Rev. Samuel Rodriguez: Racism and justice — Parents, here's how to teach children to make a difference

We can’t teach our children about racism without showing them what it looks like to love others who may not look or talk like us

Since the murder of George Floyd — a black man killed while in the custody of a white police officer in Minneapolis on May 25 — images of protests, violent riots and deadly shootings have dominated our news stories and social media feeds.

While this may not be the first time many of us have seen such graphic content, it may be the first time our children are being exposed to it. Depending on their age, some of them may not yet fully understand the context of these events or the history of racism in America.

As parents, it’s our responsibility to not only help them understand what is happening in our nation but also to teach them that we are children of God and equal in His eyes, and because of that racial prejudice is wrong and immoral.

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Here are three practical ways to help your children understand what is going on in America:

Talk about racism

One of the responsibilities of a parent is talking to his or her children about difficult things. This includes addressing racism.

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Parents cannot be shy when it comes to explaining to their children what racism is, why it exists and why it is a sin. We must talk openly about the tragic history of slavery and oppression of Native Americans and people of color in our nation.

Even more important and difficult, we need to acknowledge our own biases and prejudices, confess when we fall short and repent of our shortcomings in front of our children. Teaching our children how to own up for their mistakes is one of the greatest gifts we can give them.

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Most important, we need to teach them that every human life is valuable, regardless of race, age, ethnic background or socioeconomic status. Genesis 1:27 says, “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them” (NIV).

We have to recognize and celebrate the uniqueness of different ethnic groups rather than training our children to be colorblind, for God is not colorblind.

Lead by example

We can’t teach our children about racism without showing them what it looks like to love others who may not look or talk like us. This includes establishing relationships with people in our community who have different ethnic and racial backgrounds. In this case, telling our children, “do as I say, not as I do,” is not an option.

Parents, your children are looking to you to set the example. If all the people you and your family hang around look and talk like you, I challenge you to step out of your comfort zone and lead your family to meet and befriend people from different ethnic backgrounds. Your children will imitate what they see you doing at home.

It is critical for parents to begin teaching their children not only how to think and talk about racism and justice, but also how to do something about it.

Educate yourself so you can educate your children. For example, you can attend cultural events and festivals with your children and explain why learning from and valuing other cultures is important. Beyond teaching your children to respect and love others, these experiences will strengthen your relationship with them.

Take action together

When I became a parent, I quickly realized that children imitate adults in both actions and attitudes. This is why it is critical for parents to begin teaching their children not only how to think and talk about racism and justice, but also how to do something about it.

Attend a peaceful protest or march with your children. Walk them through the process of donating to a justice organization and share why you choose to do so. Volunteer in service projects, especially those aimed at building trust between law enforcement and the local community.

As a pastor, I believe the words of the apostle James in the New Testament: “For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:26 ESV). If I say that all people are created in the image of God, then I have to demonstrate that belief through my actions.

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Like many Americans, I am hurting because of the injustices committed against my black brothers and sisters, and I am yearning for that future Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed about, when people in our nation “will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Our children can make that future a reality. It’s within our power to teach them to see the inherent worth and dignity of others.

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