Windows to a New World
Reading to a child. What could be a more magical way of learning for the child and a more gratifying experience to the reader? And what can be a more important way to introduce and connect children to things beyond their immediate world?
Benicia Black Lives Matter (BBLM) has been doing just that with pre-school level children in Benicia and Vallejo since January 2021 in our Preschool Reading Program. Using carefully screened and age appropriate literature, BBLM volunteers have been opening the minds and hearts of our preschoolers.
Once a month, volunteers go into different preschools to share a book and related activities carefully selected by the team to bring awareness of Black history, science, art, music, customs, culture, and daily lives, with the intent to plant seeds of humanity towards Black people as early as possible. And several of the preschools in this community embrace the opportunity to work with BBLM to bring the children a broader perspective and cultural understanding.
The books used are reviewed and offered by Roselind Johnson, the owner of Ethnic Notions, a gift and bookstore and art gallery located in Vallejo. Ms. Johnson is an expert in Black literature and the arts. At Ethnic Notions, she stocks a wealth of material on Black culture for people of all ages, including for a very young audience.
The books for the preschools are selected upon the seasonal influences within that month, much like the other books traditionally read to young children throughout the year, except that these books are chosen specifically to uplift and amplify historical and contemporary Black life. This helps young children of all races understand and accept that we are all different in some ways and the same in others. And a copy of the monthly book is donated to each participating school.
Some of the books that have been introduced include:
- Rosa Parks
- Nana Akua
- If You Give Me Some Apples
- Trombone Shorty
- My First Kwanza
- Catch a Kiss
- Baby Botanist
All of the books are connected in some way to the Black community while demonstrating that we are all related. For example, Brown features the reality and acceptance of people of varying skin color, while Baby Botanist is the story of a young Black farmer. The ensuing and related activities and discussion focus on equity, and awareness. After reading Brown, the children decorated a globe with cut out human figures of a variety of shades. After reading Baby Botanist, the children planted green onions and talked about farming. Hand-outs included information on Black-owned farms in the Bay area.
Parisa Kelly, owner of Starlight Montessori, was one of the first to be on board with the Preschool Reading Program. Before the program started, Ms. Kelly had been trying to extend her library of books to include more diversity. When approached by BBLM, Ms. Kelly was happy to participate. “The reader is wonderful. She really reaches the children at their level. Some people find it difficult to speak about complex issues with 3-5 year olds without talking above their level or down to them. The messages are positive, and the activities are meaningful. They put a lot of thought into the preschool reading program, and I am grateful. Plus, BBLM has donated the books they have read to us and helped me to expand my library.”
Ms. Kelly has many anecdotal stories about the children’s responses to the stories. For example, after reading Brown, the children had a lively discussion about comparing the colors of flowers in a garden to the diversity of human skin color. Then they all put their hands together and compared the varying colors. “It was so joyful!”
Stories are mirrors. And the stories read by the BBLM volunteers help our young children better see themselves in relation to the world. The books are a window into a history and culture that may be different from their own. Using this simple way of teaching and connecting, we are helping our children to better navigate the world we live in, honor other cultures, make good social choices, and to become true global citizens.
The BBLM Reading Program is entering its third year and second summer and is going strong. We are reaching a broader community that includes both Benicia and Vallejo. We are not reading to only preschoolers, but older children as well. Literacy in Solano County is of utmost importance to BBLM, and our children’s reading program is just one of many ways BBLM serves our community. If you would like to learn more about BBLM, please visit our website at beniciablacklivesmatter.weebly.com.