Salon Sisters: How to talk to kids about race

Nearly a dozen Muncie friends gathered in my living room to discuss how to talk to kids about race. Downstairs, our children read diverse books and colored pages that reflect everyone in our community, our world. Molly Ferguson, assistant professor of English at Ball State, facilitated the conversation based on materials she acquired from her sister, a psychotherapist and diversity advocate.

 

Molly left us with the below conversation guide based on age, as well as the following articles and resources that address this issue:

I hope you find these article and the below tips/book suggestions helpful as you navigate discussions about race and culture with the little people in your life.

Conversation guide by age:

Infants to 2 years: Talk about physical differences, including race and gender, and the importance of accepting everyone. Name and appreciate differences together.

“Global Babies” – Global Fund for Children

“More, More, More” – Vera Williams

“My Nose, Your Nose” – Melanie Walsh

2-4 years: Invite your child to notice various physical traits. Children arealready making these observations; talking about them gives children permission and language to voice them. In psychological research studies, books portraying positive interactions across racial difference have been shown to reduce prejudice.

“Shades of People” – Sheila Rotner Sheila Kelly

“The Colors of Us” – Karen Katz

“A Rainbow of Friends” – P.K. Hallinan

“Say Hello” – Rachel Isadora

“The Skin You Live In” –  Michael Tyler and David Lee Csicsko

“Puffy: People Whose Hair Defies Gravity” – Aya De Leon

4-8 years: Talk about prejudice of all forms, maintaining an open forum for kids to report and discuss instances of prejudice. When presented by a relaxed and practiced adult in the context of a broader, ongoing conversation, these types of stories can invite provocative conversations, memorable learning, and the development of empathy.

“Chocolate Me” – Taye Diggs

“Skin Again” – Bell Hooks

“Amazing Grace” – Mary Hoffman

“Mr. Lincoln’s Way” – Patricia Polacco

“The Ugly Vegetables” – Grace Lin

“Ron’s Big Mission” –  Rose Blue and Corinne Naden

A series about historical figures, including “I Am Rosa Parks” and “I Am Jackie Robinson,” etc. – Brad Meltzer

“Let’s Talk About Race” – Julius Lester

Age recommendations based on the average child’s developmental readiness. Children who are introduced to the concept of race in the early years in an age appropriate fashion may be ready sooner for stories which introduce the concept of racism (with the focus being eliciting children’s thoughts and feelings and on developing their critical thinking skills).

 

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Charley “GoFundMe” Isaacs: Boy genius, comic artist, and wee entrepreneur with classic big-brother-tude

Each month, I give a friend $20. The catch: They cannot spend it on themselves. This month, I gave Wilson Isaacs $20, and he (reluctantly) donated it to his older brother Charley’s trip to Japan.

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“For Japanese ice cream and candy, of course,” fourth-grader Charley Isaacs responded as to why his parents should shell out $2,000 for him to go to Japan. After talking to their son about Mount Fuji, the Meiji Shine, and a few other iconic sites he might see between bites of Mochi (sticky rice with ice cream filling), Becky and Mitch agreed to let their son travel to the Land of the Rising Sun “IF AND ONLY IF” the sweet-toothed kiddo pays his way.

So, the inventive 10-year-old created a GoFundMe page, which rewards beneficiaries with hand-drawn pictures of their favorite superhero. In three months, more than 35 people (including this mama) have contributed a total of $1,535 toward his goal of $2,450, which includes spending money for entrance fees and all those confections.

At $50, “Uncle Jeff” was Charley’s first donor among a string of $1 to $100 gifts posted with well wishes and requests for drawings of Batman, Spiderman, and Raven, “but not the Teen Titan Go Version, the DC one,” to name a few.

RTV6 got wind of Charley’s “super” fundraising efforts and, on National Superhero Day (April 28), aired a story about the Burris Laboratory School student’s creative enterprise, which he has supplemented with selling Pokémon cards at a garage sales, taking on extra chores, and mowing a few lawns.

