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.

Children and the Disruption of Rape-Culture

In society, rape-culture is often perpetuated and uninterrupted. Rape-culture is the environment in which rape is encouraged through social-attitudes and behaviors trivializing and downplaying the seriousness of the crime. In defining this term, it is important that we dig into this problematic issue and how children can become victims and/or perpetrators of rape-culture. How are we teaching our children and students to be safe through our words and actions?

In reflecting on rape-culture, there was an incident that occurred within a group of second-graders that would make any person shiver. In the event of a discussion at lunch, a boy told a girl that he would take her to the bathroom and rip her pants. In hearing about this problematic situation, I knew a few things would be necessary to deal with this problem. In the mindset of a second-grade student, one could ask where and how such an idea could present itself to a young child. Additionally, one could ask about the healing that is necessary for this young child. In the case of both students, they are victims. They are victims. Both are victims of patriarchy. In patriarchy, girls and women are dominated by men and boys. They are often taught to be violent in their interaction(s) with girls and women. Socially, girls and women are often socialized to accept this behavior and silenced.

In the case of these two children, a serious discussion need to be had. We can’t expect for children to simply understand rape-culture by proxy. We have to consistently teach them how to interact with each other that is wholesome, loving, respectful and non-violent. In the world that we live in, information is readily available and social-behaviors that perpetuate rape-culture is ever-present. We can’t afford to sit around and ignore the far-cries of children that are silenced after such a verbal assault. We can’t allow young boys to internalize a language that assaults, disregards and damages the hearts and minds of girls. In this unfortunate reality, the young boys are victims. Young boys are becoming players within a system that is devoid of love. It strips them of their own humanity.

In becoming radical in the way that we think about love and education, it is vital that we stop and think about the language that we use. It is vital that we are cognizant of our actions and the things that we are watching. We can’t ignore problematic speech. We can’t ignore verbal assaults and call it ‘childish’ or ‘boy’ish’. We can’t. We can’t afford to ignore what is violent and dead wrong.

Rape-culture starts with us. Rape-culture can only be perpetuated by us. Rape-culture can only be stopped by us.

My Letter to Victims of Domestic Violence

Dear Survivors,

You are not the violence you have received. You are not the frustrations that your perpetrator may have placed upon your body. You are going to survive this moment of your life and understand that it is not your fault. I don’t care what he or she said before, during or after the incident(s). You are not to be blamed. You are not to be violated in any way. I will not ask why he or she was provoked to abuse you in any form (emotionally, financially, psychologically, mentally or physically). There is never a reason to hurt someone. You do not hurt the person that you love. Yes, people may say that this is unrealistic but it is the truth.

As a survivor and witness to domestic violence, I am calling out those that have hurt us. I will not place shame on us for what they did. We are not to feel shame for what they have done. We must share our stories. We must learn that healing happens and can happen and will happen. It is so hard to walk away from the person that you believe loves you, but love doesn’t hurt. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard people say this. People always say that love shouldn’t hurt and it shouldn’t.

As a young girl, I saw domestic violence in the physical and psychological form. I didn’t understand what was happening because mama and papa would always express their love for their children, but so often I would doubt the love they had for each other. I didn’t know if love was supposed to be so hurtful at times. I would see the sadness in the face of my mother and my father. As a child, a young girl-child, I began to equate the painful love that I saw with the type of love that I would later accept. My parents would often argue with one another, mostly about money. Other times, my father would get upset at my mother for wanting to go out by herself. For my mother, her time was mostly spent working and coming home to tend to household responsibilities.  In seeking to find some time for herself,  she would be stopped, reprimanded and made to feel guilty for wanting to step outside of the home. For wanting time for herself. For wanting to seek out self-care.

In coming to the realization that violence is cyclical in my family, I am learning to heal from the pain. The pain can be unbearable. It can be tragic. It can sometimes ruin us. And even in the midst of healing, we sometimes blame ourselves for the pain we have undergone. We have flashbacks. We have internal conversations. We have guilt. We have sympathy for our abuser. We have love for our abuser. We have hate for them too. We have shouldered the burden of the pain.

