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Today In History

Women's History Month 2021

Mar-01, 2021

A mother and a daughter dressed up like superheroes

March is Women's History Month! As a national holiday in the US in March and in October in Canada, national organizations will be offering informational and entertaining content promoting the advancements, discoveries, and accomplishments of women throughout our history.

According to the National Women's History Alliance, the theme of Women's History 2021 is "Valiant Women of the Vote: Refusing to be Silent," which had originally been intended to be last year's theme. 2020 was supposed to be a centennial celebration of women's suffrage. As we covered in August of last year in our article, "The 19th Amendment Turns 100," the 19th Constitution Amendment, which guaranteed the right to vote to every American citizen regardless of sex, was ratified in 1920. Due to COVID, many events commemorating this centennial were postponed to 2021.

How to Celebrate Women's History Month with Your Kids

  • Watch Unladylike2020 - This series, produced for PBS, documents the stories of lesser known, but no less important, female historical figures of the suffrage movement. Unladylike2020 features a diverse group of women from different racial, ethnic, cultural backgrounds achieving success and breaking barriers in a variety of fields like athletics, activism, and business.
  • Read She Persisted - We featured a book from the She Persisted series before on our Black History Reading List for 2020 about Claudette Colvin, and there are many more books in this series for our kids to discover! This series of picture books expands on the original book She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World written by Chelsea Clinton and illustrated by Alexandra Boiger.
  • Check out Aspire 2 Inspire - NASA recently landed the Perseverance rover on Mars, a huge step forward in studying our solar system. Aspire 2 Inspire was founded to raise awareness about the amazing accomplishments of women in STEM, to encourage the next generation of scientists, astronauts, and inventors who will bring us more amazing feats of human ingenuity.
  • Honor Your Own History - Chances are, your family already has some amazing women's history to discover! Encourage your kids to reach out to the women in their lives, be they aunts, grandmothers, cousins. Write down stories and anecdotes you remember from relatives past. Look up the history of where your family came from, what life must have been like for your child's great-great-great-grandmother. You can compile old pictures, diary entries, even recipes in a family history book your kids will cherish forever. While we are all waiting for life to return to its post-COVID normal, this is a great way to interact with family and loved ones in a socially distanced way!

Black History Month 2021

Feb-01, 2021

A multi-generational black family poses together smiling.

February is Black History Month, sometimes known as African American History Month, in the US and Canada. Since 1976, every February has been observed as Black History Month, a time when we celebrate the accomplishments of Black Americans and Canadians, assess the current hurdles facing Black Americans and Canadians, and recommit to the pursuit of equality for Black Americans and Canadians today and in the future.

Every year, the Association for the Study of African-American Life and History, or ASALH, assigns a theme to Black History Month. This year's theme is "The Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity." Writers, thinkers, and leaders will assess, debate, and celebrate how Black families are portrayed in media, social discourse, history, and art. It also invites non-Black people to evaluate their thoughts about what Black family means to them, and to challenge any negative assumptions.

How is 2021 Different than Previous Years?

Since 2013, the Black Lives Matter movement has pushed the reality of inequality to the forefront of political consciousness. While landmark events like the election of President Barak Obama in 2008 were symbols of hope that the legacy of racism was in the past, Black Lives Matter showed through statistics, anecdotes, and negative reactions to the very name of their movement that we have much, much more work to do.

Black History Month 2021 is the first to be celebrated following the death of George Floyd, whose murder enraged a community fed up with no tangible change. We at Best Brains vocalized our support, assessed our own impact, and committed to finding opportunities to champion and support Black voices.

Notable Black Pop Culture Anniversaries in 2021

Marvin Gaye's Album "What's Going On" Turns 50

Voted by Rolling Stone Magazine as the #1 greatest album of all time, hit maker Marvin Gaye created an album that defined a generation in 1971. In the album, Gaye reflects on racism, the Vietnam War, poverty, and other matters concerning the Black community in America, set to some of the most beautiful R&B melodies ever recorded. "What's Going On" is both a time capsule of its era, as well as a launching pad for young listeners to do their own research into American history, activism, and music theory.

