'Black People Look Tough'

Margaret and Jim are the parents of two children, including 6-year-old Sam. Margaret says exposing her children to various types of diversity and teaching them to embrace difference always has been important to her family. Those values influenced their decision to live in a downtown area rather than the suburbs.

"I think the more diverse people children see, the more families of different religious and economic backgrounds they are able to come in contact with, [the more] they are able to understand the world," says Margaret, who identifies her family as white. "It's a work in progress, but we've tried to immerse our kids in different cultures, from the events we attend to the materials we bring into our house. We try to make sure all of it reflects the different things so many different people have contributed to our world."

Margaret admits such exposure has recently led to some interesting questions and comments from Sam.

"We were sitting in front of our house one day when two African American men walked by, and Sam said, 'Mom, have you noticed how black people look tough?'" Margaret says she first asked Sam what he meant by the statement and then talked to him about appearance, explaining that the way people treat others is far more important than the way they look on the outside.

Margaret believes it's vital for parents and schools to work together when it comes to teaching children to embrace difference. She serves on the diversity committee at the Montessori school Sam attends. "It's definitely a shared thing. I think parents and teachers have to see the whole education of children as a collaboration. Neither can do it alone," she says. "I know my son's teachers see him in social situations more than I do; they see him interact in broader social groups. It's important to me that his school and the curriculum they use include teaching respect for difference in an organic, sweeping way — not a tokenizing way as in 'Here's our look at xyz culture.'"