Race relations. It’s a sterile way of defining intercultural relationships in the United States.
We can all see the far-reaching effects of centuries of repression and suppression, but Birk.Creative client Mindhearted and founder Kara Burrell Wright have long been trying to do something about it by uprooting racism where it is seeded—in our children.
Burrell is a parental diversity counselor and has been a pioneer in that field since 2008. “We understand our lives only through the context of other people’s lives,” says Wright. “Mindhearted helps connect us with our own identity and helps us understand how our identity affects other people in society. It’s about becoming more critical and intentional as to how we think and how we behave.
“It’s an emotional commitment to see the world differently by hearing other people’s stories and telling our own,” she continues. “We help people understand how they live their lives based on how others’ lives are impacted by them.”
When it comes to what we’re teaching our kids, the questions to be asked aren’t as straightforward as you’d think, says Wright. “I get this question from white parents who say they haven’t raised their kids to see color, and I don’t think that’s realistic—because kids can see a lack of it. Families often don’t have all colors in their lives, and that’s very clear to children,” she says. “You can teach your children to love everyone, but do you teach them to be friends with everyone? Who do you invite to dinner? Your children are getting lessons from that, learning who not to bring into their lives—and not learning how to be in a community with different people.
“It’s not always an active Klu Klux Klan type of mentality. It’s often who is not in your life that teaches your children the role of race in their lives. For many children, their lives are simply ‘normal’ and everyone else’s is simply ‘other’. Childhood is a teaching opportunity for parents and kids alike to learn a new ‘normal.'”
Spreading The Mindhearted Message
The mission of Mindhearted?
“Mindhearted, Inc. inspires parents to create an open dialogue with their children about today’s diverse world. Working together with parents to deconstruct their own ideas about difference, the Mindhearted learning process enriches the lives of its participants by uncovering the unique way we each view the world and the people in it. Mindhearted empowers parents to be conscious in thought and action; to be intentional, self-aware and empathetic; and to sync their mind with their heart, paving a path of inclusion for all children.”
To further that mission, Wright works with organizations and individual parents in a number of ways: corporate partnerships, webinars, tele-seminars and in-person consultations. For example, she has been a featured workshop leader for the Working Mothers’ Council of McDonalds and led teleconferences for AT&T working mothers’ councils across the country; she has also spoken to school-based parent groups, and sees individual parents in her office. She also reaches thousands more using technology, including social media. “We use both online and offline means to reach people,” says Wright. “In person it’s always a little more gratifying and impactful for the participant, not that communicating online isn’t impactful, but being face to face with someone, connecting faces to stories and seeing expressions and ranges of emotions, is important, too.
“Our online communications are interactive, but it was a question of how to do this work globally. The online component has really furthered our mission and expanded our capability.”
Whether online or offline, the work is definitely the same. Wright has noticed a major change in the willingness of media to examine the issue of race. “When I first started, they didn’t want to talk about race and bias except during Black History Month or in the aftermath of a hate crime,” says Wright. “They would skirt around the issue. Now, thanks to multiple factors, that’s not as true as it used to be. If the popular media doesn’t report on it, bloggers do. If bloggers don’t, people are tweeting about it.
“These stories are out there. Now, we must concentrate on how to change the paradigm,” says Wright. “Social media gives each of us a wonderful platform to share our perspectives, and I just hope that my perspective is something that can help other people become more intentional and more conscious about how they see the world and how that impacts their behavior. [Social media] does provide windows into other people’s lives in a safe way, and I think we can use technology to benefit from that, but I hope it goes beyond that into building really authentic and transparent relationships with people different from ourselves.”
Teaching Children Right And Wrong: Not Easy, But Necessary
The key to sending our youth the right message is often about knowing how to answer the questions they ask in a way that allows them to better understand diversity and integrate what they learn into their way of thinking throughout life.
“My focus is on parents and, as America’s first parent diversity coach, I first get to know the parents,” says Wright. “Then, we work together so parents have responses that can make all the difference. Do you talk to your child about race? Do you know how to answer your child’s questions about our differences? How do you talk to your child when she calls someone a name at the grocery store and thinks she’s just using an acceptable descriptor? I engage parents by highlighting potential problems.”
Wright strongly notes that kids are very well aware of race, of different colors and the attendant groupings by the age of four. “If parents don’t talk to them about it, they’ll learn from their friends and elsewhere,” says Wright. “Our children get messages about race everywhere, from whom you have in your home to whom you don’t have in your home, from movies and books.” So, Wright takes parents through a process to counter those societal messages. “For example, talk to your kids and ask them to draw a picture of a “bad” person. What do they come up with? Ask them to draw a picture of a “poor” person. What do they draw? Recognize and respond to images perpetuated by people who may not look at things the way you do. Your kids have those messages embedded in them like we all do.”
“Often, those messages can be subtle: light-skinned characters are good, dark-skinned characters are bad. All media programming can be faulted when it comes to this, and such external influences will likely never be ideal. So, again, it comes down to what you, as a parent, are teaching your child. Follow the child as he or she naturally poses pertinent questions,” says Wright. “Children will have experiences that give parents the opportunity to engage them in dialogue. Use everyday life examples.
“In one of my parent groups, a white mother with a white son said she was taken aback by her son’s assumption that a Hispanic man he saw walking through the neighborhood was a gardener, when the man actually had just bought a house on their block,” says Wright. “She had never said anything to make him think in racial terms. Children learn lessons about race even when we don’t talk about race. That moment was a wonderful opportunity for her to talk with her son about what made him say that, and for her to understand where his perspective was developed. She was empowered to learn more about her son’s attitudes and help correct the wrong ones.”
Mindhearted And Birk.Creative: Asking The Right Questions, Delivering Solutions
Mindhearted has evolved from a personal passion project to a full-time business in an organic way. That’s going to change in 2015. “I’ve not yet launched myself or marketed my services as America’s first parental diversity coach,” says Wright. “I’m learning and discovering more and more each year. I’ve figured out the nuts and bolts, and now have gathered enough information to expand Mindhearted into a global brand.”
Birk.Creative helped rebrand Mindhearted and launched a new website with Wright in the spring of 2014. “I needed a visual touchpoint that would make it easier for those interested to get this crucial message,” says Wright, who will also be communicating more of the Mindhearted program through a blog, including a regular video series, e-newsletters and social media.
“JinJa [Birkenbeuel, CEO, Birk.Creative] has been a very valuable partner on many levels. She has been consulting with Mindhearted since 2005. She has a platform and partners and has helped connect me with many types of resources,” says Wright. “She’s a creative with a consultative approach, and that’s incredibly valuable. She thinks about the mission and the business strategy, not just the visual aspect.
“As a consultant myself, I appreciate someone who asks the right questions, and she does that. She also helps me think through things I may have missed, so I really see her as more than a creative source. She is a true consultant partner—she really cares and does her best to understand her client’s business and brand. Our relationship goes beyond that; it’s a partner relationship beyond the work or the scope of engagement. She invests emotionally in her client’s business and that’s very valuable.”
Mindhearted has a message that must be heard in order to deliver a better future for us all. We’re very excited to see where Wright’s work will take Mindhearted and plan on supporting her work every step of the way.