A Letter to the Future Generation

Dear Future Leaders, Innovators, Intellectuals,

I mark today as the first day of your endless possibilities and the last day of your doubts. You do not need to fit into a certain space for mere acceptance by fellow peers or onlookers. You must create space. You must pull out that shovel from the closet and dig. You must find the heart to dig beneath the rubble and make a long-lasting impact on this world.

It was June 2013 when I realized the urgency to create space for authenticity. But authenticity comes at a very high price that many may not be able to afford. For authenticity, you may have to let go of certain people, things, and places. And it will not be easy. Actually, it may be the hardest thing that you will ever do in your life. Even for me, I know that the negotiations are next to impossible.

Even for me, I know that the negotiations are next to impossible.

As I stumble upon the generation after me, I wish you well in your exploration of the world. I want you to find new ways of thinking and seeing the world. Don’t you dare be afraid. No, you reach out and you make this place a better place than how you found it.

The youth has always sparked revolutions across the globe. You do not need permission to do what is right. You only need to have the heart to do it.

We are waiting for you. We are giving you the torch.

And when the world gets too hard to handle, I want you to just hold on.

 

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A Space of Healing

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In 2016, I was given the opportunity to meet someone that would show me the importance of healing in the classroom. For many folks, healing in the classroom may seem a bit strange. But for the educator, healing is sometimes necessary in order to start the learning process. Why healing? In some classrooms and some schools, you find students struggling with external forces that can sometimes hinder them from being fully engaged in the learning process. So, what do you do?

You start from where the students are at. You work through their issues. You talk it out. You love them.

As adults, we find ourselves in situations and freeze up. If not freeze-up, we isolate ourselves and fold into ourselves. But in that year, Mrs. Marie Diawara, a long-term substitute teacher, loved a group of 2nd and 3rd-grade students as if they were her own. She was truly in the trenches with these students. Even the year to follow, students would approach me and ask about her. Not quite understanding proper procedures for this kind of thing, I would call her and let her talk to the students. Even if I was unable to get her, I would let the students leave a voicemail message.

And likewise, she would ask about the students and how they were doing at school. In the healing process, we do need someone to lean on. We do need someone that will go in the trenches with us. For some of the students, life at home was tough. Some students were dealing with gun-violence in neighborhoods, abuse, absentee parents, alcoholism, and etc in the household. For these young students, they were raising themselves with the help of older siblings.

In listening to these students’ stories and seeing this teacher’s response to her students was eye-opening and heartbreaking as well. You could hear the heartache in the students’ voices, but you could hear the hope in the voice of Mrs. Diawara. She loved her students and they knew. Heck, I even knew it. I felt it.

The students were rewarded for good and corrected when they were out of line. For the students, she was everything. She came in with a dedicated heart and left with eyes filled with tears. In being able to work with her for the short-period that we had together, I was taught a few things from her.

In having a recent conversation with a beloved friend, I realized how healing is important and how many of our adult issues stem from childhood trauma(s). As older children turned adult, we have to heal. We have to work through our issues. We can’t act as if everything is fine when things are not. We have to get help and reach out when we are in an emotional rut.

Like the students of Mrs. Diawara, some would act out in various ways to release their feelings. Yes, sometimes the release would come out through violent means while others would totally shut down and not work at all. In seeing this for myself, I knew that the students were hurting. They weren’t bad. For some folks, these students would’ve been sent out the classroom and out of school for suspension. But for many of these students, that would’ve been the worst option. The students that we had in front of us simply needed some TLC (tender love and care). That is it. Life doesn’t stop. It doesn’t. But at school, in their classroom, they would have a safe-space to talk and to be loved by their teachers and by each other.

In talking to my beloved friend, I learned that we are like children. As adults, we act out in ways that are similar to the ways in which children act out. We get mad, yell, slam doors, throw things, cry and etc. Now, are these not things that we see children doing? But aren’t these the same things that we find adults doing? Yes! Of course!

We are acting out because of the pain that we are holding inside of ourselves. We are trying to find an outlet. We are trying to figure out how to process the pain. For some of us, we just don’t know how to cope. We don’t know how to deal with our pains. We really don’t know.

But in the space of healing, we must find someone that we trust and start where we are. It will be hard. It will be tough. It will be a process of changing. In changing, we may need to cut off people, change environments, stop doing certain things and living out a new life than before.