However, in the midst of all of it, sometimes we forgive. We forgive them. We forgive them. We forgive them. We cry. We cry for them. For them that chose to hurt us. And sometimes the hurt they imposed upon us is the hurt they feel themselves.

And here we are, learning how to be whole again. Wholeness becomes our priority.

And this is for us, for surviving.

Sincerely,

Lauren Anderson, Survivor

 

What is Your Purpose?

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As time passes, I often as myself the question, “What is my purpose?”.  In working with elementary-aged students for the last year, I’ve observed and experienced many things. I found myself in joy from working with them and seeing them progress socially and academically. However, I’ve seen the amount of work and dedication it takes to become and remain a teacher. In Education, you have to know if students are a part of your purpose. For me, children will always be a part of my purpose. In Urban-schools, you will often find poverty, trauma, struggle and creativity. In this creativity, students often find ways to cope with their own pain. In this creativity, you will find that you’re able to learn a lot about your students. However, if this is your purpose then you will find ways to connect to your students. The question is, “What is your purpose?”.

Why is this question important? It’s important because it forces you to re-evaluate your choice. After a year of instructing students, I’ve realized that my heart became attached to these little people. You become a part of their lives. They become a part of your life. They will look to you for guidance, love, and attention. The end of the school-year is hard for me. I’m realizing how tough teaching can be for a teacher. A teacher doesn’t only teach, but he/she counsels and parents, as well. A teacher wears many hats within the daily routine of school. However, all these hats include the ability to deal with political issues within the school and surrounding the school.

In the wearing of many hats, the teacher is truly an amazing person. They can give students the ability to dream and to believe in those dreams. Why is this important? Well, in my experience, dreams can be everything for a student. In the lives of many inner-city students, the reality of trauma and struggle is ever-present. Instability may be the order of the day. I’ve seen kids come to school with dirty clothes, hungry, shoes with holes, no coats during the winter,  and etc. So, if an educator is able to give students the ability to believe and to achieve, this give students something to yearn for. This give students something to hunger for. In my opinion, many parents care. If not parents, guardians of the student want the best for their child. However, many parents/ guardians are struggling themselves to keep food and a roof over their family’s head. Let’s not begin to talk about structural oppression that occurs to people of color. Sometimes we find that people argue that ‘these’ people do not work hard enough, but this claim doesn’t hold water. In the history of America, structural oppression has always been ever-present in the lives of people of color.

So, it is important to think about all of these aspects when thinking about the purpose of why we do what we do. We may not be educators. But our purpose is important. Our purpose usually gives some feeling of satisfaction or contentment in living life. Our purpose isn’t always black and white. However, our purpose should bring some happiness to our daily lives. Being an instructor has taught me a lot about purpose. It has taught me a lot about caring for others. It has taught me a lot about social justice in our country. It has taught me to never give up on what you truly enjoy and find important in the sustainability of your personal happiness.

Social-Justice in the Classroom: Practicing What You Preach

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I listened to stories from children that hold worlds inside themselves. Worlds that are forever unfolding and adding depth to their own knowledge of the world. They cry. They laugh. They hold themselves. They hold each other. They hold nothing. There is nothing to hold but hopes and dreams. On many days, I sit with students in classrooms, along stairwells, by the buses, on the way to lunch, coming from their support-classes and in hallways to listen to their stories. To listen to their voices. To teach them to speak. To teach myself that I have much to learn about humanity. In working with young students, I have learned the importance of creating space for healing within the lives of students. To be an educator means to stand for social-justice. this is what I believe, but is this always the case?

I watch and listen to teachers, staff members and administrators on a daily basis. I mentally take note of my philosophy on education and ask myself if I am truly practicing what I preach. Am I standing up for what is right? Am I practicing ethics in my decision-making? Am I taking my task of being an educator seriously? Am I serving the students that I teach? These questions are important. They are asked in Education programs. They are posed to us in articles. They are there to be examined. However, are we aligning ourselves with these social-justice questions? In “Narratives of Social-Justice Teaching” by sj Miller, Laura Beliveau, Todd DeStigter, David Kirkland, and Peggy Rice, a teacher named Judith said that “The university is idealistic and doesn’t teach prospective teachers how to deal with tough issues that just aren’t solvable. I learned some starting points for curriculum in the program but not strategies for the complex situations that we find ourselves in” (p.XVII). In real-world context, educators have to deal with themselves. We have to deal with our own issues internally.

