Children’s Social Justice Work: Homelessness

Last year we introduced a new focus for the very end of the church year in the elementary class: a service project. After exploring our UU tradition and other religions all year, we end with Acting on our Faith: Nature in April and Service in May.

The service project was proposed and voted upon at the Children’s Annual Meeting, and this year the kids chose to do a service project to help EGYHOP. This means we will be exploring the issue of homelessness this month, and taking actions to assist people experiencing homelessness.

At the congregation we will pack care packages that kids can deliver themselves, run a supply drive for items on EGYHOP’s wishlist, and hold a Bake Sale to raise $ that will all be donated to EGYHOP. You can follow along at home as well:

  1. Learn more about homelessness:

Some lovely recommendations of picture books about hunger, homelessness, and poverty here. There is also a good list of books about people without homes and animals without homes at The Institute for Humane Education.

2. Talk about how you can respond to homelessness as a family. The issue of how to respond to panhandlers is especially acute for children … it presents an immediate dilemma and opportunity to practice compassion and yet they see so many adults look the other way. You may have good reasons to choose not to give money to panhandlers, but talk to your kids about why you’ve chosen that action.

3. Get Involved in the effort to aid people experiencing homelessness and reduce the number of people who become homeless. Locally there are many ways to get involved:

SideWalk

Tiny House Justice

Interfaith Works Emergency Shelter

and of course, EGYHOP

There are many additional options if you want to tackle poverty or hunger or medical care … all related issues for people experiencing homelessness

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Happy Pride Month

 

 

June is Pride Month, and all around the world there are Pride Parades and celebrations. And, after the shooting in Orlando, it’s even more important for our children and youth to have positive stories lifted up. Celebrate Pride Month with these resources:

My List of Pride Month Picture Books

Advocate’s list of 21 LGBT books every kid should read

Advice from True Colors in the wake of Orlando

Picture Books for Pride Month

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Uncle Bobby’s Wedding by Sarah S. Brannen.  This book is more about the jealousy and anxiety a child has when a favorite uncle is going to get married, and the fact that the uncle is marrying another man (male guinea pig actually, since all the characters are shown as guinea pigs) is simply presented without comment or controversy.

Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress by Christine Baldacchino and Isabelle Malenfant.  A kindergarten age boy likes to wear a tangerine dress.  After being teased and excluded by the other children, he feels bad, but then he makes a painting of his dreams that gives him the courage to return to school, and in the process win over some of the other kids.

Not Every Princess by Jeffrey and Lisa Bone and Valeria Docampo. A simple rhyming depiction of boys and girls engaged in activities that don’t conform exactly to gender stereotypes.

A Tale of Two Daddies by Vanita Oelschlager, Kristin Blackwood, and Mike Blanc.  A little girl is asked about her two daddies, and who does what.  Which dad braids your hair?  Which dad builds a treehouse?

Asha’s Mums by Rosamund Elwin, Michele Paulse, and Dawn Lee.  This book is especially lovely because it shows a family of color with two mothers, and it was the only book I found to depict non-Caucasian gays or lesbians.  It’s important for the kids to not absorb the message that only white people are gay, and that message and idea is out there in our society.  In this book, a young girl’s teacher won’t accept her field trip form because it is signed by two moms, until her mums come to school to talk to her teacher and everything works out in the end.

Heather Has Two Mommies by Leslea Newman and Laura Cornell.  A new edition of the classic groundbreaking book, and a simple story of a girl’s first day at school explaining to her new classmates that she has two mommies and no daddy.

Mom and Mum are Getting Married! by Ken Setterington and Alice Priestley.  Another lovely story about a young girl finding a way to be part of her mom and mum’s wedding, with the fact that this is a wedding of two women being presented factually with no extra emphasis.

Jacob’s New Dress by Sarah and Ian Hoffman and Chris Case.  Very similar to Morris Micklewhite, this is another story of a boy who likes to wear dresses but gets told by other children that boys don’t wear dresses.  In this tale, Jacob’s mother helps him sew a dress and his father says “it’s not what I would wear but you look great”.  He wears his new dress to school and ignores the teasing of other boys.