As a woman that is going through her own process of healing, I know how hard it is. I know how easy it is to go back to the way things were. I know how easy it is to just fall out and cry at the drop of a pen. I know how easy it is to fold up and not go outside for days. I know how easy it is to hide under the covers and fall into a deep depression. Yes, I’ve even thought about cutting off my hair, changing my phone-number, run off to a far off place and being alone. I’ve thought about all of that.

But guess what? I’m still here. I am. And every single day, I am deciding that healing is better than being in a place of misery. I do not want to feel this pain. And as a human-being, we want to experience joy. In feeling joy, we have to go through the process of healing.

So, to you, I believe in you. I believe in your process. Just take your time.

Choosing the Children, Choosing the Community

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It was a hard night for me. One of those nights that consisted of cups of coffee, deep reflection and late-night conversation. Yes, it was that kind of night. Why? In a series of unexpected and unplanned events, I was told some concerning information with the onslaught of grimacing questions to follow.

Snapchat buzzed me. I had a notification. One of my beloved Somali friends sent me a video of a well-known Black speaker discussing the Black-community and the need for deep-reflection and action. In talking to her about the issues of Black struggle throughout the African Diaspora, another beloved friend sent me a text telling me that her young four-years old, Black son wanted to be White.

In being a product of urban and suburban education, I know the plight of Black children. I understand it very well. In the early years of my identity-development, I wanted to be White. It became so bad that I took actual steps in making this happen. I remember making a conscious decision in seventh grade to look White and to be desirable like my White counterparts. So, I decided to buy some blonde hair-dye and skin lightening creme. I tried not eating for a period of time to lose my curves and to look similar to the White girls in my school. I wanted blonde-hair with highlights, a thin body, and White-skin. I didn’t care how I would achieve this goal. I didn’t. I wanted it. I needed it. It was my path to acceptance, love and upward mobility in my environment.

In an attempt to become White, I felt like Pecola in Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. I was deeply moved by Whiteness and the elevation it was given in the classroom, on the streets, and within my own family. In being deeply confused on how to feel about myself, I didn’t know who to confide in. Growing up, I remembered watching Good Times, Parenthood, Sanford and Son, The Jeffersons, The Bernie Mac Show and etc. I remember watching these various Black shows and connecting deeply with them, but I still didn’t know where to fit within the Black community. Even when watching these shows, I saw how complex the Black identity is. You will see Black characters that would elevate Whiteness while others wouldn’t. And in these shows, the White gaze was ever-present.

In my own household, I didn’t receive any special-education on Black History (African or African-American). If I learned anything, I learned it from the snippets I would see on television or at school. Of course, these were unreliable sources in most instances. As a Black girl, I was fascinated by television, magazines, books and the outside world. As a teenager, I would often read Seventeen, Teen Vogue and Cosmopolitan. At the time, these magazines would show White bodies with the exception of a few light-skin or biracial Black girls. Most of the beauty suggestions were tailored to White-skin and those with straight or curly hair. Of course, I became lost in all of this. In asking my parents about Black History, they would laugh and tell me that we are Americans. We aren’t Africans. We aren’t from Africa. It was hard to swallow these words because I really wanted to know about myself. In school and within social-circles, I felt as if I was dying a slow-death. Nobody was giving me what I needed as a Black girl-child.

In the latter years of my education, I went off to the university and thirsted for Black-History.  I knew that a Black Studies’ class would quench this thirst. Dr. Clovis Semmes, professor, and director of the Black Studies’ program at the University of Missouri-Kansas City became a lifeline for me. I would ask questions, send emails and visit him in his office because I wanted to know myself. I wanted to know about my heritage. I wanted to learn what I wasn’t given in my previous years of schooling. In searching my university for this kind of education, I was turned away from numerous departments- Religious Studies, Women and Gender Studies, English Literature and Language and the History department. I was told to go to the Black Studies’ program. Out of an entire urban-based university, I was told to go to a place that isn’t even considered a department. In finally finding my way in the right direction, Dr. Semmes told me, “You have to study on your own. You have to seek out the answers for yourself. You have to supplement your education with Black-education. You can’t depend on this university”. I will never forget those words. In being told these words over four years ago, I have done exactly that. I have challenged myself to learn about the Black-experience throughout the African Diaspora.

