Social-Inequities In Education

“If you wrote this paper, you did a very good job,” were the words of one of my professors. As my professor spewed these words to me, I wanted to retreat and not return to class. I was absolutely stunned that he questioned my academic-integrity, despite the known passion that I had for the research topic. In replaying that comment over and over again in my mind, I am often left speechless. What exactly did he mean? Was I not expected to deliver a well-written paper? Was I not expected to deliver a thought-provoking thesis? I’m not sure. However, I am often faced with these scenarios from White professors.

Back in May, I remember wrapping up coursework for the semester and feeling a bit of relief for the work I had done. For one of my classes, I remember giving a presentation over the criminalization of Black girls in PK-12 schools in America. Specifically, I looked at the impact(s) of zero-tolerance policies for discipline. After class, I asked my professor clarifying questions for our final-paper. In giving advice, she jokingly stated that I should add a narrative about a time that I was kicked out of school in order to really bring the reader into the research. As I stood there, I felt angry. Why? Because I’ve never had this experience. Furthermore, she felt as if this issue was laughable. I didn’t approach this research through an autoethnographic lens. I didn’t center myself in it at all. However, my professor felt that I should’ve added a personal touch to really engage the reader, as if the research wasn’t sufficient by itself.

In completing coursework and balancing college-teaching for the Spring semester, I can recall working with an organization that centers it work in urban schools. In working with the organization, I quickly realized the underlying racist and classist undertones of the group. The employees of this organization were middle to upper-class White women from the suburbs of Leawood, Overland Park, and Olathe, Kansas. In spending several hours and days with the same group of women, I would often hear comments about students’ dirty clothing, a student’s foul odor, the spelling of students’ names, how these students were affected by trauma and how this organization was necessary to prevent students from going in the wrong direction. Coupled with these disparaging remarks, these women would often engage in conversation on the greatness of the suburban schools in which their children attended. These interactions were indicative to me of the importance of checking one’s positionality and personal biases.

As a Black woman, I would often find myself disengaged with these women and the organization because I saw the attitudes in which they held about the students they were seeking to serve. As a young, Black girl that attended these same schools, I was frustrated. I felt bad for the students because I was able to hear the conversations held behind these students’ backs. The women would often go back and forth with one another and not see a problem with the comments they were saying. It was bewildering to me. You’re working with a population that you truly disregard as inferior to you. In this eye-opening experience, I have vowed to never place myself in another organization that doesn’t value the people that it serves. For them, I guess it was for the accolades.

In reflecting on these most recent scenarios, I continue to fight for social-equity in education at the intersections of race, class, gender and dis/ability. It is truly disheartening to see how students of color and faculty of color still face unfair conditions. Unless systems change, little will be done to dismantle what is happening. Honestly, this isn’t a call for individuals to change, but to get a collective understanding of what needs to change. People make organizations. People carry ideologies. Ideologies form the way we see the world. In looking at the world through a certain ideology, we are able to engage the world in that capacity. Ideologies matter. People matter.

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Starting My Doctoral Program and the Politics of It

After working with students in the local school districts in my city, I became inspired to continue my academic work. I had many unanswered questions that couldn’t be explained. In searching for answers from teachers, support staff, and administrators, I was at a halt. A standstill. I wanted to know about the history of education in America. I wanted to understand organizational behavior. I wanted to figure out why social-inequities continued despite social-movements and education reforms. I wanted to learn how and where to connect the dots.

In deciding to make the leap into a doctoral program, I made sure to have conversations with professors, colleagues and friends about this big step. In having these conversations, I quickly realized that my perception of a doctoral program was extremely off the mark. I had no idea that I should look for a program that would fully-fund me. I had no idea that I should look for a professor that had similar research interests as me. I had no idea that my life would become immersed in my research interests.

In attending the orientation for my program and starting my first term in 2018, I soon started to realize that a doctoral program is a full-time job. How? You will have coursework, work with a research team, work with your advisor, and have a teaching assignment. In essence, this is how your education is funded. Your program is investing in you. I would advise all students that are seeking to go into a doctoral program to find a program that will fully fund you. You shouldn’t pay out of pocket for your doctorate.

