It is always a joy taking Dahlia to school, but one morning was extra special. While she was working on her morning math worksheet, her teacher suggested she stop what she was doing and show me the letter she was working on. While Dahlia hurried off, her teacher reminded me that the Pennsylvania Ballet had just visited the lower school and performed. She went on to explain that after the assembly Dahlia mentioned to her that she only saw one brown dancer. My eyes got really big in that moment and my mind raced with so many questions: was she excited about seeing someone that looked like her or was she disappointed? Then I snapped out of my feelings and just let the two of them be in control.
I learned, that her teacher suggested Dahlia write a letter to the ballet company to express her feelings. The letter, a draft at this point, was so articulate and sweet. It mentions that she saw only one dancer that looked like her and asked if they knew Misty Copeland (someone she has learned about at home and at school), and it closed with her letting them know that she is a ballet dancer too. At this point, I’m back in my feelings and fighting back tears.
Tears of joy because I’m proud of my girl who is comfortable in her own skin, so aware at her young age and confident enough to say what is on her mind. I wasn’t that strong in first grade. But the tears were that of excitement as well because she is afforded the space to express herself in a safe environment. A space where she’s encourage to use her voice and then she’s empowered to act in an age appropriate way. She was affirmed in observation and spirit.
Our children are not colorblind and it is so important for them to see themselves across all platforms, mediums and professions, so they believe and achieve. We all have to see color in order to recognize someone else’s reality. On the one hand, Dahlia was excited to see someone that looked like her but on the other hand, she wondered why there weren’t more. Her teacher’s guidance and compassion led to a seemingly simple and small exercise but it will make a huge impact on Dahlia. She will not forget this and now, she has learned something constructive she can do when she wants to share her own feelings of joy or disappointment. I’m encouraged that this is the first step in a long journey of Dahlia’s advocacy for herself and others.
And whether through training or instincts, our educators have to be able to recognize and use the many opportunities they are faced with to talk about race and difference and access responsibly to our young and impressionable children to value, validate, and empower!