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Academic Travels Gratitude Post

As I depart Albuquerque, New Mexico today, after having enjoyed multiple, glorious days of engaging in professional learning and development with a vast community of both nonprofit and K-12 peers, I’m holding so much space and gratitude for the warm, beautiful Indigenous people of the Tamaya and Santa Ana Pueblo, whose sacred lands cover 73,000 acres east and west of the Río Grande. Within the inviting bosom of their picturesque environment, I am energized, made anew and ever so grateful.

I salute the absolute beauty of my travel experience from the rich, inclusive professional learning sessions I was fortunate enough to both actively co-facilitate and eagerly participate in during what will long be regarded as a life changing and absolutely power packed, 3-day convening with several hundred educators from across the country at the joint Education First, NoVo and Rockefeller Foundation sponsored SEL In Action Conference; to being nestled in the healing space of the luxurious Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort & Spa accommodations. After being home bound, like many of you, over the course of the consecutive years of zero travels given the rigors of the still prescient, global pandemic – this initial excursion from the familiarity and safety of the comforts of my own home – was like a warm, bear hug and a spiritual retreat for the soul. Now, even in my travels home . . . My heart smiles from having been blessed with such an opportunity.

Perhaps the best way for me to share just a hint of the tangible highlights of the deeply meaningful time convening with hundreds of educators who are each worthy of salute, for the creative ways in which we have all respectively engaged in the grant award winning, arduous work of imparting culturally relevant and responsive, anti-racist, social emotional learning across K-12 schools and both rural and urban communities across this country, would be to provide insight into the remarkable educators I was fortunate to meet along the way.

I’ll start by extending heartfelt gratitude to Adam from Denver, Colorado who works on a neighboring Pueblo and had a ready smile, sound professional practices, and genuine enthusiasm to share re: having made the 2-hour drive to the conference to represent the meaningful work he and his colleagues do with our Indigenous youth on the Navajo reservation. Likewise, how fortunate I was to have met Stephanie, a middle school principal from Charleston, South Carolina who was determined to take back any/all of our “best practices” to help her ensure that her teachers would feel appreciated, inspired and encouraged to continue in their daily work. This priority was paramount to her because she shared that she increasingly sensed that they were already overworked, overwhelmed, losing strength, motivation and zeal just a few short weeks into the start of the school year. Kudos for any school leader willing, ready, and prepared to center the needs of her overworked instructional and support staff. I was transparent and effusive in my respect for her style of leadership.

I was admittedly impressed by and hereby express gratitude for having met Linda from Illinois (by way of NY), whose work in the community and former work as an engineer, offers her unique insights into how all educators must prepare for what she calls the “long game” of dismantling entire systems of oppression. I’m also grateful to have met Robin, Schevonda, Medina, and the beautiful Evelyn, originally from Cuba and who now lives and works in LA. during a brief yet meaningful roundtable discussion on organic topics ranging from how to engage our students in classroom discussions and manage to distract them from their phones long enough to activate the critical thinking and deep learning which comes from what Paulo Friere refers to as “naming the world” in the liberatory practice of acknowledging the five foundations of discourse.

And no doubt, as confirmation that God had clearly predestined that we share space, despite our meeting place occurring across the country, how fortunate I was to meet a Mother and daughter team from my own stomping grounds here in Detroit, MI. Given the admirable beauty, impressive reach and powerful impact of their nonprofit work with the My Sisters Keeper program here locally, I stood in awe of my newfound sister and an awesome grassroots, community leader in her own right, Tanesha Windom, whose powerful gift of discernment, spiritual anointing and commitment to our children and people, is rather effortlessly weaved through her admirable body of work in the local community. I must also express gratitude for the beautiful energy and infectious joy of my new friend, Anna, from California. She and I had the privilege of breaking bread together over a delicious Mexican culinary feast and then later, she found me and was kind enough to congratulate me on my recent opportunity to bask in the limelight of peer affirmation after I received such an incredible, rousing response from conference participants after having delivered my own Ed Talk. Thanks to her kindness and enthusiasm, Anna and I celebrated this moment by embracing as if we had known each other for a lifetime (fully masked of course), and even did a little celebratory dance to David Guetta’s inspiring jam Titanium, featuring Sia! Eternal gratitude to all who were so affirming and generous to me, in response to my brief personal testimony and aha moment.

