Black parents and caregivers discuss importance of extracurricular programming in virtual panel

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Daily file illustration by Catherine Buchaniec

Out-of-school education opportunities can be influential for children, Black parents and caregivers said in a virtual panel Thursday.

Molly Lubbers, Assistant City Editor

Black parents and caring adults emphasized the impact that out-of-school programming can have on children, as well as the barriers to accessing such programs, during a virtual panel Thursday.

Organized by Digital Youth Divas Caring Adult Network and moderated by Evanston Live TV, the panel began with conversations of what caregivers value the most when they seek out programming for their children. 

Panelist Ekaette Dada said even if a program only lasts an hour, she wants to make sure that there’s been some growth between its beginning and end. 

“They’ve learned something new,” she said. “They see something new in themselves, they found out an interest that they might not have had before. That’s what I look for.” 

Panelist Jared Davis emphasized the importance of exposing kids to new activities to see if it piques their interest. 

He said that when he was a child, his parents encouraged him to try all kinds of programming, which was something he wanted to replicate for his own children. 

“I wasn’t necessarily trying to be a basketball player or be a trumpet player or be a ballerina,” he said. “But being able to try it, and then… actually getting reinforcement from whoever was around, I think that was a really big thing that played into my personal confidence that translated into other areas.”

After sharing how programs influenced them or their children’s lives, panelists talked about barriers to accessing these programs — and how to overcome them. 

For example, if a child cannot attend a program because they don’t have the transportation to get there, Davis said the community needs to come together. He said that by building networks of support, parents and caregivers can call on one another to get kids to activities. 

Panelist Tosha Wilson recalled that when she was growing up, her neighbors knew who she was — and who her dad was — and checked in on her, waving and calling out to her as she walked by. 

“It was pressure from everywhere: That I see you, my eyes are on you (to) make sure you get to where you’re going,” she said. “So I feel like we do have to step our game up as far as community is concerned.”

Beyond how to physically get children to activities, there also are concerns of whether Black and brown parents and families feel valued by their childrens’ programs, Dada said. 

She said she appreciates programs that encourage more parental involvement and more communication throughout the process.

“At the end of the day, it’s parents. Parents are the first teachers.” she said. “If you’ve made families feel alienated, like they don’t belong, like they’re not going to be at the same place with the other parents who are in the program… then they’re not going to be part of the program and then their children will not be part of the program.”

Miranda Standberry-Wallace, Digital Youth Network’s community relations and engagement manager, said she hopes to challenge the narrative that Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics programming exists, but Black and brown families just don’t want to participate in them. She said Digital Youth Divas Caring Adult Network aims to make parents and caring adults feel welcome in the process.

This summer, she said, Digital Youth Divas and Digital Youth Network will be part of Summer Fest, a summerlong program which will take place at Butler Park on afternoons Monday through Thursday. This program will begin on June 21 and last until Aug. 6, with free lunch provided.

Founder of Digital Youth Network Nichole Pinkard said activities will draw on STEAM programming, and stressed the importance of integrating STEAM activities into play and joy.

Although families can participate regardless of where they live, Pinkard said the park’s location is important. These activities will be more accessible to people in the historically Black 5th Ward. 

“We’re like, why try to figure out how to get kids on the bus and take them someplace else?” Pinkard said. “We’re just going to take over the park right outside where folks live,and we’re going to bring fun engaging activities led by young folks who look like them into their backyards.”

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Twitter: @mollylubbers

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