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This is America.

If a single image could represent a poignant sign of the times, then brown children – adorned with sad, haunting, accusatory, fixed gazes while locked behind cages – reflects an autobiographical portrait of Trump’s America. This reprehensible chapter is marked by innocent, defenseless children screaming in horror as they are forcibly torn apart from their parents by defiant, heartless and spirit/soul devoid ICE agents. The inhumane enforcement of human enslavement is financed, encouraged, and legislatively sanctioned under the explicit direction of Trump, who is fulfilling a campaign promise to literally and figuratively coerce his agenda to “build a wall” against any/all threats (real or imagined), to national security. Approximately six weeks ago, Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy took full effect and in the interim, more than 3,700 children (and counting), have been caged behind bars and in internment camps, like common criminals. National Guard troops from all across America have been deployed to the border to forcibly implement this outrageous, abusive policy and to otherwise enforce Trump’s “zero tolerance” initiative. Countless national and state resources have been re-directed to support the smokescreen of a border crisis. Meanwhile, Democratic legislators have echoed a common theme of powerlessness; while Republican legislators have overwhelmingly maintained a code of silence and articulated support for all of Trump’s racism-fueled initiatives. Ultimately, these aggressive actions are characteristic of the increasingly racist personality disorder of the American system of governance and increasingly reflect the ideology of the American people. Without question, the implications of such outrageously illegal and immoral actions will reverberate for years to come. This is America.

Some might ask, what are the implications for everyday, working-class Americans, who have yet to publicly and/or collectively express outrage about this policy? Well, the former head of US Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) recently made public his prediction that the vast majority of separated children will NEVER be successfully reunited with their parents. Consider the lasting implications of being forcibly ripped from one’s home and family only to realize that you will never be reunited with all that you once knew. For those of us of African descent, imagining this nightmare is a no-brainer, as this description characterizes the reality of the horrific period of chattel enslavement that America is once again, inhumanely inflicting upon others. The impacts are indeed permanent and manifest in palpable forms of: PTSD, self-hatred, mental and psychological harm, physical and developmental neglect, and an increased rate of mortality. Similarly, migrant children have already been detained (without the benefit of proper record-keeping), afforded sub-standard nutrition, medical care and personal attention and dispersed throughout the U.S. to ultimately be educated in an already overburdened, U.S. school system. The vicious Trump devised immigration cycle can be loosely understood in this manner: children captured at the border have been physically detained in cages, tents & warehouses, while infants and toddlers are held in “Tender Age Shelters”. As it regards the average rate of detainment that this self-inflicted emergency immigration crisis has engendered – forced family separation under Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy has dramatically increased the typical turnaround time from several months to two years to just 3-4 days. The costs are equally mind-numbing, and approach the exorbitant taxpayer-footed total of approximately $775/per day/per child. Perhaps most egregiously, though migrant parents have been afforded and/or assigned public defenders in U.S. immigration courts, the government rather quietly deemed it appropriate, (just 30-days ago), to halt all funding to legal defense for direct representation on behalf of all migrant children. What an illegal, expensive and permanently scarring initiative to characterize dictatorship styled, U.S. policy in 2018. This is America.

Adding insult to injury and harm, as a means to maintain the vicious cycle of “zero tolerance” border enforcement, U.S. immigration agents are currently engaged in personally escorting thousands of children, (who had been forcibly detained at the border, then held in temporary internment camps), to designated states all over the country. Countless numbers of traumatized and heartbroken children are arriving to various destinations, via redeye flights and being placed in random foster care centers and group homes in assigned states, like New York and Michigan. Here in MI, there are only two foster care agencies that have contracts with the federal government and are duly licensed to handle refugee resettlement — in this case, they are now charged with finding foster homes for hundreds, even thousands of immigrant children separated from their families. In other words, children like the one pictured above, will essentially be lost in the system, and otherwise forcibly orphaned by the U.S. government. In spite of this, Trump is exploiting his apparent affinity for issuing non-committal, media manipulative and distracting statement(s) and promises that he will soon “sign something to augment the policy” derived from his very own executive agenda. However, while he plays politics, inhumane border enforcement actions continues at astonishing levels and irreparable damage has already been done. As earlier stated, for those who are most vulnerable, the children, the damaging results of “zero tolerance” policies are permanent. Therefore, these children have not not been merely leveraged as pawns, but rather have been kidnapped and must be regarded as living, breathing hostages, prisoners of war being held against their will – thousands of miles away from their parents. This is America.

