May the Circles Be Unbroken

Starita Boyce Ansari designs out-of-school programs for elementary through college students. She studies the economics of discrimination and education equity, equality and access, and she has co-authored two books on youth leadership. Her work in the fields of philanthropy and social justice has been recognized by Ford and W.K Kellogg foundations. Reposted from ECE Policy Works by permission of the author.

By M. Starita Boyce Ansari

The 2016 U.S. presidential election has made so many people angry, anxious, and divisive.  Our nation, particularly its children, cannot afford the hate and separation our educators are seeing in the classrooms. Bigotry and bullying are on the rise, intensified by the tragedy of what the Southern Poverty Law Center and teachers are calling the “Trump Effect.”  My own fifth-grade son fears that our nation has returned to the “Ruby Bridges Days” of hate.

I believe that, in spite of all the hate, hope shines in the form of a generation of 83.1 million millennials, who have been primed not merely to make America, but the world, a better place. That means more than one quarter of the nation’s population can catalyze change.  We must be willing to come together so they can realize the power of their voices.

The millennials and baby boomers are America’s first- and second- largest generations.  Along with countless other Americans, I have benefited from the civil rights and women’s movements. We may call them different names today (Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, Color of Change, etc.), but we share many goals—from environmental justice to trans rights to equal pay to corporate social responsibility. We have the time, talent and gifts to bring to this task.

To get there, we must be empathetic and open our hearts. We must break down the silos between us so that we can help each other.  From there, we must commit to making sure that compassion has a real impact. We need to create responsive intergenerational engagement within our communities. We must be honest, however, about the collective challenges that face us.  Millennials often express the feeling that the system ignores their voices.  There’s a wall of suspicion between the generations. The time for listening, learning, sharing, caring, and mentoring is now.

Among the greatest challenges is the focus of our educational system on “racing to the top,” at the expense of the whole child. When we erase experiential learning, we deprive our children of the opportunity to reflect on the world and be problem-solvers.  From prekindergarten to college, we have not done our duty of creating empathetic citizens who understand how to be responsive in their philanthropy and considerate of others’ cultures, mores, identities, and personalities. Those who are empathic and inclusive have witnessed acts of kindness at home.

Education can become the bridge to leadership, civil discourse, community engagement, and commitment to change. Actually, not only can it do so, it must! Through responsive philanthropy, our educators will open the door to a new generation of civic leaders.

Part of the process is moving beyond test scores and career readiness. Educators must integrate empathy, community, and citizenship into the curriculum. In too many places, the misplaced priorities of the Common Core inhibit student participation in the community. Test-centered teaching leaves no room for our students to learn, appreciate, understand and respond to the feelings and experiences of others.

There are many ways to accomplish this goal.  Giving circles have shown the highest potential.  A giving circle nurtures students appreciation and understanding of others’ needs, enabling them to come together to support charitable organizations or community initiatives for a set period of time. Their members become more aware of and engaged in the causes they fund, and learn how to make our world better, not just for them, but for all.

A powerful model, a giving circle melds responsiveness and altruism with community engagement.  This isn’t about a tax deduction—often the focus of millennials’ parents and grandparents.  It’s a replication of the model used by civil rights, women’s rights and LGBT activists, harking back to a time when people of a wide variety of backgrounds and interests pulled their time, talents and resources together to work for social change. It is transparent, responsive, empowering and collaborative.

Creating space for giving circles means bringing philanthropy and civic engagement back into the classroom. We need to be pragmatic and strategic in our approach. Institutions can start by piloting giving circles that integrate administration, student government organizations, students, themselves, philanthropists, parents, and other community members.

Most importantly, we must break down the silos between us so that we can help each other.  We cannot return to the “Ruby Bridges Days” of fear and selfishness. A movement of philanthropy, in the sense of loving one’s fellow human being, is what we need. With so much ahead of us to do, we cannot afford hate and separation.  I have a higher goal in mind. We all do. We must protect our children from these misanthropic forces.

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