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Professors Who Were Part of Desegregating UNCA Retire

In the summer and fall of 1984, as part of a statewide mandate that the UNC system hire more black professors, Dr.’s Dolly and Dwight Mullen and Dr.’s Charles and Deborah “Dee” James began teaching at UNC Asheville. This year the four are retiring. Here is a great interview and article sharing about their experiences being part of the small handful of African American professors at that University and the legacy that they have created. I have so much respect and appreciation for the Mullen’s (I have not gotten to know the James’). And I wonder what other ways the efforts of creating a colloquium, a community within a community, might be replicated in Asheville? What can programs and initiatives like My Daddy Taught Me That, My Sistah Taught Me That, and YTL Training Program learn from these initiatives of the past?

From the article:

“James taught a variety of chemistry courses, like molecular spectroscopy, and humanities, and he remembers students writing very comfortably on their teacher evaluation forms that the school needed to “stop hiring just another n-word”.

Mullen taught political science, and he regularly received death threats. Sometimes students would check to make sure he made it home OK.

“I was part of the apartheid movement of ‘88 and there were also klans in Madison County who knew my name,” he said. “I would come in to work and find things plastered on my classroom walls saying ‘go back to Africa’.”

In addition to teaching a couple of classes at UNCA, Dolly Mullen taught night classes at Mars Hill, as the first and only black professor at the school in 1986. She was pregnant at the time. Her husband would never let her go to the school alone, and he would wait in the car for hours while she taught.

The need to address the setbacks and high dropout numbers [for African American students] motivated the four of them as they established the African-American Colloquium in 1991.

‘Black students were failing out at horrifying rates when they shouldn’t have been’

Dolly Mullen felt the real problem was a social one, with many black students repeatedly hearing racist taunts at sporting games and on-campus events, she said.

“If you were acknowledged in class at all you were treated as remedial or pointed out as the representative of all the black students in the school,” Charles James said.

It was a bold idea – to require that all black freshman students take additional classes with them with the hope they would have a better grasp on their identity and what they wanted to accomplish at UNCA.

The colloquium include field trips to historically black cities, like Charleston and New Orleans, and included a mentorship component that often led to students going to the Mullens’ home after hours to keep discussing their future.

“I never had a black male teacher before coming to UNCA,” said Gaipher-Eli, an entrepreneur. “So for me to see a black Ph.D. like Dwight and watch the way he handled the classroom, it was like seeing superman for the first time. He was like a superhero to me.”

The colloquium allowed him to access resources he never knew were available and to stay enrolled in school.

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I Promise School – Thank You Lebron James

May this school be a place where children and their whole families can learn, flourish, inspire and grow into their full potential with the care and support of community.

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It’s Time to Genuinely Protect ALL Children

On this Father’s Day, I am thinking about the societal role of father’s as protectors. I’m profoundly grateful for all the men who show up to protect, love and nurture young people and I’m grateful to all the mothers, grandmothers, sisters, brothers, and aunties who fill that role when the fathers aren’t able. I’m also feeling how self-centered and self-absorbed many white families are, how often the parenting of children is mostly just one’s own children and how easy it has been, across history in this country, to protect one’s own children and be silent and inactive as other people’s children are given no protection from hatred, violence, and injustice.

Today… like so many other days… my heart is with all the children who are being harmed, violated, tortured, and traumatized, those who have no real protection. Feeling this is hard.

When I saw the video of inside the Walmart detention center and they spoke about how the children are being taught lessons about America, underneath the large mural of Trump, I kept thinking about the many indigenous youth that were stripped from their families and abusively forced to assimilate to white society. Here we are in 2018. Doing the EXACT SAME THING. When I hear about the tent cities being constructed to warehouse these children without their families, I feel the Japanese internment camps. Here we are again, 2018. This is America.

