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Thursday
Aug022018

On James Baldwin's "A Talk to Teachers"

Somewhere around the first 5 years of teaching I created a tradition of starting off the first day of school with readings and music. The music included What a Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong, some funkier get-moving-now tunes, and I Try by Macy Gray. These songs centered me. The words of James Baldwin did the same once I was introduced to his "A Talk to Teachers" and realized this was what I needed before going into my classroom. 

It was always Mr. Baldwin because of what I experienced in my student teaching when I suggested to my cooperating teacher that I wanted to use Go Tell it On The Mountain and she said, "Ok. That's a good text, but you'll have to do some scaffolding to get there." Not only was she right, but it ended up being a disastrous lesson because I had no idea just how MUCH scaffolding was needed. Right in the middle of the unit I broke down in tears and asked if I could start over. Dr. Wiseman, my co-op teacher, was masterful in how she handled this. 

"You can always start over. You can always apologize when a lesson doesn't go as planned. But, how will you do it differently this time?" 

She was a smart one, that Nell Wiseman. It's been over 25 years and I still think of her words. They actually pushed me to read more Baldwin, try much harder at making connections in the classroom, and eventually I found my way to this. 

Originally delivered in 1963 from being published in The Saturday Review, Baldwin's talk seemed more like a sermon to me. There's one line, however, that means more now than ever before when he's talking about Negro children. They wouldn't dream of calling a policeman. I wish every teacher would read this. I wish every teacher would go into their schools with the knowledge he drops here about that very system being hostile towards them. I wish we understood, on a deep level, how dangerous our schools are for the children it didn't set itself up for and how resentful American public schools were and are about teaching Black children. Even Latinx, Indigenous, Muslim, immigrant children. They walk through the doors expecting school to be the great experience their parents tell them it should be. 

It should be. But, it isn't. And his line about how they wouldn't dream of calling a policeman is loud to me. It's shouting. It's in ALL CAPS, waving a banner demanding "look at me". I'm thinking clearly on this today, the anniversary of his birth in 1924, and hoping this becomes a tradition for some new teachers and possibly some veteran ones. Happy birthday, Mr. Baldwin. 

*************

A Talk to Teachers by James Baldwin

Let’s begin by saying that we are living through a very dangerous time.  Everyone in this room is in one way or another aware of that.  We are in a revolutionary situation, no matter how unpopular that word has become in this country.  The society in which we live is desperately menaced, not by Khrushchev, but from within.  To any citizen of this country who figures himself as responsible – and particularly those of you who deal with the minds and hearts of young people – must be prepared to “go for broke.”  Or to put it another way, you must understand that in the attempt to correct so many generations of bad faith and cruelty, when it is operating not only in the classroom but in society, you will meet the most fantastic, the most brutal, and the most determined resistance.  There is no point in pretending that this won’t happen.
 
Since I am talking to schoolteachers and I am not a teacher myself, and in some ways am fairly easily intimidated, I beg you to let me leave that and go back to what I think to be the entire purpose of education in the first place.  It would seem to me that when a child is born, if I’m the child’s parent, it is my obligation and my high duty to civilize that child.  Man is a social animal.  He cannot exist without a society.  A society, in turn, depends on certain things which everyone within that society takes for granted.  Now the crucial paradox which confronts us here is that the whole process of education occurs within a social framework and is designed to perpetuate the aims of society.  Thus, for example, the boys and girls who were born during the era of the Third Reich, when educated to the purposes of the Third Reich, became barbarians.  The paradox of education is precisely this - that as one begins to become conscious one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated.  The purpose of education, finally, is to create in a person the ability to look at the world for himself, to make his own decisions, to say to himself this is black or this is white, to decide for himself whether there is a God in heaven or not.  To ask questions of the universe, and then learn to live with those questions, is the way he achieves his own identity.  But no society is really anxious to have that kind of person around.  What societies really, ideally, want is a citizenry which will simply obey the rules of society.  If a society succeeds in this, that society is about to perish.  The obligation of anyone who thinks of himself as responsible is to examine society and try to change it and to fight it – at no matter what risk.  This is the only hope society has.  This is the only way societies change.
 