Eddie Murphy's First Appearance on SNL 40 Years Ago

While he wasn't the first African American cast member on SNL, and not the first Black comedian to use the live television comedy program to do thoughtful and hilarious material involving race, Eddie Murphy rocketed to pop culture success when he became a series regular in 1981 at a mere 19 years old. His iconic characters breathed new life into the struggling program, setting it up for success to still be on the air 40 years later. A genuine superstar of the 80's and 90's, Eddie Murphy would go on to write and star in many popular films like Trading Places and Coming to America, which had important messages about racial and class equality underpinning the side-splitting comedy. Younger viewers will of course recognize Eddie Murphy as the often-singing voice of Donkey from the Shrek franchise, whose character design shares Murphy's trademark smile.

The Last Episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show Airs 10 Years Ago

Oprah Winfrey's life story has inspired millions of people around the world, regardless of race or cultural background. For 25 years, her daytime talk show broke ground by discussing various topics some considered taboo at the time. Oprah's cultural impact is profound, and her presence in pop culture is still felt to this day. As a producer, she has helped bring several important creative works to life, as well as bringing many black writers and artists into pop culture with her recommendations. Oprah Winfrey is not only a pop culture icon, but she has helped make Black Culture richer and more varied using her popularity and influence to uplift other performers. Recently, her famous Oprah's Book Club brough the children's series, "A Kids Book About," to prominence, which tackles various topics people often have difficultly discussing with children.

Learn more about the A Kids Book About Series.


Celebrating Holidays During Hard Times

Dec-07, 2020

A mother and daughter in Santa hats comfort each other while looking at their Christmas tree

"Have yourself a merry little Christmas," the song goes. For many people, that's not always possible. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Diwali, Eid-al-Adha, or one of the other many winter holidays, It's hard to escape the feeling that we must be joyful all the time, and when we're not, that can cause us to feel anxious or guilty.

Christmas itself can be a source of sadness for some. In the US and Canada, Christmas imagery is everywhere in winter. Decorated trees, nonstop carols on the radio, Santa-themed commercials, and other signifiers of the holiday seem to be everywhere you look. And for people who don't celebrate Christmas, this can have a negative effect on them, even if they think they should be feeling happy.

The fact that so many cultures around the world do celebrate some sort of holiday during the coldest and darkest months is probably not a coincidence, to create a source of light and joy during difficult times, both physically and mentally. Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is a diagnosed condition where the winter months affect a person's mood and sense of self-worth, making them feel depressed. About 5% of adults in the US suffer seasonal depression, which can last about a third of the year! While winter holidays can help a community focus on the positive and spread joy, it isn't a cure-all for very real emotional issues.

Circumstances can also interfere with our enjoyment of the holiday season. Due to COVID-19, millions of families have had to change how they are celebrating the season. Many have lost at least one family member to this disease, and will certainly be missing them this year. For those of us who have not personally been affected by the coronavirus, we can all take a moment to acknowledge that, as difficult at this season might be for us, we can count ourselves lucky in this regard.

The holiday season has been a part of human culture for tens of thousands of years, seeing us through the highest highs and the lowest of lows. And while how we celebrate may change with the times, the spirit of the season will always remain.

How we traditionally think of Christmas nowadays is largely thanks to hardship, particularly the American Civil War. Before then, there was no generally accepted way to celebrate Christmas. In fact, many Christians thought it was in bad taste to host lavish parties and give out lots of gifts on what was, to them, a solemn day of prayer and reflection. What we think of now as typical Christmas behavior actually has rather sad roots, as a display of "generosity" by wealthy plantation owners to the people they owned. During the Civil War, Christmas became a way to boost morale among Confederate and Union soldiers. Families embraced homemade gift giving when there was no money for store-bought goods. And magazines filled their pages with the joy of the Christmas season. When the war was won and the United States reunified, Christmas became a way for all citizens to celebrate together in a common way. Passing the first federal holiday law, Christmas became an official federal holiday in 1870.

Americans once again faced difficult times during the Great Depression, which lasted from 1929-1939. During this time, about 25% of the American labor force was out of work, which put a tremendous strain on families. So, what was Christmas during the Great Depression like? Since Christmas had become a treasured holiday since the days of the Civil War, families honored Christmas however they could, whether it be a nice meal, a handmade gift, or even a simple orange. Any kids who grew up wondering why their parents always put an orange in the toe of their Christmas stocking, this is why. It's a tradition that grew from extreme hardship, when a juicy orange may be the only gift a child could hope to receive.

As you can see, the holiday season has survived and thrived through hardship and stress. So, what can you do to cope with holiday stress? Firstly, remember to focus on your own mental health. Your state will affect everyone around you, especially your kids. Holiday stress can get us to think of everyone else besides ourselves, but take the time you need to take care of yourself. Even a single virtual chat with a therapist can help unload some of your burdens and focus you to get through the next month.

