Black Educators At Work

It’s still hard for our kids to understand that the identities we embrace can be mutually inclusive!

I demand that we create spaces for our kids that show intelligence, ingenuity and creativity combined with Blackness as Dopeness!

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As a black woman and black educator I find that I often have to prove my blackness to the children I teach. #blackwomenatwork 

I’m a firm believer that black children need black teachers. It’s what keeps me going on the hardest of days. It’s what keeps me patient in what can sometimes be a sea of (controlled. . . always controlled) chaos. It’s what keeps me sane when the lesson – be it social or academic – is just not sinking in.

All too often – kids simply forget that I am more like them than not.

It’s as if one can’t be smart and black.

It’s baffling to me because after having passed the ever changing five year average teacher hump – I find it really easy to connect with kids, especially the ones that look like me and grow up similar to how I grew up.  And, I thought that they’d feel the same way.

Sometimes, adults that look like you and live how you live just get it.

But, that’s not always the case – I’ve found.

Though kids often say to me –

“You sound like my mama,” or “you remind me of my [x, y, z].”

They also say things like –

“I didn’t think somebody like you listened to our kind of music.” Or, “Oh, you know that song?”

“I thought you only shopped at Whole Foods”

And, “You know what this [what some people, not me, would call slang] word means?”

 

Well, yes, black child. Yes, I do. 

Yes because I am black, like you. 

That is why I take every opportunity to remind the students that I teach that I’m just like them.

It is why codeswitching is so important to me.

It’s why laughing, playing AND learning together are one in the same. 

Yesterday I told an 8 year old that the song he was singing (so passionately as he wrote his acrostic poem about pride), was about selling drugs.

He literally said, “Oh my God, what?! How do you know that song? I thought you only knew like Gospel songs or something like that.”

Cute.

But, no.

It’s still hard for our kids to understand that the identities we embrace can be mutually inclusive!

Though I do listen to Gospel music (which the same child also sings allllll the time), I also like Andra Day, J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar. Maybe a little older than their taste of Migos, but, I can still keep up. 

And in the same breath, I also know trigonometry and love alliterations – and neither of those things should be wow factors. 

It’s disheartening that the idea of a black man or woman in many instances is the exception and not the given to the rule.

It’s our media, it’s our language and it’s our actions.

 “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” 

– Martin Luther King, Jr.

Seeing black magic as exceptions to the rules written by the white forefathers of the constitution is another form of oppression. 

I demand that we create spaces for our kids that show intelligence, ingenuity and creativity combined with Blackness as Dopeness! 

 

Be Black and hardworking.

Be Black and inquisitive

Be Black and love to write.

Be Black and sing and dance and play from your heart.

Be Black and be the smartest person in the room.

Be Black . . . Be Proud.

Be Black, be proud and know that you, Black child, can be anything you want to be.

 

-Shamira

Always Cloudy

Where we’re from it’s always cloudy without the social, economic and political advantages of white privilege.

The things that bring us the most happiness also bring us the most pain.

Little black boys are rays of sunshine and little black girls are breaths of fresh air.

Such joy I get from their laughter.

And, torment from their cries.

Where we’re from it’s always cloudy without the social, economic and political advantages of white privilege. Rain is just over the mountain, always on its way.

This week when I looked into the eyes of our children, I saw rain.

Underneath their laughter, I saw pain.

It was the reflection of my eyes, in theirs, looking back at me.

 

 

I’d heard about our missing girls and boys from DC early on in the week. And, every single day as I looked at a student, I wondered what it’d be like to no longer hear their voice.

I can’t compare the love of a child that I’ve conceived to the love of the children that I’ve taught, as I’ve not participated in the miracle of the former. But, I’d hope to think that they’d be about the same.

The power of the media is unprecedented. And, many of the numbers of reported girls and boys missing are (allegedly) false.

Whatever the rhetoric, whether the number of missing children is that of the past week or the past decade – the fact remains:

 

Black bodies have been stolen for hundreds of years and during slavery black babies were removed from the care of their enslaved mothers as early as 12 months.  

