Breaking Down Stereotypes with Identity Statements

One of the major goals of KC Kids Unite is to connect students as individuals who not only realize the power of their broader community, but also find great trust within it for support and stamina in facing the larger society.  As adults, we seek these same connections to build a community, whether it be one of peers, professionals or family.  As we work to build communities where positive interdependence lies at the foundation, we ask students to let go of assumptions and stereotypes as they enter into the network.  It is imperative that the surface layers of ourselves are allowed to be pulled back to show our authentic ones in all their glory and gore.

One way we do this is by crafting identity statements.  Sara Ahmed speaks about this same idea in her book, Being the Change: Lessons and Strategies to Teach Social Comprehension.  In her book she states,

“When kids are empowered to announce to the world who they are, it is far less likely that someone else will do it for them.  So often in school, kids are being told who they are by the language adults use to describe them, by data, by their own peers.  The world assigns or questions our own identity constantly, whether explicitly or implicitly: images and headlines tell us who is dangerous and whom we should fear.  Ads and social media tell use we aren’t fit enough, thin enough, youthful enough, wealthy enough, white enough (see bleaching and whitening products).  We can position kids in such a way that they can and will shout who they are from the rooftops.  Identity statements can help kids reclaim or reaffirm bot their individual identities and the layers of their cultural identities.”

Ahmed refers the identity statements in her book as “I Am” statements.  KC Kids Unite generalizes it to identity statements, and using a variety of books, including, If She Only Knew Me by Jeff Gray and Heather Thomas, Mixed Me and Chocolate Me by Taye Diggs, and Looking Like Me by Walter Dean Meyers.  By using a variety of mentor texts to explore identity, stereotypes and microaggressions, students can openly craft their own statements based on the information they want to share.

like+to+make+stuff+during+science+class,+she+would48147jkt.pdMixed Me

Looking Like Me can be found @

From these texts, you can see below what our students came up with and what they want to share about themselves to the world that may not be evident from the outside or under the guise of our individual biases.  One of the most joyful parts of this work is seeing the ways in which students begin celebrate themselves, growing in confidence of who they are and knowing it is, and always will be, enough!

3rd Grade Students:

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5th Grade Students: 

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The Best Part of Me: Honoring Self and Identity


This is the exact message we aim to instill within students during the second week of KC Kids Unite.  During this week, students examine identity through the lens of redefining conventional beauty and breaking down commonly assumed stereotypes by sharing pieces of their own story.  They begin to unearth these ideas and beliefs through a series of questions:

  • What does it mean to look closely?  
  • Why is looking closely so important in life?  
  • What are things you look at closely in your world?  
  • What do we miss in the world due to distraction and screens?
  • What do you see in others when you look closely?
  • What do you see in yourself when you look closely?

Students write and discuss with their peers thoughts and responses to these questions.  Then, reading The Best Part of My by Wendy Ewald, students are inspired to write about the best part of themselves from the stance of taking action or a feature that makes them the wonderfully unique human they are.  KC Kids Unite believes that developing a strong sense of self in our youth is one of the most critical steps we take in sharing our stories and voices with confidence. Sometimes the initial utterance is a quiet, shaky one, but nonetheless it was spoken, not silenced.  Check out the very best parts our KC kids!

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More From Week 1: Family History Research and Where I’m From Poems



One of the things I love most about this work is that while there is a provided curriculum, all the work manifests itself in its own way within the classroom.  So much of what happens in these three weeks is what we wish could happen all year– being provided guiding resources with the autonomy to bring the art and life of teaching into the classroom in the way we best see fit for our students.  KC Kids Unite believes in the power of professional judgement and freedom.  Teachers are THE experts in their field, and we work to center them as such in our approach to this project.  Thank you for taking the time to look at the student work being created in classrooms by these very experts and their brilliant students.  As I read through the work, I’m always inspired to go learn more about my family’s history and traditions, and dig deeper into who I am as well.  I wish the same for you.

More poetry inspired by George Ella Lyon:

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Family history and traditions research slides:

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KC Kids Unite 2019 is Rolling: Week 1, Where We’re From

_Unity is the only plausible path to justice.


Students from across the Kansas City, Missouri area are doing just that–coming together across space and districts to learn more about each other’s personal stories and what it means to overcome the barriers the work to divide us.

KC Kids Unite is entering its 4th (and most exciting!!) year yet!  Our teachers have been working since January to plan and put the finishing touches on deploying this work in their classrooms, and the time is FINALLY here!  Each year, I am in awe of the students’ work with their willingness to dive into the inner reaches of themselves, navigating and sharing what exists there with admirable transparency, unbelievable poise, and the sophisticated craft of budding authors.  I could keep talking about it, but I’ll just let you see for yourself.

In the first week, each classroom pairing sends pen pal letters to each other by way of introductions.  They continue sharing with their partnership class and pen pals the work of each week.  During week 1, the work involves students really understanding where they are from, who they are as individuals, and what has made them the people they are today.  To do this work, students spend time conducting family interviews and ancestry research all to culminate in a “Where I’m From” poem, using the mentor by George Ella Lyon.


