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.