January 15, 1996
Web posted at: 3:00 p.m EST
From Correspondent Loretta Lepore
ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Brendan Steffan and Carson Phillips-Spotts attend The Friends School in Atlanta. The six-year-old boys are best friends who are perhaps wise beyond their years.
They say they always think alike, especially about the common concerns of first-graders. "Like no baths and stuff," says Brendan. Carson agrees wholeheartedly.
While they might think alike, they are different -- Brendan is white, Carson is black. But they don't seem to notice when asked what is different about them. "My birthday is before him," Carson offers.
What about the way they look, anything different? They look at each other and Carson says no. But Brendan notices a physical difference. "Well, maybe," he says as he touches Carson's arm. "Carson's a little stronger." The boys giggle as Brendan tries to get Carson to make a muscle in his arm. (204K AIFF sound or 204K WAV sound)
It takes a little prodding to get the boys to realize they have different skin colors. But it doesn't matter to them. "We can still be friends," Carson says.
Much of what these friends have learned about race has come from their parents. "The philosophy that we've tried to instill in him is that race ought not to matter," says Brendan's father, Chuck Steffan.
Carson's dad, Michael Spotts, puts it this way: "If you walk it like you talk it, they'll understand."
The simpler parents talk it, the easier it is for kids to understand it. Here's Brendan's philosophy: "...this kid that comes up to you and he says, 'Hey, I don't like you just because you're a different color'-- they have a sickness and I know and that sickness may never go away. The doctors have to help him."
"Racism is a "sickness (that) may never go away."
--Brendan Steffan, Age six
(204K AIFF sound or 204K WAV sound)
Brendan's and Carson's parents have their own ways to define prejudice. "I guess prejudice is ... an assumption that something is wrong, something that is undesirable, something that is inferior," says Chuck Steffan. "It's an assumption that's unexamined."
Wendy Phillips adds emotions to events to help her son Carson understand prejudice. "If they're reading a story about Dr. King, about the civil rights movement, we talk about people's feelings that go along with events that happened."
Carson's family also has a historical perspective. His parents have researched their families' genealogy to learn about relatives who were slaves. Phillips says the family tries to think about what their lives might have been like and use that as a source of strength. "If our ancestors survived such atrocities, we can deal with things that are difficult at this point in time," she says.
Allison Steffan hopes her son's friendship with Carson helps form a foundation for his future. "I just hope that the relationships Brendan forms now can help him combat all the bad things that are out there and the influences that may come later," she says.
For now, Carson and Brendan are figuring out the ways of the world together.
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