 

Here we are, 2017 – still enslaved, and still having our bodies and those of our children snatched.

Like crabs in a barrel, Julia says, we’re struggling trying to keep up. Fighting and fussing over each other trying to make due.

So, on my happiest days, I’m still weary.

Sometimes when everyone is laughing, I pause and think about the clouds.

 

Until the systemic barriers that we face on a regular basis are dismantled, it’ll always be cloudy.

 

On the bright side, I’m so happy to have hundreds of rays of sunshine and hundreds of breaths of fresh air.

 

-Shamira

Finding my “Black”

As people of color, someone else is always defining who we are, and communicating that to the world…

I have written in the past about racial identity and what it means to be Black in this country. This is something that I constantly reflect upon. It’s important to me, because we all struggle to discover/embrace/cultivate our identities.

Recently, I was at a conference where I was asked to share what my racial identity means to me, and for the first time I couldn’t identify as Black as easily as I once could. Being Black in this country means so many things, and comes with a burden that takes a daily toll. I couldn’t identify with ease because I refuse to identify with a term that was created to confine people who look like me. I refuse to ascribe to a classification created to subjugate me and minimize my worth. Black and White are social constructs. They are not racial identities.

Listening to the group at the conference share, I was saddened to think that as adults we still have trouble separating our social class from our ethnicity. Black is an identity that was given to us, forced upon us. Considering this, two questions come to mind.

One: As an African-American if I am not Black, then what am I?

Two: How do I identify with the Black experience without conforming to social constructs created to divide?

I am angry that at 33 I am still discovering, embracing, and cultivating my identity. However, I do believe that as an African-American this is normal. So much of what we see and hear in the media is crafted to confuse and cause us to question our self-worth. As people of color, someone else is always defining who we are, and communicating that to the world. 

This is in part why I decided to explore and learn more about my DNA. It has always troubled me, not knowing where I am from. Some of my friends of color have challenged me in my search, suggesting that I am American and that is all. I disagree; this is not enough. Saying that I am just American robs me of a rich cultural history that defines resiliency and strength. Robbing me of my African roots, encouraging me to just accept that I am American, is akin to telling me that “all lives matter” when they clearly do not. 

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So how do I answer when asked about how I identify racially? I could just say that I am African-American, but for me that still isn’t enough. That only tells part of the story. I take pride in our history of struggle and perseverance in a land that continues to view us as “other”. And, I also take pride in the history of our African roots. I choose to identify with the entire story, because in wholeness there is truth. I am African-American. I am African. In me is the blood of kings and queens. This is me finding my “Black” and owning it. I am a person of color living in the United States of America, and I fight daily to never lose sight of that fact and what it means.

Julia

 

And how are the children?

If we want to ensure that all of our children are fed, we have have to feed them ourselves.

We have to teach our children that this is not the first time and it will not be the last that their livelihood will feel threatened.

And how are the children?

If there is one thing we as people care about it is our babies.

Black, brown, orange or otherwise. . .

The children . . . our children, are our future.

We protect them.

We provide for them.

We ensure that all is well in the universe, for them.

 

Troublesome to think that the tribulations the black and brown community has gone through, continues to go through, may gradually escalate under new policy and executive order.

So, a question arises.

How do we feed the children under this new administration?

When I think about feeding the children – i’m actively thinking both literally and figuratively.

How do we aggressively address how we will educate black and brown children during the Trump Era?

How do we ensure that their bellies are full; their minds are overflowing with knowledge and their hearts have swelled with pride and preservation of their identities, culture and and inherent innocence?

How do we ensure preservation of their bodies when everything surrounding them details otherwise?

When black spirit is being attacked from every angle . . . how do we ensure longevity and perseverance?

How do we ensure that we will have enough resources (as a community) to fill their bellies with nutritious meals on a daily basis? . . . when we are struggling to do that today.