Along the way, I’ve come to realize how important to stay focused on your end goal. One of my professors told me that I need to know what I want to do after graduation. Why? Because your future employers will decide if you’re worthy of being in their department as a professor on the basis of your research and/or teaching experience. However, he warned me that if I wanted to secure a position as a professor that I should invest my time and energy into research and to publish. Interestingly, many of my professors have stated numerous times that publications are important for doctoral students in the advancement of their academic career. To not publish is to perish.

So, remember to write, write, write. Now, I will tell you that you can’t write if you’re not reading. In order to do any research, you have to have knowledge of the literature out there in the universe. Your writing can’t exist without knowing the literature. You can’t find a gap if you don’t know if there’s a gap. Believe me, there’s always a new perspective to look at any issue.

In learning of all these things in my first year of my doctoral program, I’ve come to understand my role(s) as a student and academic. Not only my role(s), but the importance of reading and asking key questions. You are becoming a scholar, so you must be willing to create new knowledge. Honestly, I find this extremely moving. You’re reading, asking questions, and beginning to connect the dots. My reason for applying to a doctoral program is to understand and begin connecting the dots. So far, I’ve started to connect some dots, but not all. However, that’s the fun of it all. You’re getting knee deep in a topic. You’re beginning to formulate thoughts. You’re beginning to connect the dots.

Making Space for Your Dreams

Lauren,
No problem, I enjoy speaking with you. For me is very personal.  As I have said before, I don’t do it for prestige, a title or a job. I look at my life and ask the question, why? Then when I see events transpire in this country and around the world I feel obligated to at least tell anyone who is listening “I know why that is happening”.   Just like Joy Degruy’s lecture. I was motivated more when I heard her speak the words I have researched and believe to be true.  When we came to the same conclusion I was motivated to stay the course.  Just like going somewhere and you’re not sure if you are on the right road. When you see signs and landmarks to tell you that you are going the right way, you get energized.
…….But that’s just me.   
A few months ago, a former doctoral student shared his insights with me on why he continued his academic journey. For me, he was/is a guiding light for me in my path to uncovering new knowledge. In my undergraduate and graduate studies, we would find ourselves in the same library at the same location. Over the span of four to five years, we would discuss the nature of education and schooling. We would ask thought-provoking questions about curriculum, inclusion, pedagogies, social inequities and etc. Imagine, we would find ourselves spending hours on these vast topics. Nonetheless, we persevered. We kept with it.
So, why is this important?
Well, I didn’t know too many people that had similar views as me. I saw myself as an outsider in many classes. I thought I was a bit too emotionally-charged. However, I soon realized that my emotions weren’t unwarranted. I was every bit right about these feelings. I had the right to feel the way I did. In meeting a like-minded individual in a doctoral program, I realized that I had something to share with others. In meeting this Black man in his fifties with a heart filled with passion, I became inspired. I knew that I wanted to go beyond my own limitations. I wanted to embark on this journey. Along the way, he would drop some gems on me about the bureaucratic nature of doctoral programs. However, he told me to go for it. I needed to get the credentials to get heard as a Black woman.
But it wasn’t until I spent two years at a public-school with two women that I knew that I wanted to stay in education. In working and talking with these two colleagues of mine, I understood the necessity of diving deep into your passions. Daily, we would sit with one another and talk about our personal and professional pursuits. We raged against traditional role(s) for women and decided that we wanted to take the ‘road less traveled’. We enjoyed education and kids. Yes, but we wanted to expand our own knowledge-base. We wanted to plant ourselves in an environment that was right for our own needs.
So, what happened?
We all resigned and pursued our dreams. Now, it took some time for us to do that. We didn’t just up and leave in one day. No. However, we were stern on filling ourselves up with what we needed. Look, we talked about this daily. We had daily talks about our lives. It was really therapeutic. It was therapeutic because we had the chance to work through the qualms that we were struggling with internally. We all had different pursuits, but all were equally important.
In reflecting on my personal journey for ultimate happiness, it has been ridiculous. I can’t tell you how many nights I have stayed awake. I can’t tell you how many conversations I have had. Yes, it’s been a struggle. Nevertheless, it is definitely a part of the process. Sometimes, we have to argue with ourselves. Sometimes, we have to pick up and go. Sometimes, we have to go against the grain. Yes to all of this. There’s no magic formula. None. You can’t get a book and find it. You have to trust yourself. It is a process that requires trust. Trust and faith in your dreams.
So, what is my advice?
You will go through some hard times. You will find yourself questioning everything. However, if you stand in your ultimate truth, you will be fine. Also, you will find people along the way that will offer you a hand or a few good words of advice. Take it. It will be a lonely journey, but it will be fruitful. Do not become discouraged. Do not get off the path. If you do, get back on and keep walking.
Going after your ultimate-truth is definitely worth it.

