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Securing Atlanta's Future Thought Leadership

Anti-Racism in Early Childhood Education

Blythe Keeler Robinson, President and CEO, Sheltering Arms

During the month of February, Sheltering Arms kicked off our Race & Equity initiative. The year 2020 was less than ideal with one tragedy after another. There was a racial reckoning, which moved the vast majority of decent Americans to protest against institutional racism in America. When it comes to diversity and equity, we, as a nation, have work to do; and our organization has begun the journey toward becoming an antiracist agency. 

Antiracism refers to a form of action against racial hatred, bias, systemic racism, and the oppression of marginalized groups. Antiracism is usually structured around conscious efforts and deliberate actions to provide equitable opportunities for all people on an individual and systemic level.

Last month, Sheltering Arms kicked off our 2021 thought leadership speaker series with addressing systemic racism in early learning environments. We welcomed Dr. Iheoma Iruka, Founding Director of Equity Action Research Coalition, FPG Child Development Institute, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, for a fireside chat. Her work focuses on family engagement and support, quality rating and improvement systems, and early care and education systems and programs. She works to ensure excellence for young diverse learners, especially Black children and their families, through the intersection of anti-bias and antiracist research, program, and policy.

Our virtual audience joined us with so many good questions that we are excited to bring the topic back for our next forum in April. Some of them included:

  • “How does white privilege manifest itself in early childhood education?”
  • “What are some of the best ways to support teachers, black families and families of color?”
  • “What are some of the most helpful ways that white allies can support their black colleagues?”
  • “Can something be done to combat or help to remediate problems of the disproportionate number of African American or black students being suspended or expelled?”

When asked about how we should teach children to hold and regard all races, Dr. Iruka responded: 

“We have to make sure the adults in the room have addressed their own biases. You have to be aware of why you are doing what you are doing.” She referenced a 2016 study about implicit bias in preschools where Yale researchers found that Pre-K teachers spent more time watching black boys, in anticipation of causing trouble. Click here to watch the video

She continued, “Children will tell you when are not being fair. They already have the message by age 3 or 4. They tell us what we are doing. It is not about teaching kids; it’s about showing kids. Think about your community. Who is the doctor? Who is the cook? Racial socializations are occurring.” She finished answering this question by saying, “Teachers can collaborate with families and communities to inoculate early childhood classrooms with images of black and brown people.”

This is so true. It is about exposing children – black children – to black people who are in roles that they do not always see. We can show them through books, videos and virtual appearances. There are things we all can do to support this message.

For information on how to join us for the continuation of this conversation, please visit www.embraceearly.com

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