How do we ensure safety and security, among violence and ill manner and intent?

 

Do we tell our children the truth. . .?

Do we explain to them that this is nothing new? That we haven’t been free since we crossed the Atlantic.

Do we remind them that #blacklivesmatter was a trend before Trump was elected to the highest office of the land?

Do we teach them about mass incarceration and relate it back to all of the black men and women who are missing from our communities because they are behind bars? That Malcolm X said, “if you’re black, you were born in jail,” more than 50 years ago.

Do we ask them about their schooling? Then teach them about lack of funding, resources and redlining?

Do we teach them that they are black and they are beautiful – and simply because they are both black and beautiful- they will be under attack every single day?

 

The answer is yes.

 

Yes to everything.

 

We have to be aggressive in educating our children. Now, more than ever.

If we want to ensure that all of our children are fed, we have have to feed them ourselves.

We have to teach our children that this is not the first time and it will not be the last that their livelihood will feel threatened.

We have to explain to our babies that we’ve been fighting the same fight all along.

Maybe we don’t have to fight behind closed doors anymore.  And, maybe we’ve garnered enough people to fight the good fight.

Then again, maybe we haven’t.

Because it was the people who elected the current administration.

 

Moving forward, those that want to fight the good fight must understand – there can only be one fight.

It is intersectional.

It is intentional.

It is big.

And, it is so complicated.

It always is and it always will be.

Our experiences are vast and our ideologies are diverse.

Though, at the core, the question remains. . .

 

How are the children?

 

This is a call to action.

Join us.

Support us.

 

We will have more, soon.

This is a promise.

So. Much. More.

 

For now, parlae on.

 

-Shamira

 

Resolved

I resolve to work hard at standing up for what is right.

I resolve to fight against injustice.

I resolve to engage in discourse around inequity daily.

I resolve to deliberately provoke and challenge stagnant thinking.

I resolve to always welcome anyone who would challenge my thinking for the better.

I admit I have been quiet lately. The events since the election have been a lot to process. I go back and forth from feeling extremely violent, to extremely melancholy, and always ending with utter disbelief. Then, because I have a conscious, contrary to popular “white” belief, and those who feel that my perspective is too narrow or unrealistic, I beat myself up…

 

Because maybe I am too hard on Trump and White America… (she says cautiously).

 

Maybe I should listen to Barack and have some sympathy/understanding  for those in power; those with privilege; who are struggling to accept the changes in social and economic structures that have come to pass under Obama’s administration. I mean, their way of life has been literally under threat for the last 8 years….(she says as she rolls her eyes).

 

The real reason I have been quiet is because I literally have had nothing nice to say…and while that usually hasn’t stopped me, I really needed to get myself in check so that I could write coherently and intelligently. Otherwise, this post would just have be a page full of expletives.

 

Today is MLK day, and at the end of the week Donald Trump will be sworn in as President of the United States of America. If it wasn’t so absurd, I would be rolling around laughing in my bed right now. This is our reality. I am no longer in shock. I have accepted our nation’s fate, and have decided to move on with my new year’s resolutions.

 

I resolve to work hard at standing up for what is right.

I resolve to fight against injustice.

I resolve to engage in discourse around inequity daily.

I resolve to deliberately provoke and challenge stagnant thinking.

I resolve to always welcome anyone who would challenge my thinking for the better.

 

Trump’s America is a America I plan to challenge daily. Today, I rededicate myself to the mission and vision of Parlae, and I want to personally thank all of the folks who have supported us in our first year. We have a lot of plans for this upcoming year, and we are very excited. We have a dream, and we honor our forefathers and mothers today. Without them, there is no platform. Without them, there is no us…

 

PS…

 

I am not for all of the MLK posts on social media from all of my followers and the people I follow who never say anything about social justice on any other day….