My First Debate: Lessons Learned

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In 2007, I learned about Debate and Forensics from my younger brother. I didn’t know much about the class, but he never could stop talking about it. So, I thought I should add that course to my schedule since he was raving about it all the time. Now, my brother isn’t a huge fan of school but there was something about this class.

In having the benefit of a doubt, I had my counselor add the class to my schedule. Was I freaking out? Yes. Why? Because my brother is a bit more experimental with his choices than I am. However, I trusted him on this one. It’s a class at school. What’s the worst that can happen, right? Actually, a lot did happen.

The following semester I walked into a classroom with peers I had known and others I didn’t know. In walking into the class, I looked away in awe and was trying to find the teacher. Believe me, I started to believe there wasn’t a teacher. However, I saw a man rise from an overrun desk by students. Heck, I didn’t even know a teacher was under them. Honestly, I had never seen students gravitate towards a teacher like this. I was absolutely freaked out! What was this place? I wanted to talk to management. Haha.

So, as the teacher had arisen from his desk, I simmered down. I was very close to walking out of that class and getting it dropped. However, that wasn’t the case. As he walked to the front of the room with a slouch, I knew this would be an interesting class. He introduced himself and introduced the students that had overrun his desk. They were debaters. For me, I wanted to be one. I don’t know why, but I wanted to debate.

In being taught different LD (Lincoln-Douglas), Policy (a year-long topic), Public Forum, and individual events, I was extremely excited to participate. I’m not sure if my brother debated at a tournament, but I wanted to. So, I went to my teacher and asked him if I could join the debate team. Of course, he was a bit sarcastic, but he was willing to teach me about my specific event- Lincoln-Douglas debate.

So, I would listen to the elders (accomplished students) and the other debate coach to gain insight on the logistics of debating. As you would think, I was ready to take on my first tournament.

For my first tournament, my parents came to root me on! Not only did they come to root me on, but they spoke to my debate coach after my first round of LD. I couldn’t be more embarrassed. Understandably, you want to make sure that your child is on the right path. However, I knew that I did horrible in my first round. I didn’t know how to synthesize my information and I didn’t know how to connect my philosophical framework to my argument. It was a bit messy. Nonetheless, I didn’t allow that to stop me from going on to round two.

In undergoing this exciting, but frightening experience, I learned many things about myself:

  1. You must never be afraid to try new things.
  2. You must never get comfortable.
  3. You must never be afraid to get messy or to go through messy situations.
  4. You will only grow through difficulty.

As a Black woman, educator, and student, I am learning that life is very much layered for me. In working in a space as a multi-layered individual with various identity-markers, I have to honor myself in any place I may go. It is much more frightening to stay stagnant than to progress in uncertainty.

Black Panther: Envisioning Our Future

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After watching Black Panther over the weekend, I knew that there would be writers pouring out their thoughts on the movie’s politics. In the days following, I started to see an ongoing flow of think-pieces by major media-outlets to local bloggers in my city. In consuming these articles and positioning them next to my own thoughts regarding the Marvel film, I knew that I wanted to write my own piece.