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See what I mean?  Amazing, right?!?  This work fuels me in ways nothing else can touch.  If you want to learn more about the weekly classroom curriculum, check out this post from the blog and listen to the KC Kids Unite podcast found on Anchor.

Stay tuned!  More work coming in the days and weeks to come!

A Day of Learning at Nelson-Atkins

Two weeks ago, the KC Kids Unite team gathered at the renown Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, centralized in downtown Kansas City for the final preparation of launching the project in their classrooms.  Participating teachers of KC Kids Unite attend two professional development workshops prior to beginning the curriculum work with their students.

The primary goals of the April workshop include:

  • Continue strengthening relationships with teacher cohort and among partnerships
  • Take teachers through art literacy activity students will participate in on their field trip to Nelson-Atkins
  • Develop action plans for weeks 2-3 of curriculum
  • Address concerns brought up in January workshop regarding the complexity of topics topics embedded within the curriculum.

Photo Apr 06, 2 58 01 PM

The day began with art viewing in one of the galleries, where we analyzed and discussed the piece, Mound Magician by Radcliffe Bailey.  This piece celebrates the baseball great and Kansas City native, Satchel Paige and his accomplishments during his time in the Negro Leagues.  But, much more than that it immerses artifacts and symbolism representative of the times and conflict facing a nation.  We were lead in a conversation that began broadly with “What do you notice?” and “What do you see?”  As the group offered different ideas and noticings, the conversation ultimately moved into one of depth, connection, pattern, and universal concepts.

After the art discussion, we moved into our own art workshop.  Led by the text, Tar Beach by Faith Ringgold, participants were provided patterns and designs from varying cultures along with images of various body parts, to create a quilt square representative of themselves in the world.  This workshop emulated that which students will participate in when they attend the Nelson-Atkins in May with their partnership classrooms.  The student quilt squares will be put together to make an actual paper quilt of their work, just as in Tar Beach, and their work will remain on display throughout the summer.

As we moved into the afternoon, a time dedicated for teachers to plan for the weekly curriculum and activities, we first began by discussing Secrets in a Hat.  Secrets in a Hat is an activity we do at the end of our January Workshop simply asking teachers to anonymously submit concerns or challenges they are facing with the work of this project.  The primary concerns of the group were:

  • I worry about my students being able to handle the mature nature of these lessons/conversations
  • Can I really address racial issues as a white person?
  • I am nervous how the parents will react
  • Are we representative of the students and communities within which we teach?  How will this impact our ability to authentically connect with others from different backgrounds and experiences?

These questions, weighty to be sure, always lead us to the more human version of ourselves because in answering them we attempt to begin to peel back the complex layers of marginalization and inequality.  Halfway through the conversation I’d wished I’d been recording it.  Summarizing it here will never do justice because words on digital paper can never really portray the moments when our most vulnerable and transparent selves look to virtual strangers, saying, “help me do this better.”  Strangers whose trust with one another has really only been established by the fact that we’re all in the same room together, so collectively we understand that equity and voice reign paramount in our beliefs.  Yet it is with this profound knowing, that we enter the abyss.

In the words of Margaret Wheatley,

“We can’t be creative if we refuse to be confused.  Change always starts with confusion; cherished interpretations must dissolve to make way for the new.  Of course it’s scary to give up what we know, but the abyss is where newness lives.  Great ideas and inventions miraculously appear in the space of not knowing. If we can move through the fear and enter the abyss, we are greatly rewarded.  We rediscover we are creative.” (Turning to One Another, p. 41)

And so we agreed to enter.  Even if we fumbled or said something ignorant or offensive, we entered knowing that we’d be gently redirected, educated.  That if real change is to happen, it starts by knowing our biases and blinders.  It starts by doing the difficult thing we are about to lead our students through, too.

It was through this conversation we determined we are the people capable of facilitating this work, simply by being a presence in the classroom that is open and puts student voices at the forefront.  This is not a project set-up for the teacher to lead.  It’s the student voices that will be heard most prominently, as it should be.  One can only begin the work of advocacy by being educated and speaking truth.  This is that platform for our kids.  It’s their stories that need to be heard.  It’s the brilliance in their ideas that will build a better future.  It is their hands that will work to connect our communities and break down the barriers that divide us.  We remind them of what we remind ourselves,

As you discover what strength you can draw from your community in this world from which it stands apart, look outward as well as inward.  Build bridges instead of walls.

Chief Justice Sonia Sotomayor

KC Kids Unite Week 3 Curriculum Podcast Transcript and Resources

Podcast Transcript:

The third and final week of the curriculum asks students to envision “Where they’re going?” with a focus toward activism.  Using the text, Courage of the Blue Boy, students consider the impact of environment on our existence and behavior within a broader global society.  After reading the text, students create a neighborhood map complete with street names, landmarks, neighbors’ houses, memories and meaningful spaces that make their neighborhood unique.  They highlight each place by “zooming in” on them through artistic and/or literary means.  Students then write about a place (or two) that has particular significance to them. The priority in this lesson is to share, from a place of personal strength, what makes your space stand out from all others and why.  

