It’s On Us… (A BLM Essay)

There is so much to be said and there is so much being said. Lack of efforts are not a good enough excuse ignorance and silence. Black people deserve to live full lives. They deserve to have joy, love, shelter, food, and opportunities… and if you (a non black person) continues to believe that they have the same opportunities as the rest of us, you’re still not listening. You’re still asleep. Policies need to change! We need to ensure protection for black humans.

🙏🏽 Join your city council meetings if you haven’t already done so. 🙏🏽
Policies need to change. We need to protect black people. We need to protect black trans people. We need to protect black women. We need to protect black children.

This painting has gone to a beautiful interracial family who just announced the birth of their first baby. I hope the future is a safe space for her. It is our job to ensure the future of all black children, children of color and queer children. The painting represents the strength, resilience, innocence, and beauty of black girls and women in all kinds of relationships–be it siblings, parents, and friendships. It represents the bonds and communities they create and all the curious and magical ways they continue to uplift themselves.

We don’t deserve them, but they continue to forgive and love us.

Untitled by Christina Xu for Living Artist Project

Christina Xu, is an artist and muralist living in the San Francisco Bay Area. She has been a Living Artist Project Contributing Artist since 2014. Find her work at www.christinaxu.art or follow her on IG @ChristinaXu_.

(I) Early Childhood Education Series Pt. 8: Home Preschool Curriculum

@prestonwb Will Preston @wbpreston

Early childhood education at home in the time of social distancing can be restricting and confining, however it does not close off opportunities to provide your students with enriching and vital educational opportunities. There are many resources available to parents looking for academic activities for their preschool age children to engage in. Though some are more time consuming for the parent in terms of setup and materials, there are many activities that can get your student to work quickly and require little of the parent’s time. The key to a solid activity is one that engages the student’s motor skills and hand eye coordination while also laying the foundation for future academic lessons. For example, drawing letters or numbers, coloring shapes, and cutting and pasting, when combined these activities activate the most important elements in the education of a preschool age child.

There are a few examples here that are great activities for students of this age. There are other less academic activities that are in some cases more important and engaging while also providing vital foundational life skills for the student. Allow daily tasks around the house to become learning opportunities for everyday life skills. Children have a tendency to mimic the routines performed everyday by adults. Utilize this need in your student for learning from watching to learning by doing. Turn daily chores into a fun way of taking care of the house and students will not only learn how to complete these tasks, they will also associate these tasks with positive memories and experiences. Though it may take more time, allow the student the extra time for sweeping the floor, or for meal prep, or making the bed. Though these seem like small tasks and the time needed for a preschool aged student to accomplish them may seem wasted, these learning moments are invaluable to the growth and development of the student.

When cooking allow the student to use cleaning and cooking utensils that fit into a child’s hand. This provides an opportunity for the student to accomplish real work on a smaller scale and will boost the student’s confidence and give them real experience and solid groundwork for advancement in the skill. Working with food that is healthy and fresh provides an opportunity to teach the student about diet and the process and place for food in the health cycle. Through their experience in the cooking process students are working with numbers and math whenever they are using a measuring cup or getting the right number of ingredients. During a cooking activity students are introduced to science and chemistry in the form of the transformational process between ingredients to meal, as well as the chemical change that takes place when cooking.

There are natural ways in which the student learns and explores their world that facilitate the development of mental faculties that are incredibly important but can be difficult to access from the position of teacher or parent. These imaginative capabilities are utilized and sharpened whenever the student is at play with their imagination. When they are in the play zone, for example playing with a bucket of toys and talking or singing, the student is working through problems or scenarios that the adult mind does not consider, but with which the mind of the child must engage in order to make sense of the world in relation to their perception and experiences up to this point. Though the problem or scenario be imagined, the work that the mind of the child is doing to solve the imaginary problem is concrete and necessary for the healthy development of the mind.

Sexual Predation in the Workplace

Recently, we have been talking about surviving sexual predation. Because prevention is quite crucial, it is critical for not only the target but the would-be assailant to monitor their behaviors.

