“You might know what it feels like to be 12 years old. But you don’t know what it’s like to be a 12 year old in 2017.”
I was on a panel last week that discussed how we ensure that Restorative Justice happens through a Racial Justice lens. I am attributing the above quote to one of my fellow panelists, Evelyn Alvarez, trainer, coach, doula, podcast host and the Founder of Prom King and a Professional Black Girl.
She eloquently explained that her 12 year old son is as woke as she is now at 40 years old.
What she said has sat with me since. These children are not us or our grandparents. They are proud anti-racists and they are not here for none of our shit.
An Anti-Racist in a room full of assimilationists
Ibram X. Kendi, in his phenomenal book, Stamped from the Beginning, explains that there are 3 types of people; segregationists, assimilationists and anti-racists. I was lucky enough to see Kendi live at the Schomburg a few months ago where he explained the differences between the 3. And simply put, anti-racists know that there is absolutely nothing wrong with Black people and are committed to actualizing an anti-racist reality, from an institutional perspective.
Last week I went to a week long Professional Development series offered by ESI (Expanded Success Initiative). The theme for their Summer Institute was Building and Sustaining Culturally Responsive Environments. And every day was a powerful confirmation as to why we must ensure that education for liberation is the way of public education for our Culturally and Linguistically diverse students.
On the last day, Friday, as Zaretta Hammond closed out her 3 day series, providing guidance for leaders on how to operationalize Culturally Responsive Education in their institutions, I had a moment of pause.
One of the participants said that he has been coming to Summer Institute for years now and was thankful that Hammond was giving him operational ways to move forward. And a way to move forward that didn’t deal with people’s beliefs but was based on brain science.
I got hot!
Others began to pile on, saying, essentially, the panacea has been found, we can close the achievement gap, if we can just teach kids how to read. Because having crucial conversations about race is essentially, a fruitless endeavor.
I got hotter!
Then a higher up in the DOE proposed that those interested form a team and take a few days to come up with a strategy to implement what we’ve learned.
If I got any hotter I would have fainted.
Operationalizing Black Lives Mattering
Last Summer, Black Lives Matter released their policy platform during the month of August, which is known as Black August (we at CREAD will be hipping you to this next month). Some may say, that the BLM Platform is radical. But like I explained on the anniversary of the Niagara Movement, we as Black people been releasing radical platforms for years.
What is so amazingly wonderful about the BLM platform is that they provide institutional guidance for operationalizing Black Lives Mattering. Take something seemingly nebulous, like the statement End the war on Black People:
We demand an end to the war against Black people. Since this country’s inception there have been named and unnamed wars on our communities. We demand an end to the criminalization, incarceration, and killing of our people.
One who agrees with this statement would then naturally ask, but How Sway?
BLM says by:
- end to the criminalization and dehumanization of Black youth
- end to capital punishment.
- end to money bail
- end to the use of past criminal history
- end to the war on Black immigrants
- end to the war on Black trans, queer and gender nonconforming people
- end to the mass surveillance of Black communities
- demilitarization of law enforcement
- immediate end to the privatization of police
- an end to all jails, detention centers, youth facilities and prisons
Ok, take a deep breath. That’s a lot, right?
So, let’s say you agree with that but you still have the same question, How Sway?
BLM answers that by:
Explaining the ways we the people must take Federal, State and Local action. Then they provide model legislation, followed up by resources on very specific topics and then connecting us to organizations already doing the work on a National and Local level. Finally they give you the names of those who authored the policy.
Answering all your How Swayisms?
Let me tell you How Sway!
Now back to Friday. One of the elders who nurtured and taught me how to be a teacher and a leader, offered a question to Hammond. She said to her, (and I’m paraphrasing here) often times after I do my training on CRE and implicit bias, I will have a lot of usually young Black teachers who come up to me and say, this sounds good. I really want to do it. But my principal is racist. What should I do? Essentially, the teacher is asking her own How Sway?
The answer that both my former principal and Hammond gave was to go into your classroom, shut the door and make sure you teach the children how to read. Because when you do that you will be engaging in racial justice work.
This is why I got HOT!
I’ve been there and done that. I spent a decade in NYCDOE public schools closing my classroom doors and teaching my heart out. I had fantastic results. But you know what I realized?
