While grown-ups strive to stay safe during a global pandemic, juggle work and childcare, and keep stress down during a contentious election season, anxious feelings can also extend to kids – especially Black children whose families are disproportionately affected by systemic racism and its related effects.
“The stress of COVID for children in addition to the stress if you are a child of color right now is unbelievable,” says Jennifer Bisson, children’s librarian at the Greenwood Branch.
Late this summer, the Library provided a response to help ease that tension: Black Joy and Mindful Movements Story Time.
It employs the usual virtual Story Time format, with picture books read aloud to children on video, but it intentionally features stories about Black families and incorporates “mindful” breathing techniques that kids and parents alike can use to manage stress.
The program is hosted in partnership with the Bureau of Fearless Ideas, which brought the social and emotional dimension to the Library’s already-successful Story Time formula. The Black Joy and Mindful Movements readers asked viewers questions about their feelings on the stories and cultivated empathy with the characters.
“That’s not something SPL typically does,” Bisson says.
The Bureau of Fearless Ideas also hired paid teen interns to do the storytelling: three Black young women who by now have just started college.
The intent is to spotlight Black role models for younger children.
“Children seeing a teenager reading to them (is valuable), especially seeing teens that look like them, excited about and modeling good reading about characters that also look like you!” one intern said in her evaluation of the program.
And that paid off in attendance, too. Program organizers estimate that between 600 and 800 kids and caregivers tuned into the three Black Joy programs that aired in August and September.
“The kiddos and I enjoyed this and we look forward to watch more,” one viewer commented. “Awesome idea. And my little girl was so excited to see a Black girl that looks like her and Mommy.”
The mindfulness portion is simple – before and after each story, the teen storyteller leads viewer through an easy-to-understand breathing exercise.
During one program, teen intern Leeah asked participants to pretend they were holding a birthday cake covered in candles, and then take a few breaths to blow them all out.
The teens also indicated the program exposed them to representations of Black people they didn’t see as younger kids, themselves.
“Seeing a mom in a headscarf as ‘normal’ could really make the difference for a kid who also just wants to feel ‘normal’ in their school and community,” one teen reported. “Seeing Black people reading AND in the stories challenges (the idea) that white is the ‘default normal’ and makes space for you.”
In all, it was a learning experience for younger and older kids alike, says Faith Eakin, lead program manager at Bureau of Fearless Ideas.
“At the core, this was amazing inter-generational programming with Black teens as the leaders and was hugely empowering to the interns,” she says. “It was great to collaborate and showcase our wonderful partnership (with the Library) by presenting programming that represents both organizations, literacy, mindfulness, social emotional learning and youth leadership. It was really relevant and fresh!”
Bisson says she hopes to continue and expand the program in the new year.
The Seattle Public Library Foundation applauds the partnership between the Library and the Bureau of Fearless ideas and is proud to support the Library’s Story Time programming.
Check out more of the Library’s Story Time programs at SPL.org/storytime.