In the post #MeToo era, reports show that more men have become afraid of working women, especially alone or in close quarters. However, certain men can take this opportunity to get creative with their ways of relating to women, instead of feeling indicted for being a man.

Creativity is how you combat rape culture.

What is rape culture?

Rape culture is “an environment where sexual assault is normalized and excused in media and popular culture.”  An example of this could be one individual telling another person that they wouldn’t engage with or do a favor for a person unless there was sex involved. Another is pressuring partygoers to drink to release inhibitions, or only promoting employees that you deem sexually attractive while demeaning everyone else. 

One of the more tragic aspects of rape culture is the silence and shaming that both men and women perpetrate against victims who dare to speak up. You may hear things like, “What took her so long?” or “She’s just trying to ruin his life,” or “He just couldn’t handle her, that’s all.” 

Mothers may look away from the children who are being assaulted by a family member. This behavior is a bid to save herself. Employees are often forced to quit because of a hostile environment. This lack of support increases the likelihood of revictimization of the target later on. 

So how do we get creative in our interactions with others? Women often find that there is a premium placed on their level of attractiveness, as perceived by hiring managers, friends, potential suitors, and even the guy who can help her in aisle 5. Her beauty or lack thereof can be a boon or a bane, and it seems there is nothing she can do about it.

Some tips for a healthy workplace

  • If you are a hiring manager, be sure to look at all candidates’ qualifications. 
  • Understand that no one is “asking for it.
  • Look them in the eye. 
  • Ask what their hobbies are and listen actively. 
  • When your new hire begins, do not request that he or she change their style of dress just because you are not attracted to or “agree” with it. If the new hire is doing their job and conforming to the dress code, there is no need for further discussion.
  • Do not make comments about sexual trysts, preferences, or expectations.
  • Honor others’ personal space — this includes personal effects and time spent at the office.
  • Promotions should be meritorious and can triangulate employees when sex is involved.

Reclaiming the Self: A Return to Ancestral Wisdom

The Black church is currently experiencing an exodus of its millennials who are seeking community and spiritual fulfillment elsewhere. Research conducted by the Pew Research Center stated that four out of ten millennials are likely to claim no religious affiliation (Cox, 2019). It is assumed that those who are leaving the church are becoming atheist or agnostic, however, this is not necessarily the case. As the church experiences an exodus, many millennials are finding their genesis in traditional African spiritual systems and the wisdom of their Ancestors.

What are African Spiritual Systems?

African spiritual systems are those that predate the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) and were practiced on the African continent prior to European colonization. While the spiritual tradition varies dependent upon where one is on the continent, two that are most widely known throughout the diaspora are Ifá and Vodun. The practice of both systems has been vilified throughout history, but particularly after the Haitian Revolution because during the Haitian Revolution, an important Vodun ceremony took place at Bois Caimen that helped assist the enslaved Africans defeat and drive away their French colonizers. The vilification and demonization of these systems has helped ensure that diasporic Africans remain disconnected from their Ancestors, and therefore themselves. Though the systems may vary, there are a few key elements that translate between them.

Ancestral Veneration: It is often assumed that in African spiritual systems, people are worshiping those who have transitioned. To venerate means to pay homage to and show deep respect for someone or something. The Ancestors are given a high level of respect because they are their descendants’ first line of defense, and a connection to the spiritual realm. They are able to help guide and direct their descendants, as well as keep them from harm or unwise decisions. It should be noted that all cultures have a form of Ancestral veneration but may not realize it. For example, when going into an elder’s home, you may see that they have a collection of obituaries on their mantle, and photos of the transitioned all throughout their home. Though they may balk at the idea of setting up an Ancestor altar, they are engaging in a form of ancestral acknowledgement. Additionally, when one “pours one out for the homies,” it is a libation used to honor those that are no longer physically present. Elements of the African worldview and thought process are syncretized into modern day practices, often without a true understanding of where the traditions originate from.

Belief in a Divine Creator: African spirituality is often viewed as polytheistic due to the presence of Orisha (Ifá) or Loa (Vodun), who practioners can work with and call upon. However, there is still the belief in a singular Divine Creator who is not assigned a gender and is considered to encompass both genders.

