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If The Black Lives Matter Movement Would Just Be Convenient

If the Black Lives Matter movement would just be convenient and not disruptive, we wouldn’t be in this turmoil. I believe it was Frederick Douglass who said that "without a struggle, there can be no progress." I'm seeing so many people ask for convenience in the struggle.


Image credit to timpdriver

Let’s apply that to the history of the United States. You know, if we were nice and convenient and not disruptive.

If Black folks would have just asked not to be shipped during the Middle Passage, we could have sat down and talked through this whole slavery thing and made some different plans.

If Black lives mattered, then the War on Drugs, Redlining, and the Tulsa Riots would have been solved by a little get together sit-down meeting that was convenient for the folks putting them in jail for crimes which are, currently, taxable and profitable (ie marijuana). If only it were convenient to talk about how redlining as a practice of denying services to people of color and how awfully inconvenient it was to selectively raise prices in racist housing areas, then we wouldn’t have forced people into ghettos and substandard neighborhoods.

If it weren’t too disruptive, then Jim Crow and Black Codes and sundown towns wouldn’t have existed because we could have just WAITED to talk about these things conveniently. When the time is right.

If only it were convenient for Black people to ask to be considered more than 3/5 a person. If it weren’t too disruptive of them, maybe they would have gotten the rest of that 2/5.

If only the enslaved Africans would have asked for a meeting, nicely and with patience, with those in charge of slave patrols, then we could have figured this out.

If only the Southern Strategists were willing to sit down and listen to patient Black folks about how they would gain support for the party because Black lives mattered, we wouldn’t have had all these racial tensions and our history of segregation would be obsolete.

If it weren’t so damn disruptive of Black folks to seek a meeting with the governor of Alabama as he shouted “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” as he fought back against the Civil Rights Movement, and if Black people had just asked, nicely, to be heard about unequal schools, then maybe we wouldn’t be here.

If Black people would just ask nicely, then we could stop the gentrification of neighborhoods that breaks up families. You love your family, so why didn’t you just ask, conveniently, to stay together?

Power doesn’t work like that. Disrupting power, after centuries of all kinds of unfair practices and policies in a nation built on apartheid, is exactly how this works.

I don’t have to ask nicely for anything that is guaranteed to other Americans.

Stop expecting Black people to do that.


Students and Race and Doing Better Than I Have Been

She was a teacher from Chicago and I never caught her name but that doesn't matter. Her group had come for a tour and I was chosen by my district to give them a tour of our Title 1 schools. Nothing about her demeanor was malicious or unkind. I might simply describe her as matter-of-fact. It was when she stated a fact and asked a question that I bristled.

 But, still, it was not her fault. 

via Wikimedia Commons


My job was to take groups around and point out data we were using to target students that needed more supports and interventions at school. We had come across a poster that I made in the building where I worked and it showed how our students did on the required state assessment the previous year as well as our growth targets, how we were doing things differently, and the progress students were making.


photopin (license)

I was really proud of that poster. Previous to my position where I ran professional development, I hadn't looked at school-wide data nor had I disaggregated it out for comparative purposes. In fact, I didn't even feel like I knew what I was doing though I had a supportive superior who gently nudged me toward self-confidence. She allowed me access to the data from the entire school and I put it in Excel spreadsheets until I had enough information to create something that everyone would see when they walked in the building. 

As a classroom instructor I enjoyed the posters and drawing and markers and decorating aspect of that. This was my masterpiece.

So, when she criticized it, I was crestfallen. 

"What are you doing about the Black students whose scores are low?" she asked me.

Doing? What were we doing? Well, nothing really. Just giving them the same instruction in smaller groups. Looking back on that now, I see that it was akin to speaking to someone in a different language and, when they don't understand you, you simply speak louder and slower. 

What a dumb way to teach. 

I started to explain that to her but she cut me off.

"No, I meant what kind of conversations are you having with those students about their data."

"Oh. Conversations? With them? Uhhmmm, nothing."

"So, you put this data on display for everyone to see but then you don't even address it? You put their scores up, potentially embarrassing them, but you don't discuss it? Why would they work any harder if you're just plastering their scores without any sort of conversations?"

photopin (license)

That's what stung. She was right and I was dumbfounded at the truth. 

The other truth was that we didn't talk about such things at school. We didn't talk about race unless it was in hushed tones. "The Black boys' scores in math are really low." But, after that, it was a giant void. No solutions, no reasons, no ideas. 

It's the way we did things at the time.

That was a decade ago and, when it comes to discussing race, I have gotten much better. I've gotten smarter, too, at how to broach the subject and, I say this with the humility of having done it wrong for such a long time: I have gotten smarter about broadening the conversations around how we, as gate keepers, do a poor job of pushing our minority students into completely accessible courses that set them on a path that's rigorous and prosperous, too.

For example, if I have two students with the same exact math scores and they're one point below where I'd put them in a pre-algebra class it is often the white parents who force the issue and demand that I push their kid. It's a part of the hidden curriculum that's often kept from parents of color. Certainly, many of them do the same thing, but in terms of numbers there's no contest. 