As I hear that 2000 children have been forcibly removed from their families in 6 weeks, I also feel the 10,000 children that are in ADULT prisons in the United States RIGHT NOW and the 3000 youth that have LIFE WITHOUT PAROLE sentences. We have 13 states that have no minimum age for trying a child as an adult. This is America. All children are not valued. They never have been.

On this day, June 17th, 47 years ago in 1971, President Nixon declared the “war on drugs” which increased the prison population by 700%. The millions of children that have been and continue to be terrorized and traumatized by the incarceration of people of color, the incarceration of their family members, is inhumane. This is America. These children’s lives were never valued.

So I continue to wonder and strategize, to feel so many feelings and stay in the pain and motivation — What will it take for us as Americans, and particularly us white women, to finally see the horrors that are imposed upon children of color, families of color, white children living in poverty, and say “no more”? We have opted for hundreds of years to perhaps feel in our hearts that something isn’t right, but to choose to “keep things safe for our own children and families” which means — pretending that lynching is okay, pretending that we don’t see the diffrent quality of education being offered to children of color than to white children, convincing ourselves that there is nothing that we can do or believing that we are too busy and too tired trying to raise our own families to do anything, pretending that the juvinal justice system and the criminal justice system is actually serving justice and protecting people of color, pretending or avoiding the fact that immigrant children have been abducted from their parents, or their parents forcefully removed from them, for years. Pretending or avoiding the realities that Native young girls are being raped and violated. And not being concerned that many white boys are suffering from a fierce complex that causes them to brutalize and terrorize other people, feeling superior to other people.

I know that I have not personally done anything harmful to these millions of children that are being tortured and abused around the world, actions inspired by Capitalistic, White Supremacy, Patriarchical motives that are often justified by Christian beliefs. However, I do feel that the blood is on my hands. I wake up with this feeling daily. If I am not actively working to face the cruelty that has been present since the beginning of my country and doing what I can to change the reality here, my conscience does not rest.

It will take us coming together and acting in many different ways to address once and for all the horror of who we are as a country. All of us are required, those of humane conscience, the hearts of gold, the people who are genuinely all about freedom, equality, and LOVE. No one can opt out if we genuinely want to create a more humane world. And there are as many ways to participate as there are people, there is no one right strategy. If you’re still reading this, PLEASE don’t hear my words as saying — “you have to act in the ways I act.” That’s not it. But you do have to act — and find the ways that are right for you, for your family, for your abilities, for your current emotional state.

This is not an easy journey. May as many people as possible find the courage to step in, for real. May we be supported by one another as we do so. May we be motivated by, accountable to, and guided by love. May we truly feel our interconnectedness.

And if you feel inspired to do something and you don’t know what to do — one key step is to educate yourself about history. Use google. Understand the patterns that are repeating themselves right now.

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Talking About Race with Young Children

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As a teacher, I witnessed racial prejudice in 4 and 5 year olds — explicitly racist behavior from a child who lived in a home with racist beliefs and racist behavior from children who had never interacted with other children (or likely adults) who were not white. Silence is violence… in so many different ways.

Infographic by early childhood educator Jarrod Fischer Green. Full pdf here.

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And here is a very comprehensive Resource list for Talking to Kids About Racism and Justice: a list for parents, caregivers & educators

 

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Reflections on Power: In the Role of a Facilitator & the Body of a White Woman

john-dewey-reflection-quote-16vbfv9I recently facilitated a session where someone shared in the closing reflections that they felt dehumanized. For anyone to feel dehumanized by my actions is, for me, a fail. When I mess up, it’s imperative for me to own it, learn from the experience, act differently in the future, and make amends as best as I am able. My hope is that this public reflection will help me integrate what I am learning and potentially be valuable for people reading this (as I know I am one of many who carries the identities of a facilitator and a white woman). I am committed to facilitating with integrity and humility. Reflecting in depth on the feedback I receive is an essential part of my commitment. What follows is my perceptions and analysis. I’m sure that there is more to see from the perspective of other people who were present.

