Meet the Two Black Women introducing diversity and inclusion to children through conversation

Simply put, black women make change happen. Meet Veronica Appleton, Ph.D., and Khalilah Lyons who promote the use of healthy conversations early on with parents and caregivers with children through, Candidly Connecting, an organization they co-founded in 2020. These women work to provide an authentic framework through coaching families to create belonging and equity in their daily spaces.

Chicago Defender: Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is the most discussed conversational piece across organizations. However, you set to shift the audience of DEI and introduce it to a younger demographic (which is necessary). Why was it important to create a space for conversations around diversity and inclusion between children and their parents?

Khalilah and Veronica: At Candidly Connecting, we create a safe place for candid conversations that resonate with children. Households across Chicago and the far-reaching globe, are equipped with children who have the power to change our communities. Through empowering parents, caregivers and what we call, essential adults (aunts, uncles, godparents, grandparents and others who have invested dedication to the little humans in their life); we bridge the gap between dialogue in the home and action externally to champion inclusion and equity of voice.

Candidly Connecting exists to ignite bold conversations with children and their parents. We want to change the world through the future generation and by 2027, our goal is to empower 1 million essential adults to create inclusivity at the playground. Normalizing conversations with children beyond cultural events about the identities and experiences of the people we share society with, is critical to creating inclusive communities.

Chicago Defender: When it comes to these conversations, who have you found to be the largest demographic interested in the coaching you provide?

Khalilah and Veronica: Often, we meet parents, caregivers, and educators who are interested in resources and tools that aid in their parenting practices. With our coaching, the goal is threefold: approachable, practical, and relevant to create influence in the home. We’ve seen parents and caregivers, who are most interested in helping process unprocessed information related to systemic racism, acts of overt discrimination related to sexuality, gender or abilities, xenophobia, antisemitism, mental/social/emotional health, isolation, confidence and other topics. Candidly Connecting is seen as a go-to resource and parents have recommended the work we do with mom and dad groups, park districts and non-profits.

Secondarily, we’ve gained a great deal of trust from corporations and academic institutions that embed our curriculum and best practices into how they educate their employees and faculty members about belonging in the workplace and home. We have hosted workshops, fireside chats, community chats via social media and more.

Finally, we’ve gained interest from many diverse families, who want to build the consciousness of their children about histories and varying cultures.

Chicago Defender: In your opinion, what tools does it take to raise a “dynamic world citizen”?

Khalilah and Veronica: Among many tools, one that is paramount is the appetite for learning. As a parent, caregiver or essential adult, you are the glue that connects purpose and action within your home and community. You have the special responsibility of reinforcing and bringing clarity to messages children may experience. This is the starting process in raising dynamic world citizens.

In our community, we have audio learning modules featuring identity illustrators, individuals that may identify as parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, advocates, supporters, mentors and the like. Through storytelling, our identity illustrators share how they have experienced life; resources they’ve embraced like podcasts, books, and movies that aid in illustrating who they are; their professions; and what children need to know about their story. Equally important to the storytelling modules are the reflection guides that provide self-reflection questions, conversation starters, and actions to inspire impact. We also see role modeling as part of the raising dynamic world citizen process. No matter if you’re a parent or caregiver, you are essential to the lives of children.

Chicago Defender: What is your hope for the growth and development of Candidly Connecting?

Khalilah and Veronica: From the playground to summer camps, recess or after school programs, it’s essential to create belonging in a child’s daily space, so it’s not forced in the future. They become more open, aware, accepting and respectful of differing identities. Research shows children can identify race as early as six months old and often embrace behaviors they see in the home.

For Candidly Connecting, we envision parents, caregivers and essential adults will embrace diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) in the home and in social settings with the same enthusiasm with topics like bullying at school, healthy eating, social emotional learning in the classroom, stranger danger, being responsible, and doing assigned chores. We believe it’s essential to normalize the conversation, so there is no surprise when children are teased at school, bullied for their differences, or not psychologically safe amongst teachers and/or adults.

Chicago Defender: Both of you exceptional women are leading DEI experts in business and nonprofit. Tell us why and how this collaboration and sisterhood came to be?

Khalilah and Veronica: Our origin story developed during the social reckoning of 2020. In March of that year, Ahmad Aubrey’s murder sparked Khalilah to develop a call to action for parents to start discussing culture and what was taking place in the world with their children. The call-to-action also encouraged parents to have an honest conversation about DEIB, injustices, and how to be an ally for others. From there, Khalilah received several private messages from parents and essential adults inquiring how to start the conversation and what topics to discuss with their children. To contextualize this, Veronica came into the picture, who’s a scholar in intercultural communications and a multicultural children’s author.

Our love for children was the glue we needed to develop Candidly Connecting as a pathway for conversation, connection, personal narratives, and community to raise inclusive children.

Chicago Defender: Lastly, share with us the benefits of parents having courageous conversations with their children?

There are four actions we share with our community:

  1. We encourage deepened connections with peers. This provides the inner-circle needed to impact their child’s life in several areas such as school, at camp, in social settings, amongst their peers and in their critical thinking skills about history and culture.
  2. We encourage inviting others into the learning process by taking what they’ve learned from Candidly Connecting and empower others to actively talk about DEIB.
  3. Get candid about the difficulties in parenting and being an essential adult. One of the greatest gifts you can “gift” yourself is self-awareness and knowing your growth areas.
  4. Be willing to share with children that their feelings, questions and thoughts on life are valid.

Interested in being empowered by storytelling and a safe space to discuss diversity and inclusion? Visit to learn more about Khalilah and Veronica’s work, or engage via social at Instagram or LinkedIn.

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