In going through all of this, I know I am not yet done. The fight to love me in a world that doesn’t love Black or Brown people is hard. However, I can’t give up. In working with Black and Brown children for the last three years, I made a commitment to them. I made a commitment to making an impact on Black and Brown communities. In stepping outside of academia for the first time, I went to work

In stepping outside of academia for the first time, I went to work in the Center Public School District within Kansas City, Missouri at an elementary school. In working with kindergarten through fifth-grade students, I saw that many things had not changed from when I was growing up as a young Black child. In giving students the option of drawing a self-portrait, basketball or board-games, some chose to draw themselves. In checking on the students and making my rounds, I saw that many of the young, Black girls were drawing themselves with blonde-hair and peach-skin. I asked some of them why they chose to draw this version of themselves and they told me, “she is beautiful”.  In remembering the words of Dr. Ominata Okpokodu, “whenever you see an injustice of an issue, you must interrupt. You must disrupt. You can’t allow the cycle to be ignored. You have a duty to change what isn’t right,” I told the young girls that their skin, hair, and bodies were beautiful and didn’t need to be changed. Of course, this may not be the ultimate solution, but I believe that this is necessary. In an urban-school in which most of the teachers and staff members are White, I knew that the children were searching for themselves in what appeared to them daily.

In a scene on Good Times, the young-son Michael placed a Black Jesus on the wall as an attempt to resist and counter the White Jesus on the wall. In walking in on this change, his mother, Florida Evans became dismissive of this swap. She told her son that this particular phenotype of Jesus was wrong. Not only was it wrong, but she wasn’t raised with this Jesus. She argued that her White Jesus was an heirloom and she wouldn’t replace it with anything else. In seeing this back and forth argument between a Black mother and her son, I was puzzled. Why? I knew that Michael was looking for the same thing as me. Michael was looking for his Black self in a world of Whiteness. He wanted to see his image somewhere. But like most images, Whiteness would be the only acceptable image and representation to look to.

In 2014, the young, Black girls at the table drawing themselves were only drawing the image that they had seen through their Black eyes. Their image wasn’t elevated. Their image wasn’t on the wall. Their image was shunned and denied space to exist. And like those Black little girls and like Pecola, I wanted to be White so that I could be loved and accepted.

However, this must change. It has to change. Children are the future. And tomorrow will be their world. As I think about Black America, I cry because the struggle continues with the children in our households, in our classrooms, in our places of worship and within our communities. We have to teach them to love themselves. We have to teach them to resist. We have to teach them to create their own narratives. We have to teach them to create and build. We have to give them the space to be Black and proud.

We have to create communities of young, Black leaders, entrepreneurs, teachers, writers, film-makers, activists, lawyers, painters and etc. We have to love them. We have to love them.

We have to love them because this world sure doesn’t.

When we choose the children, we choose the community.

Social-Justice: My Experiences as a Black Student

And here I am, a Black woman, thinking about my own experiences with social-inequities within my years of education as a young, Black child.

As I read, AP (Advanced Placement) and IB (International Baccalaureate) programs are great programs for students due to the academic-rigor of their curriculum, but their lack of accessibility with many urban and rural schools is problematic. Not only that, but many schools lack funding for these programs to be implemented. Now, when I was in high-school, I took two AP courses and thought they were rigorous. Shoot, I actually read in these classes. However, my high-school was suburban and the district had money to allocate towards this kind of program for its students. Honestly, they had every AP class you could think of. Interestingly, I was the only Black student in both of my classes. Yes, there were other Black kids, but I was the only one in my classes.

See, the tracking-system within many schools is egregious for inequities. For many students of color, you are placed on a lower-track and simply expected to take classes for graduation, if that. There’s not a real push for academic-excellence. Honestly, you’re just another face in a crowd of Black and Brown students.

My parents were pretty persistent in not tolerating racist and classist behavior from school-counselors, teachers and administrators. In seeing this kind of fight in my parents, I didn’t allow myself to fail nor to settle for an ‘okay’ grade. I worked hard in school. Yes, it was tough. On several occasions, I had to deal with racist peers and racist teachers. Heck, my school-counselor wasn’t very helpful at all.

As I think about accessibility and students of color, it is more than vital to have great educators and administrators within these systems of education. It’s never okay to simply pass students along or to simply get these ‘Black or Brown’ children out of here. In many instances, this is what I saw and heard from other peers. Black and Brown students at the high-schools I went to, they weren’t supposed to succeed. They weren’t supposed to graduate, honestly. They weren’t really supposed to be there.

