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Raising Socially Conscious Kids Is Overwhelming!

Art installation, inspired by the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson. Taken at the Manifest Justice exhibition in Los Angeles. Taken by Christabel Nsiah-Buadi

I spend a lot of time thinking about how I'll raise my children to become socially and politically conscious people. The thing is, I worry, that given how much bad news there is at the moment, I'll take their joy away. That said, I don't want to shield them from what's happening, or worse, let them think everyone thinks or lives like they do.

It wouldn't be right, and it wouldn't be fair to them for so many reasons.

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First off, there's the fact that my children have things in abundance. To put it in perspective, when my mom came to visit us from London, she half-joked that my daughter had more books than some public nurseries in Ghana. I say half joke, because she kept on saying it, then revealed to me that she wanted to partner with an organization in Ghana to help provide more resources toward education for young girls.

Let me say here that my mom said all of this with a sense of pride; she and my dad worked hard to make sure that my sister and I got as many opportunities as they could create for us. We did. And now she sees her grandchildren enjoying the fruits of all of our hard work.

If I didn't know what was going on, how was I going to start to inspire my children to become socially and politically conscious or even knowledgeable?

But I got her wider point. My parents, while creating a secure environment for us, also encouraged us to give back to our local and global community. We were always reminded that there were people we knew who had less than us. I saw my parents work hard to build and be part of a cohesive community of ex pat Ghanaians. I also saw them organize fundraisers for causes, most of which I never took the time to ask about.

Despite being relatively disinterested in my parents' activities as a kid, their actions somehow had an impact on me. It's always been important for me to have jobs that have influence and can make a difference. This felt easier to do when I didn't have kids. I could investigate stories, go to events, join groups, go on marches. My advocacy has been through my journalism by fighting to let others speak, investigating ideas and stories or connecting people.

The fact is that now, even with two kids under 3, I don't feel I have the time to do that.

For a while, knowing this made me feel a little, well, despondent. I was usually in the thick of things, and I was starting to feel out of the loop. I was starting to feel like I didn't really know what was going on. And if I didn't know what was going on, how was I going to start to inspire my children to become socially and politically conscious or even knowledgeable?

The situation felt even more urgent after the killing of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, just months after the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson. It felt more urgent, because for all of their privilege, there are people who may still question who they are because of their heritage, even though it's something we're proud of. I found myself wondering what I will say to them when they're old enough to process news like the death of Michael Brown, or news about economic inequality on a local or global level. I wasn't sure what to do.

This was the challenge that Kate Schatz, author of "Rad American Women A-Z: Rebels, Trailblazers and Visionaries Who Shaped our History ... and Our Future!," says she had when she first became a mother. She has been involved in grassroots movements and was involved in Occupy Oakland, but with motherhood, she started to realize that her activism would have to look different.

Kids understand more than we give them credit for.

Schatz realized she couldn't participate in meetings in the same way because she had responsibilities at home. She ended up sitting at home, watching a lot of live streams of police activity and protests, in part because she didn't have time. She says that the creation of her book came as a result of "me re-defining and re-creating what my activism would look like and realizing that, 'OK, maybe I'm not gonna be out in the streets.'"

She reminded me that there are many different ways to encourage your children to be engaged. This is a sentiment that Afro-media literacy pioneer Dr. Shani Byard of Message Media Education shares. For the mom of one, her activism starts from within, literally. She doesn't give her child sugar, and she's mindful about what images her daughter is exposed to. To reinforce their heritage, out are the Disney movies and in are the images of African art. She's also sourcing flashcards that have icons from Black culture.

Talking to both of these women reassured me that despite feeling completely overwhelmed, I was on the right track. I don't have to hammer things home to my children just yet, and there's no need for me to panic about it. They'll get it when the time is right. I just have to follow their lead. Both women also both reminded me that kids understand more than we give them credit for. They will create opportunities for us to talk about issues and ways in which we can be of service.

Besides, like the historian and author W.E.B DuBois said, "Children learn more from what you are than what you teach."

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I was reminded that, like my parents, I've somehow recreated my own "village" of people who will set an example to my kids through their work and their actions. These people will also love them. But I'll be taking things a step further and taking a leaf out of my parents' book by consciously striving to be of service to others in my own way.

Image via Christabel Nsiah-Buadi

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