Black Role Models Are Needed All Year Round

Posted by on Feb 1, 2018 in Blog, Featured Stories |

By Jamila Larson, Executive Director

Former Astronaut Leland Melvin visits with children at D.C. General.

Every February, many schools and organizations across the U.S. turn their attention to the significant contributions of African Americans to recognize Black History Month. It’s important for us to recognize and acknowledge the accomplishments made by people of African descent because the depth of their achievements is profound – as a nation, we should know this history. It is, after all, American history.

At Playtime, we also make an effort to celebrate black history throughout February, dedicating each week to activities that highlight historical figures, current icons, and notable events. We read black literature, visit black museums, and play games and complete art projects that feature African American themes.

But for us, this focus isn’t just during the month of February. We do this all year round because the vast majority of the children we serve are black. We know the significance of creating opportunities for children to see and hear about people who look like them all year round. We look for and encourage speakers and organizations that represent black culture to visit our programs, including poets, artists, and scientists. One of my favorite Playtime traditions was when former NASA Astronaut Leland Melvin and the then head of NASA Charles Bolden visited Playtime at D.C. General for many years, delighting children, parents, and volunteers alike.

According to educator and author Gregory Michie: “Kids need to see their own lives and cultural experiences reflected in those who teach them. When students feel a cultural connection, they’re more likely to feel safe and respected. When they feel safe and respected, they’re better able to learn.” In fact, studies show that having at least one Black teacher in the third through fifth grade “significantly reduces” the likelihood that black male students will drop out of high school and increases the likelihood that black students will aspire to attend a four-year college.

I’ve found this to be true in classrooms and playrooms alike. The mood of the room can shift dramatically when the children are able to connect with a role model who looks like them, and comes from a similar cultural background.

That’s why, one of our goals this year is to increase the number of black volunteers—especially men—to provide consistent, weekly relationship-building opportunities for our children. Right now, the majority of our volunteers are white women, like me. Our children are typically surrounded by women in the shelter and women at school. They need to see more black men in a nurturing, protective, and playful role!

Please help us reach our goal by sharing this blog with your networks so we can expand our reach to find potential volunteer candidates. You can make a huge difference in the life of an African American child experiencing homelessness this Black History month, and throughout year!

Jamila ran Playtime as a volunteer since it was founded in 2003 and assumed the role as first full-time Executive Director in 2009. In 2012, she was named a Washingtonian of the Year by Washingtonian magazine for her leadership of Playtime.