Diversity is a common subject in Brittany Smith’s pre-K class.
The 27-year-old, who’s been teaching for nearly five years now, has a classroom full of students from different backgrounds — her kids speak at least four different languages, and her supply boxes are full of costumes, dolls and toys representing a wide range of cultures.
So when the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor sparked a global wave of protests against racial injustice, Smith knew she wanted to help kids understand what this current moment means.
“I felt like I hadn’t really seen much about how children are taking it, or about what people are doing for their children,” Smith told In The Know. “And as an educator myself, that’s something I’m always thinking about — especially given the fact that I teach in such a diverse community.”
On June 1, the New Jersey-based teacher, who only had 300 Twitter followers at the time, took to social media to share dozens of children’s books that deal with race and racism. Now, her thread has earned more than 400,000 likes.
Smith told In The Know that she felt the protests — and the issues they represent — were “very real” for her students. Atlantic City, where her school is based, has been the site of numerous protests since Floyd’s death on May 25, so she knew the demonstrations were something her young students would be thinking about.
“I just thought it would be helpful to kind of say, ‘Hey, a lot of people are talking about this. Here are some books to help have or prompt those conversations,’” Smith told In The Know.
Her wide-spanning list includes books on famous Black activists (like “Malcolm Little,” which details the childhood of Malcolm X and “Let It Shine,” a collection of stories about female Black freedom fighters), as well as several that tackle the issue of systemic racism head-on (like Duncan Tonatiuh’s “Separate But Never Equal”).
Smith’s recommendations spanned countless races and cultures, including books such as “Layla’s Lunchbox” and “The Proudest Blue,” both of which center on young Muslim girls. She also suggested “My Family Divided,” Diane Guerrero’s personal memoir about her parents’ deportation to Colombia, which occurred when she was just a middle-schooler.
The idea, according to Smith, was sparked by Nickelodeon, which made headlines after fully cutting off its programming for eight minutes and 46 seconds — the exact length of time that Floyd was pinned and suffocated by police. The channel’s decision sparked a debate among some parents, with many feeling the decision was too frightening for children.
“It just kind of made me think that there are people who really don’t believe children should have these conversations about race, racism and social injustice,” Smith told In The Know. “And it kind of annoyed me almost — that people don’t realize that there are ways to have these conversations that are a lot more feasible and tangible to children.”
It’s clear that several parents agree with Smith. The teacher told In The Know that she’s received several messages from people who have since struggled to find the books on her list.
“It’s become next to impossible to find the books in stock,” she said. “I can’t help but ask myself, ‘How much did that tweet have to do with that?’”
Thankfully though, it doesn’t seem like Smith’s classroom is going to suffer from a lack of reading materials. Since her post went viral, the teacher has been receiving other powerful children’s books from those inspired by her post.
“So excited to add these to my library,” she tweeted about her new gifts.
If you’re looking for ways to help, here’s a list of ways you can support Black Lives Matter and the protestors.
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