Now, if what I have tried to sketch has any validity, it becomes thoroughly clear, at least to me, that any Negro who is born in this country and undergoes the American educational system runs the risk of becoming schizophrenic.  On the one hand he is born in the shadow of the stars and stripes and he is assured it represents a nation which has never lost a war.  He pledges allegiance to that flag which guarantees “liberty and justice for all.”  He is part of a country in which anyone can become president, and so forth.  But on the other hand he is also assured by his country and his countrymen that he has never contributed anything to civilization – that his past is nothing more than a record of humiliations gladly endured.  He is assumed by the republic that he, his father, his mother, and his ancestors were happy, shiftless, watermelon-eating darkies who loved Mr. Charlie and Miss Ann, that the value he has as a black man is proven by one thing only – his devotion to white people.  If you think I am exaggerating, examine the myths which proliferate in this country about Negroes.
 
All this enters the child’s consciousness much sooner than we as adults would like to think it does.  As adults, we are easily fooled because we are so anxious to be fooled.  But children are very different.  Children, not yet aware that it is dangerous to look too deeply at anything, look at everything, look at each other, and draw their own conclusions.  They don’t have the vocabulary to express what they see, and we, their elders, know how to intimidate them very easily and very soon.  But a black child, looking at the world around him, though he cannot know quite what to make of it, is aware that there is a reason why his mother works so hard, why his father is always on edge.  He is aware that there is some reason why, if he sits down in the front of the bus, his father or mother slaps him and drags him to the back of the bus.  He is aware that there is some terrible weight on his parents’ shoulders which menaces him.  And it isn’t long – in fact it begins when he is in school – before he discovers the shape of his oppression.
 
Let us say that the child is seven years old and I am his father, and I decide to take him to the zoo, or to Madison Square Garden, or to the U.N. Building, or to any of the tremendous monuments we find all over New York.  We get into a bus and we go from where I live on 131st Street and Seventh Avenue downtown through the park and we get in New York City, which is not Harlem.  Now, where the boy lives – even if it is a housing project – is in an undesirable neighborhood.  If he lives in one of those housing projects of which everyone in New York is so proud, he has at the front door, if not closer, the pimps, the whores, the junkies – in a word, the danger of life in the ghetto.  And the child knows this, though he doesn’t know why.
 
I still remember my first sight of New York.  It was really another city when I was born – where I was born.  We looked down over the Park Avenue streetcar tracks.  It was Park Avenue, but I didn’t know what Park Avenue meant downtown.  The Park Avenue I grew up on, which is still standing, is dark and dirty.   No one would dream of opening a Tiffany’s on that Park Avenue, and when you go downtown you discover that you are literally in the white world.  It is rich – or at least it looks rich.  It is clean – because they collect garbage downtown.  There are doormen.  People walk about as though they owned where they are – and indeed they do.  And it’s a great shock.  It’s very hard to relate yourself to this.  You don’t know what it means.  You know – you know instinctively – that none of this is for you.  You know this before you are told.  And who is it for and who is paying for it?  And why isn’t it for you?
 
Later on when you become a grocery boy or messenger and you try to enter one of those buildings a man says, “Go to the back door.”  Still later, if you happen by some odd chance to have a friend in one of those buildings, the man says, “Where’s your package?”  Now this by no means is the core of the matter.  What I’m trying to get at is that by the time the Negro child has had, effectively, almost all the doors of opportunity slammed in his face, and there are very few things he can do about it.  He can more or less accept it with an absolutely inarticulate and dangerous rage inside – all the more dangerous because it is never expressed.  It is precisely those silent people whom white people see every day of their lives – I mean your porter and your maid, who never say anything more than “Yes Sir” and “No, Ma’am.”  They will tell you it’s raining if that is what you want to hear, and they will tell you the sun is shining if that is what you want to hear.  They really hate you – really hate you because in their eyes (and they’re right) you stand between them and life.  I want to come back to that in a moment.  It is the most sinister of the facts, I think, which we now face.

