Making Black History Month Fun for Kids
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
They say it takes a village to raise a child, but maybe you just need a few Mocha Moms. We visit with them every week for their comments and some savvy parenting advice.
Today, we want to talk about Black History Month. Yes, it's coming again and soon, and that means a lot of parents and teachers. We tried to figure out how to talk about the contributions of African-Americans in a way that's fun, interesting, and relevant.
And if that stumps you, you are not alone. A listener to our program actually wrote in to ask for some advice on this. So we thought, want to just ask the moms. So, were going to do that. We're joined today by Jolene Ivey, Aisha Ortiz. And we're welcoming a new mom today, Cassandra Burrell.
Welcome, ladies, mom.
Ms. CASSANDRA BURRELL (Member, Mocha Moms, Inc.): Thank you.
Ms. AISHA ORTIZ (Member, Mocha Moms, Inc.): Thank you.
Ms. JOLENE IVEY (Co-founder and President, Mocha Moms, Inc.): Hey, Michel.
MARTIN: So, do you guys make an effort to celebrate Black History Month at home, Jolene?
Ms. IVEY: Well, we try to do it not Black History Month, but just all the time. We try to bring up things that we think our kids should know about. My dad is a history teacher - or was - for years and years. And I think I was just raised that way anyway. We do make a special effort at certain times, just like Martin Luther King's birthday, or we bring out this video of the "I Have a Dream" speech just so our kids can see it again.
But I think that it's important to not talk about the labor movement only on Labor Day or to talk about romance only on Valentine's Day. So, why should we only speak during Black History Month of the kind of things that black people have done for this country?
And it's good to focus on it for February to make sure it's not forgotten, you know? But…
MARTIN: What are some more resources available, it seems, at Black History Month? Cassandra, what about you? You home-school, am I right about that?
Ms. BURRELL: I do. I do. And actually, I feel the same way. We incorporate black history in everyday life. Last year, we chose to focus on our own family. And in doing that - our family is rich with history. My grandfather is one of the survivors of the Tuskegee experiment. My mother-in-law is one of the first African-American female police officers to hit the streets. Their great grandfathers are musicians, and so on. So, you know, our family is rich with history. So we decided to turn inward to make it more personable, I guess, if you will.
MARTIN: That's interesting. How old are your kids?
Ms. BURRELL: They are three, five, and six.
MARTIN: That's very interesting. Aisha, what about you? You also home-school?
Ms. ORTIZ: Yes. Pre-school age. Actually, I operate a daycare now. And so, yes, I agree with you totally, Jolene, about the point that it needs to be celebrated all the time. But it is good to have a reminder, like Valentine's Day. I don't really like it. But, you know, at least one day a year, you can stimulate me to really appreciate my spouse, I'll take it.
So there… (unintelligible).
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: I like Valentine's Day.
Ms. ORTIZ: I do.
MARTIN: Let us just not get anybody confused today.
Ms. ORTIZ: I know. That's right.
Ms. ORTIZ: Oh, yeah.
MARTIN: So you try to incorporate it all the time, but you use February as a focus.
Ms. ORTIZ: I do.
MARTIN: Kind of like the way we, in the news media, use it as a news peg.
Ms. ORTIZ: Exactly.
Ms. ORTIZ: It is a focus point. It is a remembrance of all the things we may have talked about, but it's time to give it true subject matter, if you will.
MARTIN: I like Cassandra's idea of sort of using the family as a focus for inquiry, kind of discovering the history within a family a the way - family members. But what if your family member is not that interested in talking about themselves? That's true. A lot of people, they find some of that stuff difficult and painful to dig into. So, what are some of the other things that you have found to be helpful in bringing this history alive? Aisha?
Ms. ORTIZ: Well, one thing for certain that I've done is - you know, the history is all around - you know, the stoplight. And with children, specifically, you have the most opportune moments to educate, to point out something, to remember something. And I know we had a talk once before with a -Christmastime and the black-and-white thing. And I realized, especially with the preschoolers, they do not see race. So, it's…
MARTIN: Is that a bad thing?
Ms. ORTIZ: No. It's so pure and innocent, and so equal. I love it. And I don't want to contaminate it. So, while you teach Black History Month, I have to be sure to be sensitive to that innocence. You want to tell the history. You want to give them exposure, but you don't want them to think that white people are bad. I also have to be very careful to not segregate their minds, if you will, and make them feel inclusive in America, but not to the point of excluding all of the heritage of America.
MARTIN: If you're just joining us, I'm Michel Martin. You're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. And we're talking about black history with the Mocha Moms: how to teach it, how not to teach it, maybe how to keep it fun.
Here's a question from a listener. Her name is Sharon Kelley(ph). She's with the newspapers and education department of Detroit Daily News in Troy, Ohio. She produces a weekly education page. She said her page is geared toward elementary school students, and wondered if you guys have any good ideas for resources or activities for young children. Anything you could pass along will be helpful, she says.
Ms. BURRELL: One of the things we do, particularly with my six-year-old, if he sees anything that's in black and white, like, sometimes we look at some of the old speeches and video, you know, that's old. That was such a long time ago, you know? He wants to know here and now, right now. So, one of the things we did was take a trip around the house and examine some of the every day things that we use. For instance, the golf tee was invented by an African-American. A lot of people don't know that. But again, to bring back the family thing, my husband is an avid golf fan, you know? He'll take boys out in the backyard, you know, do the whole golf thing or whatever. So, that's something that we use in every day life. Let's research it. Look it up - invented by an African-American man. So, just numerous things that we - around the house (unintelligible)…
MARTIN: So that's - Aisha pointed out the stoplight. I think the automated stoplight…
Ms. BURRELL: Right.