As I grew older and went off to college, I started to reflect on my education from urban-Kansas City to the Parkhill School District. If I knew what I know now, I would’ve been a better peer to the other students that looked like me. The teachers weren’t really there for us. Maybe a few, but not too many. We were truly seen as outsiders in a school of middle to upper-class White students from affluent families. Yes, class does matter. Yes, race does matter. All of it matters.

And as I headed off to UMKC for my Bachelor’s and Master’s, I realized how political education is. Education is political. Education is unequal and unfair. Quality education isn’t afforded to everyone. And depending on the education you did receive, you may or may not get into the college or university that you want to get into in order to complete your years of higher-education. So, I do believe that there needs to be advocacy for Black and Brown kids, especially in urban-districts.

Hell, I believe there needs to be advocacy for Black and Brown kids in suburban-schools too. Hell, I was one of those Black kids in the suburbs that almost fell through the cracks of racism.

A Call for African-Centered Schools and Curricula for Black Students

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As a first-grade student, I attended Sanford B. Ladd, an African-centered school in Kansas City, Missouri. In looking back on my years within various schools in various districts, I can remember this particular school very well. Every week, we had a morning assembly that consisted of a chant starting with Harambee. Students dressed in traditional African-dress and played the drums and danced.
 
In a school-wide culture, we learned The Nguzo Saba or the Seven Principles of Kwanzaa in addition to learning Kiswahili. Not only this, but we learned about Africa. As a young Black girl in the urban-core, I saw teachers and administrators that looked like me. I saw myself in curriculum and I saw myself on the walls of the halls. We were taught to value ourselves as African folk.
 
Since I was into extra-curricular activities, I stayed after-school and participated in a quilting club and an entrepreneur club. Listen, I was in the 1st grade. I was around 7 years old and learning about myself and how to be economically independent.
 
In the quilting club, myself and others, had the opportunity of being around older, Black women that looked similar to our own grandmothers and they would tell us about the symbolism in quilting during slavery. They taught us about the messages within the patches of the quilts.
 
In the entrepreneur club, we were taught how to create our own businesses in order to create wealth for ourselves. Yes, we were young, but it makes sense now. We are not taught this at a young age. As Black people, learning how to break free of our poverty and learning how to create generational-wealth is important. We have to teach ourselves and teach our children at a young age. 
In working with urban-youth, financial-literacy isn’t taught until students are a lot older and in the upper-levels of schooling. In my opinion, this is detrimental. Black children should be taught about themselves and how to liberate themselves- financially, spiritually and mentally. In the average classroom, this type of education will not happen. However, White students, on average, will have more access to resources than Black students at birth.
In understanding this reality, the Black community must push to teaching these fundamentals at a young age. The mainstream curriculum will not teach Black students about their history as Africans or about the importance of financial-literacy.
And for me, as an Educator and Black woman, I feel it is crucial that students of color are given exactly what is needed for success. It is vital that this generation become innovative in our we approach the re-education of Black children. We have to educate for liberation.
We can only save this generation and the next generation by believing in this generation and their endless possibilities. We have to give the love needed to make this happen. We have to have open discussions about our trauma and work towards healing. We have to extend our resources to one another. We have to create coalitions within communities. We have to believe in this vision and trust in it.

Pedagogy of the Oppressed: Black and Brown Children

As a twenty-five years old woman, I understand that this identity-work can be hard. Heck, I know that it can be downright frustrating and a struggle. In the language of my mother, “just be you”. Now, for the young-folks, life isn’t really this simplistic. We’re told to be this and we’re told to be that, but who are we?

So, what does it mean to be yourself? I guess it’s when you are totally comfortable in the skin that you’re in. However, this gets a bit complicated when you are a Black or Brown person. Struggling with yourself becomes a daily task. It becomes a full-time job. It becomes a location of emotional labor.

As a twenty-five years old, working-class Black woman in the United States, I am at the intersection. In being told by Black and Brown students that they fear their lives because of what they see on television and social-media, how do we not struggle? How do Black and Brown parents raise their children in this unfortunate reality of cameras catching the constant dehumanization of folks that looks like themselves and their children? How do we hold it all together when we can’t walk without being criminalize in some form or another? How do we tell our children to play outside when playing with a toy gun will get you shot and killed? How do we tell our children to simply listen to the police officer and to follow directions when following directions gets you shot and killed? We are definitely strange fruit.

