Developing Racial Literacy at Media-Providence Friends School

PCM has been working with the Media-Providence Friends School (MPFS), a local Friends school interested in engaging more deeply in issues of race and diversity (1) within its school community. On April 10th, PCM core group members Jen Bradley and Tia Mathisen, along with former PCM intern Alexis Riddick, facilitated a discussion with parents, staff members, and a few middle school students. In addition to creating an inclusive, welcoming but challenging environment in which important conversations could take place, Jen, Tia, and Alexis hoped to address the idea of “diversity” beyond singular events and beyond a single narrative.

After Jen explained to the group what PCM is about, Tia came to the center of the room to showcase two beautiful quilts from her family. She discussed the complexity of identity, including racial identity, and how common narratives of oppression and struggle fail to address so many important aspects, such as culture and tradition, of what it means to be a Black person. This personal reflection provided a thought-provoking introduction to the themes of the event.

Next, participants were given the opportunity to fill out a reflection sheet considering race, racial identity, and the words we use to describe our own and others’ identities. After this, we broke into groups. Tia started our group off by reading the story “The Word Collector” by Peter Reynolds. The story is about a young boy, Jerome (who happens to be Black), who loves and collects words. Eventually, he begins stringing the words together into poems and stories, and finally shares his words with other children. It was a simple, positive story, so our entire group appeared surprised when Tia asked at the end, “What does this story tell us about what it means to be Black?”

From this simple question, a wide-ranging and reflective conversation ensued, touching on a variety of topics, including appropriation, narratives other than the oppression/struggle narrative, and the role of white people teaching children about race and diversity. Workshop participants with a variety of roles and identities engaged with the idea of diversity and reflected on their own positionality and experiences. Angela Di Maria, MPFS’ Assistant Head of School, reflected on the workshop and the importance of

“Engag[ing] in authentic conversations about diversity… these conversations require practice and a safe space where we can make mistakes together, honor personal stories and connections, and grow our perspectives.  PCM created such a space… I am deeply moved by the work of PCM and impressed with how they… get to the heart of these rich and complex conversations, using picture books with beautiful artwork and sweet stories to engage students of all ages.”

PCM is so happy to be working with the community of MPFS to become a more inclusive school!

  1. “Racial literacy” is a concept explored by University of Pennsylvania professor Howard Stevenson, who discusses the concept in his influential book “Promoting Racial Literacy: Differences That Make a Difference” (2014).