Teaching kids about diversity

It’s been more than 50 years since Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, but his powerful words still thunder across the world and into the pages of books at the Halifax Public Library.

In celebration of African Heritage Month, the Halifax Central Library, on Spring Garden Road, held an African American Read-In last weekend for preschoolers and their caregivers.

A variety of books by African American and Canadian authors and illustrators were available to check out and read in the cozy beanbags and tents.

Gretchen Fitzgerald brought her one-year-old daughter to educate her about an important part of history. Fitzgerald’s daughter has a half-brother who is African Canadian. She wants her daughter to understand where his ancestors came from and their fight for equality.

“There’s a long history of racism in Nova Scotia and we need to educate our kids about is as early as possible,” says Fitzgerald. “It’s the only way we can move forward.”

Demolishing Africville and the case of Viola Desmond are just a couple examples of racism in the province.

Fitzgerald says a 2010 experiment on Anderson Cooper’s AC360 still haunts her.

Cooper asked white and black children to choose between a white or black doll.

The experiment revealed that the majority of the children favoured the white doll and associated it with positive characteristics while negative characteristics were associated with the black doll – even by African American children.

Mary Spurr, the coordinator for the African American Read-In, says it’s important for children to have diversity in who they look up to.

“We always need role models, and it’s important for children to have people from their own cultures and communities they can identify with,” says Spurr.

“They need to see representations of themselves, and books is one of the best ways to do that.”

To help make this happen, Spurr chose more than two dozen books written or illustrated by African American and Canadian authors. Some of the books were written or illustrated by local authors such as Shauntay Grant and George Elliott Clarke.

Like Fitzgerald, Cassandra Hanrahan brought her 10-month-old daughter to the event.

While she may be too young to understand the importance of African Heritage Month, Hanrahan wants to expose her to the cultural history that exists within the province as early as possible.

“There’s all kinds of diversities and stories from our own backyard that are ignored too often,” says Hanrahan.

“I want her to appreciate people from different backgrounds and treat others equally, no matter what their skin colour is.”