Divination: In Christianity and Islam, one of the primary tenants is faith. However, African spiritual systems include divinatory abilities. Practioners do not have to guess if they are in alignment, making good decisions, or moving in purpose. With the ability to divine on a matter, practioners are able to move throughout the world in a more effective manner with a certainty that what they are doing is correct, or that what they are doing will lead towards harm.

“Bevier Pot” by Adrienne Cacitti for Living Artist Project

Why is Returning to Ancestral Wisdom Important?

2020 has shifted everything, including worldviews and ideologies. This time of quarantine and social distancing has allowed many to sit with themselves for the first time in years, or first time ever. During this time of sitting with oneself, many have come to realize that the ideologies and expressions of self they were taught to hate and fear, might hold the key to their wellbeing. The Ancestors are our first line of defense, as such, it is necessary to be still and listen to what they are trying to teach us. We cannot claim to be their wildest dreams if we are not taking heed to their advice, or diminishing their practices. It’s not enough to rally against systemic anti-Blackness if one does not address internalized anti-Blackness that is present through the demonization of one’s own traditions. Regardless if one chooses to participate in an African spiritual system, it should be understood that there are alternative epistemologies, and wisdom to be gained.

(I) Early Childhood Education Series Pt. 7: Practical Homeschooling

@prestonwb Will Preston @wbpreston

August is here and with it arrives back to school time. With no clear guidance or plan from leaders and government and no end to the pandemic in sight, parents and teachers alike are wondering what exactly school is going to look like for their children and students. Fear and confusion is natural in times like these, especially with teacher unions threatening to strike, one way to combat this chaotic situation is to take matters into your own hands. You can turn every moment of everyday into a learning experience for you and your student. 

Learners in early childhood education settings are learning basic life skills and foundational elements of academic concepts. Life skill learning can be implemented through daily chore activities, such as having your child clean up a messy playroom. Academics can be emphasized by having the student count and name each item as they take it from the floor and return it to its proper place. Learning and reciting household rules, brushing teeth, combing hair, and clearing the table can all be educational and a part of the everyday routine for the student.

On the topic of routine, ensure that a daily time is set for starting the day, and that the morning routine is completed in a similar manner each day as to help with the memorization and learning process taking place in the growing student in early childhood education. All of this should be interspersed with rest, breaks, or nap time in order to allow for periods of relaxation throughout the day. 

The basics of academic concepts should be reinforced during the day, and these can be made into fun tasks or games that emphasize learning. For example, the alphabet can be learned through locating items in the house that start with each letter. Story time can become learning time when students are asked certain questions that call upon the student’s memory and analysis of the story that they just heard. Students should practice writing their name, the letters of the alphabet and as many numbers as possible in preparation for the next grade level. Students should try to write the names of objects that they drew or colored and write the names of shapes and colors. A beneficial daily practice includes taking turns speaking, and speaking in complete sentences as well as following instructions. As much as possible try to incorporate motor function skills in a daily routine that includes cutting and gluing in the exploration of the topics above. For example, a sheet of paper with the shapes printed on it and within each shape the name of a different color. Have the student identify the correct color that each shape should be and color in that shape with its designated color. Then have the student cut the shape out and glue it onto a lined sheet of paper and beside them write the name of the shape and its color.

These activities should be extended out to include learning the different forms of the weather, the days of the week, the months of the year, the seasons, identifying different animals, usually beginning with domesticated, and the continents, and really any aspects of the physical and natural world that you feel the student is capable of identifying. Physical activity is also important, so getting outside and running, climbing, jumping, playing a sport, cycling, even early exposure to self defense are all healthy and beneficial to the growth and education in these early stages of the student’s development. 

These are all ways in which education can be implemented and accessed in a very loose and informal manner, that parents can use on a day to day basis to enrich and lay critical foundational structures in place for their child’s education. However there are more formally planned and structured activities that can also be utilized in a home setting, which will be explored further in Part 8 next week.

