Tag Archives: education

Hello Scholar

An Open Letter about Representation in Academia from a Black Professor

Because there’s still more room at my table

Hello Scholar,

I want you to know why I am here. I want you to know why I choose to be in a profession where I am most certainly a minority, where across the board, people who look like me are far and few in-between. Did you know that only about 3% of full-time faculty are Black women (National Center for Education Statistics, 2016)?

I am not here by mistake. This is not random. This is just as intentional as it is strategic.

“I teach because I need you to see a visual representation of what you can be…and what you can be better than.” — Yinde Newby, author and educator

Allow me to break this down a little bit.

“…what you can be…and what you can be better than.”

Me teaching, winter 2018

Me teaching, winter 2018

Please don’t for a second think I’m only here teaching you so you can see that you can be like me. Why would I place such limits on you and your beautiful mind? Why would I shame our ancestors, bound by the burdens of slavery and institutional racism, by curbing the leaps and bounds they’ve made for you…the hopes and dreams you were made for? I want you to see you in me and I want you to do bigger and better. I want you to surpass, to transcend, to outshine anything I’ve ever done or ever could do. Don’t see me as the goal or the limit, but rather, see me as the standard. The stepping stone. I want to give you a leg up, but only if you let me.

You may not be familiar with the leaps and bounds I’ve had to make to get this seat at the table, but trust me, I didn’t sit here intending to be the only one. I sat here because I was passed the torch and I plan to pass the torch off to whoever is up to taking the seat.

“…I teach because I need you”

The journey has been far from easy, and it’s far from over. You think you need me, but truth is, I need you. I need you to let me know it was all worth it, that I’m supposed to be here. I need you to justify what I’ve been through.

the dream killers

the “you’re not supposed to be here” stares and micro aggressions

the long nights, the sacrifice

giving college the last 10 plus years of my life

the failures, the questioning of what I’m doing and

who I am

And making God laugh with my own so-called “plans”

tests on material I don’t even remember to get to places I’ll never forget

climbing mountains to help people climb I don’t even know yet

Let me know.

This one is for the scholars, the ancestors and their successors.

With Warm Regards,

Your Black Professor

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Trigger Warnings and Crooked Triggers

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I’m writing in a space where I’m the minority. Figuratively and literally.

I’m overhearing a conversation about trigger warnings or warnings before sensitive topics. A girl shares with her friends her disdain for her black African-American history professor. “She showed us pictures of lynchings with no trigger warnings,” she disgustingly exclaimed. She then equated this with this professor’s ability to teach. “I was like ‘you’re an educator, you should know that people are going to react differently to different things.'” She then advised everyone around her to not take her class.

I’m sitting here as my stomach is flipping and flopping. I want to scream but nothing is coming out of my mouth.

Trigger warnings. Masks. Excuses. Bullshit. Or whatever you want to call them. I want to call it what it is and enlighten them all. But then I’d be playing the victim, as folk say.

Because she’s the victim — or at least that’s what she wants to believe.

If the recent police murders of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile and countless others ever since weren’t recorded, shared on social media and exposed to the public at-large, these unjust killings would have gone virtually unnoticed.

Did these victims of police brutality get a warning before they were shot to death by the very people who are supposed to protect them? Did Philando Castile’s preschool-aged daughter get a warning, letting her know that she would sit in the backseat of the family car while watching the passenger seat change colors as her father’s blood slowly stained it red, by way of a crooked, lethal trigger? Did she know ahead of time that she would carry the burden of consoling her mother, sitting in a precinct for 15 hours with no food and no water?

To be warned is to be privileged, and privilege does not exist in true victimhood.

“People have mental illnesses and traumatic experiences,” she said. “Why can’t they get permission to skip the class?” She asked.

Mental illness. If you were a person, I would feel the most sorry for you. Your name is misused and abused. People who suffer with you are being overlooked and people who want to overlook racial history use your name in vain as a beard to hide their deep-seated fear of the truth.

When I write about race, I am complaining.

When I speak about race, I am angry.

When she avoids addressing the ugly truth of the Jim Crow South and lynchings and race, she’s standing up for people.

God bless the black woman educator. I am she. She is me. A black woman who has worked her ass off to be finally granted the ultimate privilege of teaching as a student (granted, under an assistantship) at a university. A black woman who is employed to enlighten young scholars of all ages, colors and hues. A black woman who has more than likely fought through the wraths of racism, sexism, hateration, micro-aggressions and everything else in between on her way to the top.