As I sat through the movie, I began to see the diverse representation of Africans/Americans. In Wakanda, a country that is isolated from outside interference, it is technologically advanced and culturally intact from invaders. Wakanda is intentionally isolationist and seeks to keep itself from colonialism. In preserving oneself, Wakanda is sustained through vibranium, a metal that is used for its technology.  In this techno-savvy country, Shuri, a young woman is in complete control of technology. Shuri is only one of many women in Wakanda that keeps the country going daily.

However, Wakanda’s politics of keeping out outsiders, including those Wakandans that were taken to America through family-members, has an incredible spin on the story. As an audience-member, I saw myself as Michael B. Jackson’s character. As African-Americans, America is home. However, American hasn’t always been home due to the slave-trade and the forced migration of enslaved Africans from Africa to the Americas. Nonetheless, Wakanda is not a real place and the forced migration of millions of Africans to America has been an issue for centuries.

What is home? Do we have a home to go back to? If there isn’t a Wakanda, what does the future look like?

Wakanda may be seen as an ideal place to go, but it doesn’t exist. Throughout the African Diaspora, how do envision a new future for us? What does it look like?

Some people say that we must move beyond tactics used by the oppressor while others say that we must be armed in resistance. However, what makes us different from our oppressors if we are using their tactics to achieve liberation?

In a recent Facebook post, a woman asked the question of why T’Challa didn’t go to the AU or the African Union when seeking to share resources? Why the United Nations? Furthermore, many movie-goers asked the question about the CIA agent and his role in Black liberation. In seeking out liberation, do we become isolationists, form alliances with others or create a new paradigm for liberation?

In envisioning this new future, will there be space made for all people within the African Diaspora- poor, LGBT, Muslim, etc? One of the concerns from women across the diaspora was concerns about Black female representation. For others, it was the representation of BOKO Haram at the beginning of the movie and the representation of Muslims. In going forward, how do we make sure that liberation is loving and inclusive for all within the African Diaspora?

Learning Self-Care In The Basement

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At a young age, I could remember my dad being in the basement and having the house plagued with the tunes of Kenny G, David Bowie, Prince, Michael Jackson,  Afrika Bambaataa & the Soulsonic Force, Parliament, Herbie Hancock and others. The smell of his cigarettes would creep up from his cave and stain the walls of the house. Down below, he was at peace. His cave, the basement, became a place that I didn’t understand. His CDs, tapes, albums and DJ equipment would be scattered across a wooden countertop in the corner of the basement. Occasionally, my brother and I would go down there to play in the cardboard boxes as if they were tunnels to another world. My dad didn’t mind. As we played, he would keep an eye on us while switching between different tracks. In replaying these memories like a broken record, I have finally come to realize that my dad was sending us a message.

In our lives, we may find ourselves in the midst of hardship, trials, and chaos, but you must find peace. You have to mentally disconnect and engage in a space that is solely yours. Self-care? Of course. My mom would get frustrated at times because of the volume, but we realized that the basement was his space to attain equilibrium. To us, we didn’t understand why he would venture down to the cave and sit among endless albums in a cold basement. I never asked. I never did research to figure out the psychological reasoning behind it. However, I get it now. We have to keep a part of ourselves to ourselves to keep our sanity in a world that is continuously engaged in issues that can drive you to become drained.

When looking back on the students that I have worked with in the past, I can remember times in which some students would shut down. Why? Stress. Irritation. Internal and external conflicts. In helping the student, I would often talk to them, offer time to themselves, take them for a walk or just let them take a break from classwork. However, I never taught them self-care. I never told them about this concept that I had recently learned and what my father had practiced in my years of adolescence.

We all need to find ways to gather all of our parts and make peace with them. We don’t have to stay in the chaos. We don’t have to succumb to mental and physical drainage. We can find a place to just be alone. We can pull out that notebook and write. We can pull out that crayon and color. We can put on that song and listen. We can simply sit and look at the sky.  This is self-care. This is self-love.

