'We Stories' aims to get white families talking about race, racism through children’s books | St. Louis Public Radio

'We Stories' aims to get white families talking about race, racism through children’s books

Mar 29, 2016

A new local organization wants to get the conversation about race and racism started with a group you may not expect: young, white families in St. Louis. We Stories: Raising Big-Hearted Kids is using children’s literature to “create conversation, change and hope in St. Louis” with the aim of making St. Louis more inclusive.

On Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air, the founders of We Stories joined the program to discuss how it works and how conversations about race and racism need to be hosted not only across races and families but within families that don’t normally talk about it—namely, white families.

Adelaide Lancaster and Laura Horwitz
Credit Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

Adelaide Lancaster and Laura Horwitz met and started working on this project about this time last year — both are “St. Louis County moms with little kids,” said Lancaster.

“We spent a lot of time talking about the problems of our region and we wanted to find a way as young moms to be part of the solution,” Lancaster said. “While we as adults talked to adults, the conversations in our homes were not reflecting what was going on around us. The more we looked into it, we found we were like a lot of white families that we didn’t discuss race and especially don’t do it around children. The more we looked into that, we realized that if we wanted to raise ‘big-hearted kids’ with a deep understanding of other people’s stories and truth and realities that we should work on turning that conversation around. Our solution was to look to children’s books to do that.”

As Lancaster and Horwitz explained, they wanted to focus their efforts on white families because they tend to talk about race and racism less with their children. Families of color, on the other hand, talk about race and racism as a necessary part of parenting and raising children to confront a world that won’t treat them fairly. 

As the organization’s website explains: “This disparity creates a huge conversation gap, one that we believe is detrimental to creating relationships, institutions, and communities that have true anti-racist potential.”

We Stories is focusing efforts on white families with children ages 0-7 years. This is because that period of time is when racial biases become cemented in a person’s brain. They use a curriculum called the Family Learning Program, which supplies families with four age-appropriate books for children that feature diverse characters and examine race and racism. Accompanying that selection are monthly book recommendations, resources for supporting meaningful conversations, invitations to story times, workshops and playdates, and access to a community of like-minded parents.

Oftentimes books that feature diverse characters or deal with the concept of race appropriately can be hard to find.

“Books with protagonists of color have often not been marketed to white families,” Horwitz said. “ … These are widely available books, they are compelling, they cover any topic you can dream of. But first you have to think to look for them.”

Kristen Sorth, director of St. Louis County Library
Credit Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

We Stories recently partnered with the St. Louis County Library system to carry books in their curriculum as well as activity kits to help families start the conversation. Kristen Sorth, the director of St. Louis County Library, said that the organization’s mission fit well with what the library is already doing.

“We had many of the titles in our collection already,” said Sorth. “We added 700 books to our collections and are available all over St. Louis. They are marketed with the ‘We Stories’ labels. We hope to have activity kits that families will be able to have conversations about at home.”

For now, the group has relied largely on word-of-mouth to get families interested in participating in the program. Over 200 people have reached out to be a part, which Lancaster said is a sign that people in St. Louis want to change and make a more inclusive future for all St. Louisans.

"There is no one way to parent and no one way to solve the huge, complex problem of racism."

“There is no one way to parent and no one way to solve the huge, complex problem of racism,” Horwitz said. “What we’re doing is inviting families that are interested and want to participate but haven’t been part of the larger conversation happening in our region about racial equity as of yet.”

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.