At our recent Community Conversation, people shared their stories about when they first learned about race and ethnicity and their own personal experiences learning and working in diverse environments.  Listening to these stories increased my own awareness about the challenges and opportunities ahead for our children, and I truly appreciated the opportunity to engage in meaningful dialogue with others about this important issue.

It seems only fair for me to share some of the stories that had the biggest impact on my journey and have helped shape me as a person and my perspective on life in general.

Growing up in a predominantly white, middle class community, most of the people I interacted with in my school and local community looked like me and had very similar upbringings. Thank goodness for my life as a competitive basketball player! Starting at the age of 15, I had the opportunity to be part of a team that drew players from all across the state. This opportunity gave me a chance to travel with many girls and their families who represented different upbringings than my own. I was able to build relationships with other people based on our shared passions and interests instead of being separated by our differences. Many of you know that my basketball career also enabled me to attend Duke University (an experience that was invaluable), but even more powerful was the opportunity to live and play professional basketball in Germany. I can’t possibly put into words the personal growth that occurred when living, playing, and working with people for an entire year who didn’t share the same traditions, language, or experiences! My world and perspective expanded thanks to basketball!

Before becoming a teacher, I traveled the United States for a year with an 18-wheeler truck. This was not an ordinary 18-wheeler; it was a mobile marketing tour for Hanes and converted into a sports exhibit with memorabilia, video games, and even a simulator ride. Our target audience was males ages 18-34, and we used sports as our leverage to reach them. Because of my experience in the sports arena and public speaking, I was chosen to be the tour manager and spokesperson, and I was charged with promoting the tour through radio and TV interviews as well as organizing the business details involved. My six traveling companions and coworkers were all males, and I was considerably younger than all of them! Four of the men were responsible for driving the truck and assembling the exhibit, and the other two men were the models that worked the exhibit with me. Let’s just say, we were a very diverse crew! We traveled to more than 30 cities ranging from Bentonville, Arkansas, to Detroit, Michigan, and we attended events that included NASCAR races, college football games, state fairs and festivals, and even parking lots at Wal-mart. From gender, to culture, to age and experiences, we all added something different to our blended team. It was quite an adventure!

I have been an educator for the last 12 years and have taught Kindergarten, first grade, and second grade in the classroom setting, and have also led summer programs and camps for students ranging in age from 3-18. My experiences have been in public and private schools, extremely affluent communities and very low socioeconomic communities, schools that were diverse and schools that were not very diverse. Because I have worked with young children from a variety of backgrounds and experiences, I know that children are more similar than they are different. The developmental stages they progress through are not dramatically different if their skin colors, religious beliefs, or cultures vary. This has led me to ask the question, ” Why do children treat each other differently, form groups, or judge and separate each other based on these differences that do exist?” This has challenged me as an educator to not just answer the question, but do my part to break the cycle. I believe our children need our help more than ever to dispel some of the myths they see and hear every day. My own daughter, at age 3, is already starting to notice and discuss differences she sees, so even at this early age, my husband and I have work to do.

I have many more stories and experiences that have impacted me on my journey, but what they all have in common are opportunities to interact closely with people who were different than me. I am grateful for the opportunities I had, and continue to have, that allow me a chance to see and hear first hand the different perspectives people have and why they have them.

What are your stories?

What do you want your children’s stories to be?

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