One of my favorite moments from my pre-service days was when my college professor (a white woman) pulled me aside to tell me what my life would be like as a black teacher. She said…
“Rafranz…I need you to know that you are black. You need to know that this means that you don’t get to be average. You don’t get a mediocre day. You have to be great…always. You need to know this. You need to know that things are different for you.”
This was a lesson that my mother had already ingrained within my spirit but hearing it from Dr. Huse, the woman who physically brought Dr. Evelyn Granville (2nd black woman to earn a doctorate in math and noted NASA Computer Scientist) into our lives, resonated on a level that my mother didn’t teach. Our connection to Granville meant hearing first hand accounts of our incoming struggle while teaching black. It is a thought that lives within me today and everyday. I’m glad that it does.
We were prepared for this life in every way possible…content, culture, leadership and tech. Through a multi-year participation in a federally funded, Teacher Quality grant program where we were developed to be leaders, opportunities for growth were there if we worked to grab them. My pathway into this tech world was as simple as understanding how to manipulate a device and engage kids in ways that most feared. I will be forever grateful to Dr. Huse for making sure that fear had no place in our classrooms.
Even as doors continued to open in the world of teacher technology training, there was something undeniable about the need for my face in this space. When you teach enough district trainings with severely limited faces of color in the crowd…you get it. You just do.
After each training, the black teachers, as few as they were…smiling ear to ear whether they understood the tech or not, would hang back just to say…
“Thank you for being here and doing us proud.” Or “We never thought that one of us would be doing this.”
The second statement kills me to this day as it STILL happens far too much!
It’s weird but I never felt a lack of black as the teacher “leading” until I stepped foot into a technology conference and saw not one face like my own…thousands of people and not one.
I never saw a lack of women until I started to meet more tech directors and they were not women nor were they of color. Even as the title of this job has expanded to include my own (digital learning and professional development)…the scarcity of people of color in tech/digital leadership is still a fact…one that I did not see until I was I was able to see.
In the years leading to this point in time in my career…of all of the barriers broken, spaces open and opportunities that are still quite unreal, it must be said that the lack of representation is pretty appalling…still. You can’t tell me that tech leadership isn’t on the radar at all for educators of color. (It is and I am connected to quite a few) That’s just like saying that the missing women, black and brown voices in the technology world are missing because WE aren’t applying.
Perhaps we should be in a space where we SEE, hear and honor their work just as much as we honor those with “names”, paid networks & jobs that aren’t actually in schools. One can hope, right?
Earlier tonight, I connected with a new voice of color in this space and he said something that struck a nerve. He said…”I just want to be invited to places like ISTE like you and then I know that I would have made it.”
I wrote back…
“ISTE didn’t invite me. That door was forced open…”
That door is open because the one thing that you learn when you feel that you are the ONLY one is that if you look deep enough, that is never the case.
I may not be in the classroom anymore but Dr. Huse’s advice still very much applies. There are no “off” days. There is work that must be done…students to empower, teachers to inspire and plenty of people depending on a certain level of work to be done in the space where it matters most.
Like a badge of honor, I wear my skin with pride and applaud the journey to now…one that was never alone…even when I thought that I was.
Thankful for this.