God bless the victims of police murders and other unjust, racially-charged crimes against humanity. No trigger warning could ever stop a crooked trigger.

God bless those that suffer from mental illness. I pray that you feel as comfortable as possible no matter where you are or where you happen to go. If you know me, you know my mother is a therapist and if you’re suffering, I extend my hand to you with her services. But this isn’t about mental illness.

I want to talk about masks.

I don’t like them. I want to rip them off. All of them. I want the tape affixed to the masks to pull all the little hairs off the faces of the hidden. And I want it to sting, like nothing ever felt before.

This girl. She wants the mask to stay on. She wants to marry it and live happily ever after with it, ’til death do they part. This is the same girl that felt so compelled to prove to me how “down” for black folk she is when I first met her.

“My friends told me not to move here because they’re so many black people but I thought that was awesome.”

“A lot of the time I’m the only white person in my classes but that’s fine, really.”

“Where I used to live, there were white people everywhere and I just couldn’t take the lack of diversity.”

But she doesn’t want to address the plight of the people she claims to love so much?

She’s not alone. The masks are permanently congealed to the faces of many.

To the true victims: Don’t be weary and don’t be still.

But know.

Know your history. Know your right to know your history. Black people were slaves. Black people were lynched. Black people were systematically degraded by the rule of the law. Nobody can change the past. Too many people are doing too much to undo. Fight it. Always fight it in your own way. When I fight, I write.

And when the past constantly taunts the present by way of the school to prison pipeline, police brutality, racial profiling, a widening achievement gap and endless covert discriminatory tactics woven into the thread of the nation, you have no choice but to face history head on. It is your duty —

when you are a victim.

We are in a space where everybody wants to play the victim, but most are far too fragile for this line of work.

 

Learning to Cope with Blackness by Mariah Williams

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I felt heavy most days I went to work. Being Black in corporate America requires one to wear a cloak of confidence and protection just to make it through the day, even the simplest of tasks. The idea of double consciousness has always weighed pretty heavily on me, especially because I’ve routinely been immersed in hegemonic White spaces where the smile I wore did not always reflect what I was thinking or feeling on the inside. I learned at an early age that many people within these spaces, both Black and White, were not always willing to talk about the messiness of race, class and gender, and would rather avoid the uneasiness those topics aroused altogether. I also learned that getting my daily dose of pro-Black conversation would have to come from Black co-workers at Happy Hours or group chats with close friends and not from the workplace.

The fact is, I’m Black, and I state that proudly. But, at any given point in my life, I could walk down the street, be perceived as a threat, wear the wrong clothes, make a sudden movement and my life could be in jeopardy. My White co-workers didn’t see that. To them, I was the articulate Black girl, the one who did well for herself despite being raised by a single mother. To them, I failed to represent the stereotypes of Blackness in this country. I was safe to them, but unfortunately, the privilege their white skin afforded them would always be a threat to me and those who looked like me.

I’ve always had a good understanding of the game I had to play to be successful, but as any Black person knows, it’s beyond tiring, and on days where I wake up to yet another Black body being gunned down by law enforcement, I feel heavy. Extremely heavy. And as much as I hate to admit it, hopeless. Not because I don’t think things will change or because I take the work of my ancestral freedom fighters for granted, but because I am preparing to walk into a place where my co-workers will talk about arbitrary news events to spark conversation or a local bar they visited, and make no mention of what’s happening to Black people in this country, people who look exactly like me. I realize it’s probably naïve of me to expect them to say anything and I don’t really know why I’m surprised, but it’s still an awful feeling to be silenced and to go unseen, to be expected to deal with conditions most people would find unbearable. But, I bite my tongue, because that’s what we are taught to do.

Instead, I want to call out and say the reason for my absence is simple: tired from being Black. I’d say, “I’ll see you all when America starts to acknowledge and value my humanity”.  Truth is, I’d probably never go back if I had to wait on that.

I struggle with juggling the two worlds, even after 24 years of doing it. I imagine that most Black people do. Be it in corporate America or predominantly White universities, the feeling of otherness pulls us down like an anchor. Luckily, I have friends and family outside of work who get it and who are willing to be my soundboard whenever I need it, but I imagine there are people who have no such thing, who have no way of filling their cups back up after long days of feigned smiles and exaggerated laughter with co-workers who are oblivious to what their White privilege affords them.

I don’t pretend to have the solution to how spaces marred by White hegemony can work to acknowledge the experiences of being “the other.”

