Reena Bernards could never find something fun to do that would also teach her two young biracial children about the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. So last year, Bernards suggested that an organization she belonged to, one made up of interracial families, host a child-friendly celebration.
Yesterday, that celebration was a big hit. It included folk tales about Anansi the spider, African dance, songs from the civil rights movement and cake in honor of the slain civil rights leader's birthday. Sponsored by the Interracial Family Circle, the program drew more than 300 people, many of them children, who jammed the main hall of the Washington Ethical Society.
The program was one of the few public events the group has hosted. Founded 15 years ago, the Interracial Family Circle is a social and support organization for about 140 interracial families, most of them black-white. But over the years, with the number of interracial families on the increase, the group decided to host the event as a way to attract new members to the Washington-based group and provide a service to the community.
"We don't get into a lot of politically correct stuff," said Bernards, who is white. "We're dealing with the realities of our own families."
The group began in 1984 with six biracial couples and their families. Emma Tarleton, 53, one of the founding members, and her husband, were living in southern Anne Arundel County and were the only interracial couple in their neighborhood. After her young daughter's friend wanted to know whether the Tarletons--black mother, white father--were "a real family," Tarleton realized the need for an organization to affirm that "interracial families were okay."
"All of us wanted the same thing, a place for our children, and ourselves, to meet other children and adults like them," she said. That desire is echoed by the members in the organization, which has grown to include couples who adopt biracial and multiracial children, who make up about half the membership.
"Once you adopt a child, you see everything differently," said Beth Craddock, a fund-raiser for Hampshire College who moved to the Washington area with her husband six years ago. They have two adopted children, ages 6 and 4.
"I'm never going to be an African American woman," said the blond-haired Craddock with a smile. "But my daughter will grow up to be an African American woman, and I want her to be connected to as many people who can be mentors and friends as possible."
Members get together monthly, and parents frequently learn from the experiences of others. Although the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday is a time when many Americans think about race, the families in the Interracial Family Circle "have to deal with race every single day," said Lou Steadwell, 56, a longtime member with three biracial daughters.
Craddock learned from Steadwell, for example, that it was, in fact, perfectly normal for her brown-skinned daughter, Emma, to want a blond-haired, blue-eyed Barbie doll. When Steadwell's oldest daughter was growing up, she also wanted a blond Barbie. He was hurt, he said, until he realized his daughter wanted the doll because her mother has blond hair.
"Kids always want to look like their parents, especially girls," Craddock said. Children also want to be with other children who look like them, said Kelly Jamison-Wilde, a publications editor who is black and is married to a white man. In many instances, the children are among the few biracial students in their class. The Interracial Family Circle organizes events, such as to the zoo and Wolf Trap, so that the children can be with others like themselves.
"This organization is really for the kids," said Jamison-Wilde.
Longtime members like Steadwell say the core issues are the same, they just manifest in different ways.
Take black hair. When Steadwell's oldest daughter, now 20, was growing up, his wife, who is white, had "not an inkling about how to deal with black hair, whether to cornrow, straighten or let it be natural." Steadwell wanted his daughters to have the freedom to choose. But at the time, there was an unspoken belief that a mother who didn't straighten her daughter's black hair was "not a good mother," he said.
Two years ago, the Interracial Family Circle, which has members in the Virginia and Maryland suburbs as well as the District, co-sponsored a session at Howard University about transracial adoptions, and one of the workshops was on black hair.
"What's different now is that you can have this conversation and have choices," Steadwell said.
CAPTION: Dancers from the Ajiki and Soul in Motion Players were among performers at the celebration at the Washington Ethical Society.
CAPTION: At the Interracial Family Circle event, children watched dancers with rapt attention. The group's program drew over 300 people.
CAPTION: Sterling Anderson, 14, left, plays the tuba with the Anacostia High School marching band at a parade in Southeast Washington.