Educate to Liberate

How Schools Dishonor Black History Month

As a lifelong educator having been blessed to work in every professional capacity imaginable, from: teacher, curriculum writer, academic interventionist, instructional coach, assistant principal, principal, chief academic officer and now as a graduate education professor – I have experienced my fair share of how school districts across the country uniquely (albeit clumsily) interpret the best way(s) to pay homage to the proud legacy, traditions and future aspirations of an entire nation of people during #BlackHistoryMonth. Sadly, I have also been witness to my fair share of #Fails in this regard. In light of being an educator always ready and willing to teach and in the spirit of full transparency, I wish to share my ideology re: the many ways that school districts across the country (often unintentionally) dishonor Dr. Carter G. Woodson’s brainchild for an annual month of recognition, and more importantly, how we can best rectify this aberration.

This morning, I watched a pre-recorded interview on a local podcast featuring education and government officials in order to support the guest appearance of a fellow educator and scholar historian. During the broadcast, I caught an interview that a local journalist had with an official from our Detroit Public Schools District regarding the special curricula offerings being interwoven into SS for #BHM⁠ ⁠. Though not at all surprised, it was admittedly disheartening and glaringly unacceptable that slavery/slave narratives were soon referenced when asked about the diversity of the #BHM curriculum being featured (sigh). #Miseducation is certainly alive and well.

Among the countless injustices of this flawed yet, all-too-familiar approach to acknowledge Black history is the glaring truth that our history does not begin with enslavement. All attempts to reference history through a warped American lens, distorted by centuries of White supremacist rule is disrespectful and disingenuous to the critical thought of ALL children who must be taught that all life has its origin on the continent of Africa. You see, this is not African-centered education or even a feel good, affirmation relegated to Black history, this is irrefutable, historic fact which must be taught as a mere starting point for dismantling the gross mis-education of all students. Further, the Detroitk12 system is not unlike all other school districts’ in that they must all be more mindful of the need to counteract the White supremacist ideology and mis-education inherent in the “slave narratives” which are all too common pitfalls of the antiquated state standards and comprise either the official or unofficial go-to curriculum choice for Black History Month and the entire academic year.

Though I must admit to being offended to the core, (please note for the record that vehement dissatisfaction for the racist U. S. school system is a sentiment shared by literally hundreds of academics, activists and people of good conscience whom I follow on Twitter), I must assume that school systems would DO better, if in fact they KNEW better. Well, it’s not rocket science, and the most informed and appropriate way to cease violating Black people in crafting a Black History Month curriculum is via explicit instruction from Black academic scholars and increased, unrelenting public demand from all people of good conscience. It bears repeating that Black history does NOT begin w/ enslavement. As such, BHM⁠ ⁠warrants infusion in every core subject and at every grade level. Most importantly, White female teachers – those who comprise the bulk of the teaching force of an overwhelmingly diverse majority of students – are woefully ignorant, academically unprepared and otherwise ill-equipped to deliver the truth of African/Black history (especially before the period of enslavement), without explicit instruction themselves and sans a targeted retooling of pedagogical policy, enhanced teacher education protocols and ongoing, job-embedded professional development training (which consequently, Educate to Liberate LLC provides across the country, with seamless accuracy and exceptional corporate/nonprofit consumer satisfaction).

As such, all educators MUST willingly and eagerly commit to being lifelong learners or resign. I realize that this prescription may sound harsh, but if in fact teaching is a calling then anti-racist and Culturally Responsive Pedagogy is a non-negotiable pre-requisite to the profession. Any perceived hesitation or refusal to submit to this “fix” of everything that is wrong with our educational system, means the perpetuation of the status quo and a curriculum of bias, exclusion and a guaranteed future of mis-education for all the generations of gifted, brilliant students who are not affluent and/or White. Trust me, our children deserve better and opting to retire is the absolute best service that the resistor could offer, because it’s no secret that you are doing more harm than good.

Finally, consummate educators like myself have formidable career records of 25+ years (and earned doctorates!) for having mastered #CulturallyResponsivePedagogy and can boast of a proud record for countering racism and gross mis-education in schools from Detroit to New York City. This passionate blog, my charitable efforts in the community and a lifetime of grassroots activism exist as proof positive that I don’t just “talk the talk”, on the contrary I (and countless others) “walk the walk” and stand ready and willing to assist, as needed to ensure that every school, in every district across the country is empowered to #EducateToLiberate. ✊🏿 We can do this educators. It takes all of us: Each one, Teach one and how affirming it is to know that we are valiantly supported by people the world over in our admirable efforts. Please don’t hesitate to reach out if I can be of any assistance to your conscious efforts to change the current narrative of mis-education.