One Dad, Two Dads, Brown Dad, Blue Dads by Johnny Valentine and Melody Sarecky.  An effort to show that a diversity of types of dads exist and all are great, but I think the “blue dads” (and then there are green dads too) is a bit weird and too silly.

And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson, Peter Parnell, and Henry Cole.  A sweet picture book based on the real story of two male penguins who reared an egg together in a zoo, this book is frequently featured on banned book lists.

In Our Mothers’ House by Patricia Polacco.  In classic Polacco style, this is a story brimming with appreciation for family and the coming together of generations.  This family, however, is a lesbian couple and their three internationally adopted children.  A lovely book about family and the places that will always be home.

This Day in June by Gayle Pitman and Kristyna Litten.  A vibrantly illustrated rhyming story about a Gay Pride Parade.

 

In Response to the Police Shooting in Town This Week

I am deeply saddened by the shooting of two unarmed black men that occurred in our town this week, and even more so by the fact that in the larger context the question is “how can this happen again?”  I gathered with community members at Temple Beth Hatfiloh yesterday evening, and was moved by the many citizens who came forward to speak and express their feelings, their sadness, their frustration, their fear.

If this was an isolated incident, it would still be a tragedy.  We would still want to talk to our children about what happened, and my heart would still go out to all involved.

But this is not an isolated incident.  This fits within a pattern of systemic unfairness and racial bias that we have been talking about and seeing all around the country this year.  It is not a new problem, by any means, but is a new face to the old problem of racism and discrimination in this country.

At yesterday’s forum at TBH a 6th grader stood to say she wished for a better world.  A teenage boy spoke about seeing his mother cry as she held his hand and watched the news coverage on this latest shooting, and the moral example she set for him.  College students spoke of their understandings of privilege and systemic racism, and their fears that nothing would change.

As Unitarian Universalists, we often quote Theodore Parker about the moral arc of the universe being long, but it bends toward justice.  It’s a lovely thought, as it can be so discouraging to look at the long arc of history and see that the just world and the beloved community we dream of is still so far away from the reality we live in.  But the only way that arc will bend is if we make it bend.  We must be justice-makers, and we must also raise the next generation of justice-makers if the world will change.

You may be wondering how to talk to your kids about racism, violence, and the Black Lives Matter protests.  Here are some tips to get you started:

1.  Don’t ignore it.  You may think your children are too young, or are sheltered from it all and you don’t want to expose them to it “yet”.  But there are three main reasons I encourage you to talk even to your preschoolers: 1) it’s unlikely they really won’t hear or see something, and it’s better it comes from you than from another child on the playground; 2) there are families of color that have no choice but to talk about racism with their children and if those mothers must talk to their children, then those with the choice should join them in solidarity; 3) in education we talk about the “null curriculum” and that is what the students learn from what we don’t talk about or what is absent, and what do you think your children learn when you avoid a topic?

2) Don’t be colorblind about it.  Yes, it is fair to call this a tragedy, and to speak about “wishing the best for everyone involved”, and it’s true that All Lives Matter.  But there is a racial aspect that we must not ignore.  No one is really colorblind – our children see race and difference and understand it.  Be honest with your children about the reality of racism in this country.

3) Be honest about your own feelings.  If you are sad, mad, afraid, or confused it is fine to show that to your children.  As parents and adults in their lives we need to make them feel safe and secure and like they can rely on us to be the grown-ups in a situation, but we also need to show them that complicated feelings are normal and a grown-up can have complicated feelings and still moves forward anyway. This models for them how they can process their own complicated feelings and how they can be justice-makers without thinking they must first have all the answers or be perfect.

