Talking to Our Children and Youth about Racism and Violence

Our website promotes Sunday school as “Sunday morning is a time made special and unique from the rest of the week for children and youth to grow in Unitarian Universalism. Adult volunteers work to create communities where everyone can deepen their sense of being at home with the universe; where they can think about their own experiences and explore what meaning other stories have for them; and where they can practice compassion among themselves and become better able to carry their values to the wider world.”

I’ve been wondering how we can compassionately make Sunday school explicitly a place where children can talk about scary things and sad things and real things. As I write this, last week we adults were responding to the recent killings in Baton Rouge, LA; Falcon Heights, MN; and Dallas TX.  With the help of my DRE colleagues on line, I hastily created a multigenerational Ritual of Remembrance and Renewal  and offered it as a choice for families after Sunday school. And I encouraged families who didn’t attend to use it at home.

I’ve been wondering how Albany UU families have been talking about race and violence at home.

I’ve been wondering how we can bridge the conversations between home and Sunday school.

Of course, we adults, – parents and RE volunteer guides, leaders in the congregation and I need to be aware of the developmental stages in children so we can respond to them appropriately. Talking to Our Children About Racism & Diversity from the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund gives specifics like

  • Children ask questions as soon as they can talk. Even toddlers wonder about similarities and differences between people. Simple answers delivered without upset, shock, or anger will provide them with the information they need.
  • Five-to eight-year-olds begin to place value judgements on similarities and differences. They are also exposed to a wider range of people and ideas and experience more bigotry.
  • Adolescents and pre-teens may ask some of the same questions as younger children, but their ever evolving minds and their broadening experiences allow them to understand more complex answers.

A challenge for those of us who are white is acknowledging that innocence is a privilege for white kids: black children are not allowed to be innocent in America

Sachi Feris writes in her blog Raising Race Conscious Children:  “The breaking of innocence should not only be black parents’ responsibility. It should be the responsibility of white parents as well.” You’ll find lots of valuable links for parents in Telling My White Four-Year-Old About Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. I recommend that you subscribe to this blog.

I know parents of young children don’t share every shooting with their young children. And I know some parents are struggling about where to start a conversation about race. So to give our children opportunities to think about their own experiences and explore what meaning other stories have for them; and to practice compassion among themselves and become better able to carry their values to the wider world, let’s open a conversation among us adults. Please share your thoughts here about bridging home life and RE and discussions about race and violence.

As I write this I’m about to head out to Star Island for Lifespan Religious Education Week, where I’ll be leading a training for DREs on RE teacher development. And as part of that I’m inviting a conversation about talking about race and violence in Sunday school. So I hope the training will be a learning experience for me too. And my own reading for the week is Toward the “Other America” – Anti-racist Resources for White People Taking Action for Black Lives Matter.   Four hundred years of colonization and slavery left us the political ideology of white supremacy. Let’s make this journey of reflection, commitment and action together as a religious community to form our response to the legacy of that atrocity.

In  faithful service,


About Leah

Leah and her husband, Kevin Purcell, live in Albany. They have two grown daughters that were raised at Albany UU. Leah has served as DRE at Albany UU since 2007; before that she worked in both private and public schools. She served as Chair of the Seaway Chapter of the Liberal Religious Educators Association (LREDA) and now serves on the LREDA Board.

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