As I grew older, we moved and so did the cave. My father would no longer find solace in the basement of our home and my brother and I wouldn’t find happiness in our cardboard boxes. However, my dad did teach me a lesson from a young age- never let go of that which brings you joy.

In the years to come, I hope to practice this self-care that my father taught me. More importantly, I hope to share the power of self-care with others. Self-care is no easy task, but its possible.

“Not all wars have casualties, Vee. Some struggles between old and new ideas, some battles between ways of seeing have only victors. Not all dying is the physical self.”
—Sophie Heywood

Transformative Education: Effective Teaching Strategies in Urban Education

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Transformative education is a term that I often use when describing my personal pedagogy for teaching. In being an advocate for social-justice, I believe that education should engage students. A personal teacher of mine, Dr. Bell Hooks from Kentucky, often speaks about transformative education in her research. Hooks (1994) described education as being “the practice of freedom, students are not the only ones who are asked to share, to confess. Engaged pedagogy does not seek simply to empower students. Any classroom that employs a holistic model of learning will be a place where teachers grow…” (Hooks, p. 21). In seeking to change the world, the teacher can spark change within the classroom. The classroom setting is the most radical space for possibility… (Hooks, 1994, p. 12)

As an educator that believes in the importance of social-justice as being the lens through which I see the world, I understand that the classroom must be a radical place for transformation. In being an African-American woman and educator to predominantly African-American students, it is mandatory and not a luxury to have our narratives centered within the American-framework.  Black feminist and lesbian poet, Audre Lorde (1984), tells us in her work Sister Outsider that we are never whole when we are silent about the issues we are fighting internally, and we must speak about these issues for the sake of our sanity (p. 42).

Transformative education forces educators to look critically at their curriculum and to unpack the hidden or imposed values within material. To have classrooms as radical spaces, it is incumbent upon the teacher to address biases and stereotypes. Why is this important? Before any effective teaching can take place, the curriculum must should be analyzed for any disparities that would prevent students from learning or wanting to learn. Ineffective curriculum can marginalize and oppress students. In being in resistance to a society that lacks the humanization of all of its members, it becomes the responsibility of educators to teach with equity. All teachers should teach with social-equity as being the pedagogy for instruction. In “Equity Pedagogy: An Essential Component of Multicultural Education” in Theory Into Practice by Cherry McGee Banks and James A. Banks (1995), pedagogy of social equity is:

Teaching strategies and classroom environments that help students from diverse racial, ethnic, and cultural groups attain the knowledge, skills, and attitudes needed to function effectively within, and help create and perpetuate, a just, humane and democratic society. (p.152)

On one occasion, a teacher within my school asked if I could substitute for her split-level class (second and third grade). For her lesson, she wanted the students to work out of a workbook that was used to teach principles from a new implemented school-wide program on leadership by Stephen Covey. As the students began to work, a Muslim-student raised his hand and said that he didn’t celebrate any of the holidays in his workbook. I grabbed one of the workbooks and noticed that the list of holidays were all Judeo-Christian. So, I asked the student if he wanted to tell his peers about the holidays that he celebrates. He declined. So, I began to tell the students that Muslims celebrate Eid, a celebration of community, family, and prayer. The student began to smile and add to my statement. As the student began to explain Eid, I decided to show the students a visual representation of Eid through YouTube. In having an open conversation about this multicultural issue, it allowed students to learn about another religion and to think critically about texts. In “Pedagogical Approaches to Diversity in the English Classroom: A Case Study of Global Feminist Literature” by Julie M. Barst (2013), she explained that “we study diversity not just for the sake of diversity or to benefit our future careers but to learn to identify those wo lack power or voice within our communities…” (p. 151). In going through curriculum, it is important to interrupt and interrogate the material and to speak openly with students about these discrepancies. Education isn’t going to be simple. It will be messy and multicultural issues will make everyone in the classroom vulnerable. However, it is unjust to ignore the voices of those without power in our communities as Barst stated in her research.

