As a black woman, I wonder what it would be like to raise a black child in today's world.

I turn on the news or open my Facebook feed and see celebrities like Vybz Kartel and Azealia Banks defending skin bleaching. Black bodies are strewn across the media, seemingly victims of fear-fueled violence by police and the nation’s growing intolerance. Not to mention a presidential election that has unveiled some of the darkest perspectives and ideologies in this country.

Things look bleak, and far too often it feels like we’re moving backward, intent on repeating the mistakes of the past. Seeing these things hurts. So much of it feels like a personal attack because the people affected are just like me. My family. My friends.


Image via the Seattle Municipal Archives/Flickr.

Now, I’m not a parent. Far from it. But I wonder what it would be like to raise a kid in these times when racism and hate are increasingly mainstream. How do parents today protect their kids from the vitriol online, lack of representation in entertainment media, and the countless microaggressions in day-to-day life?

How do parents, particularly black parents, raise kids who are able to see and understand the ways in which race plays a role in their lives without them feeling burdened by this knowledge or internalizing messages of hate?

The answer, while multifaceted, is surprisingly simple.

I spoke with Dr. James Huguley, assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Social Work and Center on Race and Social Problems. A portion of his work includes the African American Parenting Project, which looks at these very issues and works to identify the ways kids are affected by parents who stress cultural pride and awareness.

Image via iStock.

He speaks with black families about their parenting methods and goals and asks them to share how they encourage and reinforce positive identity in their homes. Then, he analyzes the results of these efforts.

Here are the five key pieces of advice he shared:

1. Strike a delicate balance between educating your kids and burdening them.

Sometimes, it’s easy to forget that parents are people, too. They’re using their history to inform what they teach their kids, but they have to be cautious to approach it from a balanced perspective. Dr. Huguley said:

“We see a range of ways in which the parents’ experiences have influenced how they interact with their children. For some who have experienced racial oppression firsthand — the parents from the South with really devastating racial stories and narratives — they want to protect their children, they want to make sure their children both see themselves positively and surround themselves with positivity, and that they're strong in the face of oppression or racism and don’t feel defined by it.”

Image via iStock.

Balance is key. Huguley said parents should aim to empower their kids, not scare them: “You want them to feel strong. Feel capable." But encouraging their sense of self-worth doesn't mean sheltering them from some of the harsh realities of the world. Huguley continues: "They can have a sober understanding of oppression, but at the same time not feel discouraged or that they won’t be able to achieve. They can know that there are challenges that we face but that they can and will still be very successful.”

2. Don’t just talk about cultural pride; display it at home.

How do parents teach kids about their culture's history (and its relationship to their present) without overwhelming them? With art. With experiences outside the mainstream that positively depict their culture. Exposing kids to cultural experiences serves as a form of positive reinforcement. While turning on the TV may yield a handful of largely one-dimensional depictions of what it means to be black, there are art exhibits, plays, books, and so much more that show kids that there’s no one way to be black; they just need to be themselves.

Image via iStock.

3. There’s no better antidote to the ways society fails children of color than community.

As Huguley put it, “the family is your first community.” What parents do within the home goes a long way and lays the foundation for how their children interact with the world, but there’s no better way to cement that message than to show kids firsthand that they are part of an incredibly diverse community of people. That community will vary for every family. For some, it’ll be a circle of friends or family. For others, a spiritual community. For others still, an activity may be what brings them together. Whatever the means, being a part of a community is key to a child’s sense of self.


Image via iStock.

Huguley said that when kids, particularly African-American kids, are raised within supportive communities and see representations that are “well beyond negative racial stereotypes, they can begin to understand more holistically, more intellectually and artistically, even relationally what it means to be a black person.” They'll see that being black is so much more than sound bites or caricatures — black people are allowed to be whole, too.

4. There is strength in our history.

Yes, slavery happened. Yes, there are so many systemic inequalities lingering as a result. Yes, it can feel like there will always be an uphill battle to fight. But framing plays a role in how kids view the past. The horrors of the past are not indicators of inferiority or weakness or a source of shame. It’s a sign of strength. Huguley said: “Our history is a history of overcoming. Parents have framed it that way. We have a long history of overcoming oppression, and it’s going to continue to be that way. We’re strong people.”

Image via iStock.

So when kids turn on the TV and hear about another police shooting or see that KKK members are seeking political office, they don’t need to feel discouraged. This is just one part in the continued battle, and we will overcome.

5. Keep it age-appropriate.

Huguley reminds us that not every child is ready to process the reality of racial inequality. He encourages parents to have conversations with their kids, and to keep that conversation flowing. It’s not enough to have a single talk — it’s an ongoing discussion. The goal isn’t to scare kids, it’s to educate them and show them that they are more than a stereotype. More than a statistic. They are worthy.

Image via iStock.

This world is far from perfect, and though we’ve made huge strides forward, there’s a lot of work to be done.

Our differences should be celebrated — not attacked, denigrated, or used as an excuse for violent and abusive behavior.

The road looks bumpy right now. Too many people are trying to pass off hateful and racist views as valid opinions. But this nastiness that we're seeing is part of a greater evolution, even if it feels like a downward spiral right now. We have to peel back the layers and confront the divisiveness before we can truly move forward.