They wouldn’t dream of calling a policeman.


There is something else the Negro child can do, to.  Every street boy – and I was a street boy, so I know – looking at the society which has produced him, looking at the standards of that society which are not honored by anybody, looking at your churches and the government and the politicians, understand that this structure is operated for someone else’s benefit – not for his.  And there’s no reason in it for him.  If he is really cunning, really ruthless, really strong – and many of us are – he becomes a kind of criminal.  He becomes a kind of criminal because that’s the only way he can live.  Harlem and every ghetto in this city – every ghetto in this country – is full of people who live outside the law.  They wouldn’t dream of calling a policeman.  They wouldn’t, for a moment, listen to any of those professions of which we are so proud on the Fourth of July.  They have turned away from this country forever and totally.  They live by their wits and really long to see the day when the entire structure comes down.
 
The point of all this is that black men were brought here as a source of cheap labor.  They were indispensable to the economy.  In order to justify the fact that men were treated as though they were animals, the white republic had to brainwash itself into believing that they were, indeed, animals and deserved  to be treated like animals.  Therefor it is almost impossible for any Negro child to discover anything about his actual history.  The reason is that this “animal,” once he suspects his own worth, once he starts believing that he is a man, has begun to attack the entire power structure.  This is why America has spent such a long time keeping the Negro in his place.  What I am trying to suggest to you is that it was not an accident, it was not an act of God, it was not done by well-meaning people muddling into something which they didn’t understand.  It was a deliberate policy hammered into place in or4der to make money from black flesh.  And now, in 1963, because we have never faced this fact, we are in intolerable trouble.
 
The Reconstruction, as I read the evidence, was a bargain between the North and South to this effect:  “We’ve liberated them from the land – and delivered them to the bosses.”  When we left Mississippi to come North we did not come to freedom.  We came to the bottom of the labor market, and we are still there.  Even the Depression of the 1930’s failed to make a dent in Negroes’ relationship to white workers in the labor unions.  Even today, so brainwashed is this republic that people seriously ask in what they suppose to be good faith, “What does the Negro want?”  I’ve heard a great many asinine questions in my life, but that is perhaps the most asinine and perhaps the most insulting.  But the point here is that people who ask that question, thinking that they ask it in good faith, are really the victims of this conspiracy to make Negroes believe they are less than human.
 
In order for me to live, I decided very early that some mistake had been made somewhere.  I was not a “nigger” even though you called me one.  But if I was a “nigger” in your eyes, there was something about you – there was something you needed.  I had to realize when I was very young that I was none of those things I was told I was.  I was not, for example, happy.  I never touched a watermelon for all kinds of reasons that had been invented by white people, and I knew enough about life by this time to understand that whatever you invent, whatever you project, is you!  So where we are no is that a whole country of people believe I’m a “nigger,” and I don’t , and the battle’s on!  Because if I am not what I’ve been told I am, then it means that you’re not what you thought you were either!  And that is the crisis.
 
It is not really a “Negro revolution” that is upsetting the country.  What is upsetting the country is a sense of its own identity.  If, for example, one managed to change the curriculum in all the schools so that Negroes learned more about themselves and their real contributions to this culture, you would be liberating not only Negroes, you’d be liberating white people who know nothing about their own history.  And the reason is that if you are compelled to lie about one aspect of anybody’s history, you must lie about it all.  If you have to lie about my real role here, if you have to pretend that I hoed all that cotton just because I loved you, then you have done something to yourself.  You are mad.
 
Now let’s go back a minute.  I talked earlier about those silent people - the porter and the maid – who, as I said, don’t look up at the sky if you ask them if it is raining, but look into your face.  My ancestors and I were very well trained.  We understood very early that this was not a Christian nation.  It didn’t matter what you said or how often you went to church.  My father and my mother and my grandfather and my grandmother knew that Christians didn’t act this way.  It was a simple as that.  And if that was so there was no point in dealing with white people in terms of their own moral professions, for they were not going to honor them.  What one did was to turn away, smiling all the time, and tell white people what they wanted to hear.  But people always accuse you of reckless talk when you say this.
 
