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3 & 1/2 ways private & wealthier public schools can attract black teachers

For over a decade, I have worked with private, public, and charter schools across this nation on issues relating to diversity, culturally relevant instruction, and student leadership. The work I do takes different forms in different schools. In some schools, I am brought in to work with faculty on ways they can reach their more disenfranchised students. In other schools, I speak to students about their role in creating communities where everyone feels celebrated and not tolerated. Some schools seek a combination of work with both students and faculty. In all of the private schools and wealthier public schools I have visited, one glaring question always rears its head: where are the black teachers?

To be clear, I am specifically speaking about black classroom teachers who do not coach athletics, and I am not referring to building services such as security or custodial staff. Of course, there is no shade being thrown at either profession because all positions are of value when it comes to making a school function. I am speaking specifically to the dearth of black teachers in more privileged schools today. Below are three and ½ steps schools can take to start recruiting more black teachers.

  1. Go to where black teachers are.

While it is of course true that black people live in every state in the United States, it is obvious that more of us are concentrated in urban areas. Despite this fact, I still encounter schools in cities like Washington, DC and New York where I am told that it is hard to find black teachers. I do not believe this to be true. More effort needs to be placed in going to where black teachers are and recruiting them early. If you play a role in recruitment in your school, you should start partnering with schools of education and inquire about their black enrollment. If you are fortunate enough to have an Historically Black College & University (HBCU) in your vicinity, definitely reach out and conduct recruitment fairs on campus and invite potential teachers to visit your school. Well-intentioned recruitment efforts can go a long way for helping a teacher decide where to work.

In addition to partnering with these institutions, there are also events such as the Teacher of Color Recruitment Fair. Your leadership team should also attend conferences such as the People of Color Conference (POCC), The Coalition of Schools Educating Boys of Color (COSEBOC) conference, and several others that can be found with a simple google search. At these conferences, you get to see many presentations by actual teachers and not only professional speakers/trainers such as myself. These organizations also have regional events and provide great opportunities for networking. As important as it is to attend events like these for the content, it is equally important to attend as a potential recruiter.

  1. Be bold in your diversity statements and practices surrounding diversity & inclusion

I am not saying that every black teacher cares about issues relating to diversity and inclusion. Some of course just want to come in and teach like they see their white counterparts do on a daily basis. I do know, however, that many black teachers doindeed care about where a school stands on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion. I know this because I have actually met black teachers in many of the schools I have visited over the last 15 years and this has been brought up nearly 100% of the time.

Like many black parents, many black teachers are also looking at school websites for statements on diversity, equity, and inclusion. They are looking to see what progress has been made because they do not want to come to your school and instantly be “The diversity guy” or “The black guy.” These are the teachers who have all the troubled black students sent to him, usually is asked to speak to black parents (or at least be in the room for representation purposes), and are often made to feel like they have to “speak for the race” when racial issues arrive. This is an extremely stressful position for black teachers to be in, yet it happens all the time. Startingwith a diversity statement is a great way to start attracting the attention of black teachers, yet I am still amazed by the numbers of school that I visit who still do not have one.

  1. Use social media to recruit teachers

You cannot be at every recruitment fair every day. Many successful black teachers have a very active presence online, particularly through LinkedIn and Twitter, but on all major social media sites. They are not only posting thoughts about their school day, but they are also writing and sharing powerful content that will show you where their values are and demonstrate that they could be a good fit for your school. You can use the hashtag method to find educators that are writing and talking about the areas you are interested in such as #diversityandinclusion, #blackteachers, #blackeducators, etc. You never know. Some of these teachers can be right in your vicinity!

3.5 Treat your current black students as future teachers.

By this statement, I do not mean that you should look at your third-grade black students and start to actively recruit them. That would be…weird. What I amsaying is that many schools treat their black students so poorly that they never want to become teachers when they get older. I have generally met two types of black teachers. There is one group that teaches for the love of teaching. There is another group, however, that teaches for the love of teaching but alsosees their job as an actual mission to show black students that a teaching career is possible. They also want non-black students to see black people in positions of leadership and authority in the education space and go beyond the sports and music stereotypes they may have of black people.

In 2017, NPR reported on a study stating that having just one black teacherin a school can help keep black students stay in school. They report:

Having just one black teacher in third, fourth or fifth grade reduced low-income black boys’ probability of dropping out of high school by 39%…And by high school, African-American students, both boys and girls, who had one African-American teacher had much stronger expectations of going to college. Keep in mind, this effect was observed seven to ten years after the experience of having just one black teacher.

Representation does indeed matter. It is also important to reiterate that seeing black people in positions of authority is also important for non-black students because it can help non-black students grow into adults for whom working with or for black people will not seem foreign to them. It can also counter the stereotypes that some members of non-black groups possess about black people, namely that black people are lazy and not intelligent.

