Vera Ahiyya is a kindergarten teacher, and amid the challenges of remote learning, she has made videos for the students at her school in Brooklyn, NY. Passionate about teaching kids the joys of reading — she's known as a "book influencer" on Instagram — she decided to read a topical children's book, Let's Talk About Race, to the 5-year-olds in her class this week. Then, she realized how important it was to reach so many more 5-year-olds.
"I made this video for the kindergarten students at my school," Vera wrote on her Instagram page. "I realize this might be a helpful video for non-Black children to also watch."
"We also are combating a different kind of disease. This is not the disease that you catch from germs, but it's something that happens with the way that people think."
In the YouTube video, she talks directly to kids about something that's been happening in the news, but not the coronavirus this time.
"We also are combating a different kind of disease," she said. "This is not the disease that you catch from germs, from person to person, but it's something that happens with the way that people think. And some people have the belief that people with black or brown skin should not have the same rights or privileges as people with white skin. This is called racism."
In a pitch-perfect tone that is quintessential among seasoned teachers in early childhood education, she went on to explain the history of racism and how it has affected people of color in a straightforward way that didn't talk down to her young audience. And she offered an actionable lesson for all kids to follow.
"Racism is everywhere, and it is our job to stop it," Vera said. "One way to stop racism is to call it out when you see it. That means if you see someone being treated differently because of the color of their skin, you have the voice. You make the choice to say, 'this is wrong.'"
She continued: "You can decide to say something or walk away, but your choice can impact the lives of a lot of people."
The 13-minute video touches briefly on the current movement in an age-appropriate way — "so, right now what's happening is a lot of people are making a choice to say, 'That's wrong, racism is wrong,' and they are talking specifically about racism towards Black people" — but it also offers a hopeful reminder to children about how they can do their part to fight this systemic disease.
She said it's her goal to encourage young people to think about what actions they can take to speak out against injustices.
"What I'm asking from you, even as little as 3 years old, you have a voice," she said. "You know what's right, and you know what's wrong, and you can use your voice to speak up for change . . . And right now lots of Black people really need your voice. You can do it by writing letters to show your support. You can do it by speaking up when you see something that is very wrong. You can ask questions to your family and friends about how you can do more to help. There are so many ways to help."
And this lesson was one of them.