It’s no secret that we live in deeply divided times. Political differences, housing segregation, socioeconomic inequity, racial tension and many other factors threaten to divide people into groups. In order to come together and make progress, we must find ways to break down those divides. Children in particular need opportunities to be surrounded by people who differ from them in order to learn about common humanity and be able to interact successfully in the world.

Racial diversity can be very challenging to achieve, especially for children. While many parts of the country are racially diverse, many others lack opportunities for children to see people of different races. People who live in segregated areas or rural areas may not know many (or any) other children of a different race. Even people who live in diverse areas might know about one or two other cultures but have no exposure to others.

How do we provide opportunities for children to engage in authentic diversity?

First, a very important note.

People sometimes confuse diversity experiences with service learning. While it is very important for children to learn about people who are less fortunate than them by serving food or organizing a donation drive, those experiences are not the same thing as meaningful diversity. If children only see people of a different race through the lens of people who are less fortunate than them, they are missing an important piece of the diversity puzzle. It is important for children to see that people of different races and cultures are both different from and similar to them in many ways.

Here are a four considerations for creating meaningful diversity opportunities for children. 

1. Rally around a cause

People often come together when they share a mutual passion for an important cause. Find out what issues cross cultures and how your children can be a part of the cause. Examples might include attending a candlelight vigil, organizing a fundraiser, or attending a park cleanup day. These causes should be opportunities for people to see others who don’t look like them but who share a similar passion or interest. Remember, this isn’t the same as serving those who are different from them, but in finding people who are connected to the same issues.

2. Make it fun

People form deeper connections with others when they’re having fun! Think of ways that different cultures can connect in a lighthearted and fun way. Host a family game night, a soccer tournament or a fun run. Be sure the event is accessible to people from all different cultures, so choose games that don’t rely on knowledge of one culture, such as trivia games. Invite specific groups, like two middle schools from across town, or two neighboring communities. Find an easy place to host, such as a park or rec center. If there’s a small turnout, don’t give up! You may need to try more than once to build up a gathering.

3. Try a swap

Two pastors in the Dallas community do a “pastor swap”. One pastor is White and manages a predominately White church, and he switches place with a Black pastor with a predominately Black church population. They both gain a lot from the experience and have the chance to engage with a population who is similar to them – a faith community – but a different race. How could this idea be expanded to provide diversity opportunities to children?

Parents or school leaders can support this by finding experiences that pair similarities, much like the pastor swap. A high school drama class can attend a production at a high school with a different population, a basketball team can attend another school’s game or practice, a club such as a political club or debate club can view other similar clubs made up of different populations. And then, in order to make it a true swap, they can invite other groups to view and/or participate in their events as well.

It is important to note that some events are designed for certain cultures and are not made for everyone. It would be culturally insensitive for a group to show up at a Mosque unannounced, for example. This shouldn’t be seen as a field trip or an opportunity to look in on another culture like they’re a special exhibit. It should instead be framed as a chance to see people who engage in the same activities but who may otherwise come from different cultures and backgrounds.

4. Collaborate

Finally, find ways for groups to collaborate. For example, the two different high school drama groups could pair up to do a production together. Sports teams can play a fun game or pre-season tournament. Different neighborhoods could come together for a BBQ cook-off. Think about what connects people – and then use that to actually connect people!

Diversity is crucial as children grow into adults who will interact with different people in the world. If they learn these lessons as young people, just think how prepared they will be to embrace others as adults.

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