Our children are watching. American children and young adults have been raised to witness and to seemingly normalize concentration camps, physical enslavement, and gross inhumanity at the hands of the U.S. government, within the course of their own lifetime. How will our children regard this period in history? Sadly, many will choose to replicate this abhorrent behavior as it is being justified, and largely viewed as an attempt at restoring the American value system, and making America great . . . as if that period ever really existed. For others, they too will be permanently affected, as they will have been traumatized by having witnessed the horrifying reality of government sanctioned child enslavement and trafficking. The impact of acknowledging the depths of man’s inhumanity to one another, may ultimately render the next generation incapable of ever achieving their own moral potential. How will we as parents and educators, in turn, give instructional voice to such atrocities against humanity? How will we compensate for the grave injustices these migrant children have already faced, with the woefully insufficient educational tools we have been afforded to work miracles of the countless children already enrolled in U.S. schools? Will we say that we stood idly by during the course of this bureaucratic nightmare – hopelessly crying, wringing our hands or waiting and watching for an external end to this Trump-orchestrated immigration crisis? Or will we stand on the right side of history by condemning these actions in every imaginable form and lending our voices, finances, leadership and political power via powerful lobbying efforts to the collective objective of forcing change?

I submit to you that advocating on behalf of the families (especially the children), of those fleeing poverty, war and certain death is the only humane course of action. I may well stand corrected, after all . . . This. Is. America.

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Why Every School Needs Diversity Training . . . NOW

Racism in America is vile, all-consuming, repugnant, pervasive, intertwined into the very foundation, and so systemic that it permeates every institution, historical document, law, tradition, value, community, geographic location, organization, corporation/business, socioeconomic and political structure and is seamlessly embedded into the very psyche of every, single American, without exception. Insofar as America is synonymous with racism and is the modern progenitor of a capitalist infused, globally exerted brand of institutionalized racism, the two are inextricably tied by historical fact and as unaltered over time. Now that the epistemology of America’s racism has been prefaced, we can begin to examine the intersection between racism and education and interrogate the value of diversity training from a common knowledge base.

Among scholars, historians, and even some scientists the permanence of racism in the fabric of American society is an inarguable fact – and the emboldened degrees of hatred and xenophobia we have experienced under the inane presidency of such a virulent racist like Donald Trump has reached new heights. As such, the sheer frequency of newsworthy, racism-fueled actions across the nation have re-ignited the narrative on anti-bias and diversity training in corporations, small businesses and institutions alike. This awareness-filled instruction is neither proactive nor commendable when adopted merely as a “politically correct” facade to salvage the credibility, public image and financial coffers of an institution after having fallen prey to public shame and scandal (think Starbucks). Yet, the overwhelmingly successful and ongoing “unconscious bias” training at Google has established the Internet search engine giant as one of the most successful organizations in the U.S. for attracting younger and more culturally diverse applicants. With a sizable majority of 40.28% of young people preferring to work at Google, citing people/culture fit (and not compensation), as the primary impetus for their employment decisions; Google has the pick of the litter when it comes to recruiting young and diverse Millennials (Agrawal, 2014, Harvard Business Review). Essentially, diversity and inclusion programs have re-emerged, rightfully so, as a viable counter to the universality of racism in Trump’s America, thus it is now time for ALL schools to follow suit.

