My Experience with the Elephant, Race and Education

I work so that these voices won't be silent in a sea of uncertainty.

I work so that these voices won’t be silent in a sea of uncertainty.

Growing up, the black community members to which I was involved made a point to create avenues where we were celebrated as kids. We had speaking contest, art expos, stage plays, musicals and even academic celebrations. I learned about my culture through these avenues…my community.

In school, culture was ignored unless it was February, the one month that we talked about contributions to the world made by blacks. There was no mention of it otherwise. I grew up in a town that to this day still struggles with educating its black youth. Our school relied heavily on the community to do what it would not. Unfortunately, that community has dwindled as the climate of growth has changed and most college educated, community driven african american citizens have moved to larger cities.

Our kids attend schools where their smartness is a surprise while athletic ability is expected. To this day, I have “friends” who teach in our schools that will openly comment on a child in disbelief that the child was as brilliant as they were. We are not expected to be so smart. It’s still a shock. This is where I grew up and still currently live…where only three years ago, the world “colored” was used in meetings in front of me.

When I started teaching, I was told by a few retired black educators to hold everything in and don’t let “them” know that you can do anything. When I pressed them further, I was told that “they” would not allow me to be smarter or stand out. If it got out that I was smart at all, I would be shut down. Needless to say, I did not listen. Instead, I chose to share everything with anyone that would listen.

I became a trainer in my school district and would be met with smiles of assurance from the few black educators that we had. I became a leader whether I wanted it or not, representing something bigger than what I understood. I was never someone to sit and wait on being handed anything. If I wanted something to happen, I made it happen…end of story. This was not the path that any black educators in my town followed. They did what they were told until retirement and walked away leaving no footprints other than that they were there. I left town and I know for a fact that I left more than footprints. I left a legacy that is still being written.

I read a post by Jose Vilson, a New York middle school math teacher, regarding race and ed reform. The post was a snapshot into the invisibility of color from the conversation regarding reform…a list. I connected most with the end of the post where Jose referenced about more people of color putting themselves out there in a profound way and seeing themselves of equal intelligence because it took me back to the black educators of my community who refused to do the same.

What I realize is that the problem still exist amongst us. On my social learning feed (twitter chats), the presence of active voices of color is so minimal that I can count them on my fingers. When I have conversations with others, they like to bring #hiphoped into the mix because clearly hip hop has to be the “only avenue” of sharing for black educators. To this, I say…really?

Times have definitely changed but we are still not there yet. We go to events and sometimes we present but it is minimal and anyone that thinks otherwise is blind. It’s not that there is a “white male only” clause in the application, it’s the deeply rooted idea of “I have nothing of value to share”. It’s also the idea of “I do not belong”.

I’ve been to 7 edcamps and at those edcamps there were no more than 2-3 faces of color in the crowd amongst hundreds in attendance. Clearly, the memo has not yet been received that we are all welcome, we have plenty to share and our voices count.

We should make a point to change that.




Comments 5

  1. Yes mam yes mam!!! I feel the same way being of hispanic culture. I see some of those situations around me, in the work field, in conversations. I listen, voice my thoughts always and remember those words my parents alway shared…you are a proud latin american. You have a voice, a talent, a gift that some day will be heard and seen. Does not matter how long it takes, never look down, but look to the future. I now see some of that realization as I continue to follow my dream of being a technology specialist someday! My dream is BIG and near. You are making a difference..your legacy is being talked about right now, seen all over the world by like minded people like you! I see your legacy. I hear your legacy and I will share your legacy with those around me who say, “can’t be done”. I’m proud to be your friend and know you have made a difference in me. For that, I am blessed beyond measure! Continue your legacy and I will continue mine!!marht

  2. Wow, that was very “articulate” Rafranz! (I’m being facetious, of course) Yes, love this post! I truly believe that many of us feel that we can not, or should not, be a part of the equation. We belong, we just have to believe we have the right to be there.

  3. Rafranz,
    I start by saying this, I have never grown up in the black community. Therefore I don’t have the background you do nor the experiences that point me to “give back” to the black community.
    With that said, I have endured the same struggles as a black person. The crazy stares when I enter a monochromatic room. The blank looks when I open my mouth and wax eloquent on deep and diverse topics. The cold shoulders when I’m out with my family in the “ghetto” Wal-mart. It really doesn’t bother me because I am educated to think, look, and go beyond appearances. Yes, I did recognize and comment the fewer numbers of “minorities” at ISTE13, but I also noticed there were a lot more than the two previous ISTE conferences I had attended in San Diego ’07.
    I do what I do because I am who I am, not because of the color of my skin. I hope I turn heads and make people whisper because of what I have done or said, not because I’m black and don’t fit the stereotypical negro.

    1. Post

      Thank you for your comment Rodney. I kind of laughed at reading your comment about not having the background or experience of growing up in a black community like “me”. I didn’t really grow up in one either beyond the members of my church. I grew up and live in a town where “black” is minimal in number and minimally acknowledged. We have a polka festival every year to celebrate the deep czech heritage of this town where thousands show up. Once a year during MLK weekend, we have festivities and in stark contrast, in my town…there may be 50 in attendance.

      I learned early to stand up and stand out…but not too much. “We don’t draw attention to ourselves”. My journey in education has been about being me in spite of what people expect because at the end of the day, all that I can be is me…brilliant, beautiful and strong…all undefined by my skin but by my being.

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