The seeds of a revolution are sown — black parents today are saying enough is enough. They're equipping their kids to rise above the hate, showing them that they are so much more than the two-dimensional characters so much of society tries to convince them they are.

Image via iStock.

Images courtesy of Letters of Love
True

When Grace Berbig was 7 years old, her mom was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissues. Being so young, Grace didn’t know what cancer was or why her mother was suddenly living in the hospital. But she did know this: that while her mom was in the hospital, she would always be assured that her family was thinking of her, supporting her and loving her every step of her journey.

Nearly every day, Grace and her two younger sisters would hand-make cards and fill them with drawings and messages of love, which their mother would hang all over the walls of her hospital room. These cherished letters brought immeasurable peace and joy to their mom during her sickness. Sadly, when Grace was just 10 years old, her mother lost her battle with cancer.“

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Losing my mom put the world in a completely different perspective for me,” Grace says. “I realized that you never know when someone could leave you, so you have to love the people you love with your whole heart, every day.”

Grace’s father was instrumental in helping in the healing process of his daughters. “I distinctly remember my dad constantly reminding my two little sisters, Bella and Sophie, and I that happiness is a choice, and it was now our job to turn this heartbreaking event in our life into something positive.”

When she got to high school, Grace became involved in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and a handful of other organizations. But she never felt like she was doing enough.

“I wanted to create an opportunity for people to help beyond donating money, and one that anyone could be a part of, no matter their financial status.”

In October 2018, Grace started Letters of Love, a club at her high school in Long Lake, Minnesota, to emotionally support children battling cancer and other serious illnesses through letter-writing and craft-making.


Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Much to her surprise, more than 100 students showed up for the first club meeting. From then on, Letters of Love grew so fast that during her senior year in high school, Grace had to start a GoFundMe to help cover the cost of card-making materials.

Speaking about her nonprofit today, Grace says, “I can’t find enough words to explain how blessed I feel to have this organization. Beyond the amount of kids and families we are able to support, it allows me to feel so much closer and more connected to my mom.”

Since its inception, Letters of Love has grown to more than 25 clubs with more than 1,000 members providing emotional support to more than 60,000 patients in children’s hospitals around the world. And in the process it has become a full-time job for Grace.

“I do everything from training volunteers and club ambassadors, paying bills, designing merchandise, preparing financial predictions and overviews, applying for grants, to going through each and every card ensuring they are appropriate to send out to hospitals.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

In addition to running Letters of Love, Grace and her small team must also contend with the emotions inherent in their line of work.

“There have been many, many tears cried,” she says. “Working to support children who are battling cancer and other serious and sometimes chronic illnesses can absolutely be extremely difficult mentally. I feel so blessed to be an organization that focuses solely on bringing joy to these children, though. We do everything we can to simply put a smile on their face, and ensure they know that they are so loved, so strong, and so supported by people all around the world.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Letters of Love has been particularly instrumental in offering emotional support to children who have been unable to see friends and family due to COVID-19. A video campaign in the summer of 2021 even saw members of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings and the NHL’s Minnesota Wild offer short videos of hope and encouragement to affected children.

Grace is currently taking a gap year before she starts college so she can focus on growing Letters of Love as well as to work on various related projects, including the publication of a children’s book.

“The goal of the book is to teach children the immense impact that small acts of kindness can have, how to treat their peers who may be diagnosed with disabilities or illness, and how they are never too young to change the world,” she says.

Since she was 10, Grace has kept memories of her mother close to her, as a source of love and inspiration in her life and in the work she does with Letters of Love.

Image courtesy of Grace Berbig

“When I lost my mom, I felt like a section of my heart went with her, so ever since, I have been filling that piece with love and compassion towards others. Her smile and joy were infectious, and I try to mirror that in myself and touch people’s hearts as she did.”

For more information visit Letters of Love.

Please donate to Grace’s GoFundMe and help Letters of Love to expand, publish a children’s book and continue to reach more children in hospitals around the world.

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Images courtesy of AFutureSuperhero and Friends and Balance Dance Project
True

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The man inside the costume is Yuri Williams, founder of AFutureSuperhero And Friends, a Los Angeles nonprofit that uplifts and inspires marginalized people with small acts of kindness.

Yuri’s organization is one of four inaugural grant winners from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, a joint initiative between Upworthy and GoFundMe that celebrates kindness and everyday actions inspired by the best of humanity. This year, the Upworthy Kindness Fund is giving $100,000 to grassroots changemakers across the world.

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Meet the first four winners:

1: Balance Dance Project: This studio aims to bring accessible dance to all in the Sacramento, CA area. Lead fundraiser Miranda Macias says many dancers spend hours a day at Balance practicing contemporary, lyrical, hip-hop, and ballet. Balance started a GoFundMe to raise money to cover tuition for dancers from low-income communities, buy dance team uniforms, and update its facility. The $500 contribution from the Kindness Fund nudged Balance closer to its $5,000 goal.

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Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team video update youtu.be

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Think you qualify for the fund? Tell us how you’re bringing kindness to your community. Grants will be awarded on a rolling basis from now through the end of 2021. For questions and more information, please check out our FAQ's and the Kindness Toolkit for resources on how to start your own kindness fundraiser.

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