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Raising Kids Who Are Actively Anti-Racist: Tabitha St. Bernard-Jacobs and Adam St. Bernard Jacobs Are Teaching Us How

"We’re both intentional about centering our parenting around justice and creativity and are also big believers in always being a work in progress."
Photo courtesy of Tabitha St. Bernard-Jacobs

Photo courtesy of Tabitha St. Bernard-Jacobs

Meet Tabitha St. Bernard-Jacobs and her partner, Adam (though you may likely already know the pair). She writes the column, Raising Antiracist Kids with Romper. She is one of the founding organizers of Women's March, and co-founder of Youth Empower, the youth arm of the movement and is a senior advisor with the organization. Tabitha is also an entrepreneur, organizer, and activist. Her partner in life and parenting, Adam, is equally passionate about empowering the next generation: He co-founded Kids Creative, an arts and peace education organization in New York City, leaving in 2019 to continue working in education and non-profit development. 

Together they are advocating for a generational shift in how we teach our children about racism. Tabitha wrote in an editorial for Romper (that appropriately went viral): “If you aren’t teaching your kid to be anti-racist, you are teaching them to be racist.” Her words were directed at white parents, specifically, as a call to action. 

Tabitha and Adam are leading a series of virtual workshops at Brooklyn Public Library. The first event is tomorrow evening. Parents and caregivers can expect that Tabitha and Adam will "delve into how to have tough but essential conversations with children around race and privilege that leads to action for the whole family and how to move past discomfort around these conversations." (A link to register for the event can be found at the bottom of this post!)

We spoke to the couple about their work, both independently and together, their advice for white parents who are unsure how and when to address racism with their children, the vital importance of addressing systemic bias and racism at home AND at school, what it means to be a "peacebuilder" and much more. 

You two are partners and parents, and your careers seem rather complementary in the way of creativity, arts, and activism. What inspired you to bring your experience and knowledge to your community (and beyond), together?

It sort of happened really seamlessly and it’s something that’s still evolving. We’re both intentional about centering our parenting around justice and creativity and are also big believers in always being a work in progress. Working together evolved from our ongoing conversations and social justice work individually and together and our desire to help other parents who are also on this journey. We also want to make pursuing justice fun for our kids and have it be a fluid part of what we do as a family every day. 

Part of the adventure has been learning and growing together and with our kids. Each stage of a child’s life is different and we find that we need to rework some things that were previously effective according to our kids’ interests and comprehension. That requires us to be malleable in our approach and be led by the capacity and emotional space of our kids. Our work is birthed alongside this fluidity.

Many white parents tend to avoid uncomfortable conversations with their children in fear that they are "not ready" to discuss serious topics. What do you say to those parents?

Tabitha: White parents have the privilege of that choice—of whether they want to teach their kids about race and racism. For Black parents and other parents of color, that choice doesn’t exist. For parents of Black, Indigenous, and Latinx kids, it’s a matter of safety to teach kids from a young age about police violence because their lives can depend on it. 

Studies have also shown that kids as young as 3 months recognize race and that kids are ready for these conversations much earlier than adults think. Some parents are afraid their kids aren’t ready, but some parents also think they’re not ready themselves. They may be afraid of not having the answers to certain questions, or of the discomfort that may come from hard conversations. If that’s the case, I encourage parents to do three things:

  • Commit to continuous learning
  • Be ready to admit you don’t know the answer and will come back to it after some research (modeling a spirit of learning and growing is key)
  • Stay consistent-make antiracism a core part of your home

Adam: As a white parent in a multiracial family, I wasn’t sure what we would say and how we would speak about race, since that is not something I have ever had to do. The more work I did on myself, though—learning, joining white affinity groups, and multiracial anti-racist spaces—the more I realized that I really needed to unlearn many things that I have been taught to think and do since I was a kid. 

Now as a parent, I have the opportunity to teach my kids about the history of systemic racism (in age-appropriate ways) so that harm is not perpetuated. Even though they are kids of color, they have privilege, and it is important to have the tools to understand that and to look for places and ways to act.

