Videos explore race, history and culture
Shortly after Sept. 11, I interviewed Dr. Brenda Salter-McNeil who conducts workshops on racial and ethnic reconciliation for parents, teachers and community leaders. She suggests that unless we lead our children to appreciate and learn from our racial and ethnic differences, then our children won't see any value in other people. "And when we don't see any value in a person, in their color, in their culture and what it represents, then we don't have any need for them," says Salter-McNeil. "I challenge parents to teach and model respect for other cultures. We must become ambassadors of change, leading our children to love all people regardless of their ethnicity."
February is Black History Month. The media are filled with stories about slavery and freedom, oppression, triumph and courage. As parents, I suggest we take this theme one step further and teach our kids about race, not racism.
The following videos subscribe to that notion. Some relate to Black History Month and others offer an opportunity for children to learn and explore other cultures. Several are older videos that are available for rental from public libraries throughout the Chicago area.
DEAR AMERICA: A PICTURE OF FREEDOM, $9.95 VHS, ages 10 and up. t's 1859 on a plantation in Virginia and Clotee, a 12-year-old slave girl, wants only one thing-she spells F-R-E-D-U-M in the dirt with a stick. When Clotee's aunt sees she is learning to write, she slaps her across the face knowing the punishment: Clotee would be beaten, sold or worse. Clotee's aunt says slaves aren't supposed to do nothing, see nothing or feel nothing. Clotee is inadvertently learning to read and write while tending to her young master during his tutoring. She hides her diary, from which this story originates, in a hollowed-out log near the river. When the plantation master beats her friend for a simple mistake, she joins up with a local abolitionist and comes up with a plan to free him and her family. Clotee stays behind to help other slaves learn the gift of literacy.
Rent this video from your local library, or buy it at www.scholastic.com/dearamerica/.
SELMA, LORD, SELMA, 1999, $9.99 VHS, ages 10 and up. In 1965, African American rights are still compromised when this spiritual story takes place in Selma, Ala. Under the leadership of Martin Luther King Jr., African Americans are beginning their fight for the right to vote. Kids will connect to Cheyenne, a young girl who is inspired by King to resist the degradation that many African Americans are experiencing and stand up for her rights. Although Cheyenne is only 11 years old, she becomes a model of strength and perseverance to those around her, including her parents, who want to "mind their own business" and keep their jobs. There are realistic scenes of police violence and beatings that might frighten young children but pearls of wisdom surface throughout, including King's strong adversity to violence: "The best way to fight hatred and bigotry is through the love of God," preaches King despite the injustice. It's hard to believe that this historically significant civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery occurred when most of us were young children-it's perhaps even more difficult for our children to believe.
WHITEWASH, 1995, $14.95 VHS, ages 8 and up. Fast forward 30 years to "Whitewash," an animated feature based on actual events that first aired on HBO seven years ago. Helene Angel walks home from school everyday with her big brother. One afternoon, a gang of white thugs attacks them and paints Helene's face with white shoe polish. Her brother is unable to help her and is wracked with guilt over the event. Helene locks herself in her room and won't come out for days. Meanwhile, the media harasses the small family adding more anxiety to the situation. Helene's classmates (all of different ethnicities) are worried because she hasn't returned to school. The teacher encourages the children to talk openly about how they feel and write it in a letter to give to Helene. This is a powerful segment of the program that displays the aftermath of racism, but it's also a lesson of how love and compassion from all races of people can transcend even the most horrific event.
FAMILIES OF EGYPT, FAMILIES OF FRANCE, 2002, $19.99 each VHS, (800) 765-5885, ages 5 and up. Perhaps one of the finest gifts we can give our children is exposure to other cultures. If a trip to China, Egypt or Russia is out of the question, the "Families of the World" video series is one of the best informational resources for teaching kids about race. To date, the series has featured families in Brazil, China, Ghana, India, Israel, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Sweden, Thailand, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States. The newest titles are "Families of Egypt" and "Families of France."
In documentary style, each video features two elementary-age kids who narrate a typical day in their life, from waking up to bedtime routines. Kids will experience different schools and language, traditions, food, religion, work ethic and relationships. It's captivating for children because a child is telling his story in "show and tell" fashion.
"Families of Egypt" provides an in-depth look inside the lives of Yasmine, 7, who lives near urban Cairo, and Hesham, 6, who lives in rural Luxor. Hesham explains how he and his father shop at the open market for food and negotiate on the price. Yasmine's life seems similar to life in North America because she shops with her mother at a supermarket and goes to a private school where classes are taught in English. This is good stuff for the entire family to watch.
HAPPILY EVER AFTER: FAIRY TALES FOR EVERY CHILD, $9.95 VHS, available at www.hbofamily.com, all ages. This series retells the fairy tale classics using animated characters from different cultures in the starring roles. Children of different races will find themselves as the kings and queens, princes and princesses, ogres, trolls and giants. Each fairy tale is peppered with music and tradition from a particular culture and every celebrity imaginable voices the characters. It's lively, fun and extremely entertaining. The series originated on HBO and has 39 classics in the video collection.Jennifer Mangan is a freelance writer who lives in the west suburbs with her husband and four children, ages 16, 15, 12 and 11.