In working with students, we have to constantly ask if we are aligning ourselves with social-justice. In one of the classes that I had today, one of the students wanted to give up on a grammar problem that I assigned for them to answer. She stood at the board, became frustrated and told me that she gives up. Once she said that, a class of hands shot up in the air. However, I knew that this student didn’t need a pass. No, she needed someone to push her. Someone to tell her that she could do it. In working through the sentence as a class, she soon figured out the answer. As a class, we learned that giving up is never an option. We must not give up on others or ourselves. We must always push each other no matter the problems that we may encounter.

I remember when I was in the sixth grade, there was a student in my Social-Studies’ class that was called on to read. In waiting for him to begin his section of reading, we soon realized that he couldn’t read. In looking back on the moment, I can’t remember the teacher helping the student in facing this moment of slight embarrassment. My peer wasn’t helped nor encouraged to work through the words in front of him. In that moment, I’m sure the student would’ve liked for someone to help him. However, he never got that. He was there drowning. Sinking. I would hate for any student of mine to encounter this kind of embarrassment. Yes, some teacher failed this student. Yes, someone must be accounted for this. However, what do we do when we see a student is struggling? Do we simply let them take a pass or do we help them work through the tough stuff? Is simply giving a pass the way to help them achieve their ultimate success?

Today, I visited the library at my university and found a PhD candidate doing his usual research on the computer. In a story he told me, I learned about his experiences with education and the act of passing students. In his story, I saw myself asking the questions that I raised above. As an absent father for a good period of his son’s schooling, he told me that his son’s teachers consistently passed his son with F’s year after year. These teachers told him that they didn’t want to prevent him from going on due to his home-life, so they passed him. However, he wasn’t appeased by this answer. He said that he felt that is was a disgrace to not prepare a student for life. He felt it was a disgrace to see that educators wouldn’t think about the bigger picture. However, he didn’t want think it was simply due to his son’s home-life that he was passed with failing grades. He felt that his son’s racial-background allowed teachers to simply give up and not see the potential in this student.

So, I asked myself the question, “What biases and stereotypes do I hold that will prevent me from pushing a student towards their ultimate success?”. In this father’s story, I felt speechless. I was speechless. I was humbled by his story. We can judge this father’s action of being absent, but it doesn’t explain his son’s years of passing with failing grades. However, what should an educator do? Is it ethical or morally acceptable to fail a student, allow them to continue onto the next grade without mastering or grasping the content? This is a question that one may want to ask. We are consistently faced with hard questions that may not have an immediate answer. However, we must work through these questions because no one can answer these but ourselves.

Social-justice is about action. It’s about putting into reality what we pass across our lips. Sometimes we allow ourselves to teach without practicing what we preach. We give our students lectures without giving ourselves these lectures first. In preparing students to be conscious in their words and deeds, we must awaken ourselves from our slumber. In the eloquent words of Ruth Vinz,”Part of preparing teachers is to help them learn to negotiate ways to disrupt, critique, and challenge accepted practices and beliefs rather than simply trying to survive the school day or assuming the curriculum will engage students in social justice understandings and practices”.

My First Black Studies Course: A Place of Resistance and Healing

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Three years ago, I took one of my first Black Studies’courses as an undergrad. 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 me 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. 

Healer’s Edition: Vanessa Marco on Colorism

Vanessa Marco, a poet of sorts, is powerful and intense in her delivery of poetry. Her poem over the topic of colorism is very important because it brings up the issue of white-supremacy. Colorism is the concept that usually applies to people of color. Colorism speaks on the white-supremacist’s notion of ideal beauty. The lighter you are than the closer you are to whiteness and ideal beauty.

In my years growing up, I can remember Black girls telling me how lucky I was to be light-skinned. Some of my Black peers would gaze upon my skin and offer me privilege not afforded to those that were darker than me. Unfortunately, I would encounter the question of “am I Black enough?” or even Black at all. My racial-classification was always in question. It became a guessing game. In some circles, I am still treated as if I do not belong. In past experiences, I would be treated as an outcast among White peers because I was not White. I was still Black despite my complexion.