Educate to Liberate

Religious Racism in Education

Having been raised as an African-American girl to college educated, activist parents in MI; there were two certainties in life – church and school. Like clockwork, active participation in these two institutions helped to inform my reality and shaped my unique view of the world around me. However, it never occurred to me that my seemingly idyllic religious and academic experiences were an anomaly and really not a universal component of other people’s lives. Who knew that while I was being taught love, tolerance, the Be Attitudes and the values of respect and kindness, others were being politicized as racists who regard White supremacy as their religious right? Sadly, I was completely uninformed of the dangerous and even unholy intersection between God and education which existed in much of society. In retrospect – I was soon to learn (the hard way), of the many evils lurking in a country boasting of religious principles, but founded on a long, sordid history of hatred, occupation by violence, war, mass annihilation, enslavement and oppression.

As a sixth-generation Christian with a maternal family history aligned with membership in the historic African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church, I was a “born again” young person active in church as an acolyte, a junior missionary, youth choir member and served on the youth usher board. As a result of this active engagement, I developed an early, abiding love of God, church and of the Black religious experience. I was such a willing convert and Black church participant, that I can remember being anointed as “special” at a young age by church elders. This deference was likely bestowed for my unashamedly spirited solos in the children’s (and later), the young adult choir in which I sang loudly with a powerful, deep contralto voice. But my anointment may have also been bestowed for my fearless public speaking acumen-honed in the time honored, Black church tradition of reciting Easter and Christmas poems and being featured in various performances/theatrical shows. Whatever the impetus, my siblings and I and literally all the Black youth in our midst, thrived under the strict but affirming Black church culture of: discipline, love of one another, respecting one’s elders and honing our innate leadership skills and abilities. In fact, by the time I was in my late teens/early 20s, I had already been invited to (and excitedly agreed to), deliver a “trial” sermon in my home church of Greater Quinn AME in Detroit, MI. Though my future would later prove to be in teaching rather than preaching, these are fond memories for which I am eternally grateful. Yes indeed, life was good, God was real, and all was promising through my rose-colored, myopia impaired shades. Soon, my lack of knowledge of other people’s ultra conservative interpretations of religion was made painfully apparent.

You see in spite of this detailed and my seemingly idyllic religious upbringing in the Black church, the acknowledgment of my own religious ignorance of all the evils that the world had in store (from other Christians no less), had not yet begun to rear its ugly head. But after fast-forwarding to my early educational years – I soon learned the curious pattern that my most mean-spirited, unforgiving and overtly racist teachers were also the most outspoken and seemingly religious. As a child, it was admittedly confusing to reconcile the two extremes of God and hatred being portrayed in a unified portrait, but alas I was a long way from the “God is love” ideology of the Black church. Then later, in my undergraduate college years, I began to recognize the obvious chinks in the armor of my Black Christian ideology after reading voraciously and being exposed to the abject racism and evils committed all through history under the guise of religion. It was not lost on me or any of my peers that slave ships would be named Jesus and that essentially, the mass genocide orchestrated against my African ancestors were committed in the name of religion.

In terms of my spiritual maturity, after being on the intimate, Black college campus of Lincoln University, PA for just a few months and attending several Sunday services at our non-denominational chapel on campus, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that most of my peers had also been steeped in a somewhat familiar Black church upbringing and tradition. This helped me to feel less guilty when I realized that most of us had chosen to abandon our strict, religious roots and universal behavioral expectations in favor of sleeping in, studying alone or with peers, engaging in liberal amounts of sexual activity or merely recovering from our spirited partying and drinking from the night before. Of course I was no exception, because though I started college trying to attend church regularly, soon there were countless obligations more pressing than chapel attendance and living a righteous life. So while a scant few of my friends had chosen to uphold the tradition of their religious upbringing and one or two had even gone so far as to join a rather openly devoted group of young Christians entitled “militants for Christ”, the bulk of us engaged in our fervent pursuit of personal freedom from the watchful eyes of our parents and sought academic distinction, maintained an optimistic post-graduate career focus and worked towards earning the lifetime accomplishment of our degree(s) all while partying every weekend and learning to navigate the world as adults. Ultimately, the marked separation between religion and education seemed cemented, until some returned to their Christian roots as educated, working adults, because such a firm foundation had been set during childhood.

