I have one son. His name is Dante and he’s six years old. He’s a beautiful mix of ethnicities and cultural backgrounds. He’s of Korean, African, Italian, Polish, Scottish and English descent. He was born in Hawaii and his Dad is from Trinidad. He’s my mixed island boy being raised outside of Washington, DC.
Over the summer, Dante has spent four weeks attending an amazing summer camp at the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia. He learned about Jewish culture and food. Each week he learned a value about communication or mental health, gaining helpful life skills regardless of your walk of life. He has had a blast.
Watching him interact with his new friends, it struck me how quickly they bonded despite their varying backgrounds. On his first day of camp, he was nervous going in with no friends. Within the first two minutes of being in the classroom he met a blond haired, blue eyed boy with the same Pokémon cards as him. That was it. They were friends and have spent the rest of the summer trading Pokémon. It seemed so simple.
What can we learn from the youngest among us who enters this world with a clean slate? When you watch young children play, they interact with an openness and love that create immediate bonds. Two strangers at a playground can become fast friends even if they don’t speak the same language. I’ve seen it happen. Lifelong friendships can form over a love of superheroes, pizza, and Legos. Children gravitate towards these commonalities despite other differences in a way that adults do not. They come without unconscious bias or prejudice based on someone’s race, religion, politics, gender or sexual orientation. These are learned traits we acquire through time.
As a Mom, I feel a huge sense of responsibility to keep Dante’s heart open and his slate as clean as possible from bias and prejudice towards others. His generation will be this country’s most diverse and I have great hope that my fellow parents are teaching their children to value the differences that each of them will bring to the table. In life, Dante will learn that there are nice people and not nice people from all walks of life. I can only hope, when that day comes, he’s able to make these determinations based on who a person is and not what a person is.
I have no doubt that Dante and his friends will change the world, but we don’t have to leave it all to them. As an adult who has already been tainted, I need to remind myself to be more kind and open-minded like my son when meeting new people who view the world differently than I do. At our age, starting these conversations seems harder, so when in doubt I might just ask who your favorite superhero is and if you like pizza. We might realize we’re more similar than we thought.
Courtney Chung is vice president, Integrated Marketing in the Porter Novelli Washington, DC office.