In advocating for a radical form of education that is transformative and based in social-justice, it is imperative to decolonize and break away from conventional ways of thinking that are stifling to the mission of social-justice. In Teachers as Intellectuals: Toward a Critical Pedagogy by Henry Giroux, he stated that “…schools are inextricably linked to a larger set of political and cultural processes and they not only reflect the antagonisms embodied in such processes but also embody and reproduce them” (p.98). By recognizing that the classroom is a place of endless possibilities for students (and teachers), we must make risks propelling communities forward that are historically marginalized and oppressed. The culture of a school is important because it becomes the embodiment of certain values. If these embodied values are integrated within the school, it could potentially liberate or oppress students. In transformative education, various approaches to education in and outside of the classroom may need to be utilized to interrupt inequities. In one example, Barst (2013) encourages teachers to take a feminist approach to curriculum to confront historical and societal injustices against women and girls by looking at the historical and cultural context to the political and feminist issues in a text (p. 152). In this specific approach, the teacher is centering the conversation around a population that has encountered gendered violence, silencing and socio-economic oppression. By looking specifically at the historical and cultural context to a text, it teaches students to analyze a text and to draw connections to the world. In relating the text to the world, students will be more apt to listen and to enter dialogue among each other. Hooks (1994) argued that it is vital that we have conversations to find solutions and to heal. She stated that

Conversation is the central location of pedagogy for the democratic educator. Talking to share information, to exchange ideas is the practice both inside and outside academic settings that affirms to listeners that learning can take place in varied time frames and that knowledge can be shared in diverse models of speech. (p. 44)

Hooks challenges the classroom teacher to hold more conversations to allow for information to be shared, challenged and heard. In this mutual exchange, participants are given the opportunity to hear various forms of speech and to appreciate linguistic diversity. As previously stated, transformative education is radical and unconventional- it centers marginalized and oppressed populations and seeks social-justice. In the classroom, students should feel empowered and accepted. In The Dreamkeepers: Successful Teachers of African-American Children, Dr. Gloria Billings Ladson (1994) argued that “cultural hegemony is the established view of things- a commonsense view of what is and why things happen that serves the interests of those people already privileged in a society” (p. 46).  The route to social-justice is one deeply rooted in providing all students access to an educational-model that doesn’t silence their narratives. In the classroom, educators must confront and resist White hegemony. However, this resistance is often fought against and upheld because of the power structure in place within many schools. Nonetheless, this resistance is vital in confronting the social-inequities present within curricula and systems of education. In tackling this issue, Billings-Ladson (1994) encourages educators to

approach curriculum through culturally-relevant teaching because it is a pedagogy that empowers students intellectually, socially, emotionally, and politically by using cultural referents to impart knowledge, skills, and attitudes. These cultural referents are not merely vehicles for bridging or explaining the dominant culture; they are aspects of the curriculum in their own right. (p. 18)

Educators that are student-centered and approaches curriculum through culturally-relevant teaching exposes students to a radical form of education that discusses multicultural issues and how they are connected and affects the world around them. In this approach to education, students and teachers become reflective and starts to see systems and their importance within the world.

