The Healing Power of Real Talk
How the Brazelton Touchpoints Center is supporting positive identity development for Black parents and families—and members of the global majority—with authentic conversation.
For Black families, the racial reckoning of 2020 surfaced questions around identity, justice, and community that had been simmering for decades. Meanwhile, the forced isolation of the coronavirus pandemic left families to wrestle with these questions in solitude.
For Dr. Eurnestine Brown, this wouldn’t do. As the Director of Relational Equity and Belonging at the Brazelton Touchpoints Center—a nonprofit based in the Division of Developmental Medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital—she knew that Black families needed a forum for conversation; a safe space where they could talk openly and honestly about what was on their minds. To put it another way, they needed a space for some “real talk.” Around this time, video conferencing applications emerged as a popular way to work from home. If technology could keep workplaces running, couldn’t it also provide a point of connection for families?
Brown thought so. So in late 2020, she and the Brazelton Touchpoints team decided to launch a free webinar series designed to facilitate honest conversations for and between parents from historically marginalized groups. The first installment, Parenting While Black, was launched as a pilot in early 2021, with the plan to launch additional family-to-family conversations if it proved successful.
Each episode of Parenting While Black featured expert parent panelists discussing a topic focused on building and maintaining resilience in Black children and families. The pilot proved so popular that the Brazelton Touchpoints Team quickly began developing the full Family-to-Family Real Talk Series for 2022, including conversations for LGBTQIA+ families, Latinx families, and families with children with developmental challenges.
The success of the Real Talk series isn’t surprising to Dr. Brown. She says it not only gives families strategies for parenting or navigating the healthcare system, but also a sense of shared community and joy in a time of trauma and turmoil. In a recent interview, she and Eva Rivera, Program Manager & National Facilitator at Brazelton, reflected on why Real Talk has resonated so strongly, and how giving parents space to talk is at the heart of the Brazelton Touchpoints Center ethos.
The following interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Before we get into the Real Talk series, I’d love to learn a little about the Brazelton Touchpoints Center. I understand Dr. T Berry Brazelton founded it in 1996 to encourage providers to work in partnership with families receiving healthcare. Could you provide some background to help explain why this conversation series emerged at the Center?
Eva Rivera: Dr. Brazelton really believed that parents know a lot more than doctors or teachers could ever know about their own individual children. Doctors have theoretical knowledge, but no one knows an individual child better than their parents. So he really believed in collaborating with families and working in partnership. The approach that we take at BTC is to recognize that while doctors are experts in their fields, parents are the experts on their children. They know the most about raising their own children. Without them, healthcare and other family-facing providers really can’t do the work.
How does that ethos tie into the Family-to-Family Real Talk series?
Eva Rivera: In a way, the series is us going back to our roots. Dr. Brazelton had a TV show back in the ‘90s where he would have a panel of parents on and he would ask them, “What’s on your mind? What are your worries? What are you concerned about?” And he listened to them and they would have a conversation.
The pilot for the Real Talk series, Parenting While Black, was launched in early 2021. Dr. Brown, can you talk about why it was important to address the needs of Black families at that particular time?
Dr. Brown: We recognized that families were hurting. And we also recognized that families were feeling very isolated, and that they didn't have a space. So we created a space for them to come together in a way that could be authentic and we could really talk about where we are, and where our children are. It was important that they could be who they are and not feel like, “I have to put the veil on and not really present who I am.” And we've gotten comments from families who joined us and our guest panelists—who are also parents as well as scholars and practitioners—about how they really felt joy even as we talked about things that are really hard to talk about, like grief, suicide, infertility, and loss. There has been a lot of joy in the midst of the storm.
When you talk about the audience for this series, you refer to them as the “global majority,” rejecting the word “minority.” Can you talk about why the language we use around race and identity matters?
Dr. Brown: There is nothing minor about people who are Black, Latino, Native American, Asian. There’s nothing minor about them. And all these conversations we are having with families are intended to elevate their identities. It is never about, ‘What’s wrong with me?” It’s strength-based. We don't sugarcoat the challenges, but our conversations are based in strength and elevation of identities and joy.
Why is it important to tackle issues like parenting or healthcare through the lens of race and identity?
Eva Rivera: That’s a great question. The title of the second episode of the Somos Latinx Families series is “Embracing Our Latinx Identities and Parenting Our Children to Know Who They Are.” And one of the reasons why I wanted to talk about that is because in 2022, it’s a big part of the conversation in this country. Who are we, and how do we identify? I was born in Mexico City, and I never thought about my identity until I came to this country. But then you come to a new place, and you're put into these boxes and you have to navigate the world. And then you are forced to address questions like “Who am I?” and “Where do I fit into these different categories that have been put upon me?”
Dr. Brown: The language we use to describe and speak about a people matters. Most people will say, “Black birthing people are three to four times more likely to die.” They're not “dying” because there’s something wrong with them. They’re dying because they’re not receiving appropriate care during pregnancy, when they are birthing, and after birth. Something like 80% or 90% of the deaths of Black birthing people are preventable. It is vital to use language to speak truth. The truth here is that hospitals are three to four times more likely to kill Black birthing people than White ones. Our Parenting While Black conversations are very real, because we know that Black mothers and birthing people are dying, and that Black babies are not reaching their first birthday.
On the brighter side, you have an episode focused exclusively on Black Joy. What does that phrase mean to you, Dr. Brown, and why is it important to discuss it?
Dr. Brown: Black people are joyful, even in the midst of the horrific treatment that we have received in America. So we are always talking about identity and strengthening identity as parents, as experts, as scholars, and for our children. That is the core of who we are, even though we are not a homogeneous people. It’s not all gloom and doom. So we are focused on centering Black joy and Black excellence. That’s just who I am, and I'm honored to be in a space that allows me to be able to express it.
Bezos Family Foundation is proud to support the Brazelton Touchpoints Center, which develops and applies knowledge of early childhood development to practice and policy through professional and organizational development, evaluation, advocacy and awareness and serving as a resource for proven practices.