The popular trend of soliciting police enforcement to assuage White people’s fears, unfounded hatred and racist ideologies is now so commonplace that it is not limited to: driving while Black, waiting in Starbucks while Black, golfing while Black, grilling in public parks while Black, checking out of Airbnb’s while Black and/or simply breathing while Black in countless public spaces – but has permeated our schools as well. In May, 2018 Shanna Swearingen, a school principal in Houston, Texas made a racist, offhand remark to her staff about a disabled, Black student who had run out of class, that she should “call the police and tell them the student had a gun so they would come quicker”. Although she was unavailable for public comment following the justified public uproar her comment elicited, the unfit administrator later released a statement juxtaposing her wholly thoughtless remark with the “hard year” the community had experienced from the damage of Hurricane Harvey (imagine the Caucasity?!). From the ranks of the teaching staff, racism-fueled transgressions run the gamut from teachers like Dayanna Volitich, 25, who taught social studies at Crystal River Middle School in Florida and secretly hosted a White supremacist podcast espousing anti-Black, and anti-muslim views. Prior to resigning in shame after being outed by the Huffington Post, Volitich publicly admitted to lying to her school principal in response to parents’ complaints that she had injected her toxic political bias in classroom instruction. She feigned alignment with the school’s curriculum during classroom observations and evaluations. She even used social media to promote her belief that her White nationalist peers needed to infiltrate public schools as teachers. Across the country, other teachers have increasingly come under fire for assigning racist, insensitive and subjective class projects on enslavement to uttering racial epithets during the course of instruction or while disciplining students. Adding insult to injury, on June 5, 2018 an elementary teacher was reprimanded by her school’s board for posting a photo of the back of one of her student’s braided heads beside a stereotypical image of a pickaninny on her Instagram account. Such reprehensible examples of racism are not limited to administrators and staff however, but manifest among the students as well. As recently as May, 2018 four Maryland teens faced misdemeanor hate crimes and multiple counts of destruction of property for spray-painting their collective sentiments of hatred on topics ranging from race, color, religious belief, and sexual orientation all across their high school exterior. Their offensive display of swastikas and slurs were documented by school cameras and reported to have been targeted to the Howard County high school’s Black principal, in particular. Alas, this is America(n) education.

Needless to say, racism is no less apparent beyond the scope of K-12 education. Following a highly publicized incident of racism-fueled police intervention on the campus of Yale University at the behest of a known racist, undergraduate student, (when a Black student fell asleep in the dorm room lounge, where she is an authorized resident no less), Yale’s president Peter Salovey released a statement positing “personally, recent events have led me to reflect in new ways on the ordinary daily actions each of us can take to show empathy, to see and understand what others are experiencing, and to combat hate and exclusion”. His woefully insufficient personal sentiment for morality and goodwill paled in comparison to the candor and brevity in the response of Kimberly Goff-Crews, the university’s vice president for student life, who sent an email to students, unapologetically documenting that the predominantly White Ivy League school still has “so much more to do” to address discrimination (Gontcharova, 2018). The administrative response of the latter is resoundingly more appropriate and instructive to us all, in that racism and its insidious by-products cannot be wished or empathized into submission but must be combatted through targeted, conscious action on the part of pedagogical leaders who are empowered to either counter or proliferate the existence of America’s immense structure of institutionalized racism. We must also permanently retire the common misperception among White teachers that because they chose the teaching profession (and work in urban or high-needs schools), they can’t be racist. Historically, the teaching profession is not unlike others in that it was tasked with the expressed purpose of perpetuating Whiteness/White supremacy via curriculum and policies.