In reflecting on this paper, I felt a rage overcome me because of the continuous work that is needed to fight against social-inequities within communities of color. In being an African-American woman that grew up in Kansas City, Missouri, I was often confronted with the social-inequities that many students of color contend with on the daily basis. My working-class parents would often shuffle my brother and I throughout school-districts within the state of Missouri due to financial-strains. In this shuffling, we attended overcrowded schools, racist teachers, tracking systems, a lack of money for resources, unqualified teachers and curriculum steeped in racism, sexism, and homophobia. I was never taught how to deal with these issues because they were accepted as normal and a part of the educational-system. I came from a home in which my father was addicted to crack and unemployed with a mother that was forced to work multiple jobs to  provide for the family. In my own narrative, my parents constantly reinforced the importance of education and becoming better than them. My parents had their own issues, but they pushed us to exceed and to make an impact in the world. In reflecting on my parents and my own experiences, I hope to make an impact within this field and provide quality education that is just and humane. In “Pedagogy for Liberation: Spoken Word Poetry in Urban Schools” by Mia Fiore (2015), she argued that “teachers who understand their students and recognize the importance of their students’ culture and interests are likely to create a genuine learning community in which students are actively engaged” (p. 828). In concurring with Fiore, I want to invite students to a mutual exchange of knowledge sharing and construction that allows for them to center their experiences and to draw connections to the world around them. As an African-American woman that grew up in urban Kansas-City, I know that I was supposed to be a statistic according to research. However, I am still here. I am still pushing to construct a new way of seeing curriculum and instruction within this field.

References

Banks, C. A., & Banks, J. A. (1995). Equity pedagogy: An essential component of multicultural education. Theory Into Practice, (3).

Barst, J. M. (2013). Pedagogical Approaches to Diversity in the English Classroom: A Case Study of Global Feminist Literature. Pedagogy Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature Language Composition and Culture, (1).

Fiore, M. (2013). Pedagogy for Liberation. Education and Urban Society, (7).

Giroux, H. A., Freire, P., & McLaren, P. (1988). Teachers as intellectuals: Toward a critical pedagogy of learning. Granby, MA: Bergin and Garvey.

Hooks, B. (1994). Teaching to transgress: Education as the practice of freedom. New York: Routledge.

Ladson-Billings, G. (1994). The dreamkeepers: Successful teachers of African American children. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Lorde, A. (1984). Sister outsider: Essays and speeches. Trumansberg, NY: Crossing Press.

“Hello, Miss Twenty-Six. Life-Lessons”

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Dear Self,

I have exactly twenty-four days remaining until I turn the big 2-6! Yes, twenty-six years old. Now, I can’t say that I have all of the answers nor do I have groundbreaking discoveries to land me in research journals. However, I do have epiphanies. As a motivated, introverted and charismatic lover of life, I am more than apt to douse you with some of this magic.

“What magic?” you may ask.

In these riveting, but treacherous years, my twenties are a rollercoaster of events that are always unraveling with more and more mystery. I have encountered a multitude of adventures that are worthy of a book or a series of books. One of the most trying times of my life was when I was in a longterm relationship with a man that was physically and mentally abusive. In the two years of this emotionally and physically trying experience, I realized how patriarchy kept me silenced and ashamed of my traumas. Often, I found myself second-guessing my own self-worth and compared myself to other women. In this insecure relationship, my partner’s world became my world. I stopped engaging with friends, stopped participating in activities that I took joy in and became engulfed in changing myself to the point that I forget who I was. Eventually, I lost interest in myself and encountered my own death.

In this downward spiral, I was sexually assaulted a year ago by a man that wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. In this daunting experience, I went inward. I didn’t love or like myself. I felt ashamed. I felt betrayed. I felt scared. Still, I have never reported the crime. Still, I have never shared this story with family members until now. My rapist remains out there. He is probably living his life without a second thought about what he did to me. I don’t know. I will not assume. However, I still struggle. I still refuse to speak to a counselor about this experience, but I have written to myself. I have vocalized it to two of my closest friends. I died another death.

In trying to swim upstream, I would find solace in teaching English at a local elementary school in my city for those two years. In those two years, I listened, watched and saw the growth of young and smart students that looked like me. Often, they would tell me about events in the news or things going on in their personal lives. For a few, I would hear about their traumas with absentee parents, drugs in the household, sexual violence, gun violence and other unfortunate events that plagued them. As a Black woman that grew up in the same city within the same socioeconomic class, I knew their struggles intimately. I knew their growing pains. However, I never allowed students to forget that their dreams and goals are attainable. From me, they would know that our current circumstances should never be indicative of our future. In them, I found hope to continue striving in my own life despite my own personal traumas.

