This week, we’re highlighting two special Darien moms helping to facilitate change in our community. Armel Jacobs and Diane Urban have organized the Children’s Art Walk for Inclusivity, which will take place on Saturday, July 18, at 10am. The walk will start at the Darien Library and finish at Town Hall. They are asking children to create an original piece responding to the prompt: “celebrating our differences.” Learn more about Armel and Diane, find resources for talking to your children about race, and read why they think Darien is such a special place to raise their families.
How many children do you have and what are their ages?
Armel: I have two kids, a four year old and a 5 month old.
Diane: Three kids: ages 10, 8 and 4.
Tell us about yourselves. How has the balance been with work and motherhood during COVID?
Armel: I grew up here in CT. I went to undergrad and law school in New York, but always knew I wanted to return home to practice and raise a family. I was so lucky to have my second child just before the pandemic started, so I’ve actually been on maternity leave throughout. The trade-off of course is quarantine with a toddler and a newborn, but I’ll always feel lucky not to have had a plate full of legal work as well! No idea how households with two working parents have managed it all!
Diane: I grew up outside of Atlanta and spent nearly nine years in New York City. My background is in educational technology and also grant proposal writing; I try to freelance when there are slivers of kid-free time, but definitely not during COVID. I am in awe of how working parents have managed during this time, especially with e-learning and everything else moving online. A positive side to connecting more in a digital way is that it helped me find other local women interested in change, which is what happened with our Inclusivity walk planning group.
What brought you to Darien?
Armel: We moved to Darien six years ago (before kids!). At the time I was commuting up to New Haven and my husband was commuting down to the city, so we needed somewhere workable for both. Knowing kids would be our next adventure, we settled on Darien for its family-focused reputation.
Diane: When we started our family and were ready for more space, we loved that Darien was near the water and yet still within commuting distance to NYC.
What’s your favorite family activity in town?
Armel: Really missing Darien Summer Nights right now. Before COVID our favorite thing to do was grab some ice cream and then mosey over to the plaza for some live music. We’d grab a beer and catch up with friends while the toddler danced up a storm! We are also huge fans of the Darien Library—they offer so much amazing programming for all ages.
Diane: Definitely Pear Tree Beach. Our kids love looking for crabs, collecting rocks and going kayaking; we’re so lucky to have water access here in Darien.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve gotten from another mom?
Armel: Not necessarily 100% applicable beyond this insanely stressful moment we’re living in, but my sister-in-law had a mantra when quarantine first started: “Let’s just keep things pleasant.” Am I really going to war with my toddler over finishing her green beans? Will it kill me to let her finish watching this episode before we sit down for dinner? If we’re all isolating together for a while longer, let’s do what we can to keep morale up. Let’s just keep things pleasant.
Diane: Write down the sweet and silly things your kids say at different ages, like “whoopsie-pops” and “yesternight.”
Tell us about the Children’s Art Walk for Inclusivity…
One of the most important steps we can take to facilitate change in our community is to talk about diversity, bias, race and inclusion in our families and with our children. We are asking children to create an original piece responding to the prompt: “celebrating our differences.” It is our hope that this prompt sparks discussion among families of these critical issues holding our community back from being the more inclusive place we know that it can be.
The “walk” aspect came about because we want our kids to feel empowered to raise their own voices against prejudice. We don’t want our children’s first interaction with it to be someone saying something at school that makes them so uncomfortable that they are shocked into silence, or even go along with it and laugh. Our kids should feel empowered enough to say, “Hey, that’s not okay.” We thought nudging families to have this talk, and encouraging kids to create and display their art—hopefully with a crowd to cheer them on—would be a fun way to encourage that process.
How did you get the idea for the event and get it organized?
In the wake of George Floyd, many of us connected on the idea that we were summoned as mothers to do more. We were so energized and inspired by the youth of our town and what they have accomplished in recent weeks. We wanted to show them that we, as the generation before them, are walking with them on these issues—not behind them. We felt as caregivers, we can do more to create the inclusive space in which we want our children to grow and thrive.
As far as how we’ve gotten it organized, it’s been an amazing group effort by a team of local moms who are volunteering their time and energy toward making it a reality. All of us are navigating parenting through a pandemic, and many of us are juggling professional responsibilities with that as well. Add to that a lot of post-bedtime Zoom calls to organize. It really has been a herculean effort of some truly (excuse my language) badass moms who want to see our town do better. We’re so proud of our team.
What are some good tips and resources for talking to your children about race?
We are posting resources and art-piece ideas on our Instagram, @childrensartwalk, which you can access here: https://www.instagram.com/childrensartwalk/
We have also put together a one-page info sheet with some tips for anyone who is interested in incorporating these themes into their parenting, available here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/102D2n3wFlBewdcU4CEA9-pN8ppAP9VzogHuanrRFlHY/edit
We would add that we have chosen to highlight a few books that we think do an especially good job at sparking discussion. One of them is Sulwe, by Lupita Nyong’o. It is a beautifully illustrated and highly accessible story about racism, colorism and self-love. We highly encourage you to purchase this book or check it out from your local library. We have also posted a link to a Read Aloud for this book, along with some accompanying questions to ask. Reading the book with your child and asking the accompanying questions is an easy 1, 2 step you can take to spark discussion.
Please fill free to add anything you’d like to share…
Building the change we need is something that happens over the course of many conversations. The thing we want people to take away is: have them. It’s our hope that as we get more comfortable talking about these issues, we can create a more inclusive community for all of us. If you’ve tried broaching these topics with your kiddo and they didn’t quite “get it,” that’s okay! Our best advice is try again. Ask open questions. Show them that you care what they have to say.
And of course, take action! Big steps are great, but little steps can move the discourse forward as well. Try to be mindful in your everyday life. Next time you buy a book for yourself or your child ask yourself, when was the last time I bought a book written by an author of color? Model a positive attitude toward diversity and inclusion, and speak up if you encounter instances of bias and racism in daily life. We love our town, but we can do better. So let’s do it!