Racism, elitism and White privilege are so firmly rooted in education as to render diversity training one of many mandated curriculum strands required for the well-rounded, rigorous and relevant professional development offerings of all educators and pedagogical leaders. In America, schools suffer the unchecked, rampant presence of institutionalized racism in the various forms of: the re-emerging presence of segregated schools, the DeVos inspired growth of for-profit charter schools, the inherently biased per-pupil-funding allotment formula (tied to generational wealth, housing discrimination, zip codes, and property values), an outdated Eurocentric curriculum, the marked absence of diversity in teacher education, school disciplinary practices tied to the intentional expansion of the prison industrial complex (I.E. the school-to-prison pipeline), and the widening of the achievement gap – largely fueled by the legendary and still pervasive mis-eduction of Black students. Educational institutions that continue to operate in a vacuum, business as usual, despite the presence of these significant injustices will only serve to exacerbate the problem of racism in education, given that from a societal standpoint – our differences are widening and the presence of racism is more, not less pronounced. A seismic shift in America’s demographics is presently underway and by 2050 the Census Bureau has long predicted that Blacks, Latinos and all other cultural ethnicities will comprise the majority population in the U.S. According to a study on the impact of America’s imminent minority-majority shift based upon Census data, scientists Richeson and Craig found that exposure to the census report nudged study participants to be more conservative on a variety of policies. The findings published in Psychological Science, further surmise that the reality of America’s increasing cultural plurality provokes White people of all political backgrounds to become more conservative and is deemed as a status threat to the existing social order of White supremacy. Ultimately, Richeson and Craig conclude that the lightning speed of increasing diversity might indeed render America an even more hostile, and less compassionate place (as if!). These findings, coupled with the alarming absence of diversity in teacher education, which according to recent data from the U.S. Department of Education reflects a diversity growth rate of only 0.2% since 1988, means that as soon as 2024, while students of diverse ethnicities will make up more than half of U.S. classrooms, minority teachers (if hiring continues at its current pace), will only comprise 20.5 percent of the educator workforce. This statistic alone signals that education is ground zero as the nucleus of disproportionate rates of institutionalized racism and gross inequalities.

The evils of racism are ever-present and observable in each of the aforementioned contexts, despite well-meaning arguments to the contrary. Although there are certainly periods of dormancy, some which have even sparked the incredulous theory (myth), of a post-racial society – all signs point to the impact of racism getting much worse, long before things get better. Targeted education c/o the universal inclusion of diversity training in all schools, is warranted. “It’s a myth that our country will somehow become more progressive. And it’s equally a myth to think that our children will save us”, according to Yale University social psychologist Jennifer Richeson. “Yes, there have been gains in policy like allowing interracial marriage and discrimination laws, but when it comes to our interpersonal biases, it’s simply not true that we just need to wait for the few old racist men left in the South to die off and then we’ll be fine. The rhetoric for racism is still in place. The environment for racism is still there. Unless we change that, we can’t lessen racism” (Kaplan & Wan, 2017). The deeply embedded, structural nature of the institution of racism in America and in particular within education, is fixed and manifests through traditional policies and practices. Therefore, as long as we do the same things, we will engender the same results. Diversity and anti-bias training initiatives are but one salient remedy to treat the scourge of the terminal cancer of racism that has permeated this diseased American society. Every school needs rigorous, relevant and competent diversity training now, in order to attempt to rid itself of its own unique form of the universal illness of racism. Even then, this remedy should not be administered in isolation, but rather must be strategically coupled with other liberating efforts like: the ongoing mass opposition to DeVos’ targeted commercialization and privatization of schools; teachers nationwide protesting and fighting for better pay and legislative change; all Americans opposing future cuts to education and advocating for increased federal and state investment in our schools; decolonizing the curriculum, instruction and disciplinary protocols; leveling the playing field in recruitment, hiring and teacher retention strategies while tackling the increasing incidents of racism and xenophobia in all of our K-12 schools and college campuses. This is a powerful call to action to #EducateToLiberate and impact the real crises in education . . . of which institutionalized racism is at the very, rotten core.

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Born to Inherit Revolutionary Activism

My early childhood was marked by a series of ‘charmed’ life experiences. From being born in Ann Arbor, MI on the University of Michigan campus where both of my parents matriculated – I have always intimately known education and its surroundings. My Mother, then a journalist and my father a social worker (both parents were young activists), had an indelible impact upon my early life. Early photos and many childhood stories revolve around my eldest brother Damon and I living with our parents in the university’s married housing complex and attending countless U of M football games (my Dad played for the legendary Coach Bo Schembechler). When we weren’t in school, we attended classes with one or both of our parents and played outside with our young college family neighbors or spent time with an entire cadre’ of extended family and friends. In this memorable era (the early 70s), all of our friends were like extensions of family and I recall that the twins – our youthful playmates – were willing counterparts in many fun ventures. Likewise, I remember being in and around the ‘Movement’, as my parents assumed an active lifestyle of engagement with other social activists. So we often hosted company at our own home or were frequent guests in the homes of others who were like an extension of family. Basically, I can remember sharing the company of countless Mama’s, Baba’s, sisters, brothers, friends and essentially an entire community of extended family L-O-V-E, in the most authentic and natural sense.

