Children are naturally curious and one of our most important responsibilities as parents is to satisfy their hunger for knowledge about themselves and their world. As the mother of a very curious 5-year-old daughter, I am always conscious about communicating with her as honestly as possible. She is at a critical age where her opinions are becoming stronger and justified based on what she regularly sees and hears. And that scares me. It also drives me to find ways to reinforce values that will shape the way she sees and treats others as she grows up in our complex, ever-evolving society. While she is still years away from understanding the true meaning of social justice, her internal drive to make things right, whether it’s protesting about litter or standing up to a bully on the playground for poking her friend’s stuffed bear, is inspiring.
Music has regularly been a vital catalyst for spawning many of our discussions. Today, I am proud to premiere a song that Jeff Bogle (Out With The Kids) asserts “will up the ante on the political, world-changing capabilities of kindie music, essentially retesting the waters to see if kid’s music can indeed change the world in the 21st century.” (credit: Jeff Bogle, “Why Can’t Kids Music Change The World?“, Cooper and Kid)
Karen K (of Karen & the Jitterbugs) and CJ Pizarro (a.k.a Mista Cookie Jar) have produced a song called “Rainbow,” which explores themes such as racial and cultural inclusivity, showing one’s true colors despite societal gender expectations, and the placement of current social change and civil rights issues into a historical context.
Just as I was completing my introduction for today’s post, I found a picture my daughter drew that has just a rainbow and the words “you r mi love” on it. She draws rainbows all the time and although she wasn’t drawing it because of this topic, it so genuinely represents the purity, love and innocence of a child‘s mind. There is so much potential for learning, understanding and acceptance before children are truly “affected” by other people’s fears. So why not teach them that the rainbows they draw are inside of them, teach them about their potential and plant seeds that will, as Karen says in the interview below, teach them to stand up for themselves and ultimately find justice in what’s right not necessarily what’s popular.
Download proceeds for “Rainbow” will benefit the fight for equality and LGBTQ rights.
Kids Can Groove: How did you two first meet and what prompted your collaboration?
Karen K: We’ve actually only met in person twice! We first met at KindieFest in New York last Spring and again 2 weeks later in Boston when Mista Cookie Jar & The Chocolate Chips came up to be a part of the One Family Music Festival, a family music festival I’d put together with help from the Boston kindie community in response to the Boston Marathon bombings. We were all thrilled Cookie was part of such a great day of healing for families. Come to think of it, I guess this song is our second collaborative-attempt at using music to make a difference!
C.J. Pizarro (a.k.a Mista Cookie Jar): it was an honor to be able to help out for such an important cause. It struck me from the get-go that Karen was very committed to making a positive difference in the world through music. After the festival, we began collaborating on a song cross-country. We had a few fun ideas immediately, but it wasn’t until a few months later when she sent me the “Rainbow” demo that the creative gears really started to turn for us.
Lyrically, it seemed like a very natural subject matter to flow over — and urgent as well. In terms of justice, I’m always down to support the cause, and it’s special when you have something so full of heart that you think might actually make a big difference!
Any creative opportunity to affect social change is a rare one. Karen’s hook was just so emotional, simple, and meaningful — from the smart-phone recording alone, I knew there was good power there. The MC in me really loves a good hook — which really becomes your mantra/inspiration for every lyric you write.
KCG: What inspired you to write this song?
Karen: “Be a rainbow in someone else’s cloud.” – Maya Angelou. I love that quote.
While I’m a straight woman, I have many, many gay friends and colleagues. Back in February when Arizona tried to pass their anti-gay legislation, which thankfully the Governor vetoed, I was really upset and like a lot of other people, I thought, this type of thinking, this type of behavior, this type of governing should just not be happening. Although marriage equality and LGBTQ rights has long been an issue I care about, it occurred to me in that moment that this is the civil rights issue of our time, and of our children’s time – my own child’s time. And I knew, for me, I needed to do something.
At the same time, a gay friend of mine from my musical theater days in NYC posted on Facebook that he was devastated and that he felt he could not return to his hometown of Tucson. It broke my heart – and actually helped fuel the song. I sat down at the piano and wrote the “hook” or the chorus – “I will be a rainbow, I will let my star glow…I can chase the fear back into the night…” I wanted to look bigotry in the face with a message of hope – something that said that we can stand for love in this hatred, no matter what. I think at the time it was also a commitment to myself – a personal commitment to take a firmer stand on marriage equality and LGBTQ rights, because enough was enough.
