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Talking To Your Kids About Important Facts And Figures In Black History 

With it now being Black History Month, my husband and I found this to be a great opportunity for us to introduce a much more candid and honest approach to teaching our kids about not only Martin Luther King, but also the many other important figures in Black History.
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Actual conversation with my 6 year old last month:

L: Mommy, don't forget I don't have school on Monday because it's Martin Luther King Day
Me: I know. Do you know who Martin Luther King is and what he did?
L: He pronounced to the whole world that we should be equal. We shouldn't do things separately. It's too hard and it's not fair.
Dad: Do you know what he meant by equal? What kind of people was he referring to?
L: Everyone. Like tall people, short people...we should all be able to drink from the same water fountain.

{Insert blank stare here}

While, yes, I agree that tall and short people should be entitled to drink from the same fountain, I realized then that there was a major element missing here from my daughters understanding of the Civil Rights Movement.

I totally understand where this all came from, as I've been guilty of treading very lightly when it comes to issues of race and black history in general. To be honest, this is largely just a result of fear. Fear that her learning about the harshness of slavery and racism in this country would put her in a state of anger of and misguided hatred that would take her years to get out of.

Actually, that was my story.

My family, having immigrated from West Africa, had a completely different historical reference than I did as a first generation American. Racism in a country where black people are the overwhelming majority looks very different than it does here in America. My parents never really talked to me about magnitude of slavery or the horrific history of African Americans in this country. My schools sugar-coated this information just as much, and I ended up learning about all of this through my own self-guided methods of discovery - in the books, in the movies and yes, in the streets. With no one to really talk through this all with, I could feel no other emotion but anger. An anger that, as a parent, I would just hate for any young African American child to experience. Thus, I myself have become a little "sugar coaty" in my approach.

With it now being Black History Month, my husband and I found this to be a great opportunity for us to introduce a much more candid and honest approach to teaching our kids about not only Martin Luther King, but also the many other important figures in Black History.

Here are some tips I can share with you all based on my experience of talking to a young child about Black History.

Bring in reinforcements
As you start this conversation, your children will likely have A TON of questions...some of which, let's be honest, you probably won't know the answers to either. There are a host of children's books about black history to help you present it in a way that's honest, but not too overwhelming for children. These are also a great cheat sheet for adults, since many of us could use a quick reference on some of the details. Check your local library or go online for some African American History books that specifically target children.

Start the conversation by highlighting the progress African Americans have made today
We have had a black president for the past 8 years, y'all! Even when I was a child, that seemed like the most impossible feat in the world and here our kids can't imagine it any other way. "African Americans have made huge strides in so many areas," you say, "But our ancestors fought really hard to get us this far..."

Be honest and candid about Black History and the Civil Rights Movement, while introducing them to some key historical figures involved.
This means delving a little deeper into the roots of the Civil Rights Movement and injustices that brought it about in the first place. Talk to them about other key figures such as Malcolm X, Marcus Garvey, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Dubois, Rosa Parks, etc. Their ages will determine just how much detail to go into when it comes to this subject, but they should be familiar with the names.

Remind them that black people were not the only people involved in the Civil Rights Movement.
You may not know all of their names , besides figures like JFK possibly, but be sure to mention that there were actually non-black people who also supported the movement.

Last, but not least...share some more fun facts about important African Americans in history

Here are some fun ones to get you going:

  • One in four cowboys was Black
  • The first licensed African American Female pilot was named Bessie Coleman, and she was from Atlanta, TEXAS not GEORGIA. (Sure, my girls were more fascinated by the idea that there's an Atlanta in Texas, but at least they won't forget part of this conversation)
  • Some of the things we enjoy most were invented by African Americans, including the clock (Benjamin Banneker) and potato chips (George Crum)

What are some ways you talk to your kids about these important facts and figures in Black History?