With such a strong foundation it is no wonder that I grew up with an extremely high sense of ‘self’ and an outspoken, bright and loving personality. In general, I have always been described as both a bossy and sweet and I can only hope that these characteristics have appropriately tempered or flourished throughout my lifetime. Though my brother Damon was two years older and by every account, more social, mild-mannered and even tempered than me – he readily consented to playing ‘school’ and even taking orders (of the general playtime nature), from his younger, spirited and outspoken little sister. And even though the traditional sibling ‘battles’ of wills did occur from time to time, between the eldest two and my younger brother and sister (by the time they were born), for the most part there are only good childhood memories punctuated by love. Admittedly, I smile at the picturesque memories of Mama’s fragrant baked goods – her specialties were peanut butter cookies and homemade rolls – as well as the happy, playful Univ. of Michigan days and the warm, cozy, revolutionary strategizing or game-centered nights with my idyllic family unit. Little did I know, the peaceful pleasures of such a youthful innocence and life were soon, regretfully to be replaced with the harsh realities of the world’s depravity and dysfunction – in the form of racism.

For the Black child in America, our identity begins in a vivid knowledge of “who I am” through the lens of the generations of men and women, who were our predecessors. So many of us determine our worth, develop our understanding of life and form a sense of self from our grandparents, parents and through our early life experiences. A thoughtful analysis of my earliest life experiences contributes to my profession as an educator and undoubtedly impacts my unique worldview as a justice-driven activist and freedom-loving woman of African descent. My core worldview stems from the distinct way in which I was raised and includes a unique combination of beliefs forged from my ancestral lineage, my parents’ teachings and my own value system as developed in adulthood. Indeed, my unique family background is the most significant component of the fabric, which drapes my unique worldview. The most memorable story of my family history and lore provides the backdrop for the foundation of my worldview – my admitted justice-driven and freedom-loving persona. The most poignant example of this is the vivid story of survival featuring my maternal great-great-Grandmother, Mary Ella Gardner, a fearless woman of full-blooded African ancestry, whose very life was saved by the sheer power of her words.

Born in 1890, in Grenada City (Copiah County) Mississippi, my Grandmother prided herself on “paying her way” for the daily survival and expenditures of her family despite her legal ‘sharecropper’ status. Therefore, when faced with a ‘fabricated’ general store debt once the time arose for her to be paid for more than a year of hard earned Mississippi labor, Grandmother vehemently accused the landowner of theft. Such an accusation was undoubtedly taboo and this man subsequently vowed to return (and to do so with the intent of furnishing an alternate, more deadly, form of payment). The next morning when faced with a racist, murderous lynch mob, Grandmother used both her quick wit and razor-sharp tongue to escape certain death by slowly bringing her right hand to her bosom and proclaiming “…Now, you take one mo’ step towards me and you’ll step to HELL this morning”. The two held one another in a steady gaze for a few pregnant moments and then as quickly as the mob had descended, they were gone. This historic event prompted my entire maternal family to escape from the degradation of the south to the north (specifically to Detroit, MI) unscathed. Ultimately, Grandmother went on to enjoy a peaceful, well-earned and fulfilled existence for many years until her natural death in Detroit on December 9, 1967 (years before I was even born).

Needless to say, since it was both her fearless persona and the sheer, powerful words of my Grandmother, which protected my family legacy and lineage. I have always had a distinct respect and reverence for the power of words as well as for freedom, justice and equality in general. This rich, historical background is now a part of me, and because my unique worldview was formed unconsciously and inherited from my strong ancestors who left an indelible impact; now as an adult, I am required to intentionally synthesize my family history and my various beliefs to reap present-day significance. From the framework of transformative learning, a relational, dialogic approach to my family legacy means that I must realize that “through critical examination of themselves, we provide the context for transformation; the exploration of alternative understandings of how one sees the world and their roles within it” (Cranton, 1994). Thus, the formative learning, which occurred in my childhood, collectively informs my identity, cultural values and present-day reality.

