Evanston Public Library offers workshop for families to learn how to talk about race


Daily file photo by Alison Albelda.

Evanston Public Library, 1703 Orrington Ave. is beginning the second iteration of its racial education program for families.

Kristen Axtman, Reporter

Evanston Public Library started a program two years ago to highlight Evanston families’ need to talk about race. 

The library launched Dedicated to the Dream as a seven-part series in 2020 over Zoom to teach families of kids from first through fourth grade how to navigate discussions about skin color and racial identity. In June, EPL was invited to present its work at the American Library Association Annual Conference and Exhibition in Washington, D.C. 

Now, the library is preparing for its second Dedicated to the Dream cohort for children from second through fifth grade, planning to host in-person and asynchronous events and improve upon its curriculum to increase accessibility.

“We want to offer kids a chance to think about their own skin color and to have a chance to think about that skin color in a more artistic or positive way,” Sally Battle, team leader of Dedicated to the Dream, said.  

Battle said the program starts with small experimental avenues and interactive activities to alleviate some of the heaviness of talking about race. 

In one of the first workshops, Cozbi Cabrera, an award-winning illustrator, teaches participants how to mix paints that match their skin color. Later in the series, program leaders introduce the historical consequences of race to students, explaining generational wealth through an analogy to Monopoly. 

“If you’re white in this country, you’ve been able to play Monopoly and acquire property for years…versus a Black person who (only could once) slavery ended,” she said.

In a video on the Dedicated to the to Dream website, a mother said she appreciated how the program used art, science, literature and conversations to give her kids an understanding of the concepts of the program.

“This program is part of making a village where each of us can offer space to other voices,” she said, “where my kids get to hear other people saying things in a different way than I know how.”

Dedicated to Dream co-facilitator Kellye Fleming works on the adult education aspect of the programming.

Fleming provides parents with the resources and language to be able to talk to their children about race. Along with a reading and documentary list, the library produces their own videos that mimic conversations between a child and caregiver, including one where they discuss race-based bullying. 

“It’s an uncomfortable subject,” Fleming said. “It’d be tempting to… kind of sweep it under the rug, but how (do you) draw it out and feel like you can have a conversation in a safe place?”

EPL encourages families to participate in the program together because every member of the family has a different experience with race, Fleming said.

She said outreach can be difficult because of families’ busy schedules and added that she recognizes the need for racial programming to reach a larger scope of people. 

“It’s kind of one of those things where the people who would sign up for Dedicated to the Dream are… the ones that are already doing some anti-racist work,” Fleming said.

To increase the program’s accessibility, the library is considering having only three mandatory meetings and allowing families to complete the other lessons remotely. Another option would be for interested groups to reach out to the library for individual meetings. 

The program’s first cohort had 10 families who attended consistently. Fleming said the libraries have seen a decrease in the turnout of in-person events compared to virtual ones. 

“If we do in-person, I expect an initial drop off but probably more engagement,” she said. 

EPL also plans to improve upon its programming by partnering with Northwestern psychology Prof. Onnie Rogers and some of her students who study racial identity, according to Battle. 

Currently, the curriculum is accessible by request to any librarian or educator attempting to host a multi-session racial education series.

“I want every American to understand our history that’s based on racism and I want kids and families to have a chance to grow positive racial identities,” Battle said.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: KristenAxtman1

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