In this messy game of ‘who am i,’ I got to the point of finally understanding that this was white-supremacy. My body was gazed upon through the lens of white-supremacy. I was either given or denied space, according to those in power in a particular environment. In countries all across the world, people of color are constantly fighting to have space. Space. Either denied or given. However, I am tired of this game. I am tired of having to deal with myself through the lens of white-supremacy.

In this rite of passaage, I write. I resist. I refuse to be categorized, marginalized, denied or approved of due to my skin-tone.

Healer’s Edition: Aja Monet’s Words in Brussels

Aja Monet is one of my favorite poets. I have never felt at home until I heard her words. She became a healer for me. A lover from afar. A sister from another mother. This poet gave me life when I was lifeless. She is truly a beautiful individual. I can’t wait until I begin teaching my high-school students. I believe her poetry is moving on many levels. She gives life to the lifeless. She awakened the goddess in me.

She Told Us, “This May Be Her Healing”

We sat in our space of healing. Our space of community. We became beloved community. It was the second day of classes for me at my new job. As a paraprofessional, I helped one out of two French teachers that I am assigned to daily to delve into the concept of community with our fourth and fifth graders. As a practitioner of visionary feminism, I felt it necessary to hear the voices of the students that sat in front of us. In a class of twelve students of color, we created space for narratives that are so often missing or silenced from many textbooks and curricula within schools. In creating this space, we promised to respect one another in our risk-taking. We understood that such risk-taking may be painful, but necessary. In the prompt they were given, “What do you like and dislike about your community,” we were able to speak the joys and pains associated with the places we come from. In reading Teaching to Transgress by bell hooks, I learned that educators shouldn’t expect students to take risks if they aren’t willing to do the same in return. In being a past and current student, I’ve always felt distance between myself and a teacher and/or professor that would expect students to disclose personal information without them doing the same. This felt unfair. A bit skeptical. A lack of trust on the teacher’s behalf. In wanting to be different and to build rapport with my students, I chose to participate in the same prompt that I gave to them. I chose to dig deep to share a part of myself. To be vulnerable. To be open and honest. In detailing my own community, I told the students that I lived in their city and saw the same things that they themselves would see. I see homelessness. I see poverty. I see run-down houses. I see pain. However, I see the joys of living in my community. I see smiles. I see individuals pitching in to help others. I see kids walking together to the local corner-store. I see the beautiful and ugly parts of my city- our city.

In sharing this part of myself, I saw the students sit in awe. They listened. They knew that I wouldn’t expect them to take risks that I wasn’t willing to take. In starting off, the students started to read theirs’ one-by-one. The journal-entries were personal. Open and honest. Painful and quite personal. For many of the students, the presence of gun-shooting in their communities is reality. The fear of what is outside is real. However, the students shared their joys too. Some of the students felt joy in seeing their neighbors help out in their neighborhoods, or seeing kids playing with other kids. In one student’s journal-entry, she shared with us how she feels scared in her neighborhood. She doesn’t like going outside. She prefers to stay indoors. In the telling of her narrative, some of the students giggled at her fear of going outside. In hearing these giggles, the French teacher quickly told the class that “This may be her healing. So, let her speak. She is being honest. She wrote what is on her heart”.  In this moment of truth, I felt something happen to me. I knew this woman’s words were from the Most Divine. The Creator had allowed her to be the vehicle for such healing. In her simple, but powerful words, all of us started to realize that beloved community allows for healing. Beloved community allows for pain to be said and heard. In beloved community, we work together to get through the pain.

In gathering the daily journals of the students, I began to read about the lives of those that chose to not read. In reading these entries, I understood the importance of loving. We must love. We must choose to love to live. We are all coming from different circumstances and lifestyles. We all hurt. We all need to express ourselves. The path to healing is not easy. It comes with its own struggles. However, it must be taken, if we are ready. These students didn’t have to write anything and some didn’t. Some simply left an empty sheet of notebook paper to be collected. However, the ones that did choose to participate had chosen to risk everything. This act of risking is hard. It’s brutally painful for many of us. However, as the French teacher had told the class, “this may be healing”.  Healing. this. may. be.