Struggling with this skin. Struggling with this skin. Struggling with this skin. Struggling with being a Black or Brown person is a full-time job that doesn’t give you breaks or paid-vacations off. When mother tells me to be myself, how hard is that when being yourself gets you shot and killed?

As I stare into the faces of Brown and Black students, I understand their struggles. I understand how hard it is to be a child, but yet treated like an adult. I understand how hard it is to be child, but treated as if you are well into your years of adulthood. You are not child when you are Black or Brown. You are adult. You are not child. You can never be child. You will always appear older than your White counter-parts. You will be the exception. You will be the reason why their guns are pulled more quickly. You will be the reason why they will place you in Special-Education at a higher-rate than your White-peers. You will be the reason why you will be suspended at a higher-rate than your White-peers. You will be the reason why you will not be allowed to be child.

But my beloved Black and Brown children, you need to laugh. And you laugh loud. You need to scream out your names and let the syllables of your names perform gymnastics on their tongues. Make your movements bold. Make your presence known. Do not reduce yourself to fit their expectations. Do not be silent. Do not be scared. Be bold, my beloved Black and Brown children.

We have endured four-hundred years of slavery. We have loved in the trenches. Our ancestors birthed us through their pain. They birthed us in their pain. My beloved Black and Brown children, love yourselves and love each other. Let your stories be told in whatever language you have. Make your dancing become the artifacts for generations to come to remember you by. Be bold in your identities. Be bold in your love. Be bold in your Black and Brown. Be bold. Be bold. Be bold.

For this is the pedagogy of the oppressed.

THE ROAD TO SELF-LOVE: BEING BLACK, WOMAN AND AMERICAN

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Four years ago, I took one of my first Black Studies’courses as an undergraduate student. As an undergrad that was wavering in so many directions with so many points of interest, I wanted to do something for myself. I wanted to learn about me. For the first time in my life, I was going to delve into Black History. As a young child, my parents never told my brother and I about our history as Black folks. So, I depended on school to do the work. However, this dependency quickly became my downfall.
As a student of color that attended schools in suburbia, I wasn’t afforded the privilege of learning about my history, thus I felt disconnected. I felt lost. I felt robbed. I felt as if my Blackness was less-important than European-history. I felt as if my peers were gaining insight about their history while I was being erased and treated as an invisible. I can remember my ignorance of self becoming a place of self-hatred. I hated myself. I hated my skin. I hated my hair. I hated being poor. I hated everything about myself that ‘they’ made fun of. I didn’t want to be an invisible anymore. I wanted to be acknowledged. I wanted to be seen. I wanted to be accepted. I wanted to be validated. I wanted to fit in. However, I never received this during my years of school until I took my first course in Black Studies.
My Black Studies course became a site of resistance for me. It was a place of community and it felt like it. My course had all African-American students with the same desire to learn about self. We were all desiring to learn about our genesis. In our class, we were a family. On our campus, we were outcasts. We were having to face an institution that prides itself in urban-education while enforcing Whiteness.We were expected to unknow ourselves. We were expected to smile in our urban-based institution while being told that Black Studies is where we should go to learn about ourselves. We were departmentalized. We weren’t given the privilege of having our voices, bodies and names heard in a typical curriculum. We had to go to a department that catered to our needs because the other spaces on campus were White with bourgeois values.
For many of my courses at my university, I felt that my Blackness was a disruption. I felt that my voice and my body was unwelcomed. In one of my undergrad classes, a professor asked me on the first day of class to tell everyone where I was from. Due to my brown skin and my hijab (Muslim headwrap), she felt the need to pry into my life and to humiliate me in front of my peers as if my body and visual representation wasn’t acceptable to our predominant White-class. In  seeking to remain calm with such a request, I told her that I was born and raised in Kansas City, Missouri with parents from Mississippi and Missouri. In telling her my answer, she gave a faint smile with the rest of the class gazing upon her expressionless face. However, this was not the first or last time that I felt as if my body and voice was a site of disruption. I soon had to find strength in knowing that I had a choice. I could become knowledgeable about myself and feel pride in my Blackness. Or I could simply cave in. I could curl up. Assimilate. Continue to hate myself.
However, I knew I had gotten too far to simply cave-in. I wanted to grow intellectually. I wanted to begin the process of loving myself. I wanted to challenge myself. I wanted to know my history. So, I took my first course in Black Studies’ to start my journey. At the beginning of my first Black Studies’ course, our professor asked our class if we knew our native tongue. In being caught off guard by his question, we all looked around and nodded ‘no’. In feeling upset about this reality, I wanted to do something about it. So, I started learning Kiswahili. In an effort to learn Kiswahili, I knew I would be one step closer to Africa, in someway, in some form. However, he never told us that the English language can be a site of resistance. In Teaching to Transgress by Black feminist, Dr. Bell Hooks, she stated that “learning English, learning to speak the alien tongue, was one way enslaved Africans began to reclaim their personal power within a context of domination. Possessing, a shared language, Black folks could find again a way to make community, and a means to create the political solidarity necessary to resist”.
In thinking about Hooks’ statement, I knew that I have a responsibility to speak. I have a responsibility to be truthful to myself in my endeavor of learning about myself. I do not seek to live my life through the lens of White-supremacy. In knowing the history of Black folks in America, we can take the English language and find it as a starting point for healing. We can take this language of oppression and use it as a place of resistance. We can write books. We can write poetry. We can change the way we view ourselves. The way we start to think about ourselves. We can use this language to center ourselves. To find healing. To find wholeness. In thinking about my professor’s question, I knew the validity of such a thought. He wanted us to think. He wanted us to see the oppressive nature of those that came to take. To conquer. To spread the blood of our ancestors. However, our African ancestors knew that there was power in taking the oppressor’s language to their advantage. They knew that they had to form community, somehow. They knew they had to start somewhere. So, they started with the English language and created a new Black culture out of it. A culture that we can call community. The same community that I had found love and healing within on the first day of my Black Studies’ course. My Black Studies’ course was the first place that I learned to think critically. To think about myself as a whole person. To think about my responsibilities as a student of color. As a person of color in our world.