Tabitha, in your Romper column (RAISING ANTI-RACIST KIDS) you state: " Anti-bias education is a key part of the “‘bricks and mortar’ of emotional well-being." Can you share how you have seen this positively impact children who have experienced this sort of communication and education at home?

It’s critical for kids to receive anti-bias education not just at home but also at school. This impacts how kids of color are treated when other kids are aware of the impact of their actions and their privileges. Children learn empathy and learn that everyone holds some bias. The real work is undoing it and figuring out how to stop biases from affecting how people from marginalized communities are treated.

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Adam, you co-founded Kids Creative, a non-profit organization that "uses creative arts to teach peace education." Will you explain what peace education is and how it benefits kids, schools and the community?

Peace, like anti-racism, is not an end goal, but a process. Everyone has different goals and ways of being, and peacebuilding is about navigating relationships so that people feel heard and that their goals are valued. This does not mean that everyone is the same, but that we have brave spaces and supportive processes for navigating conflict. Peace education is giving the space and tools so that each person and each community can recognize the benefits and challenges of building relationships with others. 

There are two approaches to peace education: negative or reactive peace, which is stopping physical and/or emotional violence when it is happening (e.g., stopping a fight or helping someone out of situations of abuse); and positive or proactive peace, which is to set up systems that are equitable and engage conflicts in a healthy, positive way, so that violence does not have to happen (e.g., understanding and exploring the reasons that violence occurs and addressing root causes of conflict). 

We have the opportunity as parents, caregivers, and educators to lift up our kids’ creativity and help them strengthen their community-building skills early in their lives. At Kids Creative, we work to celebrate creativity and to ensure that we never lose that part of us. In order for us to reach a better, more peaceful future, we need the confidence and community to dream of it together.

Parents can attend your upcoming Raising Antiracist Kids workshops with the Brooklyn Public Library on June 10, 17 & 24. Will you share a few of the topics you will cover and the child age range the series will best serve?

We’re going to be diving into how parents should treat anti-racism work as a family approach, how to confront the feelings of insecurity about doing this work in your family, and how to treat discomfort as a learning tool. We’re also going to be delving into how to talk about police violence, colorism, white privilege, and more. 

We’re planning to stress the importance of doing this work from a place of joy and how to find the balance with the seriousness of it. Each workshop will also include some practical conversation starters with kids so that parents have some places to start. We will also share resources that have helped us in our journey, knowing that these conversation starters should be used alongside ongoing, deep, and consistent learning.

Finally, as parents to young children, you are helping shape the world you want to raise them in with your work—what are your hopes for that world and how would you like to see your own children thrive within it?

Tabitha: I’d like to see a world where we realize collective liberation. I want us all to be free. Today, I was talking to my son about what he wants to be when he grows up. He told me he wants to be an artist. I told him he could be anything he wants to be. I want that to be true. I want him to live in a world where every child, every person, has the freedom to be whoever and whatever they want to be in a world free of oppression. 

Sometimes I get scared thinking that I am raising a child with values that may not find a home in many parts of this country. But I know that that is work that is cut out for us—to create a world where our kids don’t face the oppressions we face and where they are truly free to be anything they want to be.

Adam: Ditto. Tabitha does amazing work fighting oppression and also realizing privilege. She follows the lead of the people closest to the problem which in some cases is herself. She breaks these conversations down for our kids in a way that they can understand, and that is my hope for the world. I hope all adults can see themselves as integral parts of helping everyone find liberation, and to teach it to the next generation. 

I hope we can realize a world where it is normal to build relationships with others that are fun, creative, and allow us to tackle the many, many issues we face together. I also want to help realize a world where those with power, particularly straight, cis white men like me, are able to step back and understand power and break barriers in a way that is healthy and positive. 

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To attend Tabitha and Adam's essential workshop series, REGISTER HERE.

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