At the end of the day, there is an old saying that you can’t just talk about it. You have to BE about it. You cannot expect black teachers to appear at your school through osmosis. You have to actively pursue them. I have met so many black teachers who do not see private and wealthier schools as an option because there is a perception that these schools are only interested in checking off boxes for diversity. If you honestly believe that your school strongly values diversity and inclusion, these steps will help you in your efforts to do just that in terms of increasing the presence of black teachers in your school. Let’s GO!

 

 

JAY Z Is A Billionaire. What Will Black Boys In YOUR School TODAY Be Tomorrow?

I felt so inspired by what my teacher said,

Said I’d either be dead or be a reefer head

Not sure if that’s how adults should speak ta kids

Especially when the only thing I did was speak in class

JAY Z, So Ambitious (Blueprint 3, 2009)

There are many reasons why I decided to write my doctoral dissertation and forthcoming book on JAY Z (born Shawn Corey Carter). I could speak about him becoming hip-hop’s first billionaire or his marriage to megastar Beyoncé. I could speak about his rags-to-riches story or his incredible, yet silent activism such as bailing out fathers and financially supporting organizations like Black Lives Matter. All of these facts are relevant and worthy of their own chapters and articles but the aforementioned quotation from the song So Ambitious speaks to me as an educator who works with schools on elevating their black males like no other JAY Z line. The lines resonate because I realize that we spend so much time celebrating JAY Z while ignoring or outright ostracizing the JAY Zs in our classrooms today.

At eleven years old, JAY Z was a poor, self-described “half orphan” living in the crime and crack-infested Marcy Projects in Brooklyn. When I interviewed his sixth-grade teacher Renee Rosenblum-Lowden about his three biggest influences at that time, she stated without hesitation: “drugs, drugs, and drugs.” She talked about the pressures hard-working students faced from other children making money as drug dealers. She spoke about having to let some of her students sleep in class because they could not sleep at home with all the gun shots and violence. She spoke about her students walking out of school and seeing dead bodies. Though her classroom was a haven for JAY Z and other students, it is also worth noting that the school itself was so underfunded (like many inner-city schools across the country then and now) that it could only hire a male gym teacher who “supervised” both male and female locker rooms.

What were JAY Z’s life chances? In all reality, this was a boy who should have never reached adulthood but as this article is being written, there are still JAY Zs in classrooms across America who are just as bright and determined but are not being given a chance to reach their fullest potential. It should be noted here that despite JAY Z’s challenges in and outside of the home, he was a child prodigy, demonstrated by the fact that on citywide school exams, he received senior level scores though he was only in the 6thgrade. In other neighborhoods he would have been called a genius, but in 1980s Brooklyn JAY Z dropped out of high school to sell drugs. Did he fail school or did school fail him?

Judging by what is happening with our black boys in schools today across America, school failed JAY Z then just as schools are failing black boys now. Using JAY Z’s lyrics, I will highlight three immediate steps that schools can take to genuinely reach their black male students, and by default, all of their students.

I’m a hustler, accept that

No correctional facility can correct that

NYMP (1999)

These lines remind me of a quotation from Dr. Cornel West, who said that black male rage cannot be destroyed or caged. He said it can only be redirected. Unfortunately, in too many of our schools, the rage that many of our black male students enter schools with or develop while in schools (and of course many black girls too) is redirected towards detention, suspension, and expulsion. It is this redirection that is greatly responsible for what has been called the preschool to prison pipeline. Within schools, however, this is best manifested by black male students being separated from the “general population” by being placed unnecessarily in special education or in-school suspension though what many of them need is the critical thinking skills developed in honors and advanced placement classes. Unfortunately, in many schools, according to Dr. Jawanza Kunjufu, about 20% of teachers make 80% of referrals as it relates to discipline and serve as the gatekeepers to who gets to experience advanced courses. Give black male students the same opportunities to excel as all students instead of setting low expectations and not being surprised when they meet them!

Teacher said I was a lost cause ’cause I used to roam the halls

Still I spit knowledge, dropped out of high school, skipped college

Who’d a thought I’d make it BIG like Ms. Wallace?

This Life Forever (1999)

A carryover from the last point, teachers and administrators must set high and honest expectations for black males and verbalize them. I say “honest” because students can always detect fake intentions. I once spoke at a high school where the principal saw a student and smiled in his face and encouraged him to not be late to class. As soon as he turned the corner, the principal said: “You know he is going to make a great prisoner one day.” I believe that student, like so many others, saw through her façade and knew exactly what that principal thought of him. As study after study and educators like Jane Elliott have shown with her brown and blue eye test, students of all backgrounds will rise or sink to the expectations set for them. If you enter your school with low expectations of any student, it may be time to either find the passion for every student that led you to become a teacher or leave the profession.