Taking Steps to Prevent Sexual Assault

In recent months, reports regarding sexual assault allegations involving Ghislaine Maxwell, Jeffrey Epstein, Donald Trump, Harvey Weinstein, and others have surfaced. While all of the names mentioned are relatively high-profile, the tactics these individuals used to corner their targets are deployable by anyone. It is critical to not live in a state of fear but in a state of awareness. As we delve further into the topic of sexual assault, let’s look at some strategies to avoid being a mark.

Follow your intuition

“Practice listening to your intuition, your inner voice…These intuitive powers were given to your soul at birth.” 

― Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype

We are often erroneously encouraged to put ourselves in danger to prove that we are capable of handling crises. This approach is often akin to drinking cyanide to prove that it can kill you. You already have the information that the circumstances are dangerous; there is no need to prove anything else. Trust that you are smart enough to know the answers.

Survey your circles

Maybe you have friends that promise a dream life in exchange for a job or a favor. Some of us have acquaintances that request help, insisting that you are the only person that can help them. Then, there is the family member that withdraws financial and other support unless they have your compliance. These contacts are often grooming you for something much direr down the line. If an assault happened before, a targeted individual is more likely to experience something similar in the future: 47.9% of sexual assault victims have repeated assaults by the offender or by multiple offenders. 

Create a lifestyle and culture of prevention

Hold spaces for yourself and your loved ones to share their thoughts and experiences. Talk to trusted friends about what almost happened to you. Go for a walk or exercise — then indulge on chocolate later. Hug yourself. Get your feelings out through your chosen medium. Listen to music that you love. Go for a massage to unwind. Take a nap. All of these activities will help you remain centered by balancing the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. 

Do not fight fire with fire

Lastly, while it is tempting to tell a would-be attacker to get lost, sometimes that is not feasible. Sometimes it is better to deflect. Realize your safety by flanking yourself with others you trust or in a crowd. Try to remain calm and understand that your get-away may not look perfect. Getting to safety is all that matters.

I’ve Lost the Plot (On the Challenges of Hearing)

I’ve lost the plot, five months into the pandemic. I’m hard of hearing and rely heavily on lip-reading to understand conversations. I’m tired of people telling me that they can’t or won’t accommodate my hearing loss. In this time of social-distancing and mask-wearing it is even more devastating when I cannot lip-read, which accounts for 70-90% of how I’m able to understand anyone speaking to me. 

The casual (+/-callous) dismissal of my inability to access content or communication is painful. The inconvenience of providing captioning in a live video meeting has spotlighted the carelessness of those who can’t be bothered. These people cannot understand the impact on my inability to participate. I’ve been resigned to this for most of my life, but lately, an accumulation of incidents have taken on the tenor of stinging, hornet-like microaggressions. It feels personal in a way that I always ignored or excused before; perhaps in reaction to the ratcheted stress of this mishandled pandemic and the layers of imposed limitations and stressors, singular hornet stings have suddenly coalesced into a swarming nest.

A couple of years ago, I saw the Guggenheim biennial, and the standout work of one artist, Christine Sun Kim, made an immediate, visceral impact. Kim displayed a series of stark, smudged charcoal drawings of acute, obtuse, and right angles titled, Degrees of My Deaf Rage… . The drawings are captioned with the aspects of rage encountered while Deaf. The Obtuse Rage of a video with no closed captions. The Right Rage encountered while working for a graduate degree. The Acute Rage when someone calls instead of texting or emailing. The Cute Rage of accessibility options that don’t coincide with your actual disability.

Le corps humain, structure et fonctions
Edition : Paris : J.-B. Baililère, 1879

It immediately clicked with me. Had I not requested that an agent respond to my email in writing? Was she deficient in reading comprehension? It must be, because she ignored my request, and repeatedly asked me to call her, ignoring my attempts to communicate by email. I was forced to go to LinkedIn and ask the CEO why his representative was unable to accommodate my need to complete a transaction through email instead of a phone call. He conveniently blamed it on the pandemic. Christine Sun Kim did her graduate work at Bard, where I had graduated decades earlier as an undergrad; this tenuous connection served to multiply my appreciation for her work, which precisely pinpointed the welter of emotions seething beneath every. Irritating. Transaction.