Before drafting their neighborhood map, students discuss the following questions:

  • How did the author use color as a symbol to express a larger message?  
  • What does the author want the reader to understand?  
  • Have you ever been somewhere you felt out of place?  Where? Why were you uncomfortable?  

Having this opportunity to brainstorm the text and community in conjunction with one another sets the students up begin drawing their neighborhood map with greater intention, critically thinking about their use of color and what message they want their map to portray that accurately depicts their community or neighborhood.  This again layers in the conversation of stereotypes from week 1–what is it that people believe about our communities? Is that accurate? If not, why is this the image being portrayed? How do we change it?

The next day students watch the documentary, Our Divided City to gain a broader understanding of how communities are isolated and marginalized in Kansas City.  We also read the book, The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson, connecting the symbolism of the fence in the text to the Troost Wall in Kansas City. Students work more closely with Kansas City’s history learning about the injustices plaguing our city today, and the historical implications of this that we are still working to overcome.  Students return to their neighborhood map, considering where they see division and unity within their own community, what causes it, and how we can continue to spread unity and fight against division. Students get time to work on their maps on this day as well.

For the socratic seminar, students bring forward the idea of beauty from the week prior to consider their role in creating unity and beauty within their communities, which include, but are not limited to their classroom community, school community, neighborhood, sports and extracurriculars.

To culminate the week with collaborative group work, we read Maybe Something Beautiful by Isabel Campoy and The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson to continue contemplating meaningful change in our community.   Students develop a place-based writing piece focused on the impact of one’s community in shaping their identity within the world. They also analyze their map for its unseen or unrecognized beauty.  They consider what Mira did to bring beauty into her community. They consider the stories of Nadja and Rigoberto and Angelina in The Day You Begin to think about how they used their voices and personal stories to bring about change. The place-based writing students create works to the same for the youth of Kansas City, and leads them into the culminating community and art-based field trip with a passion and fire for change!



Multimedia Resources:

Our Divided City:


Podcast Episode #3 Transcript and Resources for KC Kids Unite Week 2 Curriculum

Podcast Transcript:

During the second week, students navigate the present by inquiring, “Who am I?”   The text, The Best Part of Me by Wendy Ewald, guides us in the topic exploration of internal beauty and its importance over the image of external beauty projected by society.  Students spend time drawing and writing about the best part of themselves and how they are able to contribute to the broader community through these features.  The following day students watch an Ellen clip that addresses the nonsensical standards and definitions surrounding beauty in our world today. Doing it only as Ellen can, through humor, viewers see the superficiality placed on beauty through marketing, and what it means to look at and for beauty through more authentic means.  After viewing, students get in small groups to discuss what beauty means to them, how are there different ways to be beautiful, is beauty important, and where is beauty found in your everyday life. The following day, two of those questions are brought into the socratic seminar for even deeper discussion. The two questions are–what does beauty mean to you and beyond yourself, where do you find beauty in your everyday life?  This socratic seminar leads into the collaborative group work at the end of the week, which again culminates with several potential products. The first is students recording themselves on video recording site, Flip Grid, to share their answers and discussion points from their small group and socratic seminar discussions from the previous day. If you have not used Flip Grid before it is incredibly user friendly and allows a space for students to outline their notes/thoughts on screen to reference as they record themselves, making the recording feel more natural and authentic.


To connect to week one, students work with the art teacher to create a class mural representing each person’s skin tone through a painted handprint.  In this activity, students mix the three primary colors–red, yellow and blue–to create their unique skin tone. Finding it’s not possible, the colors white, brown, and black are added for shading.  As students find it necessary to use 4-5 colors to create their skin tone they realize none of us can be labeled by a single color and, that just like fingerprints, no two skin tones are the same. Two additional books that can lead into the paint project are Shades of People by Shelley Rotner and The Skin You Live In by Michael Tyler.  Then using their skin tone paint, they also create a self portrait, highlighting what makes them beautiful, referring back to the work done at the beginning of the week with Wendy Ewald’s text, The Best Part of Me.  In addition to the self portrait, they also write creatively about the best part of themselves. These are hung about the room for a gallery walk, offering the opportunity for their peers to provide feedback and see the work of each student.  Some teachers have even published them into their own classroom version of the Best Part of Me and put that book in their classroom library.  Having established a strong sense of identity over the past two weeks, students enter week three empowered to take action.


Thank you for listening, and we hope you join us again tomorrow for the final curriculum episode where we’ll review week 3. Unrelated to that,  I do think there was something funky going on with my sound tonight and I couldn’t get it fixed, so if you had trouble hearing any parts of this know that I’ll post the transcript to the blog and you can find the information there too along with the resources and student work mentioned here.  Again the blog URL is I hope you’ll check it out. Thanks!



The Best Part of Me

Ellen Clip: 


Student Work:

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