Supporting a Child Who Wants to Become Woke: Engage!

The term “stay woke” was originally coined by musician Erykah Badu in her 2008 song Master Teacher. In the song, Badu sings, “Baby sleepy time, to put her down and I’ll be standin’ round until sun down…I stay woke.” I was introduced to this song last March on an episode of the highly recommended podcast, Code Switch.

At the time, I was sitting on a bus riding through downtown Denver. My destination was a regional conference where I was scheduled to deliver a presentation titled: Facilitating a Developmentally Appropriate Conversation on Social Justice and Equity with Young Children. The presentation was built around my personal experiences growing up, talking with my daughter, Addi, and reflections from my twelve years as an early childhood educator. At the core of the conversation was how Addi and I work to be woke. This second of the three blog series outlines three lessons I have learned. We must Engage!

Recommendation one: Stay woke

Immediately following the conversation with my daughter on that fateful January day in 2017 I knew that it was only a beginning. I was aware of all of the movies, TV shows and books she loved and related to discrimination, prejudice, and identity, but I knew that if I wanted to go in the direction I had started in, I needed more…particularly more books that reflected Addi’s identity and the identities of people in her present life.

My search began on Facebook with a feed that I had followed for the past year titled NAEYC’s Diversity and Equity Education for Adults Interest Forum. The feed shares blogs and online materials that are wonderful resources for anyone interested in talking about social justice and equity with children. One of the resources they often share are books for all ages that make visible the identities of children and families who are typically not represented in children’s literature and programming…and often in society.

By the end of January, my collection of books related to the identities of people in Addi’s life had grown from five to twenty-five. Every night we were reading new books, and every night I was able to support my daughter’s interest in staying woke. At the same time, I was forced to talk about discrimination, prejudice, identity in ways that I was then, and continue to find, uncomfortable. Reading stories that speak directly to racism, classism, ableism, sexism and other forms of oppression is a big step from reading the books I had previously considered to be anti-injustice such as some by Dr. Seuss (very controversial) and Eric Carle. The discomfort forced ME to work harder to stay woke. I turned to podcasts, books, movies, Facebook, Youtube, Ted Talks, professional organizations, everywhere (click here for a brief resource list). I felt the need to hear the experiences of people with identities unlike mine. For example, how did my adult students who were refugees and immigrants experience their transition into the United States?

Recommendation two: Don’t let children fall asleep

I knew from my research that we could talk about (in)justice and (in)equity as much as we want, but until we leave our comfort zone and build relationships with people who have different group, culture and self-identities from us, growth would not materialize. My family and I live in a predominately white, middle-class, well-established suburb of Denver. That is our normal. The majority of people around us share many of my identities (not so much my wife, Olenna), particularly group and cultural identities. The local parks, my daughter’s school, and neighborhood walks offer some opportunities for stepping outside the comfort zone my daughter is psychologically constructing, but not many. Fortunately, a fifteen-minute drive will take us to Denver, where we can participate in experiences and build relationships with people who have different group, culture and self-identities.

Moving forward, thanks to Daniel Tiger, my daughter knows that building relationships with people who are different is easier when we can openly share similarities. For that reason, she chooses our destinations (with input from her younger sister Lena). Before we arrive, we talk about what we’re going to do at the location and how we might build relationships; nothing more, nothing less. Additionally, I do not initiate conversations about social (in)justice and (in)equity. I wait for her to ask questions or make comments that open the door for teachable moments. The experiences are all about her constructions of (in)justice and (in)equity.

My daughter’s favorite destinations are the two specific recreation centers, three of the museums, two indoor gymnastic sites and two parks. Other great locations for experiences are the library, amusement/water parks, sports, meet-up groups, places of worship and festivals/public events. The goals are to build relationships. My daughter has opportunities to participate in these activities with populations of children and families who are “different, but in so many ways are the same.”

Recommendation three: Stay woke every waking minute

This complex social world we live in with children is not static. Your knowledge is not absolute. No matter what the position is, children are in the process of constructing their understanding of same and different, good and bad, normal and abnormal. I believe that individuals who work with children enjoy playing a role in advancing their path toward being successful contributors to their communities; however, that looks. In part three of this blog I will present my thoughts on bridging the path at home to the path at school with the intent to envelop a child in a consistent message of social justice and equity. I build on the traditional definition of inclusion in early childhood care and education.

Call to action!

We cannot listen once and speak up once! We must continuously engage! As Erykah Badu sings, “Baby sleepy time, to put her down and I’ll be standin’ round until sun down…I stay woke,” to me meaning that even though children are not in the trenches fighting for justice and equity they are still listening, at-risk of falling asleep. We are in the trenches, fighting for them and their future and that fight should include a mission to help them co-construct a just and equitable world because #OurKidsAreListening.

Click here to read part one by Dr. Goff

Click here to read part three by Dr. Goff

Originally published at