Perceptions About Power that I had Walking into this Session

When I am facilitating a group, I always hold power in the room. I guide where a group goes or doesn’t go. I hold the actual or symbolic microphone, making decisions about whose voices are heard or not heard. I take up space. I am the center of attention at times. I have influence over what is or isn’t happening in the room. Sometimes I use my power in ways that are contrary to how a person in the room would like the time to be spent. I take very seriously this facilitator’s position of power and influence and strive to use it to make equitable spaces where people are respected and able learn from each other.

problem-of-whitenessI am a white person and a White Woman. I share these identities with many other people that have historically and still currently hold social power simply because we are white. We act in all kinds of ways, intentionally or unknowingly, that hold us as superior and others as inferior. We have and still do cause trauma and harm towards people of color. Historically (and currently), white folks and White Women had the power of being listened to and believed, our word would be taken as the true word when in relationship with people who did not have as much social power as someone who looks like me. I would be listened to while others weren’t. And many, many folks who looked like me used that power to not only get what we wanted and control other people, but to actually harm other people. When I show up in a room, I am showing up as myself in that moment, and I am also showing up in the image of other people who looked like me and were allowed to be abusive, harmful, and inconsiderate, to name just a few things, towards people who did not look like me.

When I’m facilitating (and in life), sometimes people will be responding to my direct actions. Sometimes people will be responding to my actions that resemble those of people who looked like me in the past.

Another identity that I can embody is that of a White School Teacher, an archetype that has historically been abusive with its power (along with the education system at large). 80% of teachers in public schools in the United States are white and it is well researched that white teachers and the education system that white folks have created have not been fair, kind, honest, or effective in educating students of color (and some might argue all students).

As a white facilitator, particularly when working in a multi-racial setting, I must be hyper aware of my whiteness and all the ways that I am using or releasing my power and even the ways that those who looked like me have used and abused our power in the past.

What I learned in the Experience I Facilitated

  • Knowing all of that above — There was a 15-minute section of time where I forgot that I was white. I was centered on the task of facilitating a process and learning experience. I slipped into the role of a teacher. I used my power as the facilitator to teach the group something that I thought was important for them to learn. I did not realize that when I was the facilitator interrupting participants (an act that felt appropriate for what I was teaching in the moment), I was also a white woman, perhaps a white teacher, interrupting and shutting down people of color — a behavior that is very common for white people to do. In hindsight, I think if I had been holding in my awareness that I was white in that tense moment, I would have used my facilitator power in a way that did not replicate patterns of white folks using our power to oppress and silence people of color. But I forgot that I was white (a privilege and pattern that happens often for us white folks). It was a harsh reminder about how much diligence it takes to consciously disrupt habits of whiteness that are alive in me. I’ve grown up in a world that allows me to not know what it means to be white, but to just exist as “a person.” That ignorance is unacceptable if I am facilitating multi-racial groups and working towards racial justice and healing.
  • As a facilitation team, we were teaching something that the group did not give us consent to teach. This is contrary to how I like to operate, how I believe education is effective, and to my own sense of respect for learners. But I did not realize I was living that until it was too late.
  • I am reflecting on the wounds people carry from up to 25 years of schooling with white teachers that were abusive with their power. When I am facilitating and “teaching” something, how often might I be summoning up past experiences of trauma or mistrust from the white teachers of someone’s childhood?
  • I am also reflecting on — what could it have looked like for someone to interrupt and name the ways my whiteness was showing up and influencing the moment?

