We Are The Student Ignition Society

Free resources for progressive early childhood educators

Luminary Word Bank

Vocabulary & definitions

Words can have many meanings. Find out how we define terms in our toolkits and book recommendations and make it easier to talk about these concepts with kids.

These resources are free to reprint & republish with attribution to The Student Ignition Society for non-commercial purposes.

  • Abolition – The end to a pattern of behaviors.
  • Accomplice – A person who actively works alongside you to end injustice.
  • Advocacy – Listening and following the directions of people who have been hurt so we can all heal together.
  • Affirmation – Honest words that help us see through hurtful lies.
  • Agency – Having control over the decisions and choices that affect us.
  • Ally – A person who believes you deserve equality.
  • Ancestors – People in our family who lived before us and contributed to how we live today.
  • Amplify – Sharing another person’s message with those who trust and listen to us.
  • Asylum-Seeker – Someone who leaves where they live to escape from being harmed.
  • #BlackLivesMatter – An affirmation that Black people are as important as non-Black people.
  • Brutality – Avoidable harm that makes those who were hurt feel afraid for a long time.
  • Circle – People or actions coming together to make everyone feel included, safe and supported.
  • Citizen – A person who has rights and responsibilities in their roles as members of their community, state, and nation. 
  • Civil Rights – Protective rules that allow us to live without fear of being hurt just because we’re different than those with power.
  • Collective – People acting together as a group for a shared goal.
  • Colonization / Colonialism – Invading and controlling another nation and the people who live there. Colonization hurts Indigenous people, both intentionally and unintentionally. Colonialism is the idea that this is good, colonization is the act of making it happen.
    • Colonist – People who move to another nation in order to occupy and claim ownership of the land and and take the resources there.
    • Colonizer – A person who invades Indigenous land, stops Indigenous people from from practicing their cultural traditions, and often hurts and kills Indigenous people.
    • Decolonization – Bringing back independence for Indigenous people who have been harmed by colonization so all people inhabiting an area are free from oppression.
  • Colorism – A social construct that compels us to give power to people with lighter colored skin at the expense of people with darker colored skin.
  • Community – A group of people who rely on each other.
  • Conflict – A disagreement between two people or groups who care about the consequences of what will happen.
  • Construct – A made-up, often-changing way of sorting ideas based on our opinions and assumptions rather than scientific facts. Example: Racial groups and gender identity are constructs and can change.
  • Consequences – What happens as a result of our actions.
  • Culture – The rules and behavior we see as normal in our family and community.
  • Defunding – Refusing to give money to one group or practice, in order to put that money toward another cause. Defunding the police means taking away some of the money we use to pay for policing so we can use that money to support people with housing, healthcare, and education so that policing isn’t necessary.
  • Deportation – Forcing an immigrant, refugee, or asylum-seeker to leave their home.
  • Descendant – People in our family who are born after us.
  • Dignity – Awareness of our humanity and deserving of respect.
  • Discomfort – A yucky feeling in our bodies that makes us want to stop what is happening.
  • Ecosystem – A network of living things and their environment that rely on each other to stay in harmony.
  • Equality – The idea that we should treat everybody the same, regardless of how we each start out. (Example: Giving every kid size 4 shoes, regardless of who needs them).
  • Equity – The idea that we should give people what they need so we can all end up with a good quality of life. (Example: Giving each kid who has no shoes a pair that fits them).
  • Escalation – Actions that make conflicts bigger and more harmful. Deescalation is to calm conflicts and make them less harmful.
  • Ethnicity – The social group(s) we share a birth connection with through our shared history – including language, traditions, genetics, and the places our ancestors cared for.
  • Forced Family Separation – Children being taken away from their families at the border, without their families’ permission.
  • Freedom – The ability to think, communicate, and act the way we want.
  • Futures – Ideas of what could happen next without erasing the hardship of the past, keeping in mind the best possibilities. Spinning off of Futures studies most notably in the speculative fiction genre of Afrofuturism, coined by Alondra Nelson & Mark Dery.
  • Gender – A social construct identifying our identity on a spectrum of masculine, feminine, both, neither, or something outside of that.
  • Generation – All of the people born around the same time.
  • Government – The group of people who control and make decisions for a nation, country, state, or town.
  • Government Border – An imaginary line separating one government’s land from another.
  • Harm – Hurting someone’s body or feelings, or taking away their power (even accidentally)
  • Heal – Working to feel better after we have been harmed
  • Heritage – The family history and cultural practices given to us by our Ancestors. Many people have more than one heritage.
  • Hypocrisy – Saying we care about something but doing things that show we don’t actually care about it.
  • Identity (Social) – The group membership that we use to define who we are. (The words you’d use to finish this sentence : “I am a…”)
  • Immigrant – People who move to another country make this new place home.
  • Impunity – Ability to avoid the consequences of our actions.
  • Incarceration – Punishment that separates a person from their friends and family in a place where they have very little power and feel unsafe. 
  • Indigenous – The first people to live in an area and care for the land and resources there.
  • Inhumane – Cruel and unkind.
  • Injustice – An act or event of unfairness that causes harm.
  • Intersectionality – The idea that we can have social privilege because of some parts of our identity, but lack privilege because of other parts of our identity. Coined by civil rights advocate Kimberlé Crenshaw.
  • Intimidation – Actions and words that suggest (but don’t say out loud) ‘If you don’t do what I want, I will hurt you’ so the person being threatened has no proof of the threat.
  • Justice – Actions to prevent, or recover from, an unfair action.
    • Punitive Justice – Punishing people who do harm so others will be afraid to copy them
    • Restorative Justice – Listening to people who have been harmed, those who harmed them, and anyone else affected – and taking action to help everyone feel safe again