I went to school, got grades, could behave when I wanted

But I had demons inside that emerged when confronted

Now all my teachers couldn’t reach me and my momma couldn’t beat me

Hard enough to match the pain of my pops not seeing me so

With that disdain in my membrane

Got on my pimp game

F*** the world, my defense came

December 4th (2003)

Whenever I see a mass shooting conducted by a white boy or man, conversations quickly emerge about mental illness oftentimes before the name of the shooter is even known. If the shooter is Muslim, they are automatically labeled a terrorist. If they are black, they are usually labeled a thug. I do not, for example, hear discussions about mental illness in conversations about violence on the streets of Chicago. Do you? Non-white people deserve the same mental health prescription that is assigned to most white male offenders. In order to make sure black male students can reach their apex, schools should survey the services that these students need that could range from mental health services to basic dental care. As Jonathan Kozol talks about in his book Savage Inequalities, a student cannot excel during an exam if he is suffering from a simple toothache. In fact, some children have indeed died in America from a “simple” toothache due to a lack of access to health services. Many of our black male students have those “demons” inside that could be exorcised with the assistance of community and school health services.

There are so many lyrics by JAY Z and other rap artists that provide clues about why our schools are failing black males. Rather than ignoring those signs and praising these rappers as the ones that “made it out the ’hood”, we need to do a deeper dive to better understand their stories because theirs are the stories of our students in our classrooms today. The next JAY Z is in your classroom right now or at the very least in your school. He may have aspirations to be a rapper, teacher, sanitation worker, lawyer, or president. Whatever it is, we need to do the work needed to help him reach his greatness. Our black male students should not feel the need to leave school in order to reach their greatness. If we listen to JAY Z beyond the surface level, we will indeed see that he has provided us the Blueprint (pun intended) to do just that.

Educators Weaponizing Authority: Jabari Talbot Arrest and the School to Prison Pipeline

Across the country, people have been engaging in intense debates about the 11 year old student Jabari Talbot in Florida who was arrested for not saluting the standing up during the Pledge of Allegiance. Of course, there are lots of debates going on about what actually led to the arrest. People are saying he wasn’t actually arrested for not saluting the flag but arrested for refusing to leave the room and disobeying orders of the resource officer, At the end of the day, the semantics are irrelevant. The challenge we have today, particularly for those who are in the education field, is seeing how educators are weaponizing their position, whether they are regular assigned teachers or substitute teachers. We saw other similar cases like this in terms of substitute teachers challenging students. For example, the teacher in North Carolina who told children that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. killed himself, that they would be going to jail because they’re dressed like gangsters, and that they’re not real Christians if they don’t really support President Donald Trump. The list goes on.

What we see here with the Talbot situation is that it’s the latest example of what people call the preschool to prison pipeline or the cradle to prison pipeline, championed by the Children’s Defense Fund and Marian Wright Edelman. The idea is that situations happening in our schools are preparing our students for a life of incarceration, particularly our African American students and particularly our African American male students. Numerous studies have shown that in many of our schools there’s a correlation between special education and incarceration or at least involvement with the judicial system. They have also shown that some of the conditions in which we put our students in school are actually doing nothing but preparing them for doing a prison bid where they’re sitting around all day, not really being challenged intellectually and being punished for basically trying to engage themselves in in classrooms.

It was JAY Z who said:

I felt so inspired about what my teacher said
Said I’d either be dead or be a reefer head
I don’t know if that’s how you’re supposed to talk to kids
When all I tried to do was speak in class.

JAY Z, who has a sixth grader, was scoring as a senior in high school on citywide exams, dropped out of high school to sell drugs because the school system failed him. He left the supposedly safe environment of school and went down a trajectory that would put him in confrontation with law enforcement. For example, Laquan McDonald was a 17-year old male who was slain in Chicago by the Chicago Police Department. The killer put himself in between himself and Laquan and then said his life was in danger ad then shot him 16 times, including while he was still on the ground and the smoke form the bullets coming out of his body (other officers called for a taser). Laquan McDonald was such a troubled child that a former teacher of his said she feared what would happen in a world that abandoned him.

Going back to Talbot, there is again a correlation, particularly as it relates to zero tolerance policies. We have a student who says he refuses to salute the flag because he calls it racist. The teacher tells him if he doesn’t like America, he can go back to Africa and then he’s asked to leave the room, even though it’s not illegal to not stand for the flag. If it’s not illegal to not stand for the pledge of allegiance, then he should have never been asked to leave the room in the first place. So from that point on, the teacher weaponized her authority, leading to the boy’s arrest and a potential criminal record, whereas the teacher who instigated this gets no penalty other than not being able to teach in that school system.