Meanwhile other youth, like those attending Covington Catholic High School in KY and countless other conservative, religious institutions across this country have been steeped in practicing an entirely different religious tradition and worldview than that of the uniquely tolerant and all-inclusive ideology inculcated in the Black, Christian tradition. White students and even some affluent students of color, often attend religious institutions which blur the lines between right and wrong or God and curriculum. Such schools intentionally produce students like those wearing MAGA hats, the modern-day KKK hoods, who are adept at promoting racism and adorning themselves in blackface, within the protected confines of their own conservative institutions. These students, like Nicholas Sandmann, the young man at the epicenter of the recent standoff at the Lincoln Memorial, vehemently defends their right to disrespect elders and taunt others with their White supremacist ideology. Adding insult to injury is the fact that an entire nation has now come to the defense of a mob of young people (educated in a Christian school), wearing MAGA hats, chanting “build the wall” and antagonizing literally every group of people who crossed their path. Where/how is such hateful behavior exemplified by the young generation you might ask? They were thoroughly indoctrinated and politicized in Christian schools for most, if not all of their lives. Of course people’s homes and truly reprehensible upbringings are also to blame, but history dare not look any further than the churches, secular and religious schools as the primary institutions fostering the growth and development of modern day hatred and oppression. History has proven that Whiteness exerts its toxic influence on schools under the auspices of the Christian religion, no less.

In a recent, viral Twitter hashtag designed to expose Christian schools for the bastions of hatred which they far too often represent – the Evangelical Movement and toxic Catholicism was under public indictment for inculcating hatred, White supremacy, misogynistic beliefs and for the promotion of bullying and gross mis-education, among other criticisms. As proof, hundreds of thousands of testimonies were shared by people who had endured racism, homophobia, toxic masculinity and/or bullied beyond belief because they didn’t conform to a totally subjective, religious ideal. In one case, a man recalled being tortured because he didn’t appear “manly” enough. According to this victim, coaches would merely turn a blind eye to boys being towel-whipped or their heads being flushed down toilets for being thought of as “soft”. In other cases, history was said to be wholly rewritten and the Bible used as a fantasized weapon in order to erase the entire history of a people and to otherwise whitewash evolution. At least 43K people attested that they were taught that science isn’t real. Given this revelation, is it any wonder that the world’s climate crisis is now at hand? Other former Christian school students recounted harrowing stories of being forced to watch graphic videos of abortions and be pressured to engage in victim blaming behavior whenever sexual harassment or rape was reported on their campus. It came as no surprise that Evangelical schools were overwhelmingly exposed as being overtly racist, sexist and homophobic. Finally, my own personal contribution to relevant testimony used to expose Christian schools is that as divulged in my dissertation study of the pervasive mis-education of Black students in America, a Detroit parent revealed having overheard Catholic nuns monitoring (primarily children of color), while playing outside on the playground at recess and one of the nuns said “look at the little heathens”. Needless to say, such horror stories are endless. Clearly, our collective need to #ExposeChristianSchools is as warranted as the need to dismantle these dysfunctional institutions. This is imperative in order to have any meaningful impact upon curbing future generations of conservative extremists, racists, sexists and hate mongers who are thoroughly indoctrinated in so-called “Christian” schools.

Perhaps the most appropriate analogy to describe the potential dangers of the religious education experience is the phrase “religion is to school, what vodka is to driving”. Truer words were never spoken.

Educate to Liberate

A Salute To Black Men – Because R. Kelly Is An Exception, Not The Rule

R. Kelly is NOT representative of Black men. He is an anomaly, a sick deviant and criminally negligent, serial rapist-but he is not reflective of the vast majority of our husbands,sons, brothers, uncles, cousins and fathers. I have long ago abandoned Kelly’s music (20+ years) and didn’t need a documentary (though it was a masterful expose from Detroit’s own Dream Hampton), to enthusiastically join my sisters in a collective attempt to #MuteRKelly and raise our voices against the disproportionate impact of sexual violence against Black women.