Stories of the Undocumented

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In the political-arena, we often hear people argue about the lives of the undocumented on television, social-media, in public forums and in our local communities. For some of these individuals, they say that ‘aliens’ and ‘illegals’ are taking ‘their jobs’. For other folks, they feel that the safety of the country is threatened. For me, stories of the undocumented are vital in understanding the nature of the global-community. Unfortunately, the rhetoric that many of us have aligned ourselves with is oversimplified and lacks substance.

Over the course of two years, I’ve worked within a school in which most of the students come from immigrant-families. And for the students, many are first or second-generation Americans. In the era of Trumpism, elementary-students came to school with a thesis paper on why Trump is a horrendous pick for presidency after he was announced as being the next President for the United States. In understanding Trump’s politics and his xenophobic, homophobic, racist, sexist and classist attitude, many families and individuals on the fringes of society, felt the same way as these young children. The replaying of soundbites flooded the internet and tension grew among Black and Brown families once he was chosen. And for the students that I saw daily, their private lives became very much public.

In the very daunting time following the elections, many students came to school with stories of deported family members. Even a student I had known for two years had told me that she would felt afraid that they will come for her family because they didn’t have papers. As days and weeks passed, the stories unraveled about the daily struggles of the students that appeared in front of the teachers at the school. For one second-grade teacher, she allowed her students to speak freely about their feelings and concerns. In a class with primarily Mexican-American students, the question of home and where it is or was became the focal point. For many of the students, America is home while their parents’ home is Mexico. In watching the reactions of students unfold, some silenced themselves, some frequently cried at random times and others became combative. For many of the students, the world around them was crumbling and coming to a complete halt. And the students would tell you that their parents came to this country to create a better life for themselves and their families.

In the lives of children, there are stories. And the stories of these children should forever compel us to think critically about our role(s) in creating space for those that are often silenced, pushed aside and marginalized. In our most intimate moments, when we are alone, when we are with family members, when we are with friends, we need to check our language and how we give power to others around us. I remember in a college-course many years ago, I was put on the spot and asked where I was from because of the scarf on my head. I was the only brown student in the class. And I was the only student asked to give a location of my birth. In this situation, I felt discriminated against and marginalized. Now imagine for a moment, your tongue doesn’t sound like those around you, your clothing doesn’t look like the other’s, your name doesn’t come out the same way upon their lips, and now you are interrogated and asked about your own humanity. For the students in front of me, I learned that we all carry stories. We all have stories that many people will never hear.