But it would be remiss not to discuss the kindnesses I have encountered. When asking for accommodation, I sometimes received it, without further ado, even when it created an extraordinary amount of work and effort, like the podcaster Laura Joyce Davis of Shelter in Place who transcribed hours of interviews she made with writers of a book that I edited. She was willing to help create a connection with unerring grace; she lived up to her commitment to communicate with others. 

A post office clerk was compassionate and kind to me when I told him I was hard of hearing and could not hear him through his mask. He waved a friendly greeting; he wrote me a note to convey information. It was the tiniest of gestures, but it made me feel understood in a way that I haven’t felt understood for a long time. It was the opposite of microaggression. It was microkindness, or microcompassion–the impact of which is not to be dismissed for its apparent smallness.

In many situations, it is not an intentional slight when someone can’t or won’t accommodate my request, and I try to extend the benefit of the doubt when appropriate. I have many privileges in my life: I’m white, educated, and economically stable; these privileges have caused me to reflect on whether I must call out situations related to my partial deafness. And I think I must, to make people aware, so they can extend kindness rather than disregard to those whom they consider other—whatever the situation may be that would require understanding and awareness—whether it is systemic racism and sexism, gender identity awareness, ableism, ageism … the Karmic Compass turns like the wheel of fate; although it may seem self-serving, awareness of others may help shift the balance in your favor. As you put kindness into the world, goodly intent both uplifts others and reflects back upon you.

~Karyn Kloumann, Founder of Nauset Press

Detail “Still Life with Bevier Pots” by Adrienne Cacitti for Living Artist Project

(I) Early Childhood Education Series Pt. 6

Homeschool Education

@prestonwb Will Preston @wbpreston

As we near what would be the start of the school year in the new reality of coronavirus and the possibility in some states of another quarantine, more and more school districts will be opting for a distance learning education model for the first few months at least. Though difficult, students older than 8 who have access to the technology, will encounter similar curriculum and assignments that they would have had in a in class setting. But what about students in early childhood education age groups? How can distance learning be effective for preschool or daycare aged students? What can parents do to ensure that their younger students still have the most effective learning environment possible in this unique situation?

The first thing to know is that children under 6 learn best through play. This is the natural way that all children learn. Through exploration of their environment and hands on experience, children in this age group are introduced to the fundamentals of the world around them. Crucial to the development at this stage in the child’s education is the opportunity to learn from play. 

This can be made more complicated than it need be, but really everything a child does during their day is an opportunity to learn from their experiences. Playing with toys like blocks in the form of shapes teaches young students the differences between the shapes, and what shapes can be stacked and which shapes do not fit together. They learn about momentum and instability when stacking blocks too high. On the playground they learn that climbing to the top of the jungle gym is easier using the steps rather than the slide. Interacting with other children teaches them how to take turns and share and to communicate. The magnetic alphabet teaches students to differentiate between upper and lowercase and to recognize letters.

As a parent, providing the tools for your child to learn during this time does not have to be expensive or complicated. Pebbles, sticks, leaves, books, toys, water, can all become valuable tools in the early education of a child. One example is to write a number on a piece of paper and have the child hold up the amount of objects that match the number. The most important thing is that the activity be fun, because the students will learn something that you intend them to learn, and something that you were not expecting them to learn. Kids have shown higher abilities to retain information when the learning is centered around a fun activity.

It is also important to have some easy to use workbooks for math and writing, but it should not be the basis for their learning, because they are so young it is important that they associate learning with fun or interesting rather than boredom or force. The workbooks should be utilized in association with play. Let them decide how they work in it, where they want to start in the book, and how they want to interact with it. 

Finally, it is suggested that students get outdoors as much as possible, and the distance learning scenario allows for more exploration than ever before. Take students to libraries, go to parks and playgrounds, if there is nature somewhere in walking distance allow students to explore it as often as possible. Everything that the young student experiences during this time in their life is a learning opportunity and easily enriched through play and exploration of new environments. 

Supporting Survivors in the Black Community

So this horrible event happened to you, and your world has been flipped upside down. You don’t know who to turn to, and in some cases, if you were to speak up, the person “supporting” you would just make you interact with your perpetrator or dismiss you altogether.