4) Be an “askable” parent.  It’s similar to how we talk about sex or drug use with our kids, in that all difficult or sensitive conversations are not only an opportunity to talk about that subject, but are also part of the ongoing relationship you have with your children.  Each time you are open to their questions or concerns, they are more likely to bring future questions or concerns to you.  If you are asked a question, it’s good to ask “what have you already heard/already know”?  “What do you want to know?” or even “Why are you asking?”  If you bring up the topic and the kids seem indifferent or uncomfortable, you can always leave it as “I’m here to talk more if you have any questions or you want to talk about it”.

5) Talk to your kids about how to interact with law enforcement.  Don’t make them overly afraid of the police, and of course emphasize that the police are there to help us when we have an emergency and that most police are good people who have chosen to serve.  But, be honest that sometimes interactions with the police can be tense and that we must all be careful how we act in those situations in order to stay safe.  This video has good tips for us all: Get Home Safely https://vimeo.com/116706870

Resources:

Lots of resources aimed at teachers here http://sfusd.libguides.com/blacklivesmatter

5 Tips for Talking to Kids About Racism from Parenting Magazine: http://www.parenting.com/article/5-tips-for-talking-about-racism-with-kids

Talking to Our Children about Racism and Diversity from Civilrights.org: http://www.civilrights.org/publications/reports/talking_to_our_children/

14 Children’s Books Exploring Race and Racism: http://humaneeducation.org/blog/2014/06/26/14-childrens-picture-books-exploring-race-racism/

Racial Justice Resources gathered by the UUA: http://www.uua.org/multiculturalism/new-jim-crow

A Few Awesome UU Women

In honor of International Women’s Day (March 8th), here are a few awesome Unitarian, Universalist, or Unitarian Universalist women you should tell your kids about:

1.  Susan B. Anthony (Unitarian and Quaker)

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2.  Elizabeth Cady Stanton

3.  Judith Sargent Murray

4.  Julia Ward Howe

5.  Lydia Maria Child

6.  Olympia Brown

7.  Margaret Fuller

These were all women who were born before women could vote in this country.  They were born in an era that did not respect women’s independence and intelligence, but they did not accept that as the way things had to be.  Many of the rights and opportunities that we enjoy now as women and girls owe much to the efforts of these women who came before us.

For a more kid-friendly version of this story, you could read this story from Tapestry of Faith to your children tomorrow.  And then you could also discuss some of these current women’s equality issues as well.

Happy Women’s Day!

Looking Back, Looking Forward – It’s Our Turn to Have a Dream

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So we have tomorrow off school and work, for a holiday in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.  What will you do with that day?  Catch up on chores or sleep?  Go see a movie?

What is the point of the day?  I believe the point is in this quote above by MLK – What are you doing for others?  King had a dream, and he made things better for all Americans (and beyond) as he worked for his dream.  But while the arc of the universe may be bending toward justice, we are not there yet, and there are more dreams to be dreamed and more work to be done.  We cannot sit back and congratulate ourselves on how it’s all better now.  There is work to be done.

It’s not much, but one day of service is a start.  My family will be planting trees tomorrow.  Check your local UnitedWay websites, to find a family-friendly service project of your own.

And as a family, talk about the legacy and the calling.  The past, and the future. Do you have members of your family who were engaged with civil rights during the 1960′s? Interview them and ask what they remember from those days. Think about what civil rights look like today.  Talk about human rights, economic justice, equal access, and beloved community.  Ask yourself what you have done to effect change. Talk as a family about what you could do in the future to effect change.

In these ways we can honor the legacy, and truly celebrate this holiday.

Blog Action Day

Oh dear, it’s Blog Action Day.  I had meant to write a lovely post about the theme this year – Human Rights – and how we address issues of human rights in the religious education program at our Unitarian Universalist congregation.  It was going to be an awesome post, in my head.

But now here I am, away from home at a conference, realizing that I should have worked on this before if I was going to accomplish that awesome post, and realizing I don’t have time now.  Argh.  I thought I might just blow the whole thing off, but I do want to post one thing.

