Parent Institute: Sachi Feris discusses racial equality

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Alex Lautin, Staff Writer

Sachi Feris, the founder of Border Crossers, a nonprofit organization focused on racial equality, held a workshop with the school’s Nursery and Lower Division parents on Tuesday to spur proactive and concrete conversations about race. Feris emphasized rejecting older teachings that focused on color blindness and instead encouraged parents to discuss race forthrightly with their children.

Parent Institute Director Wendy Reiter said Feris’s workshop fit the institute’s current mission of antiracism, diversity, equity, and inclusion perfectly. “The goal of the Parent Institute this year is to mirror the conversations that students and faculty members are having regarding issues of race in our country,” Reiter said. “I’m really quite proud of the roster of speakers we have put together for this year’s Parent Institute events, including Ms. Feris.”

Feris’ workshop was predominantly focused on how parents should navigate discussions about race with young children, Reiter said. “As you grow, your ideas of race are often greatly influenced by the conversations and values you have at home and how they become inculcated in your own development,” she said. “This was really to offer parents of young children an opportunity to learn how to confidently answer their children’s questions of race if they didn’t quite know how to respond.”

Feris provided parents with images and picture books to provide them with tools to foster beneficial conversations of race with their children. “It was not a presentation,” Reiter said. “And that was the goal. It was a hands-on workshop for parents to navigate different ways to approach difficult conversations with their children.”

Feris was introduced to the school community by Parent Institute consultant Martha Haakmat, Reiter said. Haakmat, an educator who works with schools on diversity, equity, inclusion, and anti-racism, was familiar with Feris’ work and thought she would be perfect to jumpstart the institute’s antiracism discussion. “Tuesday’s event was designed to answer parent, grandparent, and caregiver requests for more conversation and more practical information about the how of raising anti-racist children,” Haakmat said. 

Reiter held a planning meeting with Feris prior to the workshop where she introduced Feris to the school’s values and truly learned of Feris’ expertise. “We provide them with context of what Horace Mann School is, what are our values, what is our mission, what the mission of the Parent Institute really is, and what we provide our HM community,” she said. Reiter said Feris’ devotion to working with young children was also clear during the meeting.

To recognize race and identity from the beginning of the workshop, Feris split parents into breakout rooms in which they all said their names, affiliations, and racial identities. In the frequent series of breakout rooms that followed, parents were also able to interpret various images and reading materials together. “I think speaking to other parents is always awakening and helpful,” Meghann McDonell P ’28 P’ 30 P ’33 said.

Feris included polls as a part of her workshop. Each poll was focused on gauging how comfortable parents are with discussing race with their children. The results showed that parents were indeed hesitant to teach their children topics of racism.

The more parents discuss race, the more comfortable they’ll feel doing so, Feris said during the workshop. 

From the workshop, McDonell learned racism and self identity should be discussed daily and not only when spurred by events in the news, she said. “[The workshop] made the subject matter really approachable.”

“If we’re talking about race almost never — once a month or so — then it’s not part of our daily focal in which we’re seeing the world,” Feris said.

Feris’ work helps parents be more confident when discussing racism with their children, to give the kids “a firm grounding in naming race and seeing people of color fully” and help them be “equipped to understand racial inequality and be advocates for inclusion,” Haakmat said.