Helping parents combat racism in schools

Two Ottawa mothers have co-founded a new diversity workshop to help parents navigate anti-black racism their children may face in school.

Parents for Diversity formed to help parents prepare for tough conversations with teachers

In this composite photo, Julia Nicol, left, and Mante Molepo speak about Parents for Diversity on CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning. (CBC)

When Julia Nicol and Mante Molepo learned their children had endured racist taunts from other kids in their kindergarten classrooms, they resolved to do something about it.

The Ottawa group Parents for Diversity is holding its first workshop tonight, aimed at helping parents navigate anti-black racism their children may face in school.

The group aims to educate parents on the responsibilities schools have to prevent discrimination, and give parents an idea of how to talk about race with teachers and administrators. 

Nicol said her daughter would come home in tears after being taunted at school. As a parent, she had to comfort her child, but also knew she had to start a tough conversation about race and identity. 

"I wanted to support her and make her realize that that was not a problem with her identity, it was a problem with what that boy had been taught," she said. "I want her to be comfortable in her own skin and proud of who she is and her mixed heritage."

Giving parents tools for advocacy

Mante Molepo said her daughter has also been the target of discriminatory comments from other students. Even in the earliest grades, she was being excluded by her classmates because of her skin colour, Molepo said. 

A difficult conversation was made even tougher when Molepo experienced pushback from a teacher.

"She categorically denied that children at the kindergarten level are aware of race," she said. "Despite the countless studies that prove otherwise."

The workshop will focus on showing parents the best way to broach the issue of racism with teachers and reminding parents exactly what their children's rights are. 

"We often forget that schools have a legal obligation to provide a learning environment that is free from discrimination, harassment and bullying," Molepo said. 

Building rapport

It often helps when parents build rapport with their children's teachers at the start of the school year so that when incidents occur it's easier to have a conversation, she said.

It's also helpful to give concrete examples of what teachers can do to foster inclusion, Nicol said, citing one experience with her daughter's teacher, who put a sticker on her Grade 1 report card. 

"It was a superhero girl with brown skin," she said. "You could just see my daughter's eyes sparkle."

The workshop takes place Thursday night at the Taggart Family YMCA at 6 p.m. It's free to attend, but parents are asked to register in advance.