District Diversity Consultant Shares Ideas About Race at Workshop

Photo by Wes Woods II / OUTLOOK
Christina Hale-Elliott, La Cañada Unified School District’s first diversity, equity and inclusion consultant, leads a discussion on “How to Talk With Young Adults About Race” at the La Cañada High School cafeteria.

Talking to young children about race is a discussion to be held as soon as possible.
That’s the message La Cañada Unified School District’s diversity, equity and inclusion consultant Christina Hale-Elliott recently gave at a talk to a group of about 20 people. In the discussion, “How to Talk With Young Adults About Race,” Hale-Elliott addressed topics, including a brief history of racism, white privilege and the model minority myth. Children as young as 3 months start to display reactions to race, Hale-Elliott said.
“If you haven’t had a conversation, get started now. The easiest way is to begin organically,” Hale-Elliott said to the parents in the La Cañada High School cafeteria. “Take the time to point out differences. ‘Oh, that character has curly hair. This character has straight hair.’ Just make note of that because they’re going to notice those things anyway. By framing it in a positive light … ‘Isn’t it great that we’re all different?’ We’re trying to get in the way that differences are different … and counteract this narrative of (racial) hierarchy.”
Hale-Elliott said afterward she felt the topic was not an easy one so she was “tremendously grateful” for the people who came out to engage in the learning series event.
Last November, Hale-Elliott and LCUSD Superintendent Wendy Sinnette hosted two workshops titled “Cultivating Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” at the LCHS auditorium.
Hale-Elliott, the founder and principal consultant for Elliott Education Services, was hired as the district’s first diversity, equity and inclusion consultant on Sept. 10. According to Hale-Elliott’s biography, her role for Elliott Education Services is to provide technical assistance and professional development for school districts, teacher education and parent advocacy groups.
“I am looking forward to this being the first of many opportunities I will have to talk with families,” Hale-Elliott said.
When the presentation started, Hale-Elliott placed two bags of candy on tables to be passed around the room. Attendees were told to select a piece of candy but not to eat the candy yet as it would be used in a future small group activity. If a chocolate piece of candy was selected, Hale-Elliott said, attendees would have to answer the question, ‘What is their greatest hope in talking with their children about race?’ If a fruit-flavored piece of candy was selected, attendees would talk about what their biggest fears were in talking to their children.
Sinnette, who was in attendance, responded that, in her group, people were afraid of saying the wrong thing. “Or approaching a subject and inadvertently saying something that’s insensitive or something uncomfortable,” Sinnette said. She added that “being good” with language allows people to feel included, feel empathy and have a positive conversation to bring people together.
Hale-Elliott said in these types of conversations, people may have a tendency to disengage if they feel discomfort. “So I ask you to question yourself on that … ‘Why am I disengaging? Why do I not want to participate at this moment?’” Hale-Elliott said. “And be reflective of that. If you’re having the type of deep, honest conversations that you need to have around these topics, then there’s going to be discomfort.”
Hale-Elliott also displayed slides that defined terms. Race was described as “a socially constructed category of people, grouped on the basis of physical characteristics, including skin color, hair and facial features.” A quote from Ta-Nehisi Coates read, “Race is the child of racism, not the father.”
“If you think about that, it’s basically saying that race was created as a way to justify discriminatory practices,” Hale-Elliott said.
District parents said they enjoyed the presentation and learned a lot from it.
“As a parent with young kids, I do struggle with how to have this conversation in an age-appropriate and productive way,” said Nancy Que, who has two children in elementary school. “I think what I’ve heard tonight is it’s OK to talk about it.”
Parent Karen Ellis, who has children in the 9th and 6th grades, said she learned to be aware of the need to have conversations about inclusivity and race relations with youths and to embrace their questions.
“The presentation in November felt more general, but this was how to talk to your children and it was a good follow up,” said Ellis.
Bardo Ramirez and Jennifer Maxwell, district parents who sat at the same table, came away with different — yet positive — reactions.
“Kids are going to think about [race] so you might as well talk about it,” Ramirez said. Maxwell added that she would “like the opportunity to engage with more parents in frank discussions about race.”

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