Black History Month Q&A with NBCDI President and CEO Tobeka G. Green

Too Small to Fail and the National Black Child Development Institute (NBCDI) are proud to share information and resources to help families talk, read, and sing together in celebration of Black History Month. 

We live in a world filled with rich traditions, cultures, and routines. It’s never too early to start helping your child appreciate diversity. By modeling respect and care for others in our communities, we can help children embrace differences while recognizing the many things we all have in common.

Tobeka G. Green, President and CEO of the National Black Child Development Institute spoke with Too Small to Fail about how families can celebrate Black History Month—today and all year long. The conversation focuses on ways parents can help children appreciate diversity by engaging them in meaningful conversations during everyday moments like mealtime.

How can parents talk with their child about what’s special about him or her?
Research shows that babies as young as six months old notice differences in the way people look and behave. When learning to appreciate differences, children also learn to love what makes them unique, which helps build self-esteem. As a parent, you can play a great role in helping your little one take pride in his identity. Create a song with your child about something that makes him unique, and then sing it together. If you need some inspiration, this Sesame Street video "I Love My Hair" can be a great place to start.

How can parents talk with their child about what’s unique about their family?
Research shows that children’s knowledge of their family’s history can predict their emotional health and happiness. It fosters a sense of belonging which helps children build self-esteem. That’s why NBCDI’s Family Empowerment Program* honors the cultural and linguistic strengths of families of color and draws on our rich history to build the capacity of parents and caregivers as leaders of their families. Talk with your child about your family’s history by telling stories about their grandparents, great-grandparents, or other extended family and show pictures if you can. Share stories about positive moments in your family or community’s history.

How can parents talk with their child about what’s unique about other people their child knows?
Your child may notice differences in others, which is a great opportunity to help her recognize that while people may look different and live their lives differently, they still have a lot in common. Talk with your child about how we are all the same – we all eat food, we all take baths, and all children love to play. There are also many things that also make us special in our own ways: we may look different, eat different foods or speak different languages. You can say: “You and Juan speak English together at school but when he’s with his family he speaks Spanish. Why don't you can ask him to teach you how to say ‘hello’ in Spanish?”

How can parents talk with their young child about Black History Month?
When talking with your child about Black History Month, reflect on the past and current accomplishments of Black Americans in our country’s history. Celebrate Black History Month by learning about a Black activist, scientist, or educator each week. Explore Black History Month in your hometown or neighborhood. Take a trip to a local museum with Black History exhibits. Check out children’s books on inventors, business leaders, or doctors from the local library. Developmentally appropriate books and videos may also be helpful in telling the story of how Black History Month was established. Plan a weekly movie night with your child. View movies and documentaries before watching with your child to ensure the content is appropriate for his/her age. Remember, Black History is American History and should be celebrated all year round!  

How can parents use books to help young children learn about diversity?
Visit your local bookstore or library to find books showing diverse characters. Reading helps your child’s imagination come alive and helps her discover new things about her history and the world around her. Reading can also help your child be more confident and creative. At the National Black Child Development Institute, we know that 79% of Black children ages 3-5 are read to by a family member three or more times per week. Children’s books are key to establishing social and cultural identity. Seeing images of themselves in books promotes children’s psychological well-being. Books are like windows, allowing children to get a view into the lives of kids from backgrounds different from their own. As you read together, ask your child questions about the characters. What makes them unique or similar to your child? This will help you understand your child’s vision of the world. Next week, we will publish a list of culturally-relevant and developmentally appropriate books to share with your child during Black History Month. Stay tuned! 

Mealtime can open up great opportunities to share conversations about diversity with little ones. Research shows that sharing meals together as a family also boosts your child’s self-esteem! Learn more about our Meal Time is Talk Time partnership with NBCDI in Black Enterprise here.