 

Let’s be real. I am about this life 365, and yes I wasn’t always, but I am WOKE now. It irks me when I see posts about social justice just because it’s trending. Do me a favor and don’t bother. Consciousness is not a trend. Heads up…Black History Month is coming….please don’t get on my nerves…

 

There is a campaign to turn off all tv’s during the inauguration Friday. I have also heard many people of color say they plan to ignore the event altogether. My response to this: NOOOOOO!!!! What this man has to say on Friday is important. Why? Because we need to know what we are up against. You don’t want to watch on tv? Fine…then live stream that shit. Read the transcript. Make sure you read it to your children, your students, share it with your family. Spread the word!!! There is nothing more deadly than an unseen enemy. Knowledge is power.
Julia

The Journey Towards Freedom, A Reflection of the NMAAHC

A woman speaks over the already hushed crowd and tells us that we’re traveling 70 feet below ground back to the year 1400. She gives brief histories about the importance of the museum and the power of our culture. The elevator continues to fall all while years tick by through the glass . . . 1968, 1948, 1865, 1863, 1808, 1776, 1565, 1400.

The Journey Towards Freedom:

I’ll say first – there are no people stronger than us. And though I’ve always known this, on this day I was able to feel this. 

The National Museum of African American History and Culture is a magical place. Curators tell us that it’s 100 years in the making and I wholeheartedly believe that it couldn’t have come at a better time.  

Tickets to this gem of a place are few and far between; but I was able to join my sister on Christmas Eve, ’16. I can’t fathom putting into words what I felt in my heart & spirit in a way that will feel as worthwhile to a reader as it did to be there in flesh. I’ll share some photos, below; but, only a few because even those won’t do it justice. 

I spent about 3 1/2 hours at the NMAAHC, and covered possibly half (I’m guessing) of the museum. I spent that time in the space called “The Journey Towards Freedom, 15th-21st centuries.”

We started the journey in a large glass elevator. A woman speaks over the already hushed crowd and tells us that we’re traveling 70 feet below ground back to the year 1400. She gives brief histories about the importance of the museum and the power of our culture. The elevator continues to fall all while years tick by through the glass . . . 1968, 1948, 1865, 1863, 1808, 1776, 1565, 1400. 

What I saw:

– Real live slave chains 

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Chains worn by enslaved people with picture as background.
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Chains.

-The power of sugar, appropriately named the “driver of the slave trade,” and “more deadly than gold.”

Sugar bowl

-The names of so many ships carrying enslaved people carved into the walls.

It reads: “Ship Name, Country, Voyage Began, Enslaved Boarded/Survived.”

 *Saint Michel embarked in 1730 with 170 slaves. Just one enslaved person survived. 

– Harriet Tubman’s shawl and hymnal as well as Nat Turner’s bible. 


– A replica of a segregated Greensboro Lunch Counter which recounted videos of experiences. 

Visitors sit at a replica of the Greensboro Lunch Counter and read from information in front of them as video plays above. 

– Black power, everywhere. 

Videos of Dr. King
Video of marches 
Information about the Civil Rights Act and KKK Resistance.   
Black Panther Weaponry
The ideology of Black Power
Medgar Evers
Brother Malcolm

– Reflections on black women. 

Black, always beautiful
Video: women of the movement 
Video: Sister Fannie Lou Hamer 
Mamie Till-Mobley reflection
Women’s Groups 
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Rosa Parks, garment

What I felt:

Disgust for the treatment of our people dating back to the 1400s. I learned so much – and couldn’t absorb it all. 

Awe at the resilience and comradery within and amongst one another to deal with and overcome hatred, bigotry, thievery, malice … Awe at the leadership of our people. Awe at survivorship. 

Angst about the idea that many of the things we went through 50, 100, 150 years ago we’re still going through now. 

Anxiety. An anxiety so thick that all I could do was breathe at times. 

Fear – when I saw a young John Lewis speaking about police brutality. Makes me think of how often “police brutality” is used today. It feels new. Like a new phenomenon. A fad. Reflection reminds me that point 7 of the Black Panther’s 1967 Ten Point Program reads: 

We want an immediate end to POLICE BRUTALITY and MURDER of Black people.