Since the $20 interview concept is that I give money to someone who can’t spend it on themselves, Charley’s younger brother, Wilson, (reluctantly) agreed to accept my $20 only to pass it on to his older brother (oh, the hardship of being a younger).

Charley then answered a few questions:

Q: So, you’re headed to Japan. Tell me about the opportunity.

A: My school does a cool thing where the fourth and fifth graders can go to Japan in October. I think about 9 boys and 10 girls are going. I’ll be paired with another boy from Burris, and we’ll stay with a Japanese family and then go to school there for a whole week.

I’m raising ALL the money myself to go on the trip, about $2,000, by doing lots of things. I made a video about it.

Q: How did you come up with the idea to thank donors with superhero drawings?

A: I like drawing. I love superheroes. I search Safari to get a reference, then I go from there.

Q: What are you most excited about?

A: Trying out the candy in Japan and the ice cream. I’ll celebrate my 11th birthday while I am there, so that will be cool.

Q: Why did you decide to go?

A: I thought it would be fun.

Q: Why is studying abroad important?

A: What is study abroad?

[MOM: When you live and learn in another country.]

Oh, to learn how other people do stuff and try new things, and do different things. Thumbs up emoji.

Q: Your brother gave you the $20. What do you want to say to him?

A: Thank you Wilson.

Q: What is your favorite thing about him (Wilson)?

A: This is a hard one. I don’t like my brother too much. Just kidding, mom. [LONG PAUSE]. What did you say the question was?

Q: What is your favorite thing about him (Wilson)?

A: I don’t know. Wilson is whispering things I should say. [MOM: Charley, what do you like about your brother?]. I don’t know. [WILSON: His favorite thing to do is fight with me.].

That last interaction was worth at least $20.

I wish Charley great adventures in Japan. And as he continues to draw his heart out to raise the remaining funds, I hope he pauses to look in the mirror—to see the mighty presence before him. Because, Charley is a superhero, with many more years ahead of him to live out the qualities we admire most in these fictional characters: Integrity, focus, and a desire to help others/do what is right; to see and be the good in the world, to be resourceful, and to take a stand as well as chances.

I look forward to continuing to watch Charley learn and grow into a man who does great and small things to make the world a better place.

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The Batman Charley drew for me as a thank you for donating to his trip. Isn’t it amazing?!

Our Next Chapter: Three creative exercises to help students find purpose

See my feet? They are dirty from playing outside with my kids. The sparkly, chipping nail polish (applied by my 5-year-old) reflects my beautifully rich and imperfect life. These feet have carried me so far, and it is with them I will step into my next chapter, titled “FEARLESS.”

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If we are to author our own story, write our own song, what is the title or first line of your next chapter or verse? I asked my students this question and challenged them to take a picture of something and include a word that describes their next chapter.

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I start and end each of my classes with personal reflection. Being an effective, respected professional starts with being a good human, and we don’t talk in class nearly enough about authenticity, love, and honesty nearly enough.

Personal Mission

My students study missions, but many of them don’t have one. At their age, I didn’t either. I wish someone would have challenged my college self to pause to write a few easy-to-remember, not-set-in-stone, aspirational sentences to guide my life and work. Here’s a sampling of my students’ mission statements that many of them have posted on bathroom mirrors and computer monitors as a daily reminder.

If you’re needing direction, I encourage you to read “What’s My Superpower,” which walks you through generating a mission.

A student leader dedicated to learning new and valuable skills through the exploration of emerging channels. A listener, a learner, a leader.

I strive to achieve happiness and success in my own like and inspire those around me with my positive, compassionate, and honest nature.

My mission is to apply my gifts of intelligence, optimism, and humor to those around me and to any opportunity to advance society. I want to support a world that depends on and trusts the knowledge and the personal growth of its citizens. I want to live and work to take care of our Earth and encourage others to learn, innovate, and achieve with me.

I want to lead, motivate, and inspire people through my personal actions and the work I create. I want to bring people closer to each other and to products/causes that positively influence lives. I want to always explore, discover, and connect with others.

