Dear Khloe: Love Letters to My Little Sister

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When I first connected with St.Clair Detrick-Jules I knew I wanted to do something special to honor her first book release, but also honor the special women in my life that I feel could contribute to the ever-evolving conversation surrounding Black hair.

When it comes to Black hair, one would think our society had made great strides in embracing, respecting, and honoring natural beauty. In recent years, a variety of children’s books have been released with the sole purpose of celebrating what is natural and lovable about Black hair (Hair Love, Crown An Ode to the Fresh Cut, My Hair is a Garden, My Hair is Poofy & That’s Okay, I Love my Hair!, Happy Hair, and Bedtime Bonnetjust to name a few). There’s even the fact that the short film Hair Love, written and directed by Matthew Cherry, won the Oscar for Best Animated Short Film. 

While there have been quite a few things to celebrate, we also have to acknowledge that there is still much room for improvement. While the publishing and entertainment industries seem to be ahead of the curve, our educational institutions still continue to uphold policies and practices that are not only discriminatory, but harmful. As the K-12 Diversity Chair of a large central Ohio school district, and mother to three biracial children, I can only hope that the stories we share, whether through literature or experience, continue to spark action and change of these policies…telling our children…yes, we want you to love yourself for who you are, but maybe even more importantly, we love you for who you really are, too!

I can only hope that the stories we share, whether through literature or experience, continue to spark action and change of these policies…telling our children…yes, we want you to love yourself for who you are, but maybe even more importantly, we love you for who you really are, too!

St.Clair’s book, titled Dear Khloe: Love Letters to My Little Sister, began out of love for her little sister; who became self-conscious of her afro when she was just four years old. What started as a letter, turned into a large-scale visual collection and stories of Black women with natural hair from all over the United States. 

St. Clair’s mission through this book, and inspired by her sister is clear:

I want you to love the melanin in your skin and the curls in your hair, and I don’t want it to take so long. 

I want to lead by example. I want to teach you how to love yourself by loving myself, by introducing you to other Black women who love themselves. As Black women, we have to stop waiting for the world to love us, and we have to start loving ourselves, unconditionally.

My mother-in-law, Andreatta
My sister-in-law, Ardath

Interview

What is the first word that comes to mind when you think of your own hair?

GWD: Strong. Beautiful.

RD: Can I say a phrase? Because whenever I think of my hair, this is how I think of it…and everything this phrase represents: “Side Part, Curl Under”.

AG: (laughs)

RD: Because I feel like that is a safe, a safe space. That is a very safe space for black women and their hair.

Auntie Gail

AG: It’s the go-to.

RD: Yeah it’s the go-to but for me it has always helped me assimilate…and exploring within myself whether or not that is something that I want to do or something that I feel I need to do. But it’s always been my safe space with my hair…side part, curl under.

GWD: Controversial.

AG: It’s a novelty, especially here where I am (Boston), it really identifies me as a novelty. 

How did your school experience influence your hair journey (K-12)?

RD:  For me middle school was really challenging because that’s when we started having struggles with my hair and because I was one of the very few black students at my school it was hard, especially because I just didn’t want to stand out and feel different. So one of the ways that I would deal with it was by wearing a bandana, but because I was one of the only black students wearing a bandana, I would get in trouble for wearing a bandana...because obviously if you’re a Black student and wear a bandana, you are affiliated with a gang. I remember getting in trouble so many times and not understanding why it wasn’t ok for me to wear a bandana when other girls got to wear headbands. 

And then I started cheerleading. That added extra pressure because everyone had to have their hair up in a ponytail with a bow…and that was a different struggle. That was when I went back and forth between weave, then transitioned to a wig…Then there was collegiate cheerleading, where my appearance was weighted the same as my hardest stunt or most difficult tumbling technique in try-outs. 

So I think that’s why I just rested with “side part, curl under” because their was just this constant pressure and need to assimilate, and I was just trying to make my hair look as much like everybody else…so then I wouldn’t feel different, so I wouldn’t feel bad about myself. 

GWD: For me my mom went out on a limb. In 5th grade I wanted an afro, and that was very controversial, and very black power…and she got a lot of flack for that. And there were people who back then told her and me that it was “very ugly” and “why would you let your daughter do that?”.My pediatrician (an older white man) even said to her “this is not an OK style, this is not how she should be wearing her hair”. 

My pediatrician (an older white man) even said to her, “this is not an OK style, this is not how she should be wearing her hair”. 

