I had the pleasure of listening to a powerful presentation this past week with Kathy Burrell, a Senior Vice President at Bank of America/Merrill Lynch. She spoke to my business group on what we can do as business owners and CEOs who are also caucasian to improve race relations between people of color and those who are White. I took copious notes and thought of a few more ideas, yet I wasn’t comfortable writing about this unless I spoke with the Teachers of Sunrise who are Black. I thought about how insulting it could come across, I mean, who am I to be acting like the authority on this? How would I feel if a man asked me to give him ideas on how to not harass or marginalize women? But I feel a strong need to share what I heard and what we already do here as a team at Sunrise Montessori every day, so I met with them and explained what I was trying to do and how I needed their take on all this. I started both meetings with our Black Teachers (with three at Sunrise West and five at Sunrise East) by addressing the elephant in the room: that this is going to be awkward. Probably uncomfortable. And that I was there because I truly wanted to help end racism by discussing what White people can do…real concrete, actionable ideas…to help eradicate racism. Some were understandably skeptical. I told them that if only a handful who read this blog post implement one idea consistently, the ripple effect is endless. We rarely witness the positive impact one deliberate, thoughtful action can make. Cultural change isn’t something that happens quickly or by a few. It usually is a multitude of small acts over a period of time by many that reach a tipping point until society shifts and our norms change.
The main areas that Kathy Burrell identified which are necessary for real change are next, with suggestions for each. I hope at least one resonates with you in a way where you decide to try it for yourself or family. Some of the ideas below are meant to be used for your children, others as an employee at a company, and some just for yourself.
Tip #1: Create opportunities to INTERACT with people of color
Have you noticed how we ALL tend to gravitate towards those of the same color? It can be hard to interact with people outside our racial group sometimes, but if you create ORGANIC opportunities to get to know a team member at work or parent in your child’s class better, that can help you create relationships in your life that encompass more than just those who look like you.
- Encourage your child to have a diverse group of friends (Black, Indian, Asian, Hispanic, etc.). This idea is super easy to do at Sunrise because we already have a naturally diverse group of families, yay!
- If you go to an after work team event, choose to sit next to someone you don’t know who also happens to be a person of color and ask them questions to get to know them.
- Smile at people of color when you pass them in the street, the store, HEB…let them feel your friendliness (so my Teachers told me that this just sounds weird, that it needs to seem natural, and I agree.) Don’t smile only at people of color or go around HEB on a busy Sunday with your shiny whites on display for every person you see (that might get you in trouble ;).
- Ask one of your child’s classmates for a playdate they haven’t played with before. Encourage your child to broaden their friend base.
Tip #2: SUPPORT people of color, directly and indirectly
Put your money where your heart is. Ask others for the change you want to see in the world.
- Look up black-owned businesses, like restaurants, on Yelp and buy from them or send business their way so they know you care and are trying to make a connection.
- Ask your HR Director to double the amount of people of color when searching for new hires and interns at your company. Suggest hiring those who may not have all the training for the position and enrolling them in courses to catch them up.
- If you have the power to do so, place people of color in your Managerial Teams. Having a Black Administrator at Sunrise has helped us to find and hire more talented Teachers of color. And companies with broader diversity are more successful!
#3: EDUCATE your children and family members about race and culture and CELEBRATE the differences
- Buy birthday gifts for your nieces and nephews, like two Barbie dolls, and make sure one of the dolls is a person of color. Ask them why they think you did that.
- Go as a family or suggest to your child’s teacher to take a class field trip to visit the Carver Branch Library in East Austin. They always have Black Art and History on display year round.
- Buy books for your children with people of color featured in them as the main character. Sunrise’s Black Teachers recommended:
- Talk openly with yourself and then your children about people of color. As one of our Teachers advised, “get to the root of your feelings first if you are uncomfortable talking about race before discussing it with your children.” It’s hard to explain to your child why it’s so important to have a rainbow of friends if you yourself don’t.
- As your children get older, start having the tougher conversations. “Do White people have the hard conversations with their children like Black people do?”, one of my Teachers asked. Maybe not about race, but personally? I’ve spoken to my sixteen year old about what to do when pulled over by the police. To be careful. Respectful. Obnoxiously so. Do I have to talk to him about how he is judged walking down the street with another White boy? Or how he can be considered dangerous with a hoodie on? Explaining that reality with him for people of color, especially boys, could lead to a great discussion at the dinner table.
- Don’t allow stereotypes or assumptions to inform you of a person’s character. ASK questions, assume the best!, get to KNOW each person of color you meet as a unique individual. Our Assistant Director, Ms. Shavonda, was schooled in Germany and can speak fluent German. She is also Black. What would you ask her if you knew that? Asking questions leads to more questions and help you develop a full, authentic portrait.
- Think about the silent messages you are sending out. When I asked my Black Teachers what type of racism they experience the most, they all agreed that it was negative body language, like people keeping their distance when they see a Black person or not holding open a door to a restaurant like they would for a White person. Averting a gaze. Or worse, looking at them with scorn or fear. People of color are PEOPLE. Actions always speak louder than words.
When John was young, I wanted to make sure he saw women as smart, daring, and capable of everything a man could do. My favorite book I read to him was The Night Pirates. It’s about a boy who is whisked away at night by pirates who just happen to be girls. Now, I see how I can do more. I can choose to order lunch for team meetings from a Black-Owned restaurant. Never occurred to me until Kathy Burrell suggested it. I hope you have found a few things that you hadn’t thought about before, too. Putting them into action will help create a kinder, more peaceful world where, finally, the Black Lives Matter movement of marches and protests today will be the watershed that became our country’s cultural tipping point.
Sunrise Montessori Preschool has two locations in Round Rock. Interested in learning first hand what we can offer your child? Then book a tour on our website at Sunrise-Montessori.com or call us so you can discover why Sunrise Montessori Preschool is where YOUR family belongs!