Some argue that the teacher should have been arrested for trying to force the student to do something that he legally didn’t have to do. But this teacher gets to go on with her life while the student now has the potential of a police record at the age of 11 for defending his rights for standing up for himself. Luckily JAY Z and TEAM ROC intervened and got the charges dropped. This is a problem and we see this in many situations and even if you look at some of your schools, you will see sometimes that some of the language that is used to most described African Americans who don’t do what they’re told is they’re being insubordinate, they don’t follow the rules, they are not listening, and they don’t comply. These types of behaviors and this terminology corresponds with language that is also used in our criminal justice system.

So whether you feel Talbot should have stood for the Pledge of Allegiance or not is really irrelevant. What you should be frustrated with is that through this incident, through the arrogance of this teacher and through her ignorance of the law, she almost added another child to the preschool to prison pipeline and that should disturb us all. There are many teachable moments from this. Maybe in your schools you’re not having kids arrested, but I have seen students taken out of class and disciplined maybe just from writing on a desk and some are getting expelled. We’ve seen people like Glenn Singleton who wrote Courageous Conversations About Race, who talks about over at one point over 5,000 black boys getting expelled every year from preschool.

Under President Obama’s administration, efforts were made to challenge discipline issues in schools but the Trump administration ended it. The main issue relates to disparities and discipline. This is real. We’re sacrificing our children, we’re making them feel like they don’t really belong. I talked about JAY Z and Talbot is the same age as JAY Z was when he was testing as a senior in high school. We are wasting talent in America. We are not valuing children as they should be valued and this is just the latest example. We need to support the work of so many working actively to keep our students in the classroom as well as engaged in the classroom through culturally relevant instruction. We can, and we must do better for the sake of our children.

7 Steps To Raising Confident Black Children

Acclaimed lawyer and talk show host Laura Coates touched all of our hearts with her frustrations over raising her children to be proud of their blackness. Before she even broke into tears, I was right there with her. My wife Kendra and I are raising 3 children; 12 and 10-year-old daughters and a 3-year-old son. From school choice and television intake to food choices and music consumption, we have had a several experiences of successes and missteps that I feel may help parents raise confident black children in this new millennium. I hope you find them instructive. 

  1. Curate their music

When I was an elementary school teacher, I became increasingly frustrated with parents who would drop their children off with the vilest songs playing in their car , and unedited on top of that. I am also a rapper and spoken word artist. Hip-hop is the soundtrack of my life. With that said, I cannot imagine letting my children listen to songs, hip-hop or otherwise, that have vulgarity. My children listen to songs from Kendrick Lamar & JAY Z to Taylor Swift & Lou (French teen pop artist) but they are songs we choose for them that are positive and contain no vulgarity. Kendra & I introduce new music to them.

I am not naïve. I know that at 12 and 10, our daughters are hearing other music from their friends but since they have been fortified with positive songs or even just fun dance songs, they actually find the more vulgar songs to be offensive and degrading. If we started them off with all the music out there that I listen to as an adult, we would be raising them to think it’s OK to use that vulgar language or see themselves as bitches and that was unacceptable for us. So yes parents, this may mean you’re playing Biggie’s “The 10 Crack Commandments” on the way to get your kids but switching to Elmo’s alphabet song or something from Alicia Keys when they get in the car!

  1. Curate their television

One of several mistakes we made with my daughters is allowing them to watch all the Disney films with white princess and other television shows without context. It was easy for my daughter when she was 2 to say she’s not a princess because all she saw was not only white princesses on television (pre Princess & The Frog) but white princesses with the purest of names to highlight their beauty such asSnow White, Belle (“beautiful” in French), Sleeping Beauty, and so on. When we started to “go in” on reprogramming, we let our kids watch all of the same shows but asked them questions like “Why don’t you see any black people?” or “Why are the black men acting like idiots?” Other questions included “Why are there no black fathers in this show?” and “Why are the blonde-haired women always silly?” This helped our daughters develop critical thinking skills and now, they tell us about the problems in the shows they see without our even asking.

In addition to using television to build their critical thinking skills, we did the extra work needed to bring black cartoons into the home such as Teddy P. Brainsand The Adventures of Brer Rabbit. Since Princess & The Frog, there have been many other television shows and movies portraying black people positively such as KC Undercoverand The Black Panther. I speak to those shows particularly because they show women in roles of strength as opposed to a male-dependent princess and there is a presence of fathers. Again, you have to be intentional about doing this work. My oldest daughter now calls us Queen Mother & Baba and is obsessed with Wakanda because she grew up seeing her identity as an African American celebrated in our household and then it was validated on the big screen. This also helps them being in majority white schools all of their lives. They feel validated in who they are. We intentionally sent them to private, majority white schools because we wanted them to be confident at a young age that they could compete with people of every background, but we make sure we takethem to school before they goto school by making sure they know their culture!