The Color of Your Summer

I end class with a reflection paper about instruction and assignments, but I always add a personal reflection to circle back to how we kicked off the semester (creating personal missions).

This semester, I asked:

List three learning goals for the summer (so, anything – academic or otherwise – that involves you exploring, seeking, or becoming).

What am you going to cut out to achieve your goals?

What color will your summer be and why?

Write a brief letter to your future self that includes some personal and professional goals (what do you want your life to look like/what do you want to be doing?)

I’m sharing a few of the summer color responses. Most of my students are writers, and I want them to never lose sight of the importance and influence of writing and creating with all our senses in mind. Yellow, green and blue were the most popular colors!

My summer will be the color of a setting sun and the satisfaction that accompanies it following a long day. A soft gold that encompasses a feeling of completeness that does not necessarily directly correlate to hard or strenuous work, but rather the content glow of someone who has done what they needed to do that day and will do it again tomorrow. This summer is going to be exhausting. I will be working 10 hour days, six day weeks in Iowa, selling satellite door-to-door. But I am committed to doing some soul-seeking so that I may have a more concrete idea of where I am heading. If, no when, I achieve this, I hope the golden glow of a beautiful sunset is only be the beginning of describing how I will feel.

I want the color of my summer to be yellow. Yellow is the color of happiness, clarity and enlightenment. I may be working a lot, but I want to make my summer bright — full of happiness, fun and new experiences. With a positive, happy attitude, this can be my best summer yet.

My summer will be green, the color of growth and vigor. I want it to be filled with good-hearted fun and giving to others/helping friends see the best in themselves. I want to work on my website and learning as much as possible, as I strive to be the best professional and person I can be.

I’m hoping this summer will be light blue — peaceful, trustworthy and open. After this insanely transformative and hectic school year, I would like to spend some time getting to know myself again and getting comfortable with my life before the whirlwind of senior year.

Summer to me is always sky blue. My biggest fear has always been storms, so I hope for clear, inspiring skies all summer long.

I want my summer to be yellow. Filled with lots of sunshine and happiness. I am hopeful I will have a fun summer, get a job in Texas, find a nice apartment and make new friends and enjoy spending time with the few I already have down there. I want my summer to be bright and happy just like the color yellow. I am very hopeful for what this summer will bring for me; it’s an exciting time in my life.

I wish them all the colors of the rainbow!! They have certainly brightened and enriched my life.

Horrific Highlights: Even the beloved children’s magazine fails now and again

My, oh, my, Highlights, you’ve come a long way in your 71-years as the nation’s fun-with-purpose publication for kids. You delighted my childhood with riddles, puzzles, and short stories; but I came across this early craft series in a memory box, and now I know why I fear clowns.

I would not, could not, should not make any of the following “fun party foods.”

And these craft pictures will haunt my dreams.

As for themed craft sections, I would say the “paper bag” suggestions were the creepiest. The “horse costume” seems like it should be illegal in at least 25 countries.

Lastly, what is happening here?

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Sweet dreams …

 

In Concert with Humanity

Convinced artists will ‘save the world,’ Margaret Reeder supports arts education

We’re in my kitchen, and from across the table Margaret Reeder is singing a few bars from Édith Piaf’s “Mon dieu” (My God), a pleading hymn for more time with departed loves. Breeze from an open window carries her poetic vibrato, and the room swells with lyrical heartache. Piaf’s lover died in a plane crash on his way to see her perform, and Margaret’s chords so honestly echo the French singer’s pain, I feel empty but alive.

“… pour seulement, un … .” As the final line lingers, a scene change: I ask Margaret to share a few melodic chants. She introduced me to these meditative songs, and I remain captivated with their simplistic yet powerful nature. I snag a nearby envelope to scribble the hopeful lyrics:

“When I breathe in, I breathe in peace. When I breathe out, I breathe out love.”

“I will be gentle with myself, I will love myself. I’m a child of the universe, being born each moment.”

