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Religious Education

RE-Flections – K5-12 Grade Black People Matter Religious Education Lessons

Children

By Beryl Aschenberg, Director of Religious Education

Children

Anti-bias, anti-racist (ABAR) education supports all children’s full development in our multiracial, multilingual, multicultural world and gives them the tools to stand up to prejudice, stereotyping, bias, and eventually to institutional ‘isms’.  –Louise Derman-Sparks, Author/Educator

“This makes me so angry!” one young girl asserted. “It’s just not fair.  Why are we doing this?” The exercise that took place in that 3-4 Grade Religious Education classroom in January 2016 was part of our two sessions long Black People Matter program. The children were participating in an object lesson of how differently people can be treated based on their race and class. Through art, music, discussion, and literature, Black People Matter invites children and youth to explicitly address realities of prejudice and discrimination that they are witness to in their daily lives and that have taken place historically in American culture. By the end of the first lesson, our young participants were pretty clear about why we were doing this.

[quote]As Unitarian Universalists, our faith calls us to justice, equity, and compassion in human relationships.[/quote]

By offering anti-bias/anti-racism curriculum with children and youth, we seek to help young people learn tools that will enable them to have honest conversations about racial identities, racial discrimination, and injustice. To do so, we begin by providing a safe place within our church community, with trained facilitators who will guide them first to look at themselves, and then move out into the world around us. Much like our beloved “Lessons of Loss” and  “Our Whole Lives” (OWL) curricula, we believe that by starting these conversations young and in developmentally appropriate ways, we can better prepare our children to live spiritually rich lives, with eyes open and compassionate hearts.

Since the UU World published an article written by Nikki Sweeney Etter highlighting the need for engaging youth with anti-racism, our Black People Matter program has garnered a lot of attention from other UU Churches. I’ve shared lesson plans and background information with more than twenty religious educators who were clamoring for a way to bring this work to children and youth. Co-author Patrick Mulvey and I were diligent in working out some of the kinks in the first round of programming, and have rewritten several lessons, as well as created more alternative activities to supplement the original material. Nineteen class leaders have committed to five hours of training in early January, in which they will do their own inner work and reflection, as well as practice lessons and role play. This is not something we have taken on lightly.

The goals of the Black People Matter curriculum are as follows:

  • To provide tools which help participants understand what racism is and is not at a developmentally appropriate level.
  • To help participants understand that African Americans have been unfairly targeted victims of racism both historically and in present times.
  • To dismantle the color-blind framework of understanding race.
  • To inspire participants to further engage in naming and confronting racial injustices.
  • To help participants become more comfortable with these discussions and ultimately see how Unitarian Universalist values fit in with these concepts.

We hope that parents and guardians will prioritize this important program, and make an extra effort to have their children participate in RE Classes on January 15 and 22. There is more than enough hatred and intolerance in the world. Let’s take a stand on the “Side of Love” this year and encourage our children to do the same.

For parent/guardian education and resources for talking to children about race and racism, visit our website for tips and articles.

Beryl Aschenberg is First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee’s Director of Religious Education.

First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee is a home for spiritual community, social justice, and intellectual freedom, active in Milwaukee since 1842. Unitarian Universalism is an inclusive denomination; core principles include recognition of the worth and dignity of every person; respect for the interdependent web of existence; and the goal of world peace, liberty and justice.

 

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