Age-Appropriate Ways to Introduce Conversations about Race to Children

May 26, 2021 9:00:00 AM / by Rev. Carla Wilson

2020 was a year of reckoning that led many of us who are white to heed what people of color have been saying for many years: that racism is a persistent and deadly problem and that it will not be solved until white people learn, grow, and change. To that end, Sparkhouse has decided to run a series of blog posts throughout the late spring and early summer in which people of color write about racism and racial justice as they relate to ministry. We hope you will join us on this learning journey and contemplate what actions you, as a ministry leader, can take to further the cause of racial justice in your church and your community.

As caregivers and youth educators, we get to have quite a few powerful, formative conversations with children. Talking about race, racism, and how to be an anti-racist is one of the most vital series of dialogues we can have with young people today. It can also be one of the most uncomfortable to address. What if our views wildly contradict those of a child’s parents? At what point does the conversation wander too far into the realm of political? What if we say something offensive or harmful because we simply don’t know enough about the topic and we end up doing more harm than the help we were seeking to provide? Blessedly, some answers are thankfully accessible, and remain the same regardless of a young person’s age.

Setting the stage for healthy and helpful conversations around race goes a long way in facilitating fruitful exchanges later on. Practice regular exposure to multiple races and cultures in décor, books and curriculum, neighborhoods and other congregations you partner with, and hands-on activities (from purchasing multi-cultural crayon packs and puppets with varied skin tones to playing Christian music from a variety of genres and artists in your confirmation class). Empathy is a learned skill that can be greatly enhanced by intentionally cultivating a spirit of curiosity and adventure in unfamiliar spaces. Celebrate diversity and normalize that, even if we are members of a majority, not everyone is like us.

A wonderful resource, and one that tends to go over well in congregations, is the Bible. (Yes, that’s a joke!) The diversity prioritized by the many animals in Noah’s Ark, Isaac being adopted into Laban’s family and marrying Leah and Rebekah who came from another culture, Joseph finding community among the Egyptians, the love between Naomi and Ruth, Esther’s peaceful conflict resolution, and the multi-cultural wise men are all excellent examples that point to God’s specific intention in creating a diverse world with an expansive view of those made in God’s image. Jesus gathering disciples from many tribes and sharing the gospel with both Jewish and non-Jewish people is a key indication of God’s desire for an inclusive church.

Supplemental resources abound, including many wonderful books from Beaming Books (for kids) and Broadleaf Books (for adults). Dr. Ibram X. Kendi has also curated a list of anti-racist books for kids, which is my personal favorite. Many materials that address bullying and using unequal power dynamics to oppress others are easily adaptable. When we start with uplifting the beauty in difference and God’s call for love of neighbor and an inclusive church, we can more easily pivot to specific daily experiences that guide young people to make their own well-informed decisions about what Jesus would do if a Black or brown person was being harmed or unfairly treated.

Topics: Children Ministry, race, justice

Rev. Carla Wilson

Written by Rev. Carla Wilson

Still a professional diversity trainer and cultural competency consultant, The Rev. Carla Christopher Wilson also serves as Assistant to the Bishop in Charge of Justice Ministries for Lower Susquehanna Synod of the ELCA. A former Poet Laureate of York, Pennsylvania and an adoring dog mom, Carla lives in Lancaster, PA with her family.


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