How we celebrate the MLK Jr. holiday at the Winston Prouty Center
By Chloe Learey, Executive Director
When my children attended the Early Learning Center in the early 2000s the organization was open for business as usual on MLK Day. This was a treat as a parent who had a holiday from work, a chance to get stuff done.
After I became director, it occurred to me that, if we were going to be open, MLK Day was an opportunity for us to reflect about the importance of civil rights, inclusion, diversity, and justice and how this is all part of our work. The earliest record I found for our MLK in-service is in 2012, so we have been doing it for over 10 years. We have watched and discussed movies, read parts of books, listened to TED talks and speeches, and spent time learning about ourselves in the context of white supremacist culture. with the intention of recognizing systemic oppression so that we can work against it in order to fulfill our mission.
The importance of taking this time to reflect has become clearer over the years as broader awareness and divisiveness have grown. We are operating in a dominant culture that places greater or lesser value on the characteristics that make us different – skin color, religion, class, ethnicity, sexual orientation, body type, gender, and many other traits. This differential valuation interferes with building healthy communities where everyone belongs and thrives, which in turn interferes with our work to support families and children to be successful. Understanding who we are and how we are showing up is essential to dismantling the damaging parts of our culture and building on those parts that help us connect.
We strive to embed this in our everyday work, not just during in-service. These opportunities to learn together help create shared language so that we can help each other in an on-going way. We can examine our practices from various angles such as “how does this perpetuate stereotypes” or “does this help us deepen relationship.” Our committee, Prouty Tackling White Supremacy (PTWS), was created in 2021 and has the mission to “….create space to name and dismantle white supremacist culture in our work so that our organization/community supports the success of all children and families” with the overarching goal to “create an organizational culture where everyone belongs (beloved community)”. Our in-service on MLK Day is one of the ways we accomplish this goal, knowing it is just one day and that this is everyday and forever work, and believing that we can transform the world through this work.
Book recommendations for young children
Looking for age appropriate books to share the teachings of Martin Luther King Jr. with young children? Below are some stories recommended by our bookmobile librarian, Sueño LeBlond.
These books are thought of as Cross-Group books that portray positive relationships across racial and/or cultural identities. These are great for normalizing the idea that everyone is a potential friend and that we all can share space equally within the world.
Chalk by Bill Thomas is wordless picture book following a creative adventure of three diverse friends at the park.
Yo! Yes? by Chris Raschka and Rain! by Linda Ashman and illustrated by Christian Robinson add the dimension of the power of kindness and the care of others.
Change Sings by Amanda Gorman and illustrated by Loren Long is a gorgeous depiction of the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King. Depending on the young child(ren) who this book is being shared with, Sueño will opt to tell a story of what is happening in the pictures instead of reading the words.
If you would like more information about selecting diverse children’s books or suggestions on how to talk about race with young children, visit Embrace Race.