GWD: Now, another memory I have of that time, when I first decided to wear my hair in an afro we had a new girl come to school who had the most beautiful afro ever, she looked like Angela Davis…tall, light-skinned, with this huge afro, great. And I was like great, when I decided to wear my afro, they sent a little mini Angela Davis here to my school….I was supposed to be the one getting all of the attention. But I credit my mom for being the pioneer and letting me try that. But overall it has definitely been a journey. 

Similar to what we are seeing in K-12 institutions these days, have you ever had that experience in your workplace, whether you felt like you didn’t get a job because of your hair, or were asked to change your hair?

GWD: Before I loc’d my hair, I would always wear my hair straightened to an interview. Then once I got the job I would get comfortable with doing natural things with my hair. 

I did have one job though, at a K-8 charter school (2013), where they changed the rules for students and teachers, that no one could wear their hair in locs or braids…and this is a charter school that served mostly Black, some Brown kids, about 50% of the teachers were Black, and I was told I’d be OK because I’d be “grandfathered in”. But they actually put into the contract that that was one of things they would consider when deciding whether to hire someone. 

But they actually put into the contract that that was one of things they would consider when deciding whether to hire someone. 

AG: Early on in my career I was on relaxer mode, and later on, it was more of straightening my hair at the onset of a new job until I got comfortable. I think it’s a shame that I felt the need to do that. 

GWD: Well it’s the culture. 

AG: Right, and I feel like we have gotten past the whole culture of beauty being only a size zero with flowing straight hair…and we know it not to be true. 

RD: I feel like we know that it’s not true but it is something that I know that I constantly struggle to embrace. Like every time I wash my hair, I have to blow dry and straighten it. And the other day, Del (her fiance) was like “you don’t have to blow dry and straighten it”, and i responded with “ughh yeah I do, do you not see my hair?” and he was like “but I like your little curls”. And I just wonder,

how long will it take to undo that initial reaction in my brain, and get comfortable with who I am

If there was one thing that you wanted your white counterparts (women, men, friends, colleagues, etc.) to know about Black hair, what would it be?

GWD: There is nothing that needs to be done to it…to make it beautiful,  make it acceptable..that the way my hair grows out of my scalp, is just fine.

No other culture is criticized or looked down upon because they let their hair grow out the way that it grows out. We don’t tell people from various different countries/cultures that you are going to have to do x, y, and z to your hair in order to be accepted. We are the only ones that are asked to do anything different in order to be accepted. 

There is nothing that needs to be done to it…to make it beautiful,  make it acceptable..that the way my hair grows out of my scalp, is just fine.

RD: Our hair is not a fad. There are people who appreciate the style, embrace it for what it is and understand the culture behind it…but then you have people, like the Kardashians, that are like “oh my boxer braids” (pause) um those are cornrows, and they’ve been around for a really long time. 

GWD: Oh yes, cultural appropriation…that’s a whole other can of worms. 

It’s the true representation of our society’s culture of “we only want something when it works for us”. 

Final Thoughts

In the Foreword of Dear Khloe, clinical psychologist, natural hair stylist, and author of PsychoHairapy, Dr. Afiya M. Mbilishaka, offers the following insights that I want to leave you with:

The self-discovery of beauty within the lives of Black women with natural hair is critical in restoring balance, order, and justice to our communities. This very book, and the visual narratives collected in it, aim to disrupt the centuries of conditioning that teach us natural hair – and, in particular, tightly coiled hair – is ugly or unattractive. As we know, the truth is often quite simple, and right in front of us. The truth of Dear Khloe is that natural hair is not ugly or messy or hard to manage; natural hair – and the confidence that a Black woman has around her hair – empowers both herself and generations to come.

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Stay Connected During Covid-19 with Diverse Picture Book Read Alouds

As teachers (or even parents) we know that children thrive with structure and routine. Establishing expectations allows for a sense of familiarity and comfort, no matter what the setting may be. Many non-teachers may be finding this out now as we hunker down with our families to practice social distancing for a few weeks…I don’t know about you, but two days in and I’m already questioning my teaching AND parenting skills. So…

Here is the schedule I came up with (for a 3, 4, and 11 year old):

With that being said, in an attempt to bring some normalcy and routine to my 4th graders, I started recording daily picture book read alouds. My class will typically begin or end our Social Justice Morning Meeting with a picture book aligned to an idea that we discussed, or a significant person related to the topic. This month, we were working our way through HereWee Reed’s 31 Days of Women’s History printable. Even though I don’t have access to all of my books, I am trying to keep the theme alive by continuing to highlight important women and their achievements.