Next, come together as a family and acknowledge things will be different. Talk to your family about which traditions are the most special to them, if and how they will be affected by quarantine, and make a plan of action to address these changes. Make new traditions, and let go of old ones that have been causing you all stress and no joy, even in the past. Like any problem, ignoring it is not the answer. Being proactive and patient will yield the best results.

Lastly, try to focus on gratitude and positivity. Just like people in the past have done, use the holidays to reconnect with loved ones, share generosity, and remember how precious and special life truly is. Make connections with the other people in your life. They're probably feeling the same stress and anxiety you are. Be a bright spot in their day, and together we can fill this dark season with light. After all, isn't that what the winter holidays are all about?


American Thanksgiving: A Multicultural Feast

Nov-09, 2020

father and son, multigenerational, Indian family, South Asian family, grandpa and grandson, Thanksgiving, football, backyard, outdoor activities, games, family fun

If there is one American holiday which best exemplifies what it means to be American, it's Thanksgiving. Cooking a special meal, gathering the relatives, watching football, and expressing what everyone is thankful for. While the Fourth of July commemorates the signing of the Declaration of Independence, which started a chain of events ending in the creation of the United States, Thanksgiving's roots go further back. To many, Thanksgiving symbolizes a time before the country was founded, when people of different backgrounds were able to come together and share a meal. Food has long been used to represent people, and food is the best, easiest way to share cultures. It's no surprise then that, for immigrants, adopting and adapting "American style" cuisine is often a way to integrate into American culture, while still celebrating one's heritage.

Close to 4 million South Asians have immigrated to the US, many recently. So, what does Thanksgiving look like for them? Well, you can expect more than one centerpiece dish. While a big roasted turkey is often the focal point of the table, many South Asians are vegetarian. So, you're just as likely to find a smaller chili and ginger marinated chicken beside a mutter paneer or chickpea curry. This goes for the traditional sides, too. Sweet potatoes, corn, and cranberry sauce benefit from an infusion of traditional spices like jeera, garam masala, and coriander. Even pumpkin spice, that famous cocktail of cinnamon, ginger, and other warm spices that seems to be in every fall-themed treat, can be given a South Asian twist with the addition of chai masala or cardamom.

Beyond the dinner table, many South Asians take the message of giving thanks to heart. While we can criticize the historical inaccuracies of the Thanksgiving narrative, and should very rightly acknowledge and do what we can to rectify the suffering caused to the Native American population by the expansion of colonization in this country, the spirit of Thanksgiving, the messages we try to instill in our children about acceptance, sharing, and togetherness, speak to an immigrant population who wants to feel accepted in their new home, and has so much to offer their fellow citizens. Sharing abundance is another theme of the holiday, and many South Asians take Thanksgiving as an opportunity to get involved in charitable activities. Especially this year, when 54 million Americans are facing food insecurity due to the coronavirus pandemic, it is vital to embrace a giving spirit going into this holiday season.

The United States is a nation of immigrants, South Asians being a part of a large, multicultural melting pot. By embracing American traditions, taking what is best from them, and adding fresh flavors and new customs, it strengthens the holiday for everyone!


Celebrating Diwali Safely During the Pandemic

Nov-02, 2020

Diwali, Deepavali, festival of lights, deepa, lighting oil lamps, hand lighting lamp, henna

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, many families have had to change their plans this holiday season. Whether cancelling international travel, cancelling public events, or just limiting the number of guests at the house, the effects of social distancing are disproportionately hard on our celebrations. But canceling plans and canceling holidays are two different things. As we've discussed before, hardships throughout history have affected holidays in various ways. With an attitude of patience and gratitude, we can make this holiday season one to remember!

Diwali is the Hindu festival of lights. It is the biggest and most important holiday of the year, and is often compared to Christmas. Lighting oil lamps called deepa (pictured above) and wearing bright flowers are symbols of the celebration. Diwali is celebrated over a 5-day period, with special activities for each day including cleaning, decorating, cooking, visiting with family, and setting off fireworks. The date of Diwali changes from year to year on the Gregorian calendar because it is always celebrated on the 15th day of Kartik on the Hindu calendar. In 2020, we will celebrate on November 14th.