I will wrap up my salute to the awesome educators I met (note: there are countless others, too numerous to name and for whom I give thanks), by taking the time to express deep gratitude and respect for the thoughtful and brilliant keynote address we received from dynamic author and educator, Dr. Gholdy Muhammad! From her, we were applauded for our body of collective SEL work, patiently advised how to be much more intentional in infusing joy in the work we do daily, and through her historically responsive framework, we were able to glean from countless, tangible examples, reflective of every grade level and subject area, to cultivate students’ genius in the key areas of identity, skills, intellectualism, criticality, and joy.

Ultimately, my post travel takeaway is that I will long treasure the authentic connections made with like minded educators from all walks of life, this past week. How utterly empowering it was to be in the presence of so many educational leaders, who are humble, talented, creative and intentional in their admirable levels of commitment to the work of advancing the status of what one fellow SEL presenter, Baionne, proudly referred to as the “global majority”, which is to say that together we pledge to increasingly meet the needs of the overwhelming majority of Black students and other students of color in this nation’s schools. And to that I can only say: Asé ✨

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Experience is the Best Teacher

I wish that I could pass along all of the most important and meaningful things I’ve learned in life to others. But the truth is that most of the pivotal things have been gleaned from life experience. And we all know that experience (just like one’s influence), is not transferable.

Things like distinguishing the light in the fog after heartbreak leaves you vulnerable to pain; listening intently to our gut instincts and realizing that it’s never once, steered you wrong; valuing the centeredness and clarity which only comes from the deafening silence of honoring our inner voice, amidst a sea of other people’s opinions. These are the virtues and deep, meaningful lessons that my current self would have shared with my much younger iteration. My only wonder is, whether I would have listened to this 50-year old version of me? Or would I have laughed and soldiered on, undaunted? Hmm . . .

But since experience is truly the best teacher – and wisdom only comes with age, I am admittedly fortunate to have made it to an age, rank and lot in life that the younger version of me would scarcely recognize. And ohh how grateful I am to have made it to my own middle aged status. I’m not yet an elder, who’s able (or even wanting), to retire and enjoy the fruits of an entire lifetime of labor and experiences. But Lord knows that I don’t want to be someone in my 80s, still working everyday, trying to retrofit myself to times long ago passed and still yet increasingly unwilling to bow out gracefully.

Having lived this long, I’ve certainly witnessed the unpleasantness of senior executives and/or elected officials who would sooner die in office and tarnish their own sterling life legacies, than to properly mentor and anoint their successors and elect to willingly retire from service, while maintaining an honorable emeritus capacity. I have also sorrowfully witnessed the harmful implications of their own narcissism manifesting in a general disdain for their years of faithful service and at least in one case, an elected official was forced into retirement under the suspicion of scandal and his position (once revered as an esteemed, legendary and coveted space), is now being held by a charlatan with deep enough pockets to have purchased his capacity of unearned privilege, power and political influence. So, clearly the alternative to learning from experience and allowing wisdom to reign supreme is disastrous.

And while I’m far from my time as a young person, when an opinionated outlook and impatient, fiercely fiery personality was my general go to persona; I am still cognizant of my coveted position of leadership and experience and keenly conscious of my obligation to increasingly pay it forward, through targeted, meaningful mentorship’s (I actually hate this word and all of its negative white supremacist context and implications), so I will elect to embrace its African-Centered, wholistic reference of being blessed to be a Godmother to many. As this is something I was blessed to learn from and am fortunately still seeing it being modeled by my own dear Mother. Mostly, I have mellowed and matured to the extent that I opt to quietly observe, listen, and watch (almost) as much as I speak 😂. And as my outspoken personality sort of naturally takes a backseat as I age and acquire wisdom – I can certainly attest to having learned so much more!

Likewise, as educators many of us are guilty of having this sort of myopic, tunnel vision where our subject area expertise and/or personal knowledge base and belief systems intersect with our instruction. As a school administrator, I have seen this in practice and intervened more times than I can count. I have even blogged about the seemingly well meaning, highly educated and yet thoroughly racist, elementary teacher (who had formerly taught in a gifted school), but who regarded her role as an inner city, Title I school teacher as no more than a babysitting job, with which she could defy the norms of preparation and high expectations and merely spend her days reading to her students on the carpeted floor area, she had affectionately termed as “the beach”! Tuhh, if you don’t get your ass up and teach, there’s gonna be trouble. And trouble there was, until she elected to remove her biased, terminated ass from our midst rather than to pursue her baseless wrongful termination case. In any event, I’ve come to realize that there’s so much more value in learning and growing in continuous fashion and in maintaining healthy levels of humility as it regards all of the things we do not yet know.