Here are some of the videos I’ve completed so far:

Ella Fitzgerald: The Tale of a Vocal Virtuosa
A brand new title for 2020!
Patricia’s Vision: The Doctor Who Saved Sight
Ida B. Wells: Let the Truth Be Told

Check out my YouTube channel and subscribe to be notified when new read aloud videos are posted!

Stay healthy & keep reading!

FREEBIE: Social Justice Standards Posters (9-12)

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As the K-12 Diversity Chair for a large central Ohio school district, I felt it was important for educators in the high school setting to have visual support when referencing Teaching Tolerance’s Social Justice Standards.

I initially intended for these posters to be used with student groups led by our diversity liaisons (we have one in each of our 24 buildings), but feel they are beneficial to anyone in the educational realm and an anti-bias practitioner.

Feel free to grab these posters using the FREE download below. If and when you use them, please shout us out on social media with #literallycultured!

Diverse Book Set: Back to School

Many teachers, including myself, have a go-to list of books we like to use at the beginning of a new school year. The only problem with this– most likely they have already had a teacher (or two) read it to them in previous years. This summer I made it my personal mission to discover new and exciting books that give a peek into the diverse perspectives and experiences of students from all over the world, showing us that no “first day” is exactly alike. Let me know what you think in the comments!

Happy Reading,

Shannon

Elementary

I’m New Here and Someone New by Anne Sibley O’Brien

Are you new here? Do you know someone new? In I’m New Here and Someone New, young readers explore the immigrant experience through both “windows” and “mirrors.” In I’m New Here, readers meet three recent immigrants trying to adjust to a new country and school. In Someone New, the same story is told from the perspective of the students who welcome the newcomers. An honest and heartwarming look at diversity, inclusion, and friendship.

Purchase Someone New, Purchase I’m New Here

An A from Miss Keller by Patricia Polacco

Trisha is nervous about being chosen for Miss Keller’s writing class. “Killer Keller” demands that her students dazzle her with their writing, and rumor has it that she has never given an A. The rumors turn out to be all too true—there’s just no pleasing Miss Keller. Then an unexpected loss leaves Trisha heartbroken. Thoughts of teachers and grades forgotten, she pours out her soul in a personal narrative. And when Miss Keller reads it, she tells Trisha, “You’ve given your words wings.”

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A Letter to my Teacher by Deborah Hopkinson

Dear Teacher, Whenever I had something to tell you, I tugged on your shirt and whispered in your ear. This time I’m writing a letter. So begins this heartfelt picture book about a girl who prefers running and jumping to listening and learning—and the teacher who gently inspires her. From stomping through creeks on a field trip to pretending to choke when called upon to read aloud, this book’s young heroine would be a challenge to any teacher. But this teacher isn’t just any teacher. By listening carefully and knowing just the right thing to say, she quickly learns that the girl’s unruly behavior is due to her struggles with reading. And at the very end, we learn what this former student is now: a teacher herself.

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School Days Around the World by Margriet Ruurs

Author Margriet Ruurs begins this engaging informational picture book by posing an intriguing question: “What is a school? Is it a building with classrooms? Or can it be any place where children learn?” The fascinating stories that follow will expand how young readers think of school, as they learn about the experiences of real children in thirteen different countries around the world. The children who are profiled live in places that truly span the globe, however, while there are huge differences in their environments, all the children share similar desires to learn, read and play with others.

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It’s Back to School We Go!: First Day Stories from Around the World by Ellen Jackson

The first day of school is an event that brings mixed emotions to children everywhere. There is excitement in seeing old friends and it’s nice to begin a new year with a new teacher and good intentions. But first day feelings are mixed. Will last year’s friends still be friends? What if the new teacher doesn’t like me? Or what if the work is too hard? Ellen Jackson and Jan Davey Ellis portray children from eleven different countries experiencing their first day back at school. Each child’s first-person account is enhanced by a fact box that tells us something about the culture from which the child speaks, so that the reader is able to compare and contrast the experiences of children from different parts of the world. In words and pictures the author and artist have captured the diversity of children’s school experiences, while at the same time capturing how much the world’s children have in common.

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I Walk with Vanessa: A Story about a Simple Act of Kindness by Kerascoët

This simple yet powerful picture book–from a New York Times bestselling husband-and-wife team–tells the story of one girl who inspires a community to stand up to bullying. Inspired by real events,  I Walk with Vanessa explores the feelings of helplessness and anger that arise in the wake of seeing a classmate treated badly, and shows how a single act of kindness can lead to an entire community joining in to help. By choosing only pictures to tell their story, the creators underscore the idea that someone can be an ally without having to say a word. 

