The Importance of Diversity in Kids Programs

As Black History Month comes to an end, troubling issues surrounding race and ethnicity often lead the day’s headlines. Though the climate can feel divisive and unsettling, let’s reframe this confrontational time – for us and the kids we work with:

“Racial equity is the defining issue of our time,” says Randy Engstrom, Director of the Office of Arts and Culture in Seattle. “How we deal with our past and our shared future will determine not only the health of our field but of our communities. This is not a unique issue or conversation; every national cultural membership organization is also at the table and defining their commitment to racial equity and goals for the future.”1

Every season of conflict offers new opportunities for growth and positive change. [Tweet this]

As youth experts, you are on the front lines of shaping the way the next generation will listen and learn from one another, and work together for solutions. Here are 3 ways that your camp or class can make a positive contribution to this end.

1. Pursue greater diversity in all areas of your program.

Parents of any culture are looking for signs that their child will feel comfortable in your program. Even if they’re doing it subconsciously, parents watch for a welcoming environment depicted through your website, social media posts, and print advertising.

As savvy consumers in today’s market, parents will look for more than faces of color in your marketing materials. When you publish percentages of student and staff diversity and a mission statement that includes references to inclusivity, you assure parents that you’re committed to welcoming students of all backgrounds.

2. Foster in your staff a growing knowledge of cultural sensitivity.

Cultural sensitivity training provides a window of opportunity to help staff members examine their own prejudices and the ways they may be subtly expressing them. Self-awareness is an important step for growing in appreciation of those who are different than we are.2

You also can give your staff tools for helping kids discuss prejudices, process their experiences, and form their opinions about the world around them. “All kids – not just minorities – need to talk,” according to experts interviewed in The New York Times article “Talking to Kids about Racial Violence.” When kids are uncomfortable with open discussions, art and literature also can help them grow in the empathy needed to deal with their own shame or prejudices.3

3. Make sure to exhaust your entire budget for scholarships every year.

If you have scholarship monies available for kids to come to your camp or class, commit yourself to exhausting that budget while growing the diversity of your program. If you run a camp that connects kids to nature, you probably know that minorities tend to have less exposure to national parks and other natural environments. Join those who are bucking those trends to help children of color get the benefits of spending time in nature or experiencing other growth opportunities.4

How are you reframing cultural conflicts to promote growth among students?

Join our Diversifying Your Marketing webinar on March 28, 2017, to learn how your marketing strategy can promote your diversity goals.


1Americans for the Arts blog

2Edutopia: Approaching Racial and Cultural Sensitivity

3New York Times: Talking to Kids About Racial Violence

4Mother Nature Network: Program Connects At-risk Inner City Kids with Nature