    • Transformative Justice – Restorative Justice, plus finding out what caused the conflict, and removing the causes so unfairness is unlikely to happen again.
  • Kyriarchy – A connected set of systems that support each other, all relying on the idea that some groups of people are better and more deserving of freedom and justice than others. Coined by feminist theologian Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza.
  • Land Acknowledgement – Naming and honoring the Indigenous people who have original and special relationships with the land you are on, with a promise to take steps toward their freedom and safety.
  • Laws – Official rules of how we all work together in our nation.
  • Liberation – Becoming free after being oppressed.
  • Listening – Not just hearing, but paying attention to the idea someone is trying to share.
  • Lynching – When a group of people with power gathers together to kill a person with less power, with the goal of scaring others away from demanding equality. Lynching is most often used by groups of White people to hurt Black people.
  • Marginalized (People) – Groups of people who are pushed out of opportunities, silenced, or treated as unimportant. The term ‘marginalized people’ makes it sound like this treatment is just happening by accident – so when possible, use ‘Targeted people‘ to draw attention to the fact that someone with power is doing the pushing.
  • Members of Congress (USA) – The people who write and decide on the laws of our nation. 
  • Movement – A group of people who want to change the rules and work together to do it
  • Nationality – The social group we belong to based on the nation we were born, raised, or immigrated to.
  • Neighbor – A person who shares something important with us, such as the homes on the block where we live.
  • Neighborhood – Nearby people who share space with us, such as classrooms and cities.
  • #NothingAboutUsWithoutUs – The idea that oppressed people should have the ability to decide and be a part of stories and rules about them. Coined by disability rights activists James Charlton, Michael Masutha & William Rowland.
  • Opportunity – Chances to work for the things that we want.
  • Oppression – Cruelty and abuse towards people with less power, caused by unfair rules made by people who abuse and take advantage of their power.
  • #OwnVoices – Stories about oppression or featuring characters with targeted identities written by people with those same identities and lived experiences. Coined by disability rights advocate Corinne Duyvis.
  • Plausible Deniability – When people with power deny they did something wrong because people without power can’t prove it happened.
  • Poetry/poem – Art using patterns of words, and other ways of telling to show what we feel.
  • Police – Workers chosen by, protecting, and serving people with power.
  • Power – The ability to control what happens to ourselves and others.
  • (Social) Privilege – Extra advantages that identity groups with power have access to at the expense of groups with less power. These advantages give chances to avoid harm or get special favors.
  • Race – The social group we are associated with based on our skin color, location, and ethnicity. Who gets lumped into which racial group changes based on how people with power decide to define them.
  • Racism – Actions, rules, and ideas created by people with more racial power that harm people with less racial power – both accidentally or on purpose.
  • Radical – The beginning or basic supports of an idea. Radical thinking means understanding problems all the way through, down to the tiny reasons the problem started and the things that allow it to keep happening.
  • Reconciliation – Listening to people who we are harming and doing what they ask of us, so we can all heal together.
  • Refugee – Someone who has been forced to leave their home country because it’s no longer safe where they live – such as because of war or a natural disaster.
  • Relationship – The type of connection we have with another person.
  • Resist – Working against something that is trying to take away our power.
  • Respect – Being considerate of another person’s thoughts and feelings.
  • Riot – when a crowd of people show anger, pain or fear in a way that forces people with power to pay attention.
  • Saviorism – Doing something for a person who has less power in order to
    make ourselves feel good; this often takes even more power from the person.
  • Settler – Immigrants and their descendants who may continue the harm of colonization, but by learning and taking action, can assist Indigenous people in decolonization.
  • Sex – The label adults assigned us birth based on the reproductive organs we were born with.
  • Slavery – A system where people are kidnapped and kept as property, without freedom.
  • Solidarity – Uniting with someone who is facing a hard challenge and showing you care.
  • Stand – Using our words, actions, and art to tell others about why we need to resist
  • Steward – To take care of a system that you use (such as an ecosystem), keeping it in good condition for the next person who comes to care for it.
  • Supremacy – A lie that tells us some people are better and more deserving of power, dignity and privileges than others.
  • Systemic Oppression – A set of rules or habits that maintain unfairness by preventing those who have less power from gaining power.
  • Target(ed people) – Choosing particular people to hurt or put at risk of getting harmed.
  • Threat – When someone talks or behaves in a way that suggests they plan to harm others.
  • Transformation – A complete change in how things look or work.
  • Tribe, Nation, or Band – An official group of people who share cultural traditions, beliefs, family, and/or language. DO: refer to individual Indigenous people by their official group. DON’T: Use the word ‘tribe’ unless you’re talking about an official Indigenous group.
  • Unapologetic – Refusing to feel ashamed of our beliefs or identities, originating from the 13 Guiding Principles of the Black Lives Matter movement.
  • Unity – Gathering and working together around something we care about.
  • Values – The behaviors within our culture that we care about, actions we see as right and good.
  • Violence – Actions that cause harm to people, both to bodies and feelings.
  • Voice – Statements of our beliefs, values, and experiences so others can listen to them.
  • Zero-Tolerance Policies – An inhumane policy that places immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers in detention camps until they have a trial in court or can pay a certain amount of money.

About US

@2020 Ashia Ray of Raising Luminaries & The Student Ignition Society. All rights reserved. Text & images may not be re-posted in whole or in part, without written permission. 

Images used by the following creators, with permission via Unsplash: Kristin Brown.

This page was last updated in June 2020 by Ashia R.

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