Wee Chalk the Walk
When faced with extreme injustice, how can we stand up and be a force for change in the world? By using our voices, bodies, and imaginations to ACT and RESIST.
On May 31, 2020 Wee The People, the Philly Children’s Movement, MassArt's Center for Art and Community Partnerships, and Books for Littles: Raising Luminaries came together for Wee Chalk the Walk, a Family Day of Action responding to the disproportionate impact of COVID19 on Black and Brown lives and the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd. Hundreds of families in 38 states and the U.K. participated with chalk art, neighborhood sit-ins, and toy protests staged with everything from Legos to American Girl dolls.
For health and safety, this Day of Action happened on our own blocks, with simple kid-friendly activities that sparked urgently needed conversations with kids about racial injustice and the choice we can make to speak out. To support these conversations all day long, Wee The People posted a Wee Chalk the Walk Spotify playlist -- each song paired with a children's book on the same theme -- on social media throughout the day.
THE SOUNDTRACK to the head and heart work: It's the Wee Chalk the Walk playlist. To support and inspire families on our day of action, we paired songs from the playlist with children's books that echo the song's themes.
These songs sing uncomfortable truths: If you really want to hear our views, You Haven't Done Nothin'. The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, so take a Moment to Reflect and confront that This Is America. And it has always been, starting with The Square We Call Congo.
This Is America by Childish Gambino, is labeled "Explicit" for one word (mother***)
Living In the City by Stevie Wonder, features dialogue at the end with a police officer using the N-word.
Black Man by Stevie Wonder, uses terms "Red man" and "Yellow man" to describe contributions to American history by Native and Asian Americans.
Artist: Amel Larrieux
Book: Freedom in Congo Square
Carole Boston Weatherford, Gregory Christie
Kids lie from time to time. When they've done something wrong -- and especially when they've hurt someone -- we often don't get the full story the first time. Or the second. That's the story of White America with Black people and slavery. This country has never told the truth about the plunder, violence and trauma at the hands of White people -- not just from a system of forced labor, but from an entire belief system based on the lie of White racial superiority . That's why we're here now. Question: What can we do today and after today to tell the truth about the harm done to Black people by White people in our country?
Ask your child what freedom means to them. They will typically talk about the freedom TO DO something. In a racist system, Whiteness automatically grants freedoms TO things and freedom FROM things: mistreatment, harassment, suspicion, brutality. A major injustice in our country is that White people and systems regularly deny Black people the freedom to MOVE FREELY. That's been true since White people put Black people in chains, forced them into a brutal, inhumane system slavery, and built the lie of racial categories and racial superiority. The inability to move freely was true in the time of Martin Luther King, when White people made it so dangerous for Black people to travel that they had to write a book with a list of safe places for them to travel. And it is STILL TRUE RIGHT NOW, as Black and Brown communities continue to be over-policed.
Song: Watching Me
Artist: Jill Scott
Book: Ruth and the Green Book
Calvin Alexander Ramsey
Song: Black Man
Artist: Stevie Wonder
Book: The Undefeated
Kwame Alexander and Kadir Nelson
The everyday language we use to talk about racism can perpetuate racism. From a young age, kids learn to understand racism as something that happened to someone "because they were Black." NO. Kids need to learn that there is nothing wrong with being Black. Racism happens because White people have made and keep making choices based on the lie that there is something wrong with being Black. White parents: Afirm with your kids that you don't believe that lie -- AND that as a White person, you likely grew up seeing and hearing it so much that you may act in ways that are racist, even though you don't mean to.
Artist: Janet Jackson and Michael Jackson
Book: Milo's Museum
No one actually screams in "Milo's Museum" -- our go-to book to talk to kids about racist systems and structures, which are much harder to see. But a Black girl named Milo absolutely does feel some powerful emotions after she goes to a museum and roams among galleries that tell her she does not belong.
The pain Black people in America feel has layers. Yes, we feel angry, sad, and fearful every time a Black person is hurt or killed. But there's an older, deeper pain, centuries long, that comes from the way White people have erased or lied about Black history over and over and over. If someone with a lot of power kept telling lies about you or your family, and the lies were everywhere all the time, you would want to scream, too!
How can we get really good at noticing when White people are telling other people's stories, instead of letting them tell their own story?
Book: Ona Judge Outwits the Washingtons: An Enslaved Woman Fights for Freedom
Gwendolyn Hooks and Simone Agoussoye
Toni Morrison once said of race, “Can’t you see? It’s all a distortion. It’s all made.” You couldn’t build a bunch of lamps or chairs, plant them in the ground, and convince a child that they grew naturally with a shape, size, or color. But that is what the lie of race would have us believe: that some people are White, some people are Black, and they sprang from nature with different intelligence, beauty, potential, worth.
The story of Ona Judge is a great way to start poking holes through the lie of racial superiority and inferiority. Ona, the child of a White father and Black mother, was enslaved by George and Martha Washington and made a desperate escape to New Hampshire for her freedom. The lightness of her skin in picture books does is hard to reconcile with her slave status. The confusion kids often express when seeing this makes perfect starting point.
Artist: Arrested Development
Book: Malcolm Little: The Boy Who Grew Up to Become Malcolm X
There is a problem with the fact that when kids first learn about Malcolm X, they're likely to hear him described as a militant who preached hate -- especially because there are any number of ways to easily debunk that misconception: Spike Lee's biopic, Malcolm's actual autobiography, songs like this one, and the children's book written by Malcolm's daughter, Ilyasah Shabazz.
Song: Gone 'Til November
Artist: Wyclef Jean
Book: How Mamas Love Their Babies
Almost as soon as my kids learned that drugs were bad and illegal, or that "women of the night" traded sex for money, they got super judge-y about drug dealers and sex workers. Why did that happen? Because our society told them to. This is when it's important to reframe anti-Black, anti-woman narratives around crime. The crushing weight of race- and gender-based oppression, and the racism and misogyny embedded in the legal system, make it inevitable that people will use their bodies or hurt their communities to survive -- and that they will then be criminalized for trying to survive. We can teach kids to question the systems that lead to deeply inequitable and harmful outcomes for so many.
Song: Rhythm Nation
Artist: Janet Jackson
Book: Let the Children March
Monica Clark-Robinson and Frank Morrison
You can count on a room full of wide eyes and open mouths when kids in our workshops learn that kids their age or just a little bit older packed local jails in one of the most dangerous cities for Black people during the Civil Rights Movement: Birmingham, Alabama. Here's what else they learn:
* The police don't always protect us. Sometimes, they can be deadly forces that Black people must be protected from
* The police can't jail everyone. There's not enough room. When enough of us make brave choices for justice, we can win.
Song: Ella's Song
Artist: Aaron Neville, Sweet Honey in the Rock
Book: Lift As You Climb: The Story of Ella Baker
Patricia Hruby Powell and R. Gregory Christie
A mass action is a point in time. It has a beginning and an end. For White families especially, that end HAS TO BE THE START of work that will continue for the rest of their lives, and their children's lives.
The annual, whitewashed treatment of Rosa Parks and MLK we know as "Black History Month" will not produce the next generation of anti-racists. But a true reckoning with White supremacy and Black resistance movements might. Find out about W.E.B. Du Bois, Thurgood Marshall, A. Philip Randolph, Diane Nash, Stokely Carmichael, and Bob Moses. You can start by teaching your kids about the legend who nurtured, mentored, and walked with ALL of them: Ella Baker. A radical force for grassroots Black feminist activism, Ella Baker literally paved the way for the founders of Black Lives Matter.