That that shit was futile because it wasn’t institutionalized. There are levels to this shit. For education, for liberation to happen, there are levels. We are currently living in a White Supremacist Anti-Black environment and our schools replicate the social norms of our country.
So an educator who is dedicated to working for the liberation of all children, especially children of the Diaspora, must help to create or be engaged in an institutional plan. To get to that institutional plan, we could follow the BLM format.
First you get woke: You have to learn about the problem, read, talk, build with others. Attend PD’s like I did this week. WAKE UP! I call that the internal level. This is where you realize that you’re an assimilationist or a segregationist and you decide you want to be an anti-racist.
Then you stay woke: You build with others, you join or form community, advocacy, or activists groups. Together you all talk about stuff and then you DO something about it. This “do” is usually an on the ground “do.” You tutor kids, you open up a food pantry, you take trips. You do something.
And this is where most people stop and begin to spin their wheels. This is the moment right before institutional change. This is the close your door and teach the kids how to read moment.
THIS IS A RECIPE FOR BURNOUT AND DISASTER.
As Humble Vito shared with us on Friday, we are nothing with out community. And what I’m saying is that the community needs to get organized and politicized.
Institutionalize Wokeness: this will mean getting involved with policy and politics and strategically placing people in positions so that they will serve your demands.
And let me tell you, our people are waking up about the importance of institutional change. The 7 minute mark is where you want to be with the video below.
‘Bye, bye Betsy’: Angry citizens take over press conference by mayor of Minneapolis
I watched this video, especially from the 7 minute mark and I was proud. Activists, every day people, marginalized people, have taken the best from our foremothers and forefathers and taken the best from our present millennials and are at the point where they will not be fooled.
Telling an educator to go into their classrooms, close the door and just teach the kids how to read, is an assimilationist approach. An anti-racist approach asks that educator, what are you willing to risk, and once they figure that out, provides for them a framework to move forward.
You’re not willing to risk much (yet.)
If I am really about doing this work this is my response and here is how I will support you.
- I should be able to direct you to an organization that offers professional development on neuroscience and/or literacy and/or CRE from an education for liberation perspective because I want to support your pedagogical skills so that you can go into your classroom and effectively teach your students.
- I should be able to connect you to independent schools so you can learn from their pedagogical practices and help build community.
- BUT while you do that, I should be able to see if there are other people in your building feeling the same way and see if we can build community support in your building. I’m going to see if there are others feeling the same way in the district, and build a coalition district wide.
- AND then I should already have people working with the superintendent to craft a policy that would mandate that administrators are supported in learning about CRE and/or implicit bias and/or understanding race, power and privilege dynamics in the workplace and then evaluate on those areas and that evaluation includes survey data from their staff.
- ALONG with that I should already have a lobbying body that is crafting policies with the UFT and CSA that supports the development of this in their practice and the consequences for consistent failure. I will also be lobbying our elected officials from the local level to the federal level along with the national teacher union to craft public policy.
- Finally, I should be lobbying for our elected officials and our higher education institutions to be integrating these policies and practices into their platforms and institutions.
Once I’ve laid all of this out for you, you will know that you are not alone and once you are ready to risk a bit more you will be able to see where you can put in your time and talents to institutionalize all that I’ve shared with you during my PD.
If my best advice to you, after I have opened up your heart and mind to a way of teaching and learning that is liberatory, is to then tell you go in your room and just teach kids how to read and in doing that you will be doing racial justice work…
I am an assimilationist that believes that Black people are solely to blame for our condition and that the only way to get out of our condition is for us to solely pull ourselves up from our bootstraps. And you should just take whatever nugget I was able to give you and start looking for people who are thinking and working on an institutional level.
Yes, I want you to teach our babies how to read. But just teaching them how to read does not teach freedom.
We must organize and build community to then build a power block that will influence policy.
Now listen I love all my people and I respect ALL my elders. I also recognize that we all have our own lanes. This is not an indictment or critique on any one I’ve mentioned or described in this post. I learned so much last week. I am so grateful for the experience. This is more of the refined mission statement of CREAD. I’m like Elon Musk, I’m carving out my own lane underground and above.
When theory meets practice.
And practice meets policy.
Then and only then will education meet liberation.