All this means that there are in this country tremendous reservoirs of bitterness which have never been able to find an outlet, but may find an outlet soon.  It means that well-meaning white liberals place themselves in great danger when they try to deal with Negroes as though they were missionaries.  It means, in brief, that a great price is demanded to liberate all those silent people so that they can breathe for the first time and tell  you what they think of you.  And a price is demanded to liberate all those white children – some of them near forty - who have never grown up, and who never will grow up, because they have no sense of their identity.
 
What passes for identity in America is a series of myths about one’s heroic ancestors.  It’s astounding to me, for example, that so many people really appear to believe that the country was founded by a band of heroes who wanted to be free.  That happens not to be true.  What happened was that some people left Europe because they couldn’t stay there any longer and had to go someplace else to make it.  That’s all.  They were hungry, they were poor, they were convicts.  Those who were making it in England, for example, did not get on the Mayflower.  That’s how the country was settled.  Not by Gary Cooper.  Yet we have a whole race of people, a whole republic, who believe the myths to the point where even today they select political representatives, as far as I can tell, by how closely they resemble Gary Cooper.  Now this is dangerously infantile, and it shows in every level of national life.  When I was living in Europe, for example, one of the worst revelations to me was the way Americans walked around Europe buying this and buying that and insulting everybody – not even out of malice, just because they didn’t know any better.  Well, that is the way they have always treated me.  They weren’t cruel; they just didn’t know you were alive.  They didn’t know you had any feelings.
 
What I am trying to suggest here is that in the doing of all this for 100 years or more, it is the American white man who has long since lost his grip on reality.  In some peculiar way, having created this myth about Negroes, and the myth about his own history, he created myths about the world so that, for example, he was astounded that some people could prefer Castro, astounded that there are people in the world who don’t go into hiding when they hear the word “Communism,” astounded that Communism is one of the realities of the twentieth century which we will not overcome by pretending that it does not exist.  The political level in this country now, on the part of people who should know better, is abysmal.
 
The Bible says somewhere that where there is no vision the people perish.  I don’t think anyone can doubt that in this country today we are menaced – intolerably menaced – by a lack of vision.
 
It is inconceivable that a sovereign people should continue, as we do so abjectly, to say, “I can’t do anything about it.  It’s the government.”  The government is the creation of the people.  It is responsible to the people.  And the people are responsible for it.  No American has the right to allow the present government to say, when Negro children are being bombed and hosed and shot and beaten all over the Deep South, that there is nothing we can do about it.  There must have been a day in this country’s life when the bombing of the children in Sunday School would have created a public uproar and endangered the life of a Governor Wallace.  It happened here and there was no public uproar.
 
I began by saying that one of the paradoxes of education was that precisely at the point when you begin to develop a conscience, you must find yourself at war with your society.  It is your responsibility to change society if you think of yourself as an educated person.  And on the basis of the evidence – the moral and political evidence – one is compelled to say that this is a backward society.  Now if I were a teacher in this school, or any Negro school, and I was dealing with Negro children, who were in my care only a few hours of every day and would then return to their homes and to the streets, children who have an apprehension of their future which with every hour grows grimmer and darker, I would try to teach them -  I would try to make them know – that those streets, those houses, those dangers, those agonies by which they are surrounded, are criminal.  I would try to make each child know that these things are the result of a criminal conspiracy to destroy him.  I would teach him that if he intends to get to be a man, he must at once decide that his is stronger than this conspiracy and they he must never make his peace with it.  And that one of his weapons for refusing to make his peace with it and for destroying it depends on what he decides he is worth.  I would teach him that there are currently very few standards in this country which are worth a man’s respect.  That it is up to him to change these standards for the sake of the life and the health of the country.  I would suggest to him that the popular culture – as represented, for example, on television and in comic books and in movies – is based on fantasies created by very ill people, and he must be aware that these are fantasies that have nothing to do with reality.  I would teach him that the press he reads is not as free as it says it is – and that he can do something about that, too.  I would try to make him know that just as American history is longer, larger, more various, more beautiful and more terrible than anything anyone has ever said about it, so is the world larger, more daring, more beautiful and more terrible, but principally larger – and that it belongs to him.  I would teach him that he doesn’t have to be bound by the expediencies of any given administration, any given policy, any given morality; that he has the right and the necessity to examine everything.  I would try to show him that one has not learned anything about Castro when one says, “He is a Communist.”  This is a way of his not learning something about Castro, something about Cuba, something, in time, about the world.  I would suggest to him that his is living, at the moment, in an enormous province.  America is not the world and if America is going to become a nation, she must find a way – and this child must help her to find a way to use the tremendous potential and tremendous energy which this child represents.  If this country does not find a way to use that energy, it will be destroyed by that energy. 