Over the course of this summer, I was given the task of observing two classes of English-Language-Learners at a high-school in Kansas City, Missouri for thirty-hours. In spending a considerable amount of time with students that are new to America, I allowed myself to simply listen. For those that knows me, I love students and I love talking. But for this assignment, I allowed the students to teach me. Day after day, I would walk into two classrooms with students that comes from: Kenya, Tanzania, Congo, Mexico, Myanmar, Thailand and Somalia. Daily, you could hear KiSwahili and Spanish being spoken among the students. Even students that didn’t speak one language or the other would learn words. For me, the two classes were very much a community. For them, it was family. In a place that is thousands of miles from home, with food that tastes differently, with clothing that isn’t the same and with a culture that isn’t yours, it can be hard and lonely.  In casual conversations and open-discussions in their classes, the students would group themselves with others like them and they would speak openly about the hardships of being in America.

For one student, an advanced English-language learner, he told me that home is back in Tanzania. As a new immigrant to America, he told me that this older brother had joined the military. For him, he told me that he would like to join the military after high-school. I asked him why he wanted to join. And the told me, “The same reason why my brother joined- for citizenship”. For the young 19 years old man in front of me, life would be easier if he had papers. He said that life has been a struggle for some time after their arrival in the United States. Similarly, his peers echoed the same sentiments. For a young Sophomore student, life is hard. With his head on the table, I asked him why he was sleepy. His brother sitting next to him answered, “he goes to work at night and doesn’t get off until 2AM”.  Why? The young man needs money.

So, for me, the stories of the undocumented is crucial. It’s a part of the field I’m in. As an educator in any capacity, your students are the reason for what you’re doing. For me, they are the life-line of the task I’ve been assigned. We can’t solve the problems of the world if we choose to disregard the narratives of those that are routinely silenced, cast aside and marginalized.

For the undocumented, you do not need to prove your humanity to anyone. For the undocumented, you do not need to hide your language. You do not need to fold up to fit into spaces that aren’t able to hold your authentic self.

New York Edition: Exploring Another City

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For a few months, I explored the idea of moving to another place. Now, I didn’t come up with New York as my first option but it was at the top. In being at the top and really wanting to explore New York City again, I started to look into certification programs for teaching within the state. In stumbling upon a one-year certification program, I knew I had to make the move. I was quite certain that living in New York for one-year would be easy for me. Now, reality has definitely set in. It is tough.

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In coming to New York with savings and a pocketful of hope, I am trying. I am alone. I am new. I am coming to realize the importance of trusting in yourself when you have nobody else to rely on. As I travel down side-walks, into subway stations, into Ubers and alongside strangers I meet, I am asked the question, “Do you have family here?” and my answer is a dim “no”. In giving my answer, the questioner sulks. They give me a fake smile and tells me that everything will be fine. For many folks, they give me advice on how to navigate the city and what to do. In some cases, I was given personal business cards and phone-numbers in case I need help or needed an ear.

So, no, I don’t think New York is this cold place with heartless people. On the contrary, most folks have helped me tremendously. Even in passing, people would often greet me upon the sight of the headscarf. I smile. I reply. In a post 9/11 world, things like this matter. I’ve scurried upon many blocks from walking and find my eyes in utter disbelief when I see people dressed in traditional clothing, speaking their native tongue and loud. Why did I mention loud?

For me, I grew up in a family that is expressive. For many Black and Brown folks, we come from homes that are loud. We listen to loud music. We get excited and speak loud in conversation. We like to adorn ourselves in different ways that are bold. Naturally, we are like this. For many of us, we are unapologetic in this. However, in coming from Kansas (my last home of residency), things are a bit quieter. Not only quieter, but a bit boring. Now, I’m sure that folks from Kansas may disagree with that statement, but I’m very much used to loud music being blasted from stereos, young kids playing in the street, women sitting on the porch gossiping, the smell of food from the next house over, seeing young girls with barrettes in their hair, and etc.

For over a year, I lived in a place that distanced me from the little joys that I took pleasure in seeing. For me, city-life is a part of me. Yes, for many that knows me, I lived in suburban environments for a good portion of my life. For me, the suburbs have/are a hard place for me to be in. Why? Back in 2015, I traveled to a suburban area in Kansas one night to drop off a friend. In being the young-adults we were, we just decided to talk before separating for the night. However, a White-man passed us, pulled into his driveway and approached us.  He said that he noticed my Missouri license plates and wanted to know why we were in the area. He stated that he was a part of the Housing Association for the community and there’s been a string of house-robberies. Of course, we were scared and taken aback by this man’s approach. In being tired and unwilling to go through emotional labor with this man, I told him to leave us alone and go away. He didn’t. So, he started yelling and then his wife came to see what was going on. Upon reaching, the car, she started to jump in too. After seeing that we weren’t welcomed within the area of which my friend lived in, we simply separated for the night to avoid further confrontation.  For me, I was bothered. I was angry. I was on the brink of risking it all because Black and Brown people are frequently harassed and questioned for their presence within certain areas. So, I wrestle with suburban areas for the most part. I wrestle with them because of the segregation that exists throughout many American neighborhoods.