At the same time I LOVE and will always unapologetically salute the Black men who: raised me, protected me, educated me, corrected me, lived for and loved me throughout my lifetime. Contrary to the dominant messaging, mainstream media manipulated and dangerously powerful imagery Black men are not synonymous w/ pathology. Black men are stellar, melanin rich, living, breathing, walking and talking reflections of God. Royalty and loyalty is inscribed in their very DNA. I could go on, but I also have a personal testimony of salute to drive my point home…

In my family, we NEVER needed to call the police. My uncles delivered a level of street justice (in every nook, cranny and crevice of the Dexter and Linwood neighborhood where we grew up in Detroit) and were/are renowned for their ability to make sure that situations were handled. Once, when my purse was stolen, they got a quick description, found the criminals and beat the brakes off their asses in record time. Not only was the item returned and apologies issued but from that point forward I was never fearful of growing up in the hood. In the 80’s, Black men had other options but fought with their hands, negotiated with their hearts and wrought change with the power of their morality and words. As another case in point, although he probably won’t remember this (because he was only a teenager himself), after a particularly traumatic day growing up, my uncle James noticed my distress and pulled me aside to read Bible scriptures and sang a hymn to me until I could hold my head up high once again.

My elder brother Damon is and was my BFF, confidante and proud protector growing up. He was the brother for whom girls make friends with you, just to get close to him and though he would rarely fight, he literally charmed his way out of nearly all of the tight situations caused by my big mouth. Later on, during 2 of my 4 years of college, my brother (who I followed to school), was an ever-popular presence on our HBCU campus. Needless to say I was always on my best behavior 👀. A few years ago, to my horror and at a moment’s notice my brother intervened and saved my life from a violent madman who was my neighbor in Harlem (over a parking space no less) and I am eternally grateful for his wisdom and spiritual strength!

My brother Stephen is the silent (but deadly) type of younger brother who tormented me @ home but brought the pain on my behalf in public. After moving to NJ midway through high school, I had to quickly shed my Cass Tech preppy persona and learn to remove my earrings, stash razors and Vaseline my face if necessary and in record time, just to walk home from school. In another memorable incident Stephen saved my life (I guess I have used up all 9 lives) one spring afternoon, while defending my younger sister against her childhood bullies. The bullying kids went home to get their mama’s (because the rule is that the WHOLE family fights you – and usually wins – on the East Coast)- as a result, fearless and naive 17-year old me willingly faced off w/ a mob of 12-15 grown women on the block. To my credit, several of my 5 beloved uncles: Jeff, Britt, Tony, Nolan and Nate had taught all the girls in the family how to fight with our fists and never to scratch our way through fights. As a result, when I was jumped, thanks to their instruction, I was holding my own and knocked a couple ppl out (until they fought dirty and pulled out their stash of knives and pipes). Thankfully, 15 minutes into the brawl out of the corner of my eye, I spied Steve’s long legs racing towards the mob and as he weaved through the crowd of wild women, he started throwing armed chicken heads east and west until they all ran off injured and scared, never to return. Also, within minutes, another fearless Black man, my cousin Amos (Darren), the most popular student scholar/athlete and football scholarship decorated phenom in our whole high school drove up (with more than his fists; “Bring em out, bring em out…it’s hard to yell when the barrel’s in ya mouth”), to protect me.

So, long (extremely long), story short… my own colorful life is proof positive that EVERY time the Black woman has been down and out, in distress or in need of loving comfort and/or protection our tormentor was rarely if ever, our own men. And we never need to look any further than our own Black men to have our backs. There was once a time that with our men around, any man dare not: speak out of pocket, put his hands on us or even claim temporary insanity with their behavior lest they incur the wrath of our beloved and powerful Black men! Are there a few slouches/clowns amongst the plenty? No doubt, but we must NEVER paint negative outliers, with a broad brush. Instead, we must always give credit when/where it’s due: Salute to our God-given gifts of Black men. Asé ✊🏿❤️💯

Educate to Liberate

Begin Again…

Life has as many endings as there are beginning’s. Each of us has been required to bid adieu to someone or something we held dear. We have all been prompted to start over in some significant way and we didn’t hesitate to invest ourselves to a new goal. At the start of a new year it’s important to acknowledge that it is in that small space time continuum of our commitment to major change and transitioning from one phase of life to another, that the strength of our character really shines through. We are each stronger than we give ourselves credit for, because we are all on personal journeys that have been sidetracked by multiple detours, yet we have found the strength to begin again.

The start of a new year offers a unique opportunity to collectively begin again because right now we all share the audacity of hope. Early January offers an opportunity for all of humanity to experience a universal crossroads whereby we naturally separate our old selves from all that we hope to be. At the dawn of the year 2019, I welcome yet another occasion to begin again, because I recognize renewal as a gift, divine blessing and season for opportune growth.

Let’s embark upon our divine, right pathways and embrace the dawn of an opportunity to begin again.