So, what can your family do to make your Diwali celebration safer? Firstly, the CDC recommends outdoor gatherings over indoor gatherings. Since that may not be as easy in the late autumn, due to dropping temperatures in most of the country, your family may want to look into buying or renting fire pits and indoor heaters. These will not only make an outdoor gathering more comfortable, but are a great investment for any backyard. If you must stay indoors, keep your gathering space well ventilated with open windows and fans. Circulating air helps slow the spread of germs. Also, you can try to spend as much time as possible outside, maybe only coming indoors to eat.

Next, you should limit the time you are in contact with people who you don't live with. Longer exposure poses greater risk. So, consider doing as much preparation in your individual houses as possible, such as cooking different parts of the celebratory meal, and then coming together for the actual eating and enjoying. Spend time over the phone or video chat catching up with relatives who are going to be at your party, so that you're not tempted to spend hours and hours sharing stories and reminiscing in person. And utilize as much space as possible when you are all gathered together, whether that means having multiple tables or spreading chairs farther apart. Additionally, you may want to have multiple smaller gatherings instead of one large one, and connect via video chat to feel as if you are all together.

Lastly, we encourage you to take the meaning of Diwali to heart. Use the traditional gift giving to contribute to the safety of the host home with items like air purifiers, extra PPE and sanitizer, or additional outdoor furniture like tenting, dining sets, and heaters. Do not succumb to spiritual darkness, and embrace the light of gratitude and empathy. We are all suffering due to this pandemic. But the beauty of the holidays is that they are a constant in our lives, both as something to look forward to in the future, and as the treasured memories of the past. Diwali 2020, in that regard, is no different. So, from all of us at Best Brains, we wish you a safe and happy Diwali!!!


How to Talk to Your Kids About the 2020 Presidential Election

Oct-16, 2020

classroom, teacher, voting, raising hands, diversity, participating

With the 2020 Presidential election approaching, parents are faced with a unique situation when it comes to explaining the process to their kids. While every election cycle is an opportunity to teach kids about civic duty, the responsibilities of citizenship, and many educational concepts like math and history, this election and the current political climate have some additional challenges. Let's explore the landscape of this election.

Political rhetoric has a direct effect on our kids.

While we like to think of our children as apolitical, the truth is they are not immune to political rhetoric. Children often suffer the consequences of their parent's actions and beliefs, and in 2020, these consequences can be very serious. According to reports, bullying is on the rise in our schools, showing a 35% increase in reported cases between 2016 and 2019. And while this figure may be partially inflated by increased awareness and a safer environment to come forward with reports of bullying in, there are other factors involved. During the last election cycle, many parents and educators reported identity-based bullying echoing Republican political rhetoric, particularly anti-immigration slogans that were popular at the time. This inspired a study of Virginia school districts in 2017, which did find an increase in bullying in areas which favored Republican candidates, where previously there had been no quantifiable difference. This emboldening of racially motivated discrimination among children reflects the larger political discourse, and is a direct consequence of the climate we find ourselves in for this 2020 election.

Politics is bigger than any one person.

While the Presidential election tends to be the most participated in election in the US, it's important to remind our kids that it is not the only election we will be voting on this year, or the only political issue worth caring about. Like it or not, politics is a vital part of living in a society which allows its citizens to vote. Despite anything related specifically to the current Presidential election, politics is a side effect of our civic duty, and should not be ignored by anyone. "Children grow up so fast," is the common phrase, and when they turn 18, they become directly involved in the voting process. It's our duty as parents to make sure that our kids understand that their vote matters, and that an elected government will reflect the people who show up to make their voice heard.

All children benefit from civic education.

As soon as children learn how to sort things into groups, they can begin to grasp the basic ideas of politics. All the lessons we learned in preschool, to share, to be kind, to participate, to learn, are all components of what make a good citizen and a responsible voter. As children age, they start to form opinions about the world based on their experiences. These experiences can be related to politics very easily. What is the best part of the school day? What is the difference between a happy classroom and an unhappy one? How do kids relate to one another in group projects and what makes them successful? Older children can draw even deeper meaning from the world around them to see how it is influenced by politics, from which subjects are taught in schools and which subjects have been cut, to what is on the menu in the cafeteria, to the presence of third parties invited to their school such as school speakers, recruitment organizations, etc. Life is a political experience, and identifying and taking ownership of this fact can be the difference between a child who is involved in civic life and one who is too intimidated or indifferent to participate.

There may still be time to register to vote in your state. Go to https://vote.gov/ to see if registration is still open.