I can only hope that as I continue to approach teaching, learning and life in this my 28th year as an educator, that I do so with a new set of experienced eyes, not fully jaded by life’s disappointments, but still much more knowing than I was even 20 years ago . . . I would love to morph into the kind of mother, teacher, partner, sister and friend who is as gracious a person as I imagine myself to be. I want to exude love, light and the delicious wisdom from experience in every professional development training experience, college course or interaction with our high school Scholar Ambassador’s. I want to take my wins and innumerable blessings as a testament to God’s ability to somehow use me as a vessel and not as a reflection of my own brilliance and hard work, though certainly I’m blessed with benefits of both and a tireless work ethic to match. But truly, to God be the Glory for all the things that go right and may I be grounded and careful enough to learn from my mistakes, losses and disappointments.

Mostly, I honestly do appreciate and long for the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. As I prepare to embrace my coveted role as the elder sister who traditionally hosts our immediate family for holiday get togethers, may this Labor Day and official start of yet another school year bring smiles, memorable moments and time for thoughtful reflection and optimistic hope for the year to come. Amen-Ra, Asé and so it is.

Thank you for reading!

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I Am Woman . . . Fearlessly

How ironic and yet on brand for America, that we are approaching the momentous occasion of celebrating Mother’s Day, while simultaneously teetering at the precipice of the dissolution of half a decade of women’s rights.

I’m absolutely outraged by the timing of the extremely public attack on women’s freedom seeking to criminalize our own decisions about our reproductive rights by the highest court in the land. And though the Supreme Court as poised to overturn Roe v. Wade is nearly incomprehensible in 2022, it certainly speaks volumes about injustice being normalized and frames the work that educators engage in every day, as that much more invaluable and cherished. And I Am Woman . . . Fearlessly.

As many of us are aware, teachers are overwhelming women/mothers. So, even as we close out this past week, ceremonially regarded as Teachers Appreciation Week, the reality is that it’s precisely because most teachers are women that teachers have historically been so grossly underpaid and universally disrespected. In many ways teaching has always been viewed as less than significant, women’s work. And though so many of us adorn the title and occupy this profession, with pride, it still hurts to be undervalued in the eyes of the general public. And you wouldn’t even need a symbolic week to appreciate and honor our profession, if you would only do what’s right and pay all educators a living wage. Still, I Am Woman . . . Fearlessly.

When Sojourner Truth unashamedly bore her breasts and so eloquently, and might I add extemporaneously, declared “Ain’t I a woman?” She spoke truth to power on behalf of the scores of Black women, in particular. As we were held to the very same inhumane and unjust productivity standards as did our men during the period of enslavement. Yet, our lot in life and inescapable burden was that we also bore the children, did all the cooking, kept the house running like a well oiled machine and bore the lash of brutal whippings, for falling short of the mark of perfection on any of the aforementioned accounts. So yes, I Am a Woman . . . Fearlessly, and this means that I will not shrink quietly into the background as divine femininity, womanhood, personal decisions made in the best interests of our own health or our professional expertise and universal respect is simultaneously undermined.

As I write this, I fearlessly embrace the unknown in multiple personal and professional areas of my life. Navigating uncharted waters as a middle-aged educator and self-avowed lifelong learning has admittedly been an humbling process. In terms of major financial and life decision making, I’ve had to humble myself in acknowledgement of just how much I don’t know and pay handsomely for this crash course in life as a result. More to come on this front, as it still remains to be seen whether I will emerge victorious or reap the sorrowful spoils of my own ignorance in a particular area in which others are much more knowledgeable. In my personal life, I have had to protect my peace and right to be joyful, optimistic and overly expressive about life as others have sought to silence my voice or ask me to shrink to make themselves more comfortable. But ultimately, I am hopeful and resolute in being a messy work in progress who still has miles to go, before I sleep.