This private, momentary concert over coffee is nothing new. Margaret sings to me every time we meet. Scratch that, I ask Margaret to sing to me, and she graciously acquiesces. I’m in love, not so much with her flawless, dexterous vocals, but with the humanity that pores from each note. At times, Margaret says, singing is less of a performance and more of an offering, a commune with all that connects us.

I’m not sure whether she sings because she likes to or because she must—to quench the thirst of her spirit. I want to understand, so I ask for an interview.

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Margaret Reeder with her husband, Matt. The two met at Ball State (a few years ago 🙂

An impromptu interview

I offer Margaret $20 and invite her to share who or what she might support with it. She pauses to Rolodex the many causes she so passionately champions before settling on “arts education,” specifically the Ball State Department of Theatre and Dance. She graduated from the program in 1996, and the training has served her well during the past 20 years in arts administration.

But more importantly, Margaret says, the program welcomed her—then a “stocky, small-town Irish girl from La Porte, Illinois” (whose brother threatened her anytime she sang)—to experience a spectrum of personalities and life experiences. The arts evolve our collective human spirit, she says, by gifting us with perspective and understanding—however uncomfortable. They challenge us to wonder, to dream, and to reconnect—even for a few hours. Margaret is convinced our salvation lies with the people who dedicate themselves to telling our stories.

“We talk about ‘triple threats’—people who can sing, dance, and act—but I would add ‘humanity’ to that list. Ball State’s program and others produce “quadruple threats,” people who emerge as citizens of the world, eager to give us an arena to discuss, process, and find understanding,” says Margaret, a project manager and consultant at Tessitura Network. “I don’t find much inspiration in our world these days, but artists give me hope for a better world.”

A communion with ‘all that connects us’

Margaret makes a point to reiterate she is not talking narrowly about any specific genre or style. She sees value in the red dot on a blank canvas, the ballet that whisks you away to the land of sweets, the woven tapestry, and the lighthearted musical. It all stretches us.

“The arts are entertainment, and dammit, they should be. So, yes, go to a show and enjoy the crap out of it as you tap your toes,” she says. “But for me, the power of the arts comes through when you watch, for instance, a troupe from Belarus perform a play about their oppression, an act punishable by death. They are literally telling the story of and for their lives.

“When, increasingly, we live in a culture where we value corporations more than children and soundbites more than conversation, those few hours of communion with an audience or by yourself reflecting in an art gallery is vitally important.”

Experiencing art is certainly transformative, challenging us to step outside ourselves to consider other perspectives and cultures/lifestyles. But becoming a character, Margaret says, magnifies that reflection, wisdom, and cultural literacy.

“Ball State gave me the opportunity to play funny, to play sexy, and to play serious in many different settings,” she says. “And when you take on a character, you have to stop and think about what happened to him or her before they got here, how they—and you—fit into a larger story. It’s a process that teaches empathy and understanding.”

A legacy of support

Off stage, working with actors, technicians, and directors empowered her to confidently navigate relationships and problem solve on her feet. Studying and performing such a breadth of work also outfitted her with a profound understanding of culture and history—which comes in handy at dinner parties and in Trivial Pursuit.

“I see these talented, compassionate students emerging from Ball State’s program, and I am so proud to be part of this legacy,” Margaret says. “I felt prepared when I graduated, but I am overwhelmed by how far the department has come to equip these artists with life skills that will serve them no matter if they remain in theatre or take on another role. They make me so proud.”

Margaret met her husband, Matt, at Ball State. They were sophomores in a voice class. Matt began to sing, and Margaret was like, “yes, please.” The two lived in Chicago for years until Ball State called them back, eager to gain Matt’s expertise. The assistant professor now guides directing, teaches Shakespeare, and serves as an online specialist for his alma mater.

They have two kids, Graham and Charlotte; and, if your children are any reflection of your legacy, the Reeders will continue to add love and light to the world for years to come. Their kids are respectful, curious, and fiercely creative. Margaret is driven to expose them to the brain-stretching arts, even if there’s an f-word or two in the mix.

