The Book Helping Parents Raise Changemakers
For parents feeling bemused about how to talk to their children about social justice issues (including immigration, racism, homelessness, and gender identity), it can be difficult to know where to start, especially with small children under age 10. A book designed specifically to aid and empower parents in that endeavor has been published.
The book is called “Parenting 4 Social Justice: Tips, Tools, and Inspiration for Conversations and Action with Kids.” It was inspired by workshops in Brattleboro, VT given by lead author Angela Berkfield. After three years of leading workshops, which were attended by dozens of parents, grandparents, and other caregivers, Berkfield decided to create a tangible resource for parents in her community and beyond. Thus, the idea for the book was born.
Like the workshops that preceded it, the “Parenting 4 Social Justice” book is designed to help parents initiate and navigate conversations with their children about social justice issues. To bring the concepts to life and really personalize them, Berkfield enlisted the help of several co-authors, who each shared their personal experiences with social justice issues.
In 2020, Berkfield was diagnosed with breast cancer. While processing and battling with what Jaimie Lynn Kessell refers to as “warrior strength and grace,” Berkfield moved the book forward. Parenting 4 Social Justice was published by Green Writers Press in May 2021.
Sadly, in September of that year, Berkfield passed away. Today, the co-authors continue to spread messages from the book, helping to widen its reach and engage with an online community created through the movement Berkfield began.
Kessell describes Berkfield as “a force.”
“There are people who exist that are a bit like glue — they just seem to hold things together. People, ideas, situations. Angela certainly held together this book and managed to get all of us to contribute and get us published.”
Kessell worked alongside Berkfield to create a chapter on parenting for class and economic justice. Kessell says the chapter provides a space for both her and Berkfield, who grew up in very different circumstances, to talk about how economics shape each woman’s life.
“I come from generational poverty in West Virginia, and Angela hailed from the Midwest and lived pretty comfortably throughout her upbringing,” says Kessell. “My economic and class background is honestly night and day from Angela’s experiences, so I have thought of myself as an anchor to Angela’s writing. I counterbalanced her experiences of privilege with mine of oppression, and I really think that the respect that we had for each other in our writing showcases how valuable cross-class friendships are.”
The chapter includes vignettes from parents and caregivers about their own experiences regarding parenting for class and economic justice, reflection questions, a list of resources to read, watch, or listen to, and accompanying guidance to help parents have conversations with kids before and after using the resources. Kessell calls the stories in the chapter ‘personal,’ and says the candidness therein sets the stage for a deep dive into topics that many people may find difficult to navigate alone.
“It really seems to set the chapter up for a deeper dive into class and economic justice, intersectionality, and examples of how to parent children using the lens of understanding how our own class biases show up in our thinking, so that we can learn to shift conversations in our houses,” she says.
Berkfield and Kessell’s paths crossed in 2018 while attending Goddard College. Kessell was interning at ACT for Social Justice and Equity Solutions, an organization co-founded by Berkfield. “Angela blessed me by requesting that I join the train of co-authors for the book that she was writing about parenting for social justice,” Kessell says.
Kessell decided to be a part of the project because she believes children deserve and can handle truth when delivered in an age-appropriate way.
“If we can prepare the next generation of humans to be change-makers by genuinely helping them understand what issues they are up against, teach them in ways that respect them as individual humans, and how to respect others, then our kids, who are literally in control of the future, can change the world into a more equitable society,” Kessell says. She defines teaching children how to respect others as teaching them “that everyone deserves to be seen for who they are and treated as though who they are matters more than what they look like, where they came from, or what they have.”
Kessell says she sees parenting as her best tool for affecting change — something that feels beyond her grasp from a socioeconomic standpoint.
“My ability to perform actions dedicated to social justice is in direct proportion to my power in society,” she says. “My family is beholden to systems that are designed to keep us poor, while shaming us and providing the opportunity for other, wealthier people to feel better about themselves in the name of charity. The only sphere of influence that I can fully practice social justice activism in and have it matter, is in parenting my children. Parenting them is social justice.”
Beyond reading, and using, the book, Kessell encourages parents to visit the book’s website, which is a movement on its own. “Angela was a queen of resources and chose, with input from others, what to include on the website. I think the website is a great place to start for accessing helpful information, in conjunction with the book itself, of course,” says Kessell. In addition, she says a Facebook community created by Angela and maintained by co-authors and other supporters offers space for parents, educators, and the co-authors to be in the conversation.
“It is a very enriching experience and helps us learn from each other and build a sense of community,” she says.
In closing, Kessell shares words spoken by Berkfield at a book talk in May 2021. By then, she was over a year into her breast cancer diagnosis, which had coincided with the onset of the pandemic. Berkfield described the period that followed as all-encompassing. It forced her to focus on healing — physically, mentally, and spiritually.
“When I started to feel well enough to work on finishing up the book, I realized that I had already been talking about all of this healing for years, it’s in the book,” said Berkfield. “I just hadn’t been truly practicing it, hadn’t embodied it. Now I feel the healing in my body. And I believe that my kids can feel its truth in their bodies too, although they don’t have the words to talk about it.
“So as you read this book, feel it in your bodies, take time with it, give yourself permission to grieve, to laugh, to share, there is no rush, this book brings an opportunity to heal from lifetimes of oppression, and if you take the space, it provides an opportunity to envision a healed future, and to move towards that healed future.”