and a BA from Oberlin College.

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