“We recently went to Once at Ball State, and a lady came over to me after the show and said, ‘Oh my, I’m sorry your kids had to hear that language.’ I was disappointed that is what she took away from this powerful play about loneliness and being true to yourself,” Margaret says. “The f-word is peppered throughout, but it’s authentic. Words like ‘registry’ are profanity to me right now. Let’s worry about the words that are truly harmful.”

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These days, we seem to cling to ignorance and find comfort in hate far more than we welcome new experiences and understanding. But I came away from talking with Margaret with a newfound hope. Her parents didn’t see her perform in Assassins or many other shows; ‘We’ll come if you’re dancing, but not if you’re singing,’ her mom would say. When Margaret declared theatre as a major, her parents said, “just make sure you can type.” So the fact that Margaret, who came from a town that whispered when “the homosexual” walked by, can transform into an empowering champion for all makes me think she is not the last.

 

Let’s Talk about Sex, Baby: February Salon to Address Sexual Health, Intimacy

Sixth grade was not my year. One-strap baggy overalls could neither hide my chub nor protect my self-esteem, and L.A. Gear light-up shoes lit the runway for my size 10 feet. So, I was less than enthused when my nurse mom informed me that she would be visiting my class to teach sex education. The story follows a sitcom cadence, climaxing with my enthusiastically empowering mom presenting us with penis puzzles and vagina Jeopardy to “make it fun.”

What can I say, it built character (and made me take the opposite approach—I had my first kiss at 18 and called my lady region “front butt” until college).

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So, when I told my dear momzie that I was hosting a ladies’ night about female sexual health, she seemed slightly more excited than when I graduated summa cum laude. Still a nurse who lobbies for all to know their bodies and how they work, Nurse Heine sent me the files from which she taught that class years ago (which are oh-so-awesome-‘80s-hilarious). She also made one request: “make sure everyone walks away knowing the correct terms” (so, apparently, I’m not the only front-bottomed girl). Here goes:

  • The external female genitalia is called the vulva (so, if you want to address the clitoris, labia and vagina together, vulva is the all-encompassing term).
  • Public hair covers the two outer folds, or labia, which cover and protect the vaginal opening.
  • Above the vaginal opening is the urethra, a very small opening that releases urine.
  • Also protected by the labia is a small, sensitive organ called the clitoris (which is only partially visible to the naked eye—it’s about four inches in length, so less of a “button” and more like an iceberg. Psychology Today features more interesting facts, including that the clitoris grows throughout a woman’s life and roughly 50-75 percent of women need clitoral stimulation to experience an orgasm).

It was a wonderful evening filled with lots of laughs and great discussion about our bodies and relationships. We also talked at length about how to empower our children to know and celebrate their bodies as well as engage in meaningful, healthy relationships. Is there such thing as too much information, and at what age do you tell them what, etc., etc.?

As the night closed, I felt like I had more questions than answers, not because I was confused, but because the discussion awakened curiosities and inspired me to educate myself a bit more. Do we ever have all the answers? I certainly don’t, and as frustrating as that feels at times, it makes life all the more rich and mysterious. I think all our discussions—with ourselves, our partners, and our children—should be a journey like any other. Most important of all is that we take the first (probably awkward) step, and then have the next (maybe slightly less bumbling) conversation and then the next, followed by the next, until these conversation become as common and comfortable as any other important topic we discuss with our children and our families.

If we wait until our kids have questions or are partners come to us with concerns, will it be too late? Maybe not, but maybe so. We must all do what’s right for us, for our relationships, and for our families. My (poor) darling kids will likely be made fun of for using the terms “vulva” and “scrotum” instead of “who-wallie” and “Pinocchio.” But hey, my job isn’t to make sure they’re popular, it’s to outfit them with the tools and understanding to (God willing) navigate a happy, healthy, and examined life. And thanks to my mom, I have handouts!!

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Strengthen those muscles, pelvic-please!

We also talked quite a bit about exercises to strengthen pelvic muscles to help keep organs in place and prevent urine and bowl incontinence. Healthline and WebMD have some good information about the benefits, steps, and cautions.