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What Happened — The Facilitated Experience

A social justice fellowship hired 3 consultants (a multi-racial team) to guide the Fellows (majority people of color) in a process to co-design the rest of their programming and curriculum with an allocated amount of money to work with. We facilitated:

  • Pre-session: 1-on-1 interviews
  • Session 1: Connecting, understanding the mission, the kind of learning environment that they want to experience and create
  • Session 2: Relationships with money, capitalism and collectively shaping a power analysis of what they want to amplify, interrupt and innovate
  • Session 3: Collective Decision-making process and begin designing

Session 3 is the session I’m reflecting on here. Our goal was to give the Fellows an overview of a collective decision-making process and then facilitate them through the process, highlighting the process in action along the way so that they could take over the facilitation and facilitate themselves as our contract ended after session 3. In session 1 we asked if anyone had experience with a collective decision-making process. No one raised their hand so we proceeded with the assumption that we would be offering them a process that would be new to them, something for them to experience first hand and then they could choose to use or not use it. We chose a consent-based decision-making process as the tool that we would offer.

Some mistakes that I and we made:

  • We did not explicitly get consent from the Fellows to teach them and guide them through the particular consent decision-making process.
  • Before we began practicing and using the process, I was assigned the role of explaining the process. We had created a handout and I explained the elements of the handout. My approach was very didactic teaching. In session 1, the majority of the Fellows indicated that they did not like learning in a lecture type environment. At least one Fellow indicated that they did like more traditional teaching styles sometimes. I was not listening to their request to learn by doing, but was instead taking 45 minutes to teach and explain.
  • I used my power as the facilitator and the assumptions that I had made that they were open to receiving the process and forced them to participate in the process, at times interrupting an organic flow so that I could fit their organic reactions into the process and highlight for them how to follow the steps. While I knew why I was making those choices, they did not and I think it felt like me inserting my power to control the process in the way I wanted it to go, disregarding their wishes and efforts towards shared leadership.
  • When I was using my power as a facilitator to interrupt people while they were talking and connect what they were saying to the process, not only was I forcing participation into something they didn’t consent to, I was also wearing my white skin, in a position of power, and interrupting people of color and exerting my power over people of color.

Some comments made in the closing reflections that particularly stood out to me:

  • Over-explaining is a form of Anti-Blackness
  • To point out process feels dehumanizing
  • Trust us that the work you’ve done is effective and we’ve got this
  • It felt like we were being blocked by the facilitation

I apologized for the mistakes I could see in the closing circle and I will continue to listen for ways that I can make amends for any harm that I caused. And, I think the best way for me to repair from these mistakes is to be diligent in myself about not replicating the same mistakes. I know as a white woman, my whiteness will continue to be revealed to me, and my inability to see how I am part of the problem or perpetuating problems will be illuminated. My prayers are that I keep learning, unlearning and embodying my growth and that I cause as little harm as possible. I know that I am on this journey of racial healing and racial justice for the long haul and I pray that I show up with humility and integrity, contributing in places where my presence is of value and is not a disruption to healing and justice.

P.s. This article was shared with me as a follow-up to this group: Consensus is a means, not an end.

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Solutions: Listen to the Stories. Invest.

Screen Shot 2018-02-14 at 9.42.53 AMSolutions: Listen to the stories of those who are most impacted by inequity. Invest in organizations that are informed by and lead by those who are most impacted.

In Asheville: Word on the Street/La Voz de los Jovenes is one of those organizations.

“I’ve been wanting a place where youth can just be themselves,” said 14-year-old Serenity Lewis

“It’s kinda helping youth of color get their voice out within the community. We’ve all noticed there’s a problem, and we want to go at it and fix it, or try to.” – Quantasia Williams, 18 years old

Listen to this segment about them on public radio.

 

 

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Institutionalizing Racial Justice in Schools

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As you’re reflecting on 2017 and setting goals for 2018, is there a line-item for addressing institutional racism?

What will it take to spur White Americans to action? We are living during a movement for racial justice. Will you spend the movement enjoying the privilege to ignore it, or will you join it?

Lobby your teachers, principals, school board members, and legislators to mandate Ethnic Studies.

This article asks some important questions, offers a ton of links for furthering your education, and offers some concrete suggestions for how you can be more active.

Thank you Marta Alcalá-Williams for pointing me to this article.

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