MARTIN: …was invented by - what - Garrett Morgan. But how…
Ms. BURRELL: But how will you know the name?
MARTIN: But how would you know it? That's the thing - how would you know? I just happen to know about the stoplight.
Ms. ORTIZ: Well, you can go to Google.
MARTIN: And, of course, everybody knows about peanut butter.
Ms. ORTIZ: Right.
Ms. BURRELL: Right.
Ms. ORTIZ: Google.
Ms. ORTIZ: You just go to Google and you can list African-American facts.
Ms. IVEY: And, of course, the current presidential contest…
Ms. ORTIZ: Right.
Ms. IVEY: …is giving us lots of opportunities to discuss black's place in history.
MARTIN: Jolene, talk more about that. You're saying that the current presidential campaign, you think, offers an opportunity. First of all, what age group are we talking about?
Ms. IVEY: Well, my kids range from 8 to 18. And the 18-year-old volunteered two days a week last summer to Barack Obama. And so, our whole family is really been focused on him. And, you know, anytime…
MARTIN: In supporting him in that activity.
Ms. IVEY: Anytime - and supporting him, absolutely. And anytime Barack Obama is on television to talk to - to make some kind of victory speech, whatever, we're all there gathered around discussing it. We talked about Jesse Jackson also, and his place in history when he ran. So, we don't just focus on Barack, but we definitely have used this as an opportunity to talk about, boy, this is really historic. Isn't this cool that this is happening? Whether he wins or loses, it's great for us that he's gotten this far.
MARTIN: Those of you with younger children, did they grasp this in any way? Kind of hard to know who the president is when you're, you know, three or four. And in fact, I asked - I had the opportunity to ask Michelle Obama last week how she was talking about this with her children who were 6 and 9. And she said, the nine-year-old totally understands; the 6-year-old just wants daddy home. I mean means(ph) that she is not feeling it. But that - Cassandra, what do you think? Do you think that this is useful for younger children?
Ms. BURRELL: I think so. I think - again, my children are younger - three, five, and six - and they're just naturally curious. So I grasp on that. So, you know, we'll look at the news together and they'll ask - I don't know if it's just my children, but they'll just naturally ask, and we'll go right into it, you know, on a level, of course, that they can understand. But I usually let them lead and I let them ask, and we'll address it from there.
MARTIN: What about the question of teaching other cultures as part of the narrative? Aisha, your husband is, I think, from Puerto Rico. And how do you incorporate that diversity? Or do you kind of wait for Hispanic Heritage Month and then do it that way? You know, it's kind of - you put everything at season as it were.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. ORTIZ: No. I mean, it is who my children are. You don't have to pick and choose. You are Puerto Rican and your mom is - you know, your dad is from Puerto Rico and your mom is from - I mean - from Africa. Well, I am.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. ORTIZ: But, you know, an African-American. The thing is that a lot of people don't realize, though, is that the Latino culture is actually quite segregated, just like a regular, you know, inland United States of America. So you have black Puerto Ricans and you have the more European-looking Puerto Ricans. And there is a bit of a separation. And so, depending on where you are in that scheme and, again, how you were brought up, you might have - as a matter of fact, I noticed a lot with our friends and his family and so forth that there is a bit, as they grow older or become adults, they - you can see this complexity. Who am I? Okay, yes, I speak Spanish, but look at me. You know, my husband always makes the joke, yes, you say I'm Puerto Rican and I'm not black. Well, tell that to the police.
MARTIN: Finally, Cassandra, I wanted to talk to you about the - and actually, all of the ladies - about how do you feel about sharing your culture? Because I'm sure there are folks who are listening who are not of the same ethnic background and who would love to have an opportunity to share. Do you have a problem with that? How do you feel about that, saying would you come to my class, or would you ask your uncle to come to my school because I don't have any relatives who have that history? How do you feel about that?
Ms. BURRELL: I think it's very important. I mean, it's our world. It's changing. Our community is changing. I think it's very important. I was just thinking that how do we get out and experience other cultures? I mean, I live in Southland(ph). So, you know, our community is pretty much universal, if you will. We travel. We go out into other peoples' world, you know? We'll make that trip to Virginia. Or when we go to New Jersey, we'll visit other neighborhoods. We'll try different foods, you know? We'll take the trip to the Museum of the Native American and sit down and - no, you're not having fries. You can have that every day. Let's try something else. So, I think it has to - you have to be willing to want to go into someone else's world to learn. You can't isolate yourself. And recognize that they may not come to you; you may have to go to them.
Ms. ORTIZ: Exactly.
MARTIN: You're right.
Ms. IVEY: I think it's important, too, to make it kind of a natural part of your life and not be like show and tell. Like, I would - I don't think I would like it for someone to say, Jolene, can you come and talk about what it's like to be a blank woman? Ah, something about that seems icky to me.
However, we have friends who were Jewish or whatever, who have invited us over for - for Seder. And we'll go with the whole family, and we get to experience what's going on in their lives. And in reverse, we invite them to our home for things so they get to see what we do. Like, for New Years Day, what, did you have black-eyed peas and collard greens? I'm not going to do the chitlins, okay? But we do do certain things that are ethnic, and that they can see what it's like in a natural way.
MARTIN: Jolene Ivey, Cassandra Burrell, and Aisha Ortiz. The Mocha Moms joined us from our studios here in Washington. You can find out more about the Mocha Moms at our Web site, as well as some of the resources we've talked about today, at npr.org/tellmemore.
Ladies, thanks so much for joining us.
Ms. IVEY: Thanks, Michel.
Ms. BURRELL: Thank you, Michel, for having us.
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