James Baldwin published “A Talk to Teachers” in The Saturday Review of Dec. 21, 1961. The essay was originally delivered as an address in New York City on Oct. 16, 1963, titled “The Negro Child: His Self-Image.” It is reprinted in Baldwin’s Collected Essays in The Library of America (pp. 678-86).  

Friday
Jun292018

Teachers Need to Prepare for the 2018–19 School Year. Here’s How.

Not only did I spend the first 10 years as a classroom teacher during my education career but I was department chair for a while, too. That may seem insignificant (and it comes with a very small stipend for all the work they do) but it was critical for me to be, however I could be, in ‘charge’.

My mother spent the better part of my early years admonishing me with this saying: Kelly, you can either be bossy or be the boss. You choose. She meant to tell me that I spent too much time telling other people what to do and there was wisdom in her words. What she also taught me was that I had better do things differently if I ever planned to lead.

Leadership is such a loaded word in education and you can list 5 leaders who all do it well but have very different approaches and qualities they impart to those they lead. When I became the Language Arts Department Chair at the tender age of 25 I knew I wanted to change one huge thing: the content of our curriculum.

All those dusty books in the dreaded, damp book room proved to me we hadn’t updated in years. The same stories I read as a child were available on those shelves and, harmful as it is, too many teachers want to re-create their own reading from childhood without critically thinking about the needs of their students.

A full 83% of American teachers are white. They have, for decades, upheld the white institutions in which they work even when their classrooms no longer look like the ones they inhabited in their youth. I cannot stress enough how dangerous this is in the year 2018. We need a big change in what we teach. I work, daily, at de-colonizing my mind. I have years to undo with all the Eurocentric history and the (omg, so much repetition) of American History from my own classes. I can name several concentration camps because my own teachers taught the Holocaust with incredible depth. Imagine my surprise, then, when I learned of King Leopold II long after high school.

Like a lot of people who find themselves incredulous of the missed history our schools didn’t teach us, I exclaimed, “HOW DID I NOT KNOW OF THIS MONSTER?” How did my teachers, year after year, fail to mention this king of the Belgians who killed 10 million people in the Congo?

TEN. MILLION. PEOPLE.

Luckily, in college, I got my hands on a copy of James Loewen’s Lies My Teacher Told Me.

 

Then, it all changed.

Nothing was as it seemed. All my historical education felt like propaganda and I felt like I had a lifetime of history to catch up on. I could name the kings and queens of European nations but not a single African one. I had no idea about the true story of Matoaka, only the sanitized, faux-love story version of a woman my teachers told me who was called Pocahontas. What I didn’t know could…well, it could fill every library in the entire world.

We have to do things differently this fall, dear teachers. I don’t mean to preach to the small choir of incredibly astute and brilliant educators whom I follow through social media so this is for those who have never once considered the words of Lerone Bennett, Jr:

An educator in a system of oppression is either a revolutionary or an oppressor.

With that as a base, here are resources for any teacher this summer who is wringing their hands at what to do as they watch this nation fall to pieces in ways many of us have warned about for quite some time. I’m glad you’re here, but you need to get to work.

