Recent civil unrest in reaction to the death of George Floyd, while in police custody, has opened the door to conversations within our community. People are talking more openly about race, racism and other “isms” that impact the way we view and treat one another.

WATE 6 On Your Side anchor Tearsa Smith’s new segment, Community Conversations, will bring some of the subjects many of us are wrestling with to the people who are on the front lines of tackling the way we treat each other.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — One local foundation is making sure kids, especially children of color, understand not only their studies but what’s going on in the world around them.

“One of our pillars that we focus on is social-emotional learning, and it’s really important for kids to be able to process what they see is happening nationally on the news, and what they see in their communities,” Tanika Harper, founder of the Shora Foundation, said.

There is an African proverb that says, “It takes a village to raise a child” and for dozens of students in East Knoxville, Shora Foundation is that village. It was founded in 2008 by Harper. 

“So, our mission is just that,” Harper said. “To provide a safe place culture for under resourced communities by creating opportunities in transforming communities. And so we are here to provide a safe place, physically, mentally, and emotionally for kids.”

Harper steps in to make sure these students are able to thrive. She says throughout the nationwide civil unrest and the COVID-19 pandemic, their work has continued. Everything from helping families have enough to eat to making sense of headlines in the news.

“So one of the things that we do talk about is race factors and how that plays a part in their life when they’re seeing things like the George Floyd incident play out on TV,” she said.

Making sure they have someone to talk to about any feelings they may have.

“I’m always surprised,” Harper says, “One thing I can say is that our kids are super resilient, and sometimes they do not know that a traumatic event is a traumatic event, because they are so resilient and they bounce back, but it is also important that we teach them how to draw through it, how to talk through it.”

One of their main initiatives is improving academics. Harper says like many parents they are trying to figure out what will be best for kids in the new school year with COVID-19 concerns looming.

“I know at Shora Foundation, one of the things that we are looking to do is to open during the school day to provide a space for those kids who don’t have access to the internet and whose parents do work, but fear their kids sitting in a classroom,” Harper said.

Their work is year-round. Harper says she’d love to see the school system use them and other groups like them as partners, instead of working parallel.

“I do believe that the relationship between grassroots organizations and Knox County Schools can be stronger because there are those out here, of us who are putting in the work who are in the weeds in the trenches working with the kids,” she said.

Shora Foundation also exposes kids to Black history, art education and foreign languages which gives them access to the world outside of their community.