Unlearning Oppression (Lesson 3): Allies for Justice

We see daily that we each much choose a side. There are no bystanders in this moment. Coronavirus in the form Covid-19 ravishes our community on one side, while systemic oppression and white supremacists devour our Black flesh in the light of day. Long prey to the economic hungers of Jim Crow America, we can no longer sit quietly with our own sustained hunger, historical discriminatory unemployment, political disenfranchisement and continued enslavement through mass incarceration, we stand up for our lynched and murdered Black Americans. We simply say, “No more!” Now, we need support from our allies.

Don’t make excuses. If you don’t know any people of color, start reaching out with kindness. Treat us like humans. Don’t pretend you don’t see the news. Black people in America are in need of support. We need to know that White-Americans believe in our humanity and our right to live without daily enactments of violence upon our bodies. We need to know that White Americans do not condone  someone sitting on our father’s neck until he dies. We need to see White Americans outraged because our son was shot down for sport during a jog in his neighborhood. We need to hear words, see actions that unequivocally demonstrate that White Americans will not tolerate the innocent slaughter of our sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, elders and children in our own homes, yards and cars.

Lesson 3: Practice showing up for people of color. Look us in the eye. Ask our name. Listen. Ask what you can do. Do what you can support your neighbors, coworkers and extended community who aren’t white. Accept whatever comes with grace and compassion. Keep showing up until you are successful.

Dear Teenagers, (An open Letter)

I am doing this for you and every American teenager who has to miss so many important moments in order to keep your family safe. For every teenager who will VOTE the very first time on November 3, 2020, I want to make sure that wherever you are, without compromising your safety and with the confidence that your voice matters, because it does, that you can vote.

First, you have to make sure you can vote:

  1. Every US Citizen who is or will be 18 years of age on or before Election Day, has the right to vote. Learn more here: https://www.usa.gov/who-can-vote.
  2. Next, you must REGISTER to VOTE. Here is the link for you to RESGISTER TO VOTE while staying Safe at Home: https://www.usa.gov/register-to-vote
  3. Learn about what offices will be on the ballot in your community.
  4. VOTE! Election Day for the nation is Tuesday, November 3, 2020.

My husband and I think of and discuss you young people each day. We see the tremendous sacrifice you’re making for your family and community. You should be proud of yourself. It takes personal power to delay gratification for another year. Your courage inspires me. I also recognize that this is a very important time of your life. I wish you all the best, sincerely. May you thrive and find joy where you are. I hope you discover your real strength and get to know yourself well. That’s magic at any age. And, I hope you vote this year. Voting is one of the most important thresholds into adulthood that you can cross. Voting requires advanced planning, critical thinking and education. You matter. Make this year extra special.

What Kind of Teacher Are You?

I was a teacher for many years. I’ve worked with nearly age group, from infants with diapers to elders in my English classroom. As any teacher will tell you, teaching is its own set of rewards, gifts and teachers. You want to learn to do something well? Teach someone else how to do it. Teaching requires you to find the words, the tone, the language and knowledge necessary to even begin to impart it. That is why I’m grateful for teachers. I mean all the teachers, no matter grade you teach, how much money you make or whether your students will ever hug you. Thank you.

In one way or another we’re all teachers. We even learn unintentionally from contexts and outcomes of the situation. What kind of teacher are you? I’ve had all kinds of teachers over the years, but no matter who my pupil may be, my philosophy is to tell the truth. That means sometimes letting a person know when things are done well and merit celebration, or when it’s done poorly–so called negative feedback–and needs redoing. Both are important truths.

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When an adult speaks truth to a child, it’s every bit as important as a husband to a spouse. It builds trust. Over time, the lesson will solidify and reveal it worth. Truth-telling is a source of liberation; speaking the truth with the right words to open understanding, using a tone that conveys love, while holding high expectations is a gift.  This kind of attention, what I call a loving gaze upon the pupil, used to benefit the student by correcting behavior in order to allow for personal empowerment. The loving gaze is humanizes the personal and intimate relationship between teacher and student. In this context a powerful bond can form. It is the opposite of othering.

It’s critical for my student to understand a valuable mistake for a time when the stakes of failure may be high. The student must first trust me to be open to my lesson. This also gives her the ability to choose her path, armed with the knowledge and feedback necessary to make a choice. Also, telling the truth means that I will have to look them in their eye and tell them, “You can do better” with love, respect and confidence, knowing the compassion behind my words. It’s possible to tell him what he needs to know to overcome his weakness without breaking his spirit or his back. It’s the kind of teacher I’ve always valued and want to be. And relationship permits, even creates, a dynamic wherein the pupil may also challenge and correct the teacher. This leads to growth for everyone.

One thing I’m sure of, however, is that I will speak the truth with love and compassion IMG_5841until I’m gone from this earth. That’s my pedagogy. This is my gift. And if over the years, I’ve stepped on your foot, forgive me. I’m still learning. I was not raised in a gentle world. I’m quite fortunate to have a great pair of new teachers: My preadolescent niece and nephew. They’re teaching some of the lessons of the heart. As I brave this newly forming world, I armed only with my truth, ready to learn.