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!

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

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

 

Politics Not As Usual

“Nothing about Trumps administration is the norm, and nothing about how we respond should be the norm either. This includes the way we educate and speak to our children about the past, present and future.”

img_1471There is so much going on in this country right now, and it’s super hard to process at times. I find myself on a daily emotional roller coaster. It’s hard to know how to focus my attention as a black woman. There are so many issues that affect and concern me simultaneously.

There are many national debates at the moment, one prevalent debate being, “Should we give Donald Trump A Chance?” This is a question I am not going to answer at the moment. I don’t feel my opinion on the matter is important. What is important however, is what informs my opinion; and I feel that is true for all of us as American Citizens.

It’s Black History Month, and while I am not a fan of the absurdity of celebrating Black History during the shortest month of the year, I think it’s pretty shady that the White house has done a piss poor job of recognizing the rich culture and contribution of African Americans to our nations’ history. To be honest, I didn’t expect much anyway, but it would have been nice to have been pleasantly surprised. Bottom line, it really isn’t the President’s responsibility to educate the public about anything. Nor is it the media’s. We operate on this false expectation that these institutions are going to follow a moral compass and do what is in the best interests of the people; historically, the men in power have always done what is best for them unless the less privileged have put up one hell of a fight.

That being said, Black people, people of color, we have a responsibility to educate our youth on our own. Our schools are not teaching them about their history. Our schools are not teaching them that their lives matter. The television they watch, the music they listen to, the images they see on social media…none of it is crafted with their empowerment in mind. We have a responsibility to take their education into our own hands and change the narrative in Trumps America.

Right now in Washington, D. C. our President is changing the way government works right before our very eyes, and the media and congress are still behaving like it is politics as usual. This is absurd. The way he came into power was unusual. Nothing about Trump’s administration is the norm, and nothing about how we respond should be the norm either. This includes the way we educate and speak to our children about the past, present and future. 

I believe it is equally as important to educate our youth about their past as is about the future of this country. There is a very nationalistic tone coming from the White House, and if it continues where does that leave people of color? If we are to educate our youth with fidelity, that means we also need to educate ourselves as adults. What does that look like, sound like, feel like? I don’t have the answers, but I would love to have the conversation. Everything feels very important right now…scarily and eerily so. These 28 days can’t just be about Rosa Parks and MLK…just saying. They are important, but it’s not enough.

If you are stuck with how to start the conversation and you happen to live in the Philadelphia area, allow me to suggest a trip to the African American Museum in Philadelphia. They have a great new exhibit, Waging Peace: 100 Years of Action. The exhibit is presented by the American Friends Service Committee and it is on display January 14-April 23rd. It’s a great way to start conversations about immigration, prison reform, just economics, ending discrimination, building peace, and how to engage in justice work.

Teachers, take your students. Parents, take your children. Adults, take your friends or a stranger. Just have a conversation. Spread the word. Share some information. Engage in debate and live the discourse. We have to change the narrative that surrounds us.

Julia

Enjoy some pics from our visit to the exhibit!

 

 

 

An Inauguration and a March

I am Black and a Woman, not just a Woman. There is a difference and that means something.

Where do I begin?

The Inauguration. 

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Like many citizens I had to work while the president was being sworn into office. So, I watched his speech later. I wanted to be fair. I wanted to have an open mind. I wanted to hear him speak and have some peace of mind. I wanted to leave the speech feeling like things might be okay.

Ya’ll know it  didn’t happen.

Instead, I left feeling even more alienated than before. I left understanding that I , unlike our president, understand checks and balances. Trump has a lot of grandiose ideas that our government is never going to let pass or give him their support towards. Not to mention that a number of his cabinet nominations openly testified that they did not agree with many of his policies and positions.

He stood up at that podium and talked about government for the people and an hour later signed a document that repealed the Affordable Care Act which was crafted specifically to take care of the people. There is no way to talk around that…

His speech was pure propaganda, and if Paul Ryan and the Republicans think they are going to dangle Trump around like a puppet and hide behind his propaganda doing dirt in the dark they have got another thing coming. I SEE YOU! I am going to make sure everyone else sees you too SNEAKY SNEAKY PAUL RYAN. Ya’ll better watch out for this man.

The March. 

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Get Involved!

I had an amazing time yesterday marching in D.C in solidarity with Women across the globe. The president has said some really horrible things about Nasty Women and he needs to be confronted about them every chance we get. We have been put in a position where we have to fight for human rights that have been common place for years, and should have always been common place.

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Feminism is a tricky area of activism, especially for a woman of color. A march like yesterday holds a great deal of importance, but there are still underlying tensions that will need to be addressed moving forward. A really great friend of mine shared a really great article with me today about the march and it’s intersectionality. At Femenisting they are discussing the disparity between the organizers’ radical policy platform and the way things are unfolding on the ground. I was there, and I agree.  The vision is strong. The names and leaders involved are big, inspiring, and revolutionary. But there is a disconnect. On my bus there were 3 women of color. In the crowd we were few and far between. We were there…but we weren’t. Why?????

For me, it always comes down to trust. Do women of color trust white women to truly put their lives on the line for theirs? I don’t think so.

I am Black and a Woman, not just a Woman. There is a difference and that means something. As the movement progresses we are going to have figure out what it means if we truly want to unite.

Just saying…

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