  1. Be intentional with your language

This is adjacent to music point. Our children are going to think they are what societies tell them they are and that includes you. If you are using terms like “nigga” or “bitch” all the time, and even calling our children these terms and others, your children will become what they think wethink they are. We live in a society that actively works to denigrate our children every single day. Why have them experience the same thing at home? Our children need to see their parents in healthy relationships. They need to be able to see their parents argue without condescending and demeaning each other. If they see or hear you refer to each other in demeaning ways or even witness physical abuse, they may internalize this in their own relationships

  1. Give them names that mean something

This is not a Bill Cosby rant about made up names. Never that. What I am suggesting is that whatever name you give your children, make sure it is grounded in something. Whether it’s an African name like Lumumba, naming your child Katherine after NASA’s Katherine Johnson, or naming your child Laquita after your grandmother, make sure your children know something positive about the history of their names. My seventh grade year was a turning point for me. I was depressed and suicidal. The main thing that turned me around was finally listening to all of the stories about black history that my parents were trying to teach me. It made me not want to embarrass my ancestors. Once I understood the origins of my name and learned my history, my entire trajectory changed. 

The same school I was held back in in the seventh grade was the same school I graduated from as a member of the National Honor Society once I knew my history. Knowing my history gave me something to be grounded in while living in a society that told me I was less than white people. The names our children are given should be the starting point of that journey towards positive self-esteem. If we do not start them with a positive conception of self, how can we expect anyone else to?

  1. Create a strong diet

To the best of your ability, introduce healthy foods and water to your children. I understand that some of us live in food desserts where healthy foods are hard to find or food swamps where junk food is abundant. That may mean that you may need to grocery shop in the places you work if the food options are better. If we are serious about building community and one person has a car on your block, maybe you can organize trips to the supermarket and cover gas. If you live in an area where this is not a challenge and you still allow your children to consume an unhealthy diet, you have to understand that malnutrition does not only manifest itself physically.

There is a correlation between diet and disciplinary issues in our children today and you need to be mindful of that. If you have a stove and a refrigerator, you can boil your own water like my family did as a child and then chill it. Of course, this does not speak to areas in severe crisis such as Flint, Michigan, but the main point is that we have to use whatever resources possible to aid our children in eating healthy foods. Some of the fast food restaurants in our neighborhoods do indeed have salads as an option, for example, but even still we choose the items that are not beneficial to their overall health. We must do better.

  1. Monitor (or ban outright) social media & Internet usage

I have spoken to thousands of students in America and across the globe. I have spoken in many K-5 schools where students have proudly told me they have Facebook pages! There is nothing positive that can occur from a 10 year old having an unmonitored social media page. Our daughters have friends with social media pages, but they have no interest in having a page at such a young age. Youshould be the one to teach your children how to use social media and the Internet or take them to the library where they can get assistance if you cannot aid them. Lastly, many parents I know do not use kid-friendly versions of search engines like YouTube Kids. Our children are more susceptible to click-bait than we are and so we have to be mindful on how exposed they can be to negative influences online. 

  1. Go beyond Wakanda

The blockbuster movie The Black Pantherimpacted our community in ways that we could not foresee. So many black children were inspired by that movie. When I was a child, we were tormented because of our African identity. Groups like Public Enemy & X Clan made it cool to be African temporarily but African kids (even American born ones like me with no accent) still get tormented just because of our names. The Black Panthermovie opened up an entire new generation to the beauty of the African continent. We as parents cannot let these affects be temporary. Many children have an interest African stories now.

 Currently, my children are watching Dr. Henry Louis Gates’ Africa’s Great Civilizationsdocumentary series on PBS. They are watching it now not as some boring parental assignment. They are seeing themselves in the stories and The Black Panthermovie is part of that. We should not lose the gains from this movie so make sure you are finding as many ways possible to bring their history into their lives. There are many free resources that can be used just from our phones but if we only use our phones for frivolous entertainment and negative news stories, we are losing a vital opportunity to educate our children beyond the school doors.

The time is now!

If you find yourself proficient in most of the seven steps here, pick the one that challenges you the most and work vigorously on making the necessary changes. Our children are worth the effort. All of us will have challenges raising our children as it relates to their positive identity development. In my 12 year old daughter’s summer camp, she said to her classmates “My name is Ngolela. To call me anything different will be disrespectful.” I do not know what the future holds, but today she is grounded in her identity. At that age, I let everyone disrespect my history and call me “O” just so I can fit in and my performance in school and society overall reflected that. I was lost and acted accordingly. We need to teach our children that they were never meant to blend in. They are meant to stand out. We have to be intentional in our efforts to keep them grounded in their culture so that they can grow up knowing that they were validated at birth. If we can do that for our children, that will be more valuable than anything we could physically leave to them. Godspeed.