Reporting sexual assault requires a strength that many survivors don’t have. This is usually due to the experience and the stigmas that are applied to the survivor. These stigmas make it that much harder to speak up, and those that speak up carry a considerable burden. For many, this expectation is a deterrent, and for every Black woman that reports what happened to her, 15 Black women do not.

Here are some facts concerning sexual assault as it manifests in the Black community:

For those that live in low-income communities, the correlation between assaults — particularly assaults with a weapon — increases. These attacks have historically been a way to silence and suppress Black women, and by extension, Black men. While Hollywood tends to portray these transgressions in a sensational manner, such as the stranger who breaks into your home, the truth is a bit more mundane. Often, assailants are people that the victim knows, such as a parent, sibling, or a romantic partner. 

Sometimes, drugs and alcohol are introduced as a way to relax the target’s boundaries. Assailants are often adept at assessing whether the mark exhibits traits of anxiety or people-pleasing, and will often use gaps in power as a way to gain control of the interaction. This includes promises of food, money, popularity, protection, preferential treatment, or some other perceived need.   

A small toolkit for survivors and supporters

Listen. If you are a supporter, center the survivor, and if the event happened to you, listen to your feelings. Our justice system is ill-equipped to handle these cases. Please keep that in mind as you ask the survivor why they didn’t report. Reach out to programs that assist survivors in their healing. Understand that healing is not a straight line, but cyclical — be gentle and don’t push. Exercise, counseling, art and crying are all very helpful.

(I) Early Childhood Education Series Pt. 5

Emotion Words

@prestonwb Will Preston @wbprest0n

How can parents help their child understand and express their emotions in healthy and constructive ways? First by assigning a name to the emotion the child is feeling, and encouraging conversation about what they are feeling. With a vocabulary for emotions the child now has a tool for exploring and understanding their feelings. Second by giving children the chance to determine what they are feeling and what someone else may be feeling. Third by pointing out the variety of reactions to their feelings available to them, and this can be reinforced by the parent with their own experiences in dealing with their emotions in the form of stories that serve as examples for how to react to emotions and feelings. Fourth by utilizing friends and family as examples for the child to see different ways to react to emotions.

When naming emotions it is important to use a name that is easily understandable for the child. This can be done while watching kids television shows or movies, or reading children books. The child can point out what emotion the character is feeling and how they reacted to it. Also utilizing the actual events that are taking place in their lives as examples and teaching moments for the child to identify their own emotion. If they felt sad yesterday due to some event, talk to them about what they felt and why, and have them assign a name to it. These are the beginning steps of building their vocabulary around their feelings and connecting them to their experiences. 

Communicating with the child on the possible responses available to them when experiencing emotions is vital to developing their understanding and their relationship to their feelings. The more that the child can be responsible for their own strategies for dealing with emotions the better. They should come up with how they will handle their feelings. Then parents should discuss with the child the positive and negative responses to emotions. When the child uses inappropriate expression when dealing with an emotion the parent should present healthy alternative strategies to the child that can help them with future similar situations. It is important that the child experience the negative response as a way of emphasizing why the positive response is preferred.

When children choose to talk about their feelings it is important that they be met with positivity and encouragement. Clear instruction as to what the child did right and what the child did wrong will encourage them to communicate about their feelings and feel comfortable coming to the parent for future discussions and development of their understanding. It is important that the time and space for these conversations be daily and predictable. During dinner, or game time, when the child is open to engagement on these types of topics. Throughout the day things will happen that provide topics for conversations surrounding emotions and feelings and every opportunity should be utilized to practice discussing how they felt about their day and how they should respond.

It is important that when the child is emotionally charged, that these conversations do not take place. The child should be calm and at ease when discussing their feelings and strategies for dealing with and responding to their emotions. They should associate these communications with parents as positive experiences, rather than as negative experiences attached to discipline for misbehaving. After the tantrum or emotionally charged situation, and the child is calm and ready to receive information in a positive form, the strategies above can be utilized to help the child analyze the situation, their emotions around it, and how they responded. Part 6 next week will center around emotional governance.