1. First, go sign up for all the social media you can get from Zinn Education Project because they are an amazing resource. You’ll get daily Today in History material but you’ll also get teaching materials, the ability to search by time period or theme, and you can also donate to them. Don’t forget to donate.

2. Zinn’s What Happened to the Civil Rights Movement After 1965? Don’t Ask Your Textbook is a good place to start. In that, Adam Sanchez writes: “Most U.S. History textbooks teach a narrative that the Civil Rights Movement began with the Supreme Court Brown v. Boarddecision in 1954 and abruptly ended in 1965 with the passage of federal legislation. Not only does this narrative tell students that politicians and judges are more important than activists and organizers, it reinforces the myth that structural racism is a relic of the past and the United States is on an unstoppable path of progress.”

3. Next stop: go get some of the goodness of Teaching Tolerance. Follow them on Twitter. Maybe you, dear teacher, have been worried about diversity, equity, and justice. Maybe those are buzzwords to you. That’s unfortunate, but you can start correcting that course right now. You’re in luck. Teaching Tolerance is devoted to this work and has done the heavy lifting for you to be the best teacher you can be. You need lesson plans? I THOUGHT YOU’D NEVER ASK. Here you go.  

4. Jennifer Gonzalez writes at Cult of Pedagogy. (see how I’m sneaking in some Educationese here? I speak your language.) Look here. Jennifer has done the work for you with this Collection of Resources for Teaching Social Justice. Send this link to your team of teachers. Are you a parent or concerned citizen? GREAT. Drop this in an email and follow up after a week with the department chair of your favorite discipline. They need the follow up. Teachers have a lot on their plates, so, yes, I’m adding this to it but let me give you permission to take off some of that old, musty curriculum, ok?

5. A note (side story?) about all the responsibility that teachers already have: I had a teacher in my building once who cultivated her unit on a part of European history. She loved that unit. I mean she loved it. Every year she added something new, taking the unit into another full week because this happened to be her favorite part of history. She took way too long to teach this unit because it was comfortable for her. RESIST THAT URGE. We already know our history in schools is top heavy on whiteness. 

6. How do you know if you’re materials are heavy on whiteness? Do some inventory. It’s easy. Glance over your units and figure out what percentage of your teaching is in ensuring that all your students know the history of white people. Is it over 50%? 75%? That’s a problem. What does your classroom look like? Investigate your demographics. You know what? Even if you teach in a majority white school DO THIS ANYWAY. 

7. So, where do you work, teachers? I mean, what is the institution which you’ve chosen as your profession? Do you know the history of it? Do you happen to be up on the history of your personal district or the town or city in which you live? We’re complicit in so much when we ignore how our systems came to be. The History of Institutional Racism in U.S. Public Schools is a really good PLC activity for you to start right now. Understanding the SCOTUS cases is imperative here so take a deep dive into them. 

 

8. I have another book study for you and this is relatively new: Teaching for Black Lives edited by Dyan Watson, Jesse Hagopian, and Wayne Au from Rethinking Schools is the one you need. Rethinking Schools is a non-profit magazine and book publisher dedicated to sustaining & strengthening public education through social justice teaching and educational activism. WHAT A MOUTHFUL. I KNOW. You can donate here. You can buy the book here. 

 

9. Join the EduColor movement and forge relationships with teaches across the globe so you can be supported as you do this work. Read For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood by Dr. Christopher Emdin. Join us in the work at Being Black at School, a non-profit where we advocate for Black students in schools, critically look at policy, and share equity reports & tips for parents with Black children. 

If you know me then you know I created BBAS after a long career in public and private education and that this is the most important cause to me. We’re all united in addressing the complexities of being a Black student in the American education system. You can donate here

10. Finally, you have to ask the Good Questions to make school systems be accountable to their stakeholders (that’s you, American citizen!). Here are a few you can put in your back pocket:

What are you doing to be accountable to students of color?

Do you have an Equity Plan for the district or school and how do you know it’s working?

What’s the history of the discipline plans you use in our schools and how do you know it’s working?

Is there a Diversity Council headed up by a personal of color in this district and how can I support them?

