“Peace begins with me.” This is the B’nai daily mantra.
Peace tables can be found in each room. When a conflict arises, those involved sit at the table. Calming body and mind, listening, sharing, and finding a resolution. These are the rules of the peace table. At B’nai Emunah Preschool, everyone has a seat at the peace table.
Caitlyn Wright, one of the many phenomenal women at B’nai Emunah Preschool in Tulsa, Oklahoma stood in front of the gathering, leading children and guests in song. They sang, “When we breathe in, we breathe in peace. When we breathe out, we breathe out love.” A moment of reflection followed by the words, “I am light” (India Arie’s song) rose up. First in English and ASL (American Sign Language), next in Spanish, then in Arabic, and finally in Zomi.
The B’nai Emunah Preschool
I was joining my niece and nephew for an evening of song, reading, and learning for International Women’s Day with each teacher dressed as a famous woman from history. B’nai’s Social Justice Story Hour is an event of dialogue and kindness that rose from tragedy, ignorance, and hate.
On July 7, 2017 on what would have been Khalid’s 38th birthday, the Khalid Jabara Tikkun Olam Library at B’nai Emunah Preschool was opened. Khalid Jabara tragically lost his life to gun violence and Islamophobic hate and fear. The Jabara family is close to B’nai, and with the Jabara’s support, the teachers realized they could use their sadness to make a difference.
Teacher Toni Willis shared, “As educators of the very young, we looked at our position and knew that sending love and prayers was not going to cut it, we needed to use our “superpowers” and take meaningful action. Because we are aware of how capable our youngest humans are of taking in big concepts, we are accountable to them, to honor their intelligence, and to provide ways to deepen their well of understanding.”
The library of social justice and love is filled with books dedicated in Khalid’s memory. The Social Justice Story Hour evolved from this library and each session is full of song, multiple languages, community action, and volunteer guest readers. Toni shared this thought about their topics, “So far we’ve tackled food scarcity, immigration, the wake of natural disaster, death and the celebration of life and most recently women’s history month.”
Khalid’s library and the SJSH ensure that each young participant is immersed in the idea that it is their individual responsibility to act through curiosity, understanding and kindness. Tikkun Olam is a Jewish concept that dates back to the 3rd century; it expresses the obligation to “repair our world” through acts of kindness.
“Children want peace, to flourish in a reflective and inclusive environment.” -Caitlyn Wright
B’nai Teachers and Volunteers
B’nai focuses on tactile learning, social justice, and inclusive dialogue as the bases of early childhood education. Volunteers in the community role model by participating in activities such as playground and garden clean up. The teachers give each child the opportunity to be their best self through individual self expression, action, and activities that honor the child’s intelligence. These inspiring women lead by example.
Caitlyn and Toni aspire to grow the social justice education curriculum beyond B’nai by working with DHS Assistance programs. They hope to actively develop the curriculum and seek funding opportunities to reach more students. Like the UN 2030 Agenda, B’nai seeks a holistic approach with many layers.
Their philosophy on education and social justice directly correlate to SDG 4 (Quality Education), SDG 10 (Reduced Inequalities) and is the essence of SDG 16 (Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions). In Oklahoma, teachers have been actively protesting for better funding and support from legislators in a state full of potential, but limited by a severely underfunded public education system. In the spirit of UN SDG 4, 10 and 16 the teachers, like many educators, seek to build equitable opportunities for all students, regardless of where they go to school.
“Our school is resource-rich and the children here have privilege that they are not even fully aware of yet. They are our great hope. We hope that they find their way to use their privilege for the greater good. Our job is to expose them to the idea that regular people are the peacemakers and there are so many ways to create peace and right injustice in the world.” – Toni Willis.
As the SJSH program came to a close that day, Caitlyn and the other teachers lead the participants in one final song, a song the kids know well.
Od yavo’ shalom aleinu (Peace will come upon us and everyone)
Ve al kulam
Aleinu ve al kol ha olam (Peace will come upon us and everyone)
Each day at B’nai the mantra rings through the classrooms: Peace Begins With Me, I Am Capable. So to the reader I ask, how does peace begin with you in your day, and what are you more capable of than you might think?
Always seeking to be curious, brave, kind