The Problem With White Allies And Anti-Racist Education

I have worked in the field of cultural competency, diversity education, and teaching black & brown boys for decades. Every seven years or so, there is new terminology that develops that seeks to better encapsulate the work that so many of us are passionately engaged in on a daily basis. From cultural competency and culturally relevant education to inclusive curriculum and implicit bias, we find ourselves regularly creating new terms that best represent what we do. This is also the case in other spaces such as the corporate, government, and entertainment worlds. Two terms that have gained steam in recent years are “white allies” and “anti-racist education.” While I have used the term “anti-racist” education as recently as this year, I have never felt comfortable with the term and something never rubbed me the right way about the term “white allies” so I will start there.

The term “white allies” has come to define the need for white people to speak up more and directly challenge the racism that exists in America that is specifically expressed by other white people. There is this philosophy that some white people only will receive words that can change their racist views from other white people. I have never believed that but the bigger issue is that the way we insist on the need for “White allies” comes off as if we’re begging for a savior and this is problematic for several reasons, which can indirectly reinforce notions of white supremacy. As Derrick Bell said: “Our actions are not likely to lead to transcendent change and may indeed, despite our best efforts, be of more help to the system we despise than to the victims of that system whom we are trying to help.” To counter this, we should heed the words of Dr. Maya Angelou.

Dr. Angelou is quoted as saying “I am a human being. Nothing human can be alien to me.” To me, this quotation means that the mentalities of the “ally” creates a belief that white people are somehow above black people and need to descend down from some perch to help us. White people should be actively engaged in finding an end to racism and white supremacy because their fellow human beings are suffering. An “ally” is almost like a sports fan. An ally can come to the “game” so to speak, cheer on the people on the court (black & brown folks) and then go home until they’re called on again. I know this is an over simplification but the main point is that I am seeing a certain level of arrogance developing in the “white ally” movement that is frustrating. I, for example, am not gay but I am not going to call myself an ally to the LGBTQIA community because people in the LGBTQIA are my human brothers and sisters. I’m not going to go somewhere, challenge some people, and then go home to watch my favorite tv show (with possible anti-gay themes but that’s a story for another day). I am actively engaged in the struggle for LGBTQIA rights because it’s the human thing to do, not because “they” need me. The terminology must change, which leads me to anti-racism.

The University of Calgary defines anti-racism as “the active process of identifying and eliminating racism by changing systems, organizational structures, policies and practices and attitudes, so that power is redistributed and shared equitably.” There are other working definitions but I will use for now. I am committed to doing this and that will never change. The words of Mother Theresa, however, ring in my head whenever I hear this terms. Mother Theresa said she would never attend an anti-war rally, only a pro-peace rally. This is extremely important in the era of President Donald Trump. Everyone is caught up in what they are against that we often forget what we are fighting for. Language matters. I now believe in using terms such as “pro-equity” or “pro-equality” education. Again, this may seem like semantics to some but there is serious energy in the language we use and the intentionality of our work.

Several of my colleagues find themselves getting fatigued and frustrated in our line of work. I include myself on that list. Sometimes we are so caught up in the negative that our work risks getting compromised. In order to keep ourselves motivated and focused we need to change our language. We need to refocus our efforts and our energy because there is only going to be more work to do. Human beings working for equity and equality for all is much more powerful than the need for white allies to help with anti-racist education. We need all hands on deck in this movement but we need all hands in, not handouts.

 

Elevating the Black Male: Strategies to become a more culturally competent teacher

As I look back at my days as a Boston Public Schools student, and as I look at the multitudes of black male students still being excluded from the educational process today, I’m left to believe that we are dealing with nothing short of a tragic epidemic. As a seventh grader in the early 1990s, I remember a white male teacher dragging me to the office telling me: “Do you think I’m gonna put up with your s_ _ _ all year you f_ _ _ _ _’ punk?” Fast forward to 2009 and I’m speaking to a black female principal in DC. She sees one of her students from a distance and says: “He’s really gonna make a great prisoner one day.” Here we have 2 different cities, over 20 years apart, 2 different races, and 2 different genders, but one overwhelming similarity—low expectations towards black male students.

My belief is that if you develop strategies to reach your black males, you learn techniques to reach all of your students. Below are some strategies that will assist you in improving not only the participation of your black males who may be struggling, but ultimately give you a diverse range of tools to pull from in order to make for a dynamic teaching experience for all of your students!