Tell me about how choices are made for the curriculum taught in our district. Are the members diverse? Do you allow parents to join?

Trust me when I say that educators need to prepare for a radical change in how we operate during this upcoming school year. We can’t maintain status quo in 2018-19. Our children are hurting, violence has increased towards Latinx and Muslim and Black student in the last year and this is at our schools. This is where the work is so whether you’re a parent or teacher who hasn’t yet been engaged this is where we need your voices. This is where we need you to do this work.

It’s already too late.

this was crossposted over at Medium 

Monday
Apr022018

Community and Being a Reward Volunteer: The Family Service Center

This is a sponsored post but the story and opinions are all mine. This post is sponsored by Reward Volunteers for National Volunteer Month.

Two things happened in the last few years that made me consider my own community efforts and what, if anything, I could be doing more of for my neighbors. First, I learned the origins of a house that was directly across from the school I was working at that had some amazing history attached to it. While it’s not on any historic registry, I found out that a Black woman named Eva Carroll Monroe founded the Lincoln Colored Home in 1898 to set up an orphanage for Black children since all the other orphanages in town were solely for white children. Eva’s work as a social worker was highlighted as she realized that Black children were left to the streets or taken to juvenile jails. The current owner of the house, Lee Hubbard, took me on a tour of the dilapidated home expressing how much he would love to see it restored. At the time, it didn’t even have a Wikipedia page, but my husband, Russell, worked on that.

 

 

The second thing was a chance meeting with a friend of mine named Brooke who worked at the Family Service Center. She knew some of my own interest in the Lincoln Colored Home, but she also knew of my own background as a birth mom as well as a teen mom. Over lunch one day, Brooke asked me if I was interested in being a community volunteer on the Board of Directors. I joined the Executive Director and the president of the Board for lunch at FSC and, upon my tour, I noticed a large picture of people who were instrumental in getting FSC started with their mission. It surprised me that so many of the photographs were of Black community members in Springfield and that the photos were so obviously old. The biggest surprise came when I realized that the photo at the top of one of the founders was none other than Eva Carroll Monroe.

That did it for me. I was hooked.


 

Not only was this something that was historically significant for me as a Black woman, but it fit into my ideology of caring for marginalized children in society. Their mission of supporting strong families for strong communities drew me in, and I have given my time to volunteering for them for almost three years now. Organizations do their Board of Directors very differently and there are others I’ve considered but they are sometimes prohibitive in what they require as far as massive donations to sit on them.

   

The Family Service Center is a meaningful volunteer opportunity for me because of what it allows me to give back in terms of my time and energy. We are deeply invested in continuing the mission of the Center so our monthly meetings consist of fundraising, business partnerships, staff development and many other things. One of my favorite parts is being able to celebrate with the families they serve after an adoption is complete or when a family has been reunited. At my first board meeting I learned that the adoption judge in town completes each legal proceeding by telling the families the same thing: “I hereby order your family to now go get some ice cream to celebrate this.”

REWARD VOLUNTEERS KEEPS TRACK OF YOUR VOLUNTEER HOURS

Giving back, in this way, doesn’t cost me anything other than my time for those meetings or attending the events we plan whether it’s a Trivia Night or our end-of-the-year fundraiser each May when we invite the community to celebrate with us, our families, and the staff. I use Reward Volunteers to log my hours and keep a record of the good I’m helping to put back into the world. What’s great about that is how encouraged I feel when I see other people doing similar things for their communities. There are prizes available but, honestly, I rarely sign up for those simply because it’s more fun for me to see various opportunities that are out there. 

I urge my friends and everyone I know to become engaged locally in whatever ways they choose. It’s poignant that the Family Service Center is something to which I had multiple ties and that’s exactly how I tell people to do this. What do you already care about? What has affected you personally that you’re now in a place to do something about? It won’t necessarily start with a story of an abandoned house lost to history or an inspiring Black woman who made change in tangible ways for this town. That one belongs to me.

What belongs to you?

Find out more about Reward Volunteers by clicking this link.

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