Teaching kids to accept others


While racism and bigotry continue to exist in this country, experts say that social change is not impossible.

“Just follow the news and you’ll find ugly instances of racism occurring every day,” says Stephen L. Kanne, author of the new historical novel, “The Lynching Waltz.” “But it’s never too early or too late to promote long-term change through actions and words.”

Kanne, inspired by the way Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” fueled the anti-slavery cause in the 19th century, hopes his new novel can help abolish racism in the 21st. Based on a personal childhood incident, “The Lynching Waltz” recounts the story of a town that defies a visiting stranger’s attempts to exclude black children from participating in a beloved rite of passage — a ballroom dance class called Fortnightly.

Kanne deeply affected by the 1947 incident in his hometown of Glencoe, Illinois, says that books that bring to life the cruel realities of history can help make it clear to modern readers why these events should not be repeated today, and that tales of triumph over racism can be inspiring.

Kanne, who was recently chosen as annual presenter of his novel at the National Press Club for the 106 Juneteenth Celebration, is discussing why the lesson of acceptance is still important so many years later and how to pursue this topic with young people. He offers the following suggestions to families.

• Encourage children to have varied friendships.

• Make history come alive with historical fiction. Visit museums, watch historical films and read historical books.

• Become familiar with and discuss current events together.

• Teach early on that different backgrounds and beliefs must not lead to hatred.

“By addressing these issues head-on with our youngest citizens, we can strive to end racial intolerance in this country,” says Kanne.