Making Space for Black Joy

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I’m a believer that every day is a day for Black history and I love our CREAD Blog team’s push this month to focus on love, celebration, and the magic of Black people.

One of the things I hear people ask the most in my work as a consultant and coach is “so CRT is cool, but where do I find narratives of POC to include in lesson planning??” And I usually reply, “Google is our friend!”

As we always say, culturally responsive teaching and pedagogy is a way of thinking, a mindset, and an orientation that must be practiced intentionally. We have to train our brains to seek out alternative ways of being, to seek out the narratives of Black excellence that are not part of the everyday cannon we teach students.

If you are going to teach about Black history you best ground yourself in the countless stories of resistance and of  joy, and end with pushing students to find their truths to change the world into a place for the better. As an educator, I’ve learned that sometimes the perfect resource, story, anecdote, or source I’m  searching for is actually right in front of me – in narratives and experiences from my life and from the lives of my students.

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I love this Because of Them We Can photo series because these little boos are so cute and because it makes me think of how much inter-generational connections are fundamental to my experience of Blackness and my history. Just as much as I think about my ancestors and elders and what they’ve done for me to be where I am, I think about the youth and how much they inspire and motivate me to be a bad ass Black educator.

How can I tell my students to stand strong in their truths if I waver in mine?

I also feel this way as a coach and I’ve worked with some bomb Black teachers who put in work to create positive classroom spaces for Black students. Some of my favorite examples of holistic celebrations of Blackness and Black history come from work in early childhood classrooms (ECE for early childhood education, generally classrooms serving students ages 0 – 5).

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The teacher above had her students complete a unit in which they discussed Black culture through exploring the creation of the diaspora, themes of immigration and migration, and the carrying of customs from different parts of the world. Students had to ask their families a set of questions about their personal histories, look up traditional dress in the classroom, and then share their findings with students. And these kids were 4!!!

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Another teacher had students present about their personal histories, “travelling” with students each day to their mother country or community, with a focus on celebrating their cultures. On this day, I observed as a little boo shared with pride about her country of Togo, showing the class her favorite souvenirs from her trips and teaching the class common greetings. This boo was hitting on all sorts of speaking and communication standards, and the teacher was strategic at pausing and grounding in fundamental understandings throughout the story.

My takeaway from these ECE examples is that if we as educators make space for our Black students to shine and to share their excellence, they will not disappoint. Instead of spinning our wheels in the journey to be culturally responsive, we should tell our Black students we believe in them and allow them to fully be themselves.

In this day and age of technological access, there are also so many people out there doing great work who we can learn from. For example, I’ve been inspired by the work of Walter Cruz  and Kleaver Cruz, brothers from the Bronx who both create dope work around celebrating Blackness.

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Kleaver is the creator of The Black Joy Project which is a lit collection of images and quotes of Black people from across NYC. Walter is a Create Change Fellow with the Laundromat Project which does awesome work to bring art and creativity in community spaces across the city such as in laundromats. He also makes amazing art and designs clothing, such as the jacket pictured above, with affirmations geared towards POC.

I actually met both brothers at the career fair for ISX 303 located on Macombs Road in the Bronx. It was awesome to learn about their journeys in the world and their work, and to see the way students responded to them. I remember Walter telling students that his actual job was being an artist. Students’ eyes grew wide as he showed his work and I could see some of them lighting up at the prospect of following their passions. Representation matters, y’all. And beyond representation of only the traditional Black History figures who may be inaccessible to students, I think of the power of bringing in narratives of Black people doing dope work in NYC at this current moment.

So this February, I’m committing to showing up and building with other educators dedicated to Black joy, liberation, and excellence.

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I am pumped for this year’s Black Lives Matter Week of Action which has a ton of awesome events and resources for educators looking to build and grow in their practice. Started by educators last year in Seattle and Philadelphia, The Week of Action has spread to cities like New York, Boston, DC, and Chicago this year. The collaboration between Black organizations, educators, activists, and individuals is grounded in a number of guiding principles dedicated to sending the message that Black Lives Matter in our Schools.  There are resources for curriculum and lesson planning, talking to students about BLM, links to videos and swag, and this calendar of events taking place across the city all week.

I believe this is a great opportunity for Black educators to come together to ground in our truths, our Joy, and to figure out how to best serve our students. Let’s commit to making space for Black Joy this month as we celebrate our history this month.


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