My parents have likewise had a powerful impact upon my worldview. As the product of two highly literate, college-educated parents who fell in love, married and reared two of their four children while engaged in their own undergraduate and graduate pursuits at the University of Michigan campus upon which I was born, my childhood was blessed. My earliest childhood memories are filled with a host of positive experiences including being read to from both traditional bedtime stories to unique African fables, which always contained a moral. The lessons of these stories resonated much more than the titles themselves and I retain fond memories of learning the virtues of honesty, self-love, responsibility and self-sacrifice for the good of mankind. These are core values and cultural character traits that somehow, still resonate with me today. As I move to synthesize this early template into present-day significance, I am affirmed by the positive memories. However, I am also mindful of Sorokin’s acknowledgement of the cultural crisis of our time and that “no fundamental form of culture is infinite in its creative possibilities, but is limited” (Sorokin, 1992, p. 22). This means that in order to maintain value, my cultural foundation must be transformed to reflect a logical, rather than emotional, form of decision-making.

A practical example of one of the many ways I must now learn, as an adult to select, identify, prioritize, reconstruct and rehearse adult beliefs is to be more tolerant of the world’s injustice. In fact, Mezirow refers to adult development as “an adult’s progressively enhanced capacity to validate prior learning through reflective discourse and to act upon resulting insights” (Mezirow, 1991, p. 7). This means that I must struggle to work in a largely flawed pedagogical system that places little to no value on the widespread academic growth of all students. Society may find multiple ways to rationalize the institutionalized racism of disparate educational funding through state and local taxes. Therefore, I must appropriately channel my revolutionary activism and launch an otherwise silent, ongoing and seething protest to this reality, by doing my very best to counteract injustice in a rational, targeted fashion. This propels my work to decrease the widening achievement gap in the most high-needs schools as an effective educator. Thus, while my desire to teach and conscious choice to work in social justice is undoubtedly a direct outgrowth of my early template. My reasoned contribution to teaching in a flawed, unequally equipped system is to raise student achievement, in spite of the insurmountable odds, by any and all means necessary.

Given that my parents were well-read, outspoken campus activists who were active participants in both the Black Student Union and the Black Panther Party during the late 60’s, my elder brother and I were made privy to countless Pan-African, community activist events where we observed revolutionary lectures/activities taking place. Many of my early childhood memories occurred in an idyllic setting and were crafted to teach the values of other-centeredness and strong community connections. Because the context of this real-world education was received in the comfort of a middle-class setting (a college campus) at the hands of two conscious, college educated parents; I feel required to make an extra effort to relate to students with less than ideal backgrounds, in order to build the mutually respectful relationships. This means that I must incorporate my pro-Black consciousness and middle class experiences, avid community activism, proud Black Nationalism and self-avowed revolutionary leanings on behalf of the downtrodden masses of my people through my career as an educator. Thus, the vivid portrait representing my early template, now relevantly takes shape as both an ideology and inspiration in my enhanced, adult decision-making capabilities.

Clearly, throughout my development, my earliest life experiences significantly influenced my unique worldview in countless ways. Indeed, from the way I have prospered as a student throughout school; to my inherent love of reading, speaking and all things written; even to my present career as an educator – my core ethical framework and unique worldview is a direct by-product of my lineage, and early belief system. The practical application of my early template and worldview is to live a life of integrity. Ultimately, as I incorporate the full summary of my early template with my work as an educator, I recognize that my path may well have been predestined by my early life experiences. Certainly my present-day worldview is consistent with values, cultural traditions and beliefs I inherited from my great-grandmother, parents and the values that I have adopted as an adult. I am admittedly grateful for my rich heritage, replete with the lessons and spirit of activism I inherited and the freedom-loving lifestyle that I presently embrace. I feel capable of divorcing emotion from my informed, rational adult decision-making and in retrospect I consider it an esteemed privilege to play a significant role in the development of literate, educated individuals. I feel that it is my supreme obligation as an educator and a fulfillment of my life’s calling to give back at least a portion of the ‘gift of a strong childhood foundation’ that my family so readily extended to me.