I simply know that I’m am tired of feeling drained from the battle that comes from being Black in this country and being forced to endure, to get over it and to let it go.

For those of us who have felt trapped in a world where we are unseen and unheard and sometimes even pretend to be someone we are not because we can’t talk about the ties we have to people like Sandra Bland, Trayvon Martin or Tamir Rice, I encourage us to seek out where we can find these communities. The reality is, our workplaces are unlikely to change in the ways we need them to, or if they do, they will adopt the superficial front of diversity and inclusion that most places do these days. Even though they will promote being open, there will never truly be a space to express the realities of the “other” experience.

Breaking the vicious cycle of otherness and lessening the load hegemony brings is a riddle I’ve not yet solved, but I will continue to seek outlets to make this Black life I’m living a bit easier, and I encourage others to do the same.


pictureMariah Williams is a graduate student at VCU pursing a Masters in Urban and Regional Planning. She enjoys reading, writing and is passionate about social justice issues within the Black community. She loves her Black and  her magic and wants to become an urban planner who works with women of color to develop cultural and inclusive spaces within neighborhoods and cities.

Help a Sista Help a Sista

“Unfortunately, history has shown us that [sisterhood] must be learned, when it should be natural.” — Josephine Baker

JJ Jendayi Johnson 2

Jendayi Johnson

 

Today, my mom and I ran into a man at the mall. In conversation, he brought  up his daughter. His face lit up when he spoke of her.

My face lit up when his face lit up. I was loving this father’s love.

“She just finished up at University of Virginia and now she’s headed to New York for graduate school.” Jendayi Johnson, his daughter, is headed to Columbia in the fall to study speech-language pathology. Her studies have been inspired by her grandmother, who suffered a stroke and lost most of her speaking ability.

While the doctor was claiming defeat, alleging that Jendayi’s grandmother may never speak again, the speech pathologist was working to prove otherwise. After months of working with the speech pathologist, Jendayi’s grandmother was speaking whole sentences.

How sweet a feeling it is when we prove doubt and defeat wrong.

Unfortunately, Jendayi herself has dealt with a great deal of doubt from others and even from herself. “When I was accepted into college, I was told that I only got in because I was Black,” she explained on her Just Jobs scholarship page. She went on to talk about overheard conversations demeaning Black students and minimizing the validity of their accomplishments. After internalizing all of this, she, like many students, developed Impostor Syndrome, or an inability to accept personal success and achievement. People who experience Impostor Syndrome often fear that they should not be where they are in life and aren’t as capable as their peers.

It’s easy to feel like an impostor as a black woman in higher education. In many spaces of higher education, we are limited or even non-existent. Nonetheless, our presence in these spaces is needed and well overdue. Many black women miss opportunities for higher education, not because we are incapable, but rather, because we are unsupported.

Sisterhood.

Its when I reached out to a UVA student via Facebook when I first got accepted into my master’s program and she took time out her busy schedule to talk to me before I even got there, came over and gave me a 3 hour pep talk the night I moved to Charlottesville and afterwards, became a lifelong friend and role model.

Its when a dean at my undergraduate alma mater, University of Richmond, supported me when I was threatened and had property vandalized for the words I wrote in the school newspaper, from the moment it happened to the police hearing, which she attended with me. She continued to support me well after it was all said and done.

Its when a retired philanthropist decided to sow seeds through me and pay for me to travel in order to work with marginalized girls throughout Virginia and beyond before ever meeting me in person.

There were way more than three black women who helped pave the way for me. Now, its Jendayi’s turn. She needs way more than that to help support her vision as well.

“Receiving my degree will allow me to prove everyone that thought that I didn’t have the ability to succeed wrong. More importantly, it would be the first step of many towards achieving my goal of fortifying my clients’ abilities to communicate their thoughts, opinions, and desires and continuing on the trajectory that other Black scholars that came before me created,” Jendayi asserted.

Black people are crabs in a barrel.

Black women never support each other.

Our community is tainted by these false stereotypes.

Jendayi wants to prove the naysayers wrong by helping others do the same.

My momma and I told her daddy that he ran into the right people today. Help me follow through.

Help a sista help a sista and vote for this young queen to win a scholarship so she can go on to Columbia and really show out and show and prove.

Because sisterhood should be natural.

(Its extremely easy to vote. From what I was told, clicking the heart above the comments section counts as a vote. Also, leaving comments on the page and sharing her page on Facebook also helps to convince the judges. You have until Friday, 7/ 15/2016 to vote.)