I’m lucky because I was raised by loving, socially-conscience parents who taught all three of their kids to treat all people with kindness, and to stand up for what is right. My parents are from Greensboro, North Carolina, where they lived through the Woolworth’s sit-ins and events that drove and were tantamount to the Civil Rights Movement. Josephine Boyd, the first black student in the country to enroll at an all-white school, was a classmate of my parents at Greensboro High in 1958. I mean, they were in the thick of it. And their ideals were firmly planted not always on the popular side, but rather the right side of history. This was not lost on me as I drew the connections between the fight for marriage equality and LGBTQ rights in 2014, and the 1960s. It’s a great lesson in parenting actually; they passed their values onto me – to all three of us kids – by example. I think we live the way they live.
I sent CJ a scratchy little recording from my phone and out-of-tune piano and asked if he wanted to write this song that addressed these issues – a song of hope and justice and acceptance and love…for kids. And because he’s CJ and basically IS a walking rainbow, he of course said absolutely, and through emails we started talking specifically about what the song should be. We “got” each other right away. Though we have completely different musical styles, that was part of the beauty of working together.
CJ: I can empathize with anyone who is bullied for being different or not fitting in to what society deems as normal. I’ve always found this disturbing. I think in a way when it comes to gender issues, it just comes down to aesthetics and what people are used to and how willing people are to think outside their own box. People are driven to rage and hate because other people are so different than they are. Because it doesn’t fit into their world or perspective, it challenges them. I think its a dangerous mindset that leads to wars and oppression. Connecting to children at a young age with open-mindedness and free thought with such issues is key for progress. The revolution continues with the children. To grow as a people, we must educate our youngsters and hopefully our stubborn habits rooted in close-mindedness and exclusion will subside.
I believe music changes lives and helps pronounce movements. I’m deeply influenced by activists like Noam Chomsky, Cornel West, Edward Said, Howard Zinn — and musicians who merge their activism and artistry like Bad Religion, Rage Against The Machine, Tom Morello, Omar Offendum, Outernational and the Beatles too — especially John Lennon — just to name a few. I feel children’s music to be just as powerful and KEY to social change. Creating a song like ours was very interesting to me and quite a natural fit. I was happy to read Jeff Bogle’s article and how he gave it up to Woody Guthrie & Pete Seger. Folk music and activism seem to go hand in hand. They work together so organically. After all, it’s music for folks. For many people of my generation (new parents included), both urban, suburban and even rural folks, hip-hop is a new folk music, if not THE new folk music. At its best, it seems to be a great way to break down ideas expositionally and emotionally at once. In its socially analytic nature, [hip hop] seems to be rooted in the same soil as folk. Creating a pop song with such socially conscious themes was something we thought could reach many while simultaneously raising a myriad of important and current issues.
I was also inspired by the spirit of punk rock, which gives me the strength and vigor to take a stand and not really give a hoot. Given the genre that we’re in, children’s music, I find it very interesting how such a song full of the spirit of inclusivity will more than likely infuriate many parents out there (if they hear it) who are diametrically opposed to our world view. It seems to be human nature and the current sociological climate we live in. But at least it’s a song of universal love and not a stick/stone/mean tweet. Let’s begin a meaningful dialogue with folks diametrically opposed to us! That’s progress! That’s punk rock!
KCG: What do you want families to take away from this song?
Karen: We hope of course that kids of all ages hear it and really get the message that they are special and unique and phenomenal no matter where they come from, what color their skin is, what their sexual orientation is, what the make-up of their family is. As CJ says in the song, “You be you, through and through.” We hope this song will be a catalyst for direct and honest discussion in families, at school at the playgrounds – among kids and adults – and that it changes the dialogue. I hope [families] sing along and that somehow this message seeps into their beautiful brains and hearts and they remember it. We also hope they hear all these other great songs with similar messages written by our amazing colleagues and that they play them on repeat. (The Not-Its just released a song called “Love is Love” that is great). And we hope that their parents and teachers show [kids] again and again that they are loved because of who they are, because they are so perfectly beautiful just as they are. CJ talks really poetically about this in the song.
CJ: Wether you are in a lefty community or one not so LGBTQ friendly, my hope is that with this “redemption song” floating in the ether, there will be a source of hope for oppressed souls to cling to, a set of rational ideals to meditate on, and an unadulterated feeling of unconditional love to share and spread like wildfire.