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The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson

There will be times when you walk into a room
and no one there is quite like you.

There are many reasons to feel different. Maybe it’s how you look or talk, or where you’re from; maybe it’s what you eat, or something just as random. It’s not easy to take those first steps into a place where nobody really knows you yet, but somehow you do it. Jacqueline Woodson’s lyrical text and Rafael López’s dazzling art reminds us that we all feel like outsiders sometimes-and how brave it is that we go forth anyway. And that sometimes, when we reach out and begin to share our stories, others will be happy to meet us halfway.

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Nasreen’s Secret School by Jeanette Winter

Young Nasreen has not spoken a word to anyone since her parents disappeared. In despair, her grandmother risks everything to enroll Nasreen in a secret school for girls. Will a devoted teacher, a new friend, and the worlds she discovers in books be enough to draw Nasreen out of her shell of sadness? Based on a true story from Afghanistan, this inspiring book will touch readers deeply as it affirms both the life-changing power of education and the healing power of love.

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When I was Eight by Christy Jordan-Fenton

Olemaun is eight and knows a lot of things. But she does not know how to read. Ignoring her father’s warnings, she travels far from her Arctic home to the outsiders’ school to learn. The nuns at the school call her Margaret. They cut off her long hair and force her to do menial chores, but she remains undaunted. Her tenacity draws the attention of a black-cloaked nun who tries to break her spirit at every turn. But the young girl is more determined than ever to learn how to read.

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All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold

Follow a group of children through a day in their school, where everyone is welcomed with open arms. A school where kids in patkas, hijabs, and yarmulkes play side-by-side with friends in baseball caps. A school where students grow and learn from each other’s traditions and the whole community gathers to celebrate the Lunar New Year. All Are Welcome lets young children know that no matter what, they have a place, they have a space, they are welcome in their school.

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First Day in Grapes by L King Perez

When Chico starts the third grade after his migrant worker family moves to begin harvesting California grapes, he finds that self confidence and math skills help him cope with the first day of school. 

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Rain School by James Rumford

It is the first day of school in Chad, Africa. Children are filling the road. “Will they give us a notebook?” Thomas asks. “Will they give us a pencil?” “Will I learn to read?” But when he and the other children arrive at the schoolyard, they find no classroom, no desks. Just a teacher. “We will build our school,” she says. “This is our first lesson.”

James Rumford, who lived in Chad as a Peace Corps volunteer, fills these pages with vibrant ink-and-pastel colors of Africa and the spare words of a poet to show how important learning is in a country where only a few children are able to go to school.

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Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller

When Tanisha spills grape juice all over her new dress, her classmate wants to make her feel better, wondering: What does it mean to be kind? From asking the new girl to play to standing up for someone being bullied, this moving story explores what kindness is, and how any act, big or small, can make a difference―or at least help a friend.

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Rulers of the Playground by Joseph Kuefler

One morning, Jonah decided to become ruler of the playground. Everyone agreed to obey his rules to play in King Jonah’s kingdom . . . Everyone except for Lennox . . . because she wanted to rule the playground, too.

A gloriously rendered, hilariously deadpan tale of playground politics.

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The Class by Boni Ashburn

Count along with twenty young students from nineteen different homes as they get ready for their first day of kindergarten. Alarm clocks go off and students all over town wake up and get ready for their big day. Some feel eager, others are nervous, and a few are even grumpy! But they all get dressed, eat breakfast, pack backpacks, and make their way to school, where they will meet their new teacher and become a wonderful new class. Boni Ashburn’s snappy rhyming text and Kimberly Gee’s adorable and diverse group of children make this a great pick for little ones getting ready for their first day of school.

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A New School Year: Stories in Six Voices by Sally Derby

In a unique narrative, readers meet a diverse group of six children ranging in age from Kindergarten through fifth grade. With nerves and excitement each child gears up for a new school year by hustling in the morning, meeting new teachers and new classmates during the day, and heading home with homework and relief by day’s end. 

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The King of Kindergarten by Derrick Barnes

Starting kindergarten is a big milestone–and the hero of this story is ready to make his mark! He’s dressed himself, eaten a pile of pancakes, and can’t wait to be part of a whole new kingdom of kids. The day will be jam-packed, but he’s up to the challenge, taking new experiences in stride with his infectious enthusiasm! And afterward, he can’t wait to tell his proud parents all about his achievements–and then wake up to start another day.

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