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Kids Already Think About Race, so Include Them in the Conversation

Students at George P. Phenix School in Hampton, Virginia, discuss slavery and race relations with the school principal.

There are a few stories that you don’t set aside easily, that you play in your head again and again. Something jumps out from the story; sometimes it's a character, sometimes a tone or facial expression and sometimes simply the look in a person’s eyes.

Before working on this story, I had no idea that 9- and 10-year-old children think so deeply about race relations, or that they absorb so much of the political discourse that surrounds them in media and elsewhere.

It was a great learning experience, but a troubling one.

Young Students React to History of Slavery in America
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The question that has bothered me since I did this story is: Who is going to provide answers to the difficult questions these kids are living with? Who will guide them as they try to make sense of the world around them, especially at time when race-related rhetoric and violence is on the rise and children have access to information as never before, sometimes in very raw forms?

I have an uneasy feeling that we are leaving a great many kids in the dark. They are wrestling with these issues and trying to find meaning in them without having the knowledge, experience or sounding boards to do so.

The more bothersome part is that adults are largely unaware that light needs to be shed on these matters. Most of the time, school curricula don’t even come close to preparing kids for what is happening in their world.

As a side note - this assignment came to me out of the blue. I had returned from a reporting trip the night before and, as I was unpacking my gear, I was asked to drive the next morning around 370 km to Hampton, Virginia for the story. I am glad I said yes. It was an experience that I will remember for a long time to come.