Karen: See? What he said.
KCG: Where do each of you personally stand on these issues?
CJ: I am a man who rocks polka-dotted pink socks. So yeah, I am a pro-pink male fo’sho’. I am 100% for the legalization of same-sex marriage. I think it comes down to basic human rights and I’m excited as a species to evolve past this issue.
Karen: Ha! I love CJ’s pink socks. As I say to my daughter: Stand with love. Not just acceptance and tolerance, but love. Celebrate the differences we find in each other. Love them.
But more directly put – I’m pro-same-sex marriage and I believe every human in our country regardless of sexual orientation or identification should enjoy the privileges our Constitution allows and be able to participate fully in our civil society. I also believe we must do a better job in supporting LGBTQ youth – whom we are failing across the board.
It’s interesting because since we started the song, Mitch and Cam got married, and at least 5 more states have legalized same-sex marriage. It’s so exciting to see this kind of progress, but as the lyrics go, we have a very long way to go. Kids are still being bullied every day for being gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender. LGBTQ make up 20-40% of the population of all homeless youth, yet only 3% to 5% of the general youth population in this country. The suicide rates among LGBTQ kids are higher than any other group. According to recent gay bullying statistics, gay and lesbian teens are two to three times as more likely to commit teen suicide than other youths. It’s maddening, and it’s our responsibility as parents, teachers, humans and members of a civil society to stop it.
KCG: What age group are you targeting for this song?
CJ: Every kid is different and we have to make huge generalizations to create a demographic. We’re hoping the song connects on a pop level, catchy with lyrics and audio. I think Karen’s has a universal hook, relatable to so many people while quite potent. My lyrics, due to the nature and speed of rap delivery, are much more specific and should prompt more investigation. My idea with connecting with children when you have so many lyrics in one song is to plant thought seeds. I think all these concepts we bring up are important for all children to think about and for adults to help them come to terms with it all. Children have to deal with many of these issues in their lives so connecting these ideas of light and love to a history of popular struggle, that’s something only the wise (ahem, adults?) can instill. Hopefully the song can act as a kindie catalyst for genius-activist-kids who will keep our planet self-sufficient indefinitely for generations and generations through green technology and intellectualized pacifism.
KCG: Do you have suggestions for how parents can talk to their kids about the messages in this song?
CJ: In general, breaking down lyrics line by line makes for an enriching listening experience later on. A song can be emotional and cerebral all at once. Some of the best songs grow in the cabeza and the corazón with each listen. Even picking one part of a song can lead you down to a sweet tangent of learning lessons. Hopefully, the song can act as a jumping off point for discussions about gender, different lifestyles, cultures, and a general investigation of people– what makes us all different and awesome.
K: Like every parent, I struggle every day with knowing the right thing to say on many subjects ranging from the mundane (“Why You Can’t Eat Ice Cream for the 403rd Time Today”) to bigger issues like this. And I would certainly not presume to tell parents how to parent, as I’m sure I would screw it up for them as frequently as I have with my own kid.
But I wonder…What if we all started talking directly and openly and honestly about this issue with our children? In age-appropriate ways, what if we talked with them about what it means to be gay? Lesbian? Transgender? Actually using the words, naming it. Educating ourselves, and taking the mystery out of the vocabulary so that when our kids hear those words used as weapons later, they will know better. And they will do better. What if we flat out told our kids that not allowing two people who love each other to get married is in violation of the civil rights we have the privilege of enjoying in this country – and therefore unacceptable? What if we showed them by example by going to the polls and voting in favor of such civil rights as often as possible, or wrote a letter to our Congressmen and women in support of marriage equality? What if we wrote that letter with our kids? What if we told our children that no matter what God we believe in – and we do believe in different Gods in this country and in this world – that no real God would support hatred and bigotry? What if? I do wonder.
On a more tactical note, I came across a great reference the other day after a good discussion with a friend about this issue. It’s an article called What Does Gay Mean: How to Talk to Your Kids about Sexual Orientation and Prejudice by Lynn Ponton, MD. It was published by the National Mental Health Association, and it offers some great guidance and even language for talking with our children – from preschoolers , to school-aged kids, to teenagers – about this. Dr. Ponton offers some great advice – some I plan to follow myself, while I continue asking the tough questions.