In coming into 2018, I decided to take a deep breath and to sit down with myself. I’m not a big fan of resolutions at the start of the year, but I do believe in the art of reflection. One thing that I learned in my years of college is that reflection is paramount to transformation and transition. We can’t become better or seek transformation if we aren’t self-aware or aware of the world around us. I knew that I wanted to begin a new life. Not a new life with a clean slate, but to start where I was and to progress. So, I gathered all parts of me and decided to accept and to love myself even more than before. I decided to accept my experiences and to center my own pleasures. So, I have made this year and those to come as the beginning of a new life.

It is time to make space for me.

In my own magic, I have discovered the importance of self-care. Daily, I do something that moves me closer to my personal goals. Daily, I invite love that is healthy and free. Daily, I thank God for my blessings. Daily, I appreciate everything that I have. I am finally choosing to let go and to welcome beauty in its many forms. I will no longer accept negativity and things that are not aligned with my own personal values. I am working on making myself feel safe, beautiful and lovely.

I am whole and nothing will ever make me forget that ever again.

From me to you, I pray that you are living your best life. More importantly, I pray and wish you endless beauty in all facets of your human-experience. You do not deserve anything less. You need not settle for that which brings you tears, pain, and doubt.

Take a gamble for this one time and bet on yourself.

 

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o: The Fight for Life

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Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, a Kenyan writer and professor of Literature, prides himself in writing in his native-tongue of Gikuyu to articulate social issues in Africa, specifically during the time of British-rule in Kenya. In his own quest of seeking truth and asking important questions, he knew that revolution could only come through his right of using the language he grew up speaking with those within his own community.

Thiong’o grew up in a large peasant family and saw the British settle throughout his country. As he experienced the changes that would come with the settlers, he started to write in opposition to the issues within Kenya and within Africa. His writings would eventually have him exiled and imprisoned.

As a student of literature, I became quickly attached to the story of Thiong’o. For me, his story is the story of many Black and Brown individuals across the world. In the search for truth, important questions must be asked. In the asking of these questions, we have to look at ourselves and center our narratives. In the case of Thiong’o, his writings became a weapon for disrupting social-norms. In using his weapon of choice, he began to question his use of English as being the vehicle for his message. He understood the importance of Afro-European Literature and why many African writers wrote in the language of their colonizers (French, English, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, etc). However, he knew that his message had to be delivered with a purely African language. He didn’t want to fight through the double-consciousness that accompanied his writing through the English language. He wanted to use his native-tongue to connect with other Africans that spoke Gikuyu.

For Thiong’o, language is life. Language is an embodiment of a culture that is specific to a people. If a people are stripped of their language, they are stripped of their culture. In being stripped of one’s culture, you are without the very thing that gives you community- a sense of belonging. In using his native tongue, he can preserve his community.

In writing Gikuyu, he knew his writings or his messages could be heard and read by those within his community. In revolting against a system that dehumanizes a people, he wanted to reach the very community that nurtured his very life as a boy and as a man.

In reflecting on Thiong’o, it is vital that we preserve our language(s) in the face of imperialism. We must not be afraid to speak our tongues. In speaking and clinging to our cultures, we are centering our own narratives. In centering our narratives, we are creating and sustaining visibility.

For Thiong’o, revolution must be fought on the front lines. Revolution starts with our own conviction to seeking truth and liberation.

Will you be bold enough to stand alone? Will you be bold enough to center your narrative? Will you be bold enough to go against the grain and persist in your truth?

In the words of Thiong’o, “A writer who tries to communicate the message of revolutionary unity and hope in the languages of the people becomes a subversive character…A democratic participation of the people in the shaping of their own lives or in discussing their own lives in languages that allow for mutual comprehension is seen as being dangerous to the good government of a country and its institutions”

You must not be afraid to be subversive.

You must disrupt.

You must stand up to social injustices.

Reference:

Decolonizing the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature (London, Nairobi, Portsmouth, 1986), pp.26-30

 

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.