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Break the monotony with summertime explorations of black culture

By Coshandra Dillard

Ah, summer. It’s a chance to break away from the mundane tasks of the school year. For some parents, it’s a breather from organized activities, meetings and waking at the crack of dawn to get kids on their way.
While it’s easy to enable them to play video games for the next three months, there are some things we can do to enrich their lives and continue their education during the summer.

Here are a few:

When adults are stressed, we don’t always realize that negative energy is passed on to children. They sense when there is tension, anger or anxiety. And in this time when political discourse and culture wars have everyone riled up, it’s especially important to check in with our kids. They get stressed too. They absorb what’s happening in their environment.  Lunch or dinner dates, movie nights, spa visits, fishing, free play, or just an engaging conversation are ways to help them relieve stress.

Learning doesn’t have to end in the summer, but it also doesn’t have to be the structured or conforming experience students have in school. Make it fun and unbound by strict rules. Encourage reading, but don’t force it.

I’m all about black everything. If there’s a black version of it, sign me up. That especially applies to teaching children about black history. As we know, American history books often erase or alter the experiences of black people. That’s where we have to fill in the blanks. Black kids need to know about their heritage and their family’s legacy. Don’t be afraid to tell them hard truths. If you’re open to traveling this summer, think about places where there is a black history lesson involved.

For example, Memphis is a fun city, but there are plenty of educational opportunities from the National Civil Rights Museum and Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum to the Pink Palace Museum and everything on Beale Street.

If you’re really into history and culture, visit Charleston, South Carolina for a lesson about the Gullah people. They are descendants of enslaved Africans who have for centuries retained the language and other traditions of their West African heritage. However, the culture is at risk of being erased, as some residents fight to keep their land.

Learning is also more than academics. During the school year we’re so focused on making sure children are earning good grades that we might forget about things they won’t learn there; for example, how to cook their own meals, how to do laundry, how to set a budget and save money, how to communicate effectively, or how to set goals and manage their time. By the way, life skills should be gender neutral. All boys and girls need to know the basics.

In a world that tells us blackness is ugly, criminal and doesn’t matter, we have to empower our children to reject that. Help them celebrate their blackness, their beauty and their ancestry. Make them understand that blackness isn’t monolithic. Ask questions —and then listen. Allow them to express themselves without judgment. We’re no longer in an era where children are deemed someone to “be seen and not heard.” Their personalities are developing, and it’s up to us adults to nurture and support them.

For a list of books to help empower black teens, visit here and here. Books for younger kids can be found here.

We get so comfortable in our corners of the world that we forget there are places and things outside of our zip code that can be explored and enjoyed. We tend to group with people who look, act, speak and think the way we do. But in a global society that is ever-changing, it’s important to get outside of that comfort zone — to open the mind and truly experience life. Children are no different. Expose them to culture, history, and new ideas, whether at a museum, by sharing oral family histories, attending a cultural festival in a larger city or attending a rodeo (Yes, black people have roots there, too).


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