“Kids have a voice, If you don’t answer their questions, they don’t feel like they have a voice. Answer their questions so they know that their voice matters, but make sure it’s an answer that is kid-appropriate. With the National Black Child Development Institute (NBCDI), we’re helping parents learn how to answer kids’ questions,” says Darlene Walker, president of the Hampton Roads Chapter of NBCDI.
NBCDI provides resources that address the needs of black children concerning issues such as early childhood education, health, child welfare, literacy and family engagement. “We tend to focus on kids up to eight years old, but there is some overlap,” says Walker. “When we go into a school to distribute books, for instance, we supply the entire school including the 4th and 5th graders who are a bit older. Helping kids means helping the entire family, which includes parents and older siblings.”
Walker first became involved with NBCDI in the 90s by attending conferences. When she began launching her personal business, Catapult Parent Education, she thought that having greater involvement with and endorsement from NBCDI could be an important asset. “When I contacted the organization I found out that the closest affiliate was in Washington D.C. and that there was, in fact, no affiliate yet in Virginia. I was asked if I would be willing to start an affiliate in Hampton Roads and I said yes.”
Walker admits that it has been a tremendous amount of work, involving two years to get the chapter up and running, but says that her vision of a mutually beneficial relationship for her business and NBCDI has become a reality.
“The two entities have worked together well. With Catapult Parent Education I teach parenting classes, which are often mandated by the courts for parents who are going through a divorce. This has helped me with the National Black Child Development Institute because it involves working with parents as well, but whatever we’re doing it’s always for the benefit of the children; it’s always with them in mind.”
NBCDI helps to bring resources to the community through grants and partnerships with organizations such as the Clinton Foundation, which has enabled Walker to provide 4,000 books to schools and area children over the past two years. Those books were provided by the Clinton Foundation. However, she points out that every affiliate of the NBCDI, including Hampton Roads, is self-sufficient, autonomous and largely responsible for generating its own funding. “This is such an asset for us because it allows us to really use the unique abilities and skill sets of the people who join us,” says Walker. “They can create their own ideas and together as an affiliate, we can make that vision a reality.”
While the activities of NBCDI are diverse, Walker explains that literacy and parental engagement are a major focus. “We need children to understand at a preschool age the importance of reading. Getting them involved with reading at an early age sets them up to be successful with the SOLs, which they will take for the first time in the third grade. Reading helps kids with all aspects of the SOL.”
In Hampton Roads, students are actually doing well on reading tests up to the second grade, but that’s when they start to drop off. Walker explains that this can be traced to less parental involvement with their children as far as reading goes. “As kids get older, they’re not getting bedtime stories anymore, and the parents aren’t modeling the behavior of reading for them as much, and that affects them.”
Walker believes that improving the lives of all children, not just African-American children, is not that complicated. “Kids need love. When there’s love in relationships, there’s love in the decisions that are made and there’s love in the interactions within families. One of the best ways to show love is by reading to your child, then having your child read a story to you. You strengthen relationships and you teach kids one of the most valuable skills they can have,” Walker emphasizes.
Walker’s two sons are now grown men, but along with her husband, her own family is still the most important part of her life.
TO THE POINT:
National Black Child Development Institute – Hampton Roads Chapter
Address: 110 Boeing Ave., Hampton, VA 23669
Contact: Darlene D. M. Walker, president