Buy Black by Fantasia Alston

Six men of color
Killed within a week
No, not by their own
But at the hands of the police
Enough is enough
We all began to say
Then we’ll get on our knees,
Bow down, and pray
But is that enough
The peaceful protest with our folks
Poster signs waving in the air
Heartfelt Instagram posts
Social and political activism helps
But what about economic growth
Its time to hit some organizations
Where it hurts the most
Black owned businesses
Are deserving of our respect
They work as hard as anyone else
And should be treated no less
No more trying to be a black face
Of a predominantly white brand
Getting treated poorly by the masses
While throwing money in their hands
Our unemployment rates are still higher
Than any other group
We still don’t have enough funds
For our community to help the youth
We must practice black empowerment
With regard of the revolution
Word of mouth is always great
But it’s time for a permanent solution

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Fantasia Alston is a guest writer for theblackertheberry.org. She is a 22 year old free spirit  and visionary who spends most of her time  writing poetry, reading (preferably mystery books), and doing whatever she can to help better the community, whether it be volunteering at the nearest homeless shelter or picking up any litter found on the solid surface of the Earth. She also enjoys painting whatever comes to mind, cooking, meditating,  and taking long walks to nowhere.  She currently resides in Columbia, SC. She is a writer for #SCHOOLGIRLHUSTLE, an organization that supports and empowers girls and women to stay in school. Learn more about her and her work here. Follow her on instagram here.

 

The Conversation 

Police brutality and the war on black men forces poetry out of my soul. It also forces hard conversations with the people we love.

I had to have

the conversation

with the man I love
I told him to just

Lay

Just lay on the ground

When they come around
As I spoke I felt that rope

Tied around my throat
And it hurt.
I told him to do whatever

they say

I told him to pray

While he lay

As I choked

on tears and pride
Two black men murdered 2 nights in a row in July

There’s no other option

The man I love
Has

Got

To

Survive
I had to have

the conversation
I felt him lose his patience

as fear consumed me

And there was nothing he could do about it
I felt him lose his power

While murderous thoughts devoured

my heart and my soul and my bones
Engulfed in flames

Set ablaze by the videos

On my social media page
I had to have

the conversation
“I’m gonna be alright” he said

And he held me tight

While I kissed his forehead
Then we said goodnight.
Each minute that passed while he drove home felt more like an hour
I lost my patience.
At least we had the conversation
But then I thought about

His dark skin

His boldness

His unyielding power

His smart mouth

His charisma

And his confidence
Yall know how a man is

He

Has

Got

To

Survive
There’s no other option.

 

Perspective

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This piece is dedicated to the children who have lost their lives to school.

It’s not even worth it. I’m not gonna walk down the 10th grade hall. She’s gonna find me if I do. I hate that feeling when we lock eyes. I hate that she and her friends sense my fear, like a ferocious pit bull out for a kill. Being here is hard. Sometimes, I wish she weren’t here. Sometimes, I wish I wasn’t here. I’ve tried to not be here last year, and 6 months ago and just 2 weeks ago. Momma says my skin ain’t thick enough, but time after time, the knife says otherwise, because unfortunately, I’m still here.

I’m

still

here

Here we go again with these bad ass girls. They’re one in the same. They wanna fight. They wanna challenge authority. They wanna be “bad bitches.” Don’t give me that ADHD-special ed.- mental health bullshit either. If my history class was about slingin’ on the corner or where to buy the best Malaysian hair, they’d be all ears. They know how to steal from the corner store. They know how to open up their legs. Thinkin’ they know everything. Too bad they don’t know they ain’t gonna amount to not a thing. Give them what they want. If they don’t care, I don’t care.

I

don’t

care

I don’t care about nothin’ else but him. My momma don’t want me. My daddy don’t want me. He’s all I got and I’ll be damned if I let this little hot-in-the-pants freshman take him away from me. I hate that feeling when they lock eyes. I hate the way he lights up every time she walks by him. When he approaches her, it sets my soul ablaze in the worst way. Take, take, take. That’s all everyone does around here. My grandfather took my virginity. My foster father took taking my dignity a step farther that one day when he…One day. I’m gonna take from this world as much or even more than it has taken from me!

It’s not even worth it but the knife says otherwise I’m gonna take from this world it sets my soul ablaze in the worst way.

Let’s all take the time to talk to our children and other children we know. Let’s also take the time to read up on and acknowledge the effects of bullying, abuse, low self-esteem and mental illness on our youth.

What you see isn’t always what you get.

Rest in peace Amy Francis-Joyner.