But most importantly, I follow the exemplar modeled by countless, warrior, Black women elders, like Congresswoman Maxine Waters who appropriately elicited the catchphrase “Reclaiming my time” as she was rudely interrupted by cis white male colleague(s), asserting both their unearned privilege and voices as weapons against her own. And even with the many messages that my voice is neither warranted nor welcome, I snatch back the microphone and spend this weekend in celebration of my hard-working sister-in-love, who works full-time AND went back to school (after having had 5 children), to earn a degree in medicine and graduates this weekend. I pay homage to my own Queen Mother, who has labored for decades on behalf of our people, in her dual capacity as a consummate mother/grandmother to our family and as a senior pastor, public servant and grassroots activist to our local Detroit community. And I head out the door with my own young adult daughter, to run Saturday errands and prepare for both church service and Mother’s Day tomorrow.

Indeed, I Am Woman Fearlessly and I thank God for bathing me and all women, in our divine light and purpose! Asé ❤️✨

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America’s Historic Building Block of Justice

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson confirmed as Justice to U.S. Supreme Court, marking historic milestone for USA

The April 7, 2022 vote of the U. S. Senate to confirm Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson as the first Black Woman Justice to the U. S. Supreme Court was historic, and monumental for this nation.

157 years ago, on April 11, 1865, two days after Confederate General, Robert E. Lee had surrendered, ending the Civil War; President Abraham Lincoln delivered an address from a window in the White House overlooking the North Lawn. President Lincoln verbally described the next steps for the Federal Government to implement the Emancipation Proclamation which he had signed into law on January 1st, 1865.

During this speech, President Lincoln delivered a number of complex strategies to be employed by the Federal Government during an era termed Reconstruction; and-for the first time-President Lincoln stated that he would use the power of his office to insure that Blacks would become citizens with the right to vote. Upon hearing that Blacks would have the right to vote, a member of the audience, John Wilkes Booth, declared that “this is the last speech he will ever give” and assassinated President Lincoln three days later, at the Ford Theater on April 14th.

It should not be lost to students of history, that President Abraham Lincoln’s first public statement supporting Black Suffrage was April 11th, only two days after the Confederate surrender signaling the end of the Civil War. The April 7th, 2022 vote of the U. S. Senate to confirm Ketanji Brown Jackson as the first Black woman to serve as a Justice on the United States Supreme Court is built on the heroic advocacy and the legacy of untold numbers who have fought for freedom, justice, dignity and freedom and for all who dare to believe in the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the solemn, sacred promise enshrined in the Preamble to the Constitution “We the People…”The 15th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution was ratified in February, 1870, codifying the right of Blacks to vote; but challenges persisted for Black voters until the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965–a landmark law that has been decimated in recent years, by virulent right-wing proponents- and the Voting Rights Act remains under attack in 2022. Eternal advocacy and vigilance is key!

It is important that April be viewed as an historic benchmark for Black voting rights dating back to President Abraham Lincoln’s public endorsement of Black Suffrage on April 11, 1865. Another “Justice Building Block” was erected when President Lyndon B. Johnson nominated the legendary Thurgood Marshall, as the first Black man on the U. S. Supreme Court . Marshall had founded the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, and was the lead attorney in the landmark case, Brown v Board of Education. He was confirmed by the Senate in 1967.

Also, a key cornerstone among the building blocks of Justice was the appointment of the brilliant Judge Constance Baker Motley to the Federal Bench-the first Black woman to serve in this role. Judge Constance Baker Motley was eminently qualified to sit on the U. S. Supreme Court! She had won 9 of 10 cases argued before the Supreme Court, she was one of the attorneys who successfully argued Brown v Board of Education, she represented Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King; and was regarded by legal analysts as one of the most exceptional jurists in the USA.

Standing on the shoulders of Thurgood Marshall and Constance Baker Motley; Ketanji Brown Jackson became the first Black woman confirmed by the Senate on April 7, 2022, to become a Justice on the U. S. Supreme Court. Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson was nominated by President Joe Biden; and this latest Justice Building Block will be long viewed as a major milestone among America’s building blocks of Justice.

Reprinted by the permission of the author, Rev. Dr. JoAnn N. Watson

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Mis-education and the Pandemic of Racism

a boy sitting at the table

Mis-education thrives endlessly in the absence of a relevant, grassroots experience base and an authentic connection to the Black experience. Full stop.

