What spurred you to become an educator activist?

The word “activist” didn’t really come into mind until I discovered what “equity” means… intersectional equity that did not use words such as “culture” or “diversity” as a proxies for race and looked deeper than only gender, dis/ability, and socio economic status, which had been deemed the causes of disparities in education for centuries. In 2009, I attended a Beyond Diversity workshop designed by Pacific Educational Group, Inc. For the first time, my inquiries and past experiences were validated. I had permission to discuss topics that had been silenced and suppressed to maintain the status quo in my profession. I was motivated to move past “celebrating diversity” with random acts and, instead, assist in the creation of a platform that spreads the knowledge and creates awareness that will TRANSFORM systems of education and make a space for people (kids and adults) to be their authentic and wonderfully made selves in schools and society.

In 2013, I committed to a Teacher on Special Assignment/Facilitator role where I support students through coaching teachers who can impact MORE Students. I haven’t looked back since transitioning.

Why should social justice activism matter to educators?

When I was five years old, I remember waiting on the corner at the bus stop with my sister. I remember looking for my best friend Larry to walk down the hill, when I heard from behind, “No, it’s not! Shut-up. You don’t know anything ‘cause you’re dumb, black and ugly!” I froze, thinking I would turn and see someone yelling at a tiny black ant or talking to themselves. Instead, I turned to discover the comment had been directed towards my older sister. From his words, I interpreted it to mean being a black girl was equivalent to being dumb and ugly. I internalized this message to mean much more than physical appearance, even into my adult years.

Today, in supporting students and families, I’m pained to hear similar experiences are still happening first-hand to other young children. So why should social justice matter to educators? Its absence throughout school days and outside of school is harming the very beings of our youth. Social justice is needed every day, every minute, every hour. Join me in activism because every day, while some kids experience harm and are made to believe this is life, another group is being granted permission to create this trauma. The world is listening and watching, — what will we teach them about social justice?

What role do students play in movement building, especially in light of the current political environment?

Our students are the voices that guide us. When educators learn to listen to INQUIRE rather than listen to RESPOND, we hear the thoughts, beliefs, feelings and actions that marginalized identities suppress. We hear how they believe justice needs to occur for their own experiences. We begin to understand that we can do nothing to “resolve” what has occurred if the students aren’t able to communicate their definitions of resolution and we actually process and act on these voiced needs. When we see students actively protesting and decide to label them as defiant, what time have we dedicated to have a conversation that shifts the norm of educator authority with students, allowing their advocacy to teach us lessons? James Baldwin once said: “I can’t believe what you say, because I see what you do.” I encourage educators to remember kids’ observations of adult leaders provide a lens through which they interpret and advocate.

What is the role personal stories play in social justice activism?

Everyone has a personal narrative around their identity and how their experiences have shaped their perception. Personal stories create awareness. It is critical for people to have what I call “an experience to be heard” — the space where stories are heard without being questioned as a means to invalidate. Justice cannot be defined without the voices who have been suppressed and oppressed being able to share their experiences. Justice lies ONLY in action that is guided by the narratives of the marginalized. We need their truths.

What is the biggest issue facing public education today?

In my experience as an equity facilitator, the biggest challenge I see in education is the limited amount of human and physical resources to recreate equitable learning and leading. Diverse retention remains a shortcoming across our nation as we see the numbers of educators entering the field become smaller and smaller, while the number leaving continues to increase. Educators need access to resources and tools that promote culturally sustaining classroom practices and procedures in schools, while intersecting opportunities for development in areas such as special education, trauma-informed care, socio-emotional health and wellness.

What song gets you fired up to do this work?

Just ONE? That’s tough! I find music to fit the theme of everything I do. I’ve listed a few of my favorites that remind me to keep moving forward in my authentic being, doing what I was designed to do no matter what challenges I encounter. I toggle between contemporary music and singing some of my grandmother’s favorite spirituals to ground me in my work.

Andy Mineo “I Ain’t Done” or “Lost”
Arlissa – “We Won’t Move”
Koryn Hawthorne “Unstoppable”

What message would you most want to tell educator activists just starting out?

Social justice activism requires learning; learning requires experiences that allow you to process discomfort and internalize new beliefs. Move from focusing on the INTENT to centering on the IMPACT on others. There will be many mixed emotions ranging from guilt, anger, frustration, embarrassment and sorrow. There will be discomfort. There will be silence. This is the journey. Remember the goal of activism is to do it WITH others, not FOR others. Do it for yourself because we all need education — to understand our own privileges and to be informed on the oppression and marginalization that we may not all live daily. Even the privileged gain when equity is the mission.

Vote in the 2019 Social Justice Activist of the Year Awards!