 

The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee is awesome (their tagline is “advancing human rights is the work of many hands”).  They don’t just do good work around the world, they also do a great job of creating opportunities for the children and youth in local congregations to learn more about the issues and to connect at a local or larger level.  They do fun and easy projects like the Guest at Your Table box, which has become an annual tradition in my (and many other) UU congregation(s).  And they have the new UU College of Social Justice, which I really hope to be able to take a trip with sometime soon.  It looks amazing.

So check them out!

 

The Tree Protest

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This week I’m leading Chalice Camp for 7-10 year olds at my church, and it was also the week that work really got going on a new parking lot addition.  It involved trees coming down, and that was extremely upsetting to many of the kids in the camp.  They are UU kids: environmentalists who expect their voices to be heard.
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The most passionate formed a “tree protest club”, made protest signs and wanted to give speeches.  (Pictured are my children, since I know I have photo permission for those, but there were 8 kids in the club, out of 15 in the camp.)
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My co-teacher and I shelved the original plans for a bit, and we had a long discussion and then gave them the time to give us their speeches.
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It was emotional.  It was difficult.  I think it was the right thing to do.  Church community in action, again.

Declaring Our Independence

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For our summer Religious Education program, the kids in RE selected Create a Country.  Yes, they selected the summer program – this is part of the Children’s Annual Meeting here.  The author of this curriculum, or rather “simulation”, gives a barebones outline for how to do this with a group of middle schoolers.  I wanted to do it with an All Ages (but for practical purposes at our church in the summer that means preschool-6th grade) class, so I’ve adapted it a lot.

Today was the second class, and we wrote a “Declaration of Independence” at each service.  It was so much fun to hear what the kids thought was wrong with the country as it is!

First Service:

We, the children of the UU church, do not want to live in the United States anymore.  These are our least favorite things about the U.S.:

1.  Parents Make Us Eat Vegetables

2.  Unfair Jail Rules and Too Many People in Jail

3. Capital Punishment and Executing People

4.  Racism

5.  Obama Didn’t Answer my Letter and All I got was a Form Reply

6.  Government Doesn’t care About Us Kids

7.  Not Enough Polka Dot Walls

8.  We Don’t Want to Be at War Anymore

And that is why we are declaring independence.

 

Second Service:

We, the people of the UU church, declare that we aren’t active enough and need to be more active.  We sit too much and eat too many hot dogs, and that is not right.  And we pledge to peace and community.  We need to share food, and put less sugar in our food.  We pledge to be less spoiled.  And we want more polka dot walls and pokemon and Hello Kitty.  Small crimes do not deserve the punishment of prison.  We must not have racism because it is a horrible thing that discriminates against equal rights.  Discrimination based on religion is horrible and we should not do it.  Gay and Lesbian people should be equal to straight people.  Lastly, nothing is worth killing and the death penalty should be erased.

 

There was debate on different points, and a few times it was settled by majority vote.  We had volunteers read our Declarations for a video which will be shown in a worship service at the end of the summer, when the new “countries” we create will be the topic of the service.  I’m really enjoying this program so far!

 

Pride Prep

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Last Sunday our high school youth had fun painting posters and Tshirts for the Pride Parade coming up in our town.  One of our younger tag-alongs added some fun to the proceedings by opening up a “tattoo parlor” and giving everyone tattoos.

The Pride Parade is a fun highlight of the year for the youth.  Why do UU’s like to come out for these events?  I’ll tell you why our group likes it – it’s amazing fun and the kind of event where people “cheer for you for just showing up” (our Minister’s way of describing it).  We don’t do Pride because we hope it will help our church grow.  We don’t do Pride because this is the social action issue du jour.  We do Pride because we believe in it and because we love doing it.

And I think it’s the best kind of ministry for youth to do: it’s fun, it doesn’t take itself too seriously, it is all about Love, and it is all about Identity and Acceptance (issues that resonate so much with the youth I work with!).

Happy Pride Month to Everyone!