Interview with Shannon from Literally Cultured

literally cultured bio photo
What better way to model inclusiveness than to show our own children that we value and celebrate differences through the books that we read, the voices that we choose to listen to.

1. Tell us about yourself and what you are passionate about.

Anti-racist.  Ally.  Advocate. These three words are at the heart of who I am, and the driving force in the work I do in education and at home.  I am extremely passionate about diversity, inclusion, and anti-bias education, which led to me taking a position as K-12 Diversity Chair of a large central Ohio school district this year.  My mission is to transform student, teacher, and community relationships by providing resources and support for teaching tolerance, encouraging conversations around tough topics, and engaging in social activism. Additionally, as a 4th-grade teacher, mother, and all-around book lover, I  recognize the power of representation and diversity in literature, and founded literallycultured.com in March of 2019. 

2. You are a diversity specialist for K-12.  Can you speak more about this and what it involves?

Our district comprises over 22,000 students, 24 schools, and covers 95+ square miles just north of Columbus, Ohio. Our district believes in promoting an environment of inclusive excellence for all of our students, staff members, and families, and within that, they created the Equity and Inclusion Department. As the District Chair, I have my hand in all sorts of initiatives within the schools and community, but the main aspect of my work is to provide professional development and training of our district’s Diversity Liaisons. Each of our buildings has a Diversity Liaison to support staff and students in the areas of diversity, equity, and inclusion. They do so by organizing family events, creating student groups, and advocating for diverse initiatives at the building level.  In addition to training, I also create a monthly newsletter that is distributed to all staff members with topics on how to become a more culturally responsive teacher, recommendations on professional and personal learning, and curated book lists focused on diverse topics. 

3. What made you get into this field?

Initially, my move into an administrative Diversity and Equity position was somewhat personally driven. My husband and I are both teachers within the school district, and recently moved our family into the area. As an interracial family in a predominantly white community, I wanted to position myself to advocate for my brown sons, as well as other children and families like ours. I very much believe in creating systemic change, and felt that the best way to do that was to start at the top of the organization. 

4. What is the most common question you receive from parents related to diversity, and how would you answer it?

The most common question I typically get from parents related to diversity, equity, and inclusion is “what is our district doing?” One of the things I have learned in my first year in the role of Diversity Chair is that communication of our efforts is key. There are so many great things that are going on, however, with a district as large as ours, we have to be very proactive about spreading the word and including community stakeholders in as many aspects of our work as we can. District parents, especially those that come from a more diverse background, want to see that their voices are heard and their children are seen. 

5. I love how you describe literally cultured: “actively seek to cultivate your understanding and knowledge of diverse perspectives and people through the vessel of written words.” Can you expand on this, and tell me how it plays out in your own life?

 I believe that books have the power to take us to places beyond our wildest imaginations, introduce us to people we may never meet, and immerse us into stories of joy, heartache, and pain through experiences and interactions that we may not have ever understood or considered otherwise. From children to adults, books force us to become active and invested listeners. We aren’t in a position to disagree or agree with an opinion, share our own experiences that we feel might be similar, provide “facts” on why your feelings/opinions aren’t merited, or thinking of a rebuttal…instead we are listening. And when we truly listen, we practice empathy. With these beliefs and ideas in mind, I was very strategic and purposeful in defining what I wanted Literally Cultured to be.

6. How do you teach your own children about diversity and inclusivity?

As a mother of a 3 (Eli) and 4 (Langston) year old, and stepmother to an 11 year old (Osi), the most natural way that I teach them about diversity and inclusivity is of course, books! One of my favorite quotes is, “Our bookshelves tell the world who we value.” I have committed myself to finding a wide variety of books showcasing different cultures, communities, abilities, relationships, religions, etc.,  and we converted our dining room into a home library. We spend time reading together every day, and never shy away from the conversations and questions that may arise while doing so. 

7. How would you recommend white parents start conversations with their young children about racism and white privilege esp. when this is usually not a topic we have grown up being taught about?

I start out many parent and community workshops with saying, “It’s time to get comfortable with being uncomfortable”. For so long these topics have been considered ‘taboo’ or inappropriate to talk about within “mixed company”. and we have to shift this thinking in order to be open to these types of conversations in the first place. As a teacher, I can tell you that children are already talking about these things well before they even have the proper words to define them. As a parent specifically,  I would say the first thing you must do is to reconcile with yourself that there is no pretty or perfect way to jump into having conversations about racism, white privilege, etc. However, any effort is better than no effort. As mentioned previously, books are the perfect way to open these doors. There are many resources out there, including websites like that of the Anti-Defamation League. This website has a section called “Books Matter” that gives book suggestions for various topics, as well as parent guides to help with facilitating the conversations.  Be honest and open with your child(ren), and share that you don’t have all of the answers, but that this could be a learning opportunity for both of you. 

8. During this time you are recording read alouds of children’s books for your students to watch on YouTube.  What advice do you have for parents who suddenly have their children at home all day?

I started doing these read alouds as a way to stay connected with my students and provide some sort of normalcy in this not-so-normal time. My students have come to expect and appreciate the diverse people and topics that we read about, and I wanted to continue to bring that to them during this difficult time. As a new distance-learning teacher, homeschool preschool, and 5th-grade teacher, my biggest piece of advice is to give yourself grace. Having structure is something we know children (and adults) thrive with, however, things undoubtedly will not go the way we have planned. Allow for flexibility and know that the biggest thing we are teaching ALL children right now is how to be resilient, overcome life’s unexpected challenges, and practice empathy for others. 

9. What type of things are you doing with your own children while they are at home?

Right now we are just trying to find a routine that works for everyone. I ended up creating a schedule to try and mirror the preschool/daycare day of our 3 and 4 year old, but have had to be flexible with the demands of navigating distance teaching and learning with 4th graders. We are incorporating play and movement whenever possible (even for our 11 year old), and are spending time together doing things that we typically don’t have much time to do…which right now includes trying to convince their dad to build an indoor treehouse, HA! 

10. Thank you so much for your time! To close, can you share your most valuable piece of advice for parents?

In closing, my most valuable piece of advice for parents is to model the actions and behaviors that you hope to instill in your child(ren). I often like to challenge people to “read outside the box”, both professionally and personally. What better way to model inclusiveness than to show our own children that we value and celebrate differences through the books that we read, the voices that we choose to listen to. 

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This Post Has One Comment

  1. Well done! Bravo!!!!!

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