Not new. Not a fad. A longstanding tradition. 

Joy for all of the beautiful black men, women and children (allies too) visiting the museum. 

Overwhelmed by what is still to be done. 

Pride because when we do things, we do them well. EVERYTHING about the museum was done well. Over 100 years it took to commission this place – twice as hard, half as much. 

Hope. Generally speaking, I hope the hype of the museum never dissipates. I hope tickets are always scarce. I hope that you have to put in a request 6 months in advance to view this magical place, five years from now. I hope people travel from near and far to stop in – and that they book their trips around the visit. I hope that everyone who visits is forever moved and transformed and that they leave with a sense of purpose and place. I hope that allies visit and leave with a mission – that they plan to fight hard and speak up. That they tell the people that look like them and share similar demographics as their families about racism, sexism & classism,  like young Bernie Sanders. 

Image result for bernie sanders getting arrested Image result for bernie sanders getting arrested

What I’m (we’re) going to do next: 

I plan to continue what I’m doing but, with a different type of purpose. An even more educated purpose. An urgent and premeditated purpose. 

I implore you to make a trip to the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Think of it as your first trip to the NMAAHC – there is no way it will be your last. Go. Be inspired. 

Check out the Injustice Boycott. I’m of the opinion that Shaun King has started something big – and most importantly, worthwhile. 

Moreover, Parlae is entering its second year in just a few days.

With age comes wisdom and responsibility.

Julia and I plan to live up to those expectations. There is a lot more in store from us.

Join us.

Parlae with us.

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The Contemplation Room, was a refreshing and necessary end to “The Journey Towards Freedom.”
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Contemplation Room. Four walls and a waterfall. Quiet & calm. Breathtaking and painstakingly necessary.

I’ll leave you with this. 

Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live – a long life; longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.  

– Dr. King, April 3, 1968 

Peace & Love, Forever.

-Shamira

KQueens 

The idea that black people are descendants of kings and queens of Africa is not a new one. But, it is one that is more popular today than times past. So much so, that it has become the new thing to coolly call one another kings and queens.
The first time a black man called me queen was about three months ago. We were walking through a doorway and he stepped back and said, “after you queen.” He then picked up the conversation exactly where we had left off. Because it was the first time I’d been called queen in real life, I was a bit taken aback!

 
I’ve read many opinion pieces about this new fad and I’m still straddling the fence. I’m calling it a fad because I’ve been called queen half a dozen times in the past 3 months. That’s six times more than in the rest of my life.

Notwithstanding, I think that acknowledging the rich culture in which we come from can be liberating for us, especially in this age where much of our culture continues to be either ridiculed or appropriated.

I think of “King” and “Queen” as our long time “Brother” and “Sister” in the church and in the black community at large. And to that I see no ill intent.

My concerns stem from the fact that many of the intricacies of black culture have indeed become fads.
Once I was walking down the street, deep in thought. I suppose I looked like I’d been having a bad day or like something was wrong. A black man walked past and said, pick your head up, queen. And, I did. In that moment, I was proud. I am a queen, I thought. I am a black queen.  

To stay woke means so many things. The woke movement in and of itself is a powerful being. And, like everything else in the world, it has its flaws. One of my favorite slam poetry pieces is Kai Davis’ and Miriam Harris’ Stay Woke.
Kai and Miriam address some solid issues that black woke folks deal with, amongst and between each other. And, all of it feels all too real. Though I feel them on every single thing they discussed, I’m nervous for the day that our king and queen status forgoes black twitter and the like and lands in much appropriated mass media.

I’m nervous for the day that calling a black woman Queen becomes synonymous with a corny pick up line from the 90s.

The most recent occurance of me being called was about three weeks ago. I walked past two black men and said, good morning – as I usually do. One of them said, good morning sis and the other said, good morning queen. 

I’m nervous that we’ll lose king and queen like we’ve lost ownership of the natural shapes of our bodies and like we’ve lost cornrows.

by Shamira