Have high expectations for all of your students and communicate them. Many teachers fail to communicate that they expect all students to succeed in class. By default, there are students who are going to feel as if they cannot succeed. Whether it’s by their placement in the back of the class, their watching the same students get chosen to speak, or even the different levels of discipline for different students, your message will be communicated one way or the other. If you truly believe everyone can succeed, show them!

Increase your knowledge about their history. One game I play when I conduct my trainings is asking teachers to name 10 black male famous athletes, actors, and musicians. In less than 30 seconds, we have the answers. However, when asked to name 10 famous black male (living) doctors, scientists, or authors, the list often is never completed. If you widen your knowledge of black male success, you will not only develop a better picture of what is possible for your students, but you will also help them craft an image of themselves that is greater than what society tells them they can be. What you know is what you’ll show!

Utilize a wide range of equitable practices in order to involve all students. Rather than calling on the same students, utilize random calling popsicle sticks drawn from a cup so every student knows they could be called upon at any time. Students are more likely to be prepared if they believe they’ll actually be asked to participate. You can also have random grouping so students do not get comfortable with the same students. Lastly, remember that every student does not always learn solely by written exams. Develop additional ways that students can present their knowledge be it through oral presentations, musical interpretations, or group projects. Much of these practices can be found in books like The Skillful Teacher by Saphier, et al.

If you make a dedicated effort to utilize the steps above and just have a mindset that, as Donna Graves states, there’s not an achievement gap but a teaching gap, you will turn yourself into a teacher with the ability to incorporate not only your black male students, but all students irrespective of race, creed, color, gender, or religion! Teach on!

5 Ways To Reach Black & Latino Marginalized Students In Private & Public Schools

I was recently asked by The Atlantic Magazine to share my thoughts on what it means to black at elite public high schools given not only my work as a diversity consultant, but also as a graduate of an elite public high school—Boston Latin School. Contributing to this article allowed me to reflect on how schools  can reach the  most marginalized students in both our public and private schools because in many cases, the only difference in these institutions as it relates students feeling marginalized is the tuition. Therefore I would like to share 5 steps that educators and school leaders can adapt in order to be more inclusive to all students.

1. Create Free Spaces
Principals and teachers need to realize that it’s not about creating “safe spaces” but rather “free spaces” for their students. Too often, black and Latino students feel the burden of representing their entire race and have to deal with the notions that they are either at the school because of financial aid or to play sports. If principals and teachers become culturally competent then they, for example, will not have to point to the Black or Latino student when issues of race come up because the teacher will be able to provide an informed opinion on her own. So rather than saying “Jamal, what do you think about what Johnny said about the #blacklivesmatter movement?” a culturally competent teacher creating a free space would say: “There are many different perspectives on the #blacklivesmatter movement even within the black community and so we should not assume every black person agrees with your statement Johnny.” After the teacher says that, the teacher should NOT turn to Jamal for his response. Let black and Latino students be as free to participate or not participate in topics as every white student. I teach at American University and I have had several gay students who are extremely vocal on many issues but silent when we get to topics affecting the gay community. I never call on them in class because I know they are used to being the “representative” in class and it’s not fair to them. Some do speak and some do not but it is their choice.

2. Diversify Your Curriculum
It is important to diversify staff (see point 4) but it is equally important to diversify curriculum. Take Black History Month for example. It is so sad that many schools have not learned to go beyond basic black history: Slavery, fast forward (maybe) to Harriet Tubman, then on to Dr. King and now President Obama (for those schools whose leadership is not biased against him*). Some schools of course may put up posters during their particular heritage month. This again makes students of color feel like they are being tolerated with boxes to check off regarding the curriculum rather than celebrated. The history of black and Latino culture has to be woven into the curriculum. It is indeed OK to talk about Fredrick Douglass in March, Dr. King in November, and Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor in April. Beyond the curriculum, school staff need to look at their library books and the pictures they have on the walls. I went and spoke at a very elite, majority white private school in Connecticut called Pomfret and was pleasantly surprised to see posters of leaders like JFK next to posters of Malcolm X and Che Guevara in a classroom. The discussions that must go on in those classes are likely to be more holistic. At Sidwell Friends in Washington DC where I have also done work, there are elective classes such as Black Liberation and issues facing the African continent. The Black Liberation class is taught by 2 women, one black and one white and there are several non-black students in the class. Even if black and Latino students decide not to get heavily engaged in classes like this, it can be comforting for them to see that these options do exist and having a white teacher shows that it’s not just a “Black thing.”

3. Invest in authentic professional development.
School leaders have to actively offer professional development opportunities and at the very least, diversify the literature their teachers read. If authors like Gloria Ladson Billings, Linda Darling Hammond, Alfred Tatum, Geneva Gay, Glenn Singleton, Eduardo Bonilla-Silva and others are not on their bookshelves (and assigned), then schools are only offering lip service on diversity & inclusion.