The increasing disconnect between U.S. Education Secretary Cardona’s agenda and that of countless superintendent’s and school districts fighting to remain open and to conduct ‘business as usual’ in the midst of our tumultuous pandemic climate; is exacerbated by the disconnect from the clear and present dangers of our current reality. And when I say ‘our’, please allow me to transparently name that Black people and our unique life experiences, are always and forever centered and at the forefront of my thought, educational scholarship and daily work. So, I/we are in the best position to state the claim that during these times in education, it is authentic Blackness, vast educational experience and/or your proximity to the same, which qualifies one to make sound decisions keenly attuned to the best interests, needs and sustaining of this country’s overwhelming ranks of Black and Latinx students in our education system.

There is little doubt that teachers, students and Black and Brown families are in the very best authoritative position to determine their needs regarding schools being physically open, at this pivotal time in history. It is us who are of African descent and/or who identify as people of color who are literally and figuratively on the front lines of the sacrificial lambs losing our lives in this horrid endemic. Literally every overcrowded ICU ward is filled with people of color (whether vaccinated or not), so the priority of ensuring our survival rate is directly proportionate to what is happening in schools. And so, it is us who comprises the distinct groups who are all too often very much in sync with what needs to happen to ensure our collective safety who must make the decisions to remain open or to meet virtually. It is us who are empowered to determine when to proverbially “hold or to fold” the hands which we’ve been unfairly dealt. And yet, it is us who happen to be consistently and wholly ignored.

Institutionalized racism sees only the need to value and center the needs of capitalism, white supremacist ideals and business as usual. This breeds mis-education and utter contempt for teachers, students and families (of all cultures) and it is this unsustainable, current climate of our educational system, which is contributing to the irreversible demise of Black lives. Whenever students, teachers, families IE: the true decision makers in educational policy are disregarded and ignored, then mis-education proliferates in unchecked forms. Further, to the extent that today’s school district leaders are responsive to external pressures to acquiesce to traditional schooling face-to-face norms – as opposed to being in tune and responsive to the masses of their largely Black and Brown, Title I demographic whose opinions and wishes matters most (especially considering that it is our lives at risk) – there is greater frustration, mis-education and death which results. The costs are too high and the damage has long lasting, generational implications. Of course, there’s no need to continue to police the teaching of history, and to disallow the refrain that Black Lives Matter, when the driving force and impact of your tone deaf decision making, continues to exist as proof positive that they do not.

The decision of whether or not to keep schools open or closed is an issue of racial justice. This is especially so to those of us who effortlessly emanate from and relate to or unapologetically reflect the norms of the Black cultural experience. As long as life-altering, government approved edicts as to whether schools remain open or closed and/or which dictate whether standardized testing and learning loss reigns supreme on the educational agenda (rather than the mental health, wellness and yes, even the authentic academic achievement and needs of our students are met against all odds), then the disconnect widens. Meaningless pandemic era policies, particularly as handed down by President Biden, education sec’y Cardona and others amounts to nothing but useless exercises in futility. The truth of the future of education and the final decisions will continue to be made by default (since you’re not listening to us anyway) by we, the people. Our beloved students speak (loudly and proudly I might add), as they continue to engage in rightful social justice activism and launch non-violent walkouts all across the country and in every major city. They will continue to vote with their actions and their feet. This is a sound prediction based upon having a pulse on their outspoken wishes and not at all a baseless opinion or a threat.

Teachers, paras, bus drivers, cafeteria workers and administrative/support staff have proven themselves to be convincing as they paid (and continue to pay) the ultimate sacrifice of losing their very lives and at the least their livelihood’s, as they leave the profession in droves via pine boxes or by mass resignations. Parents and families have spoken by homeschooling, tutoring, and essentially empowering their children to remain safely at home, even as they are forced to work. Because to send them to school despite their increasing protests that their teachers and beloved friends are dying (heavy sigh), is akin to sending them unarmed into a vicious battle, where the only outcome is to perish en masse. Clearly, it is only the scourge of capitalist, imperialist, white supremacist racism which persists in ignoring those who matter most and insists on keeping schools operating in person, despite the massive hemorrhaging and loss of lives. The only thing left to do is for government officials and school leaders to attempt levels of empathy, connection to those who exist outside of the safe umbrella of white privilege, by listening to us and acting accordingly. There’s no better time than now . . . our very lives depend upon it.