Interrupting Racism for the Children of Washington Township

Posted on December 21st, 2021

Despite our best efforts, racism remains a driving force affecting people from all corners of the community, limiting opportunity, and impacting life outcomes for today’s youth. But does this mean a future full of prejudice and racism is inevitable for our community’s children?

According to Jill English, Chief of Community Equity and Inclusion at Child Advocates, and Dr. Erica Buchanan-Rivera, Director of Equity and Inclusion for Washington Township Schools, it is not too late to interrupt this continuing cycle of racism and historical bias. Together, they have partnered to bring Child Advocates’ Interrupting Racism for Children workshops to the faculty, staff, and students of Washington Township schools.

Interrupting Racism for Children is a two-day, interactive workshop that educates and moves individuals to create racially inclusive practices. The goal of the program is to create a future where children thrive, and race does not predict their life outcomes.

After learning of Child Advocates’ work in interrupting racism and experiencing the workshop for herself, Dr. Erica Buchanan-Rivera knew this educational training could benefit the administrators and educators of Washington Township.

“We wanted them to partake in the experience since they are the ones who are leading and facilitating discussions surrounding race,” Dr. Buchanan-Rivera said. “We wanted them to have the tools and the skillset to navigate those critical conversations about race in relation to student achievement.”

School staff highly valued their experiences in the educational workshop, reporting to have gained a great deal of knowledge and perspective on a historical and complex issue.

“For many participants, the history component of the training was new learning. Many historical narratives about the lived experiences of people of color have been omitted by design or have centered whiteness. Therefore, to hear counter-narratives was an eye-opening experience within the workshop,” Dr. Buchanan-Rivera said.

According to her, it is equally important to understand the impact of racism on education for children as it is to understand its history and effects on one’s residential area.

“It was also profound to think about how racism is deeply embedded within our society and systems,” Dr. Buchanan-Rivera said. “We [Washington Township] live in an area that has been historically red-lined, which has impacted the shaping of our community, including access to resources that may impact student outcomes.”

Jill English, Chief of Community Equity and Inclusion at Child Advocates, had a dream of creating an “all-youth-pilot” where children and older youth can join these critical discussions surrounding race. Due to the overwhelming number of positive reviews from Washington Township school staff who attended the anti-racism workshop, Dr. Erica Buchanan-Rivera decided to help make Jill’s dream a reality.

After solidifying program details and recruiting both middle school and high school students willing to participate, Child Advocates created its first youth-focused Interrupting Racism for Children workshops.

According to Dr. Erica Buchanan-Rivera, it is essential for youth to be involved in conversations regarding race and understand how race impacts one’s navigation in society. She said the children who participated in the workshops found it beneficial and were thankful to be included in serious discussions that reflect what they see and experience.

“There’s a national narrative that exists in our country that states ‘students are not capable of having critical conversations about race, and that these conversations are even harmful to have in schools,” Dr. Buchanan-Rivera said. “In reality, it is our job to honor the experiences of our kids who exist in a racialized society and see injustices every day. We have to give them more credit and provide them a space to talk about their interactions in the world.”

Dr. Erica Buchanan-Rivera said she was amazed by the input given by some of the kids who attended the workshops and by the level of awareness that they demonstrated as related to the historical teachings from the workshop. She is reassured that facilitating this form of education and these discussions with today’s youth will go a long way in interrupting the current perpetuating cycle of racism in our society.

“Children deserve a space to debrief their noticings about race and racism with adults who have the knowledge, skills, and expertise to guide these conversations. That’s exactly what they were doing in these workshops,” Dr. Buchanan-Rivera said. “…We have to let children lead the way”

Since March of 2021, a total of 148 staff from Washington Township schools have attended Interrupting Racism for Children workshops. Thanks to the success of these youth-focused workshops, the program has expanded, and a total of 31 youth from around Indianapolis have joined the conversation.

Interrupting Racism for Children is looking forward to inviting many more students and educators to participate in the anti-racism workshop in the ongoing future. To learn more about Interrupting Racism for Children, go to: https://www.childadvocates.net/programs/irfc/