4. Staff has to represent the student body.
I do not care what the politics are of teachers of color. What matters is that students of all races see teachers and leaders of color in their schools. A black or Latino student needs to be able to see that science teacher who looks like them and say “If she can do it, I can do it.” The white student also needs to see that so he can see it as normal for blacks and Latinos to have higher education. Part of the reason why many schools I go to have no diversity in staff or leadership is because the leaders never saw that diversity when they were students so they resort to only have Black and Latino staff who are building services or athletic coaches because that is all they knew.

5. Have a solid and publicized diversity mission statement
When I walk into some schools, I am often impressed by those school that have their statement on diversity front and center for all to see. Doing this shows that the school is committed to being held accountable for its actions on diversity. This instantly makes the school more welcoming to the black and Latino student as well as the parents. I have spoken to so many parents of color who feel completely disengaged from their school and do not feel empowered to voice their thoughts on issues so they resolve to stay silent as long as their children get that coveted diploma. Schools thus lose out by not having these parents engaged. Some (I repeat some) black and Latino students may have parents or guardians working multiple jobs who are not able to be as engaged as the parents with nannies or a stay at home parent so the schools need to do more outreach to keep those parents engaged.

Adopting these five steps may not be easy but taking these steps are indeed worth it if school leaders and teachers want to truly create a climate where everyone believes that they belong. A parent once told me that her school could always get another black “kid from the ‘hood” to fill its quota so she never felt her school really cared about them. Is this what we want? I do not think so. If schools really believe that they are creating students with a global perspective, it is necessary that the student body and staff represent the globe not just in body, but in curriculum and commitment to ensuring that every student has the ability to reach the highest potential possible. That can only happen not from tolerating diversity, but leveraging it.

What 100 Texas teachers taught me about diversity & inclusion

Recently I had the honor of conducting an all-day professional development training on diversity and cultural competency for about 100 educators in the Houston Independent Schools District (HISD), the largest school district in Texas and the 7th largest school district in the nation. There were teachers from Thomas Middle School, led by the dynamic and powerful Khalilah Campbell and teachers from Sugar Grove Academy where “Failure is not an option, option, OPTION” for any child. Sugar Grove is lead by the fiery Lynett Hookfin. I say “fiery” because one of the stories that Ms. Campbell shared that demonstrated Ms. Hookfin’s love and fearlessness in working with students would put “Crazy Joe” from “Lean On Me” to shame! The entire day was just a reminder of why I love doing work in Texas, but there were two things that stood out throughout the day.

The first thing that really impressed me was the way in which these teachers enthusiastically engaged in conversations and exercises on the issue of creating culturally competent schools, particularly for struggling black and Hispanic males. While it is obvious that everyone may not have agreed with every single word I said (which leads to great conversation), they were willing to engage in deep reflection on the challenges their students face in schools, as well as the challenges they face as teachers too. Some staff even became emotional as they were asked to recount issues of discrimination or racism that they may have experienced in order to better understand the challenges their students may face in feeling marginalized. This portion of the day helped me realize that these educators are truly passionate about taking all of their students to the next level. As much as I hate to say it, I have been in sessions where the commitment to every child was not evident so this was truly a refresher!

The second thing that I really loved was that the teachers at these two great schools were willing to share their own success stories. Sometimes during my travels, I find that some schools (or even some teachers within the same school) want to guard their secrets to success in order to keep them looking better than other schools or other teachers in their districts. Ms. Campbell and Ms. Hookfin made it very clear to their staff that every child everywhere matters and that we are all in this together. Because of that, I often felt like I was only working with one school and there were no competing interests that were sabotaging the process. This mindset is key for school districts working to improve success for all students and not a select few but this has to start from the leadership of the school.

Being willing to explore your own history of challenges you faced growing up with discrimination (or witnessing it) and being able to share success strategies with your colleagues are among the many steps needed towards building a culturally competent school. If your school or district does not engage in critical self-reflection, delving into issues of cultural competency will just be treated like any other subject that a teacher is not passionate about teaching but does anyway because she is told to. We need to go deeper as educators committed to a solid future for all students and not the chosen few. Sharing successful strategies with your colleagues helps kill the notion of us fighting for pieces of a small pie because by default, we’ll be making a bigger pie for all to comfortably eat off of.

This was my fourth year doing work with HISD. I am very confident that with great leaders like Ms. Campbell and Ms. Hookfin, Thomas Middle School and Sugar Grove Academy will be able to meet their bold goals. Their efforts and, more importantly, their passion are contagious and make the job of their staff who are committed to this work very easy. All our students ask for are caring teachers and a caring community where they believe their culture and history matter. I commend all schools and school leaders who are on a mission to create that community because failure really isn’t an option, option, OPTION!