So, what does all of this have to do with New York? Everything.

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New York is interesting from my lens. Why? As I stumble upon different areas within Manhattan, I saw the difference in neighborhoods very quickly. Gentrification is a reality that has stumbled upon many urban-areas including many segments of New York. In coming from the airport, my Uber driver, Mohammad, told me that the city is becoming very gentrified as the years pass. He mentioned the unfortunate truth that Black and Brown people are being pushed into the Bronx while Harlem is becoming more expensive and unlivable for many poor, Black folks. In visiting Harlem back in August 2016, I was enthralled by the cultural and historical artifacts. I remembered reading about the Harlem Renaissance and actually wanting to see Harlem, New York in person. In coming to Harlem again and getting another snapshot of the area, it is becoming a place of gentrification. So, what does this mean? It means that people will soon get displaced from their homes in search of another home at the expense of real-estate developers.

In coming from Kansas City, Missouri, many folks know about the Troost-line as being the dividing line between White and Black folks, between the ‘hood’ and the ‘good’ area. White flight was a real reality in the city. Now, as years have passed, Whites are coming back into the city which increases rent, property value and a displacement of locals. Of course, schools aren’t excluded from this political arena.

In the last two years, I’ve worked within the Kansas City Missouri Public Schools District and the school I worked in is a part of the gentrification process. In the past year, real-estate was being bought, surrounding apartments increased in value along with increase rent and the education within the school was being sold for those wanting to move into the area. Midtown is a bustling segment of Kansas City, Missouri that is conveniently located in the midst of the action of the city. However, Midtown is also very much urban and not too far east is where you meet the clash between wealth and poverty.  East of the Troost line is where you find many working-class Black folks while to the West is where you find many White folks that are middle-class.

So, yes, gentrification is real. Gentrification is a form of violence.

Now, what does this have to do with education? Absolutely everything. As an educator and social-justice advocate, it is vital that students are taught to think critically and to problem-solve. We are living in a time that demands that people and communities come together to work towards equity on all-levels.

And to this, I say, the fight is long from being over. There’s much work to be done.

The Poverty Paradigm: Resisting This Narrative

I can’t tell you how many educators I have heard say that poor, Black kids can’t learn and that poverty is their deficiency. On top of that, poor, black parents/guardians do not care about the education of their children.

Full stop.

I, for one, grew up as a poor, Black kid.

I learned.

I, for one, see how poor, Black kids can, will and have always excelled academically. See, it takes educators that are there to teach with high expectations that will push all of his or her students, no matter the background.

Being poor doesn’t make you deficient.
Being poor doesn’t make you deficient.

Let me tell you, my parents never thought I was deficient. They never sent me to school saying I was an inadequate black kid because of poverty. They always told me that I can do whatever I put my mind to. I can succeed in anything if I had the will to believe. We were broke and struggled at times, but that never stopped me from going to school and excelling. Sure, you may have been through some dark times but my parents didn’t want to see no bad grades. They weren’t about to have me sitting up in a school and not learn.

Let me tell you, my folks made sure to read to us. They made sure to see if I had homework and if I needed additional help. So, please dismiss yourself if you have the belief that poor folks, especially black and Latino folks can’t learn.

Let me tell you, most of us poor folk are serious about our education. We set high expectations for ourselves and the kids around us. In the words of my black mama, “I ain’t raising no dummies”. There you have it.

So, the next person that I hear saying that poor black kids can’t learn than we about to have some problems.

Let me tell you something else, these black and brown babies are pushing hard in these classrooms. They are pushing hard against the social-inequities within their lives. They are pushing against the oppressions that face them just because they are poor and black.

Let me tell you something else, if my black and brown students want to beat-box on the table, braid their hair back in cornrows, dab on it and everything else that screams “Black and brown” then go ahead. There’s too many people that wish to police them. There’s too many people seeking to silence them. There’s too many people that wants to see them fail.

We are not deficient. We are not going to silence ourselves. We are not going to fail.