Last year, a report released by the University of Pittsburgh concluded that African-American children’s academic performance and self-esteem would benefit from more open communication with their parents and teachers about race.
In response, the University of Pittsburgh’s Office of Child Development is kicking off a three-year campaign to build positive racial perceptions in Pittsburgh’s black children with their first event this weekend. On Sat., Aug. 5 there will be a Pop Up Mini Art Festival at the Kingsley Association in East Liberty “Celebrating Black Girl Magic and Black Boy Joy.”
The Positive Racial Identity in Early Education (P.R.I.D.E.) Program formed in response to the 2016 report by Pitt’s Race and Early Childhood Collaborative, Understanding PRIDE in Pittsburgh
“Essentially our mission is to support the positive racial identity development of young African- American children in Pittsburgh,” says Dr. Aisha White, director of the P.R.I.D.E. Program.
Young children are more aware of race than you might think. According to the PRIDE report, children become aware of racial differences as young as 3 months old. By that time, they are able to categorize people by race. Before the age of 3, children can attribute positive and negative traits to racial groups, and at 5 children can express race-based biases.
When children approach parents and teachers with questions about race, they are often brushed off or hushed, as the topic can be uncomfortable or thought of as too difficult for a child to understand, but White says that adults should try to provide answers that are open and exploratory.
“Just like if you begin to read books to children at a young age it’s more likely that they’ll begin to love books, I would say that if you begin to talk to children about race at a young age then that’ll be something that they’re comfortable with,” White says.
To help give African-American parents the tools to discuss race with their children, P.R.I.D.E. will establish parent villages, a network of discussion groups lead by Pitt faculty meeting regularly in East Liberty, Homewood, and the Hill District.
White says that in building positive racial identity in African-American children, they must not only combat negative representations of African Americans in the media, but also a lack of representation. Combatting the invisibility of African-American figures in media is where events like the Mini Art Pop Up Festival come into play.
“I would consider it to be a proactive way for black children and families to really see themselves because there aren’t enough media images that positively represent black boys and girls,” says Medina Jackson, coordinator of the festival. “This is an effort to bring light to those things by having children see themselves [represented] and celebrated positively.”
Jackson says that the festival, which will feature everything from West African drum and dance to storytelling to family yoga, is an arts-based strategy to get children to understand and embrace their race, ethnicity and heritage.
“We really want children to get a sense of pride in themselves, to feel good about who they are, what they look like, to feel great about their heritage and their lineage and feel good about being black children,” says Jackson.
For more information about the Pop Up Mini Art Festival at the Kingsley Association in East Liberty, you can find the P.R.I.D.E. program on facebook
or contact Jackson at 412-383-7019 or firstname.lastname@example.org
. The official social media hashtag to follow along with the event is #CelebrateBlackKids.