Interested in joining Salon Sisters’ Facebook group? Email me

‘Ten for Them’ December Salon

Few observations are as inspiring as watching a mother share values of community service and generosity with her children. In the days after the contentious presidential election, Kari Gayes felt compelled to demonstrate the power of small acts of kindness and grassroots progress to her 6-year-old daughter, Kat. We collaborated to dream up a kid-friendly event that would speak louder than the poisonous rhetoric confusing our observant young minds.

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Kari and Kat inspired the December salon, “Ten for Them,” an event to collect essential goods—from tampons and deodorant to diapers and toilet paper—not covered by some assistance programs. The mission also hands out white paper bags of fruit during the holidays, and we figured decorating them with holiday messages of hope and peace would be a fun way to involve our kids in service.

Loaded down with donations from this list of 10 items, more than 20 salon sisters arrived at my house on chilly Saturday morning. We shared breakfast together before FILLING my minivan with bags and boxes of toiletries. Several times during the craziness, I stepped back to take it all in as people piled donations under the Christmas tree, caught up about busy lives, or colored rainbows and snowmen on bags soon to be filled with nourishment.

 I do believe in Santa.

At the end of the morning, I counted about 200 decorated bags and piles and piles of items, far too much for me to inventory.

Rose, William and I carted the donations to the mission the following Monday. I’ll never forget the look on the workers’ faces when I opened the back of my van. I wish I could have captured it in a video, but like so many of life’s best moments, I won’t need to play it back. The moment will remain a cherished memory.

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The mission sent a note of thanks, and soon after Erin Moore posted this in the Salon Sister’s Facebook group:

“Every couple of months my family and I help organize items for Family Services at Muncie Mission. When we arrived yesterday, the office was filled to the brim…all from one women’s group. Way to go Salon Sisters!!! Marie (who runs family services) was so overwhelmed with thanks. She shared that this last week an elderly woman came in for assistance. Marie put together a basket of supplies for her and she started crying. She said that it had been a long time since she had received a Christmas gift. There were lots of tears, lots of hugs, and lots of joy over that basket. Your generosity has had a great impact already!”

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Thank you, Kari. You are a thoughtful friend, tremendous cook, dedicated wife/mom, theatre-junkie, and stylish bookworm. But, one sentence certainly can’t sum up her impact. Here are a few comments about Kari from her dear friends and colleagues at Ball State:

“Kari is one of the most inspiring people I know. She somehow manages to be good at her job while also maintaining a household with two young kiddos. She’s raising them to be open-minded, yet responsible, and I love that she took her daughter’s words and set them into action. She’s a great example for all of us on following through with our thoughts and ideas.” — Jessica Kerkhoff

“When I think of Kari, I think strong, cool, confidant. She is someone who is the definition of level-headed, which I appreciate. But she’s also one of the most playful people I know—always ready with a pop culture reference, the same way she’s able to have a lively discussion (about basically anything) that shows off her quick wit. She’s a close confidante, and I’m thankful for her friendship.” — Gail Werner

I’ll add that I met Kari when my father was dying or had just passed, I can’t remember (those months are hazy). But I do remember this new gal walking into my office and handing me a card. She looked right at me with the kindest eyes and said the kindest something I can’t remember, and then walked out. The card remained on my desk for some time, and I still have it at home. Kari didn’t know whether her kind gesture would be a fleeting “awhh” in my day or a lasting memory. It was the latter, but that didn’t matter, and either would have been fine. The point: Kari Gayes is the kind of person that does and says the right thing because it’s the right thing to say or do. When she speaks, it is with respect and intention, and when she acts, it is with integrity and determination. Kari has made a lasting mark on my heart and on our world.

I couldn’t dream up a better way to close out the year, and I look forward to many more meaningful salons in 2017.

Friends, near or far, I invite you to be part of the Salon Sisters Facebook group. Even if you can’t attend the events, members of the group often post inspiring articles, quotes, etc. to lift us up and encourage us to live bold, authentic lives.