That would keep that child from higher math courses in high school which affects when they can take Chemistry (since there's a lot of math in that class) and then onto STEM courses and AP classes for which they can get college credit. It's a pipeline, but the one that education has for our Black students seems to funnel them in a very different way.

Mind you, that's not all. But it's definitely a pattern we're stuck in in education. 

When left unquestioned, patterns turn to fallacies and become a part of a system that benefits some and marginalizes others. 

It took me so long to get this. That is to my great shame as an educator.

Now, though, conversations are easier and come more quickly. My role is different than it was 10 years ago so I get to answer phone calls like one I took just last year. It was at the end of August and Mike Brown had been killed by a police officer on August 9. The fear and anger was palpable. It was so thick I felt as if I waded through the days and weeks, slogging along with everyone else. 

Yet, I felt very awake, too.

The man, *Jeffrey, was a white grandfather of my student whom he was helping to raise. His grandson, Warren, was mixed with Black and white. Warren's mom worked as a waitress and had a younger sister who was all white. That morning, Warren asked about Eric Garner and asked Jeffrey a question that he couldn't answer:

“How do police keep getting off?”

Jeffrey didn't know what to say and said as much and, after dropping Warren off at school, he called me. 

"You're a guidance dean. I need guidance. I know your job isn't for me, but please tell me what to do. Do I talk with him about it?"

He went on to tell me that Warren knew the difference between a jury and a grand jury. Grandpa Jeffrey also wanted to know how this was being addressed in school. He wanted to know how he should approach it while talking to Warren because none of this was his experience growing up but surely Warren, with his darker skin, would be seen as Black and treated that way in our society.

Warren had been, Jeffrey told me, internalizing fear as this it had become a weekly occurrence. He wanted to know what my suggestions were in talking about it.

Nothing in my training for this job prepared me for that. It wasn't a course requirement to understand race in the American public education system. What I knew about working with students to become an administrator seemed painfully inadequate.

I decided to be as honest as possible and gave him a disclosure at the beginning of what I said to him.

"First of all, I am also mixed race and identify with being Black. You should know that I've been paying attention to the news and you should know that I don't know what I'm talking about because I feel like an island out here floating along with no guidance myself. I'm sorry about that."

Still, Jeffrey was grateful that I confessed that.

"I think it’s a bad idea to shield him from it. He knows this can happen to me and it’s not fair. The sense of fairness in middle schoolers is strong. You have to create a dialogue and safe space for him to discuss it with you. It seems like you're close already."

"Oh, yes. I drive him to school every day. I cherish that boy and love him more than anything. I need to do right by him."

I wish I could say that I won't have more conversations like this, but I know I will. Last year, talking about race in the public school classroom no longer became an option. This generation, as connected as they are, are talking about things in ways we never did. I wish I could say Jeffrey came away from our talk with a sense that everything would be alright. I wish I was alright.

We have to be somewhat knowledgeable about what our children hear and repeat and discuss when they're out of our care. The past history and future “what ifs” are mandatory if we're going to break the system.

via Wikimedia Commons

The last thing Jeffrey told me was that he didn't feel equipped to do this, as a white man, but as a relative of someone who the world will see as Black, he also didn't feel as if he had a choice. He mentioned that a family member worked in the Fire department in a small town near here and that one day he broke protocol and put out a fire when it wasn't in his jurisdiction. Jeffrey felt like that. Someone or some faction told him it wasn't his responsibility to talk about race, but he was going to do it anyway.

It's a blazing fire that's engulfing all of us. Pick up a hose if your hands are empty. We have to put this fire out. We have to do better than we have been doing.


If you're looking for another resource, I have an article published today in Capital City Parent, the quarterly publication of The Illinois Times. You can read that here.  

*All names are changed for the purpose of this re-telling


An Unorthodox Bridal Party

I'm an older bride, I know. Everything about planning this wedding reminds me of that. The first time I tried on dresses I told the sweet young thing helping me out, "Please do not show me any dresses that make me look like a princess or a cupcake. I'm not down with that." She obliged me, but I still hadn't found the grown up dress I was looking for so I moved on to the next bridal store.


It's not like I've done this before, either. Sure, this is my second marriage and the first was planned in 11 days with zero fanfare, no planning or doing anything together, and was more like a birthday party. I blame all that for the divorce. 

KIDDING. I was just too young, too pressured to marry, and didn't even understand marriage yet. I was 23. 

In the time since then, I have been a bridesmaid for friends, organized the food for the wedding of another friend, and been a guest. Each time, I've felt a pang of jealousy that I was missing something. Was it the white dress? The showers and games and parties people planned for me? Was it the fact that they had a glorious honeymoon planned afterward that didn't include a trip to Six Flags and one overnight in a cheap hotel?

I wish I were kidding about that last one. I am not. 

Also, in that time, I have learned that it's not about the wedding, it's about the marriage. A former student of mine is a wedding planner and recently told me of how gross it is to see people spend $75,000 on a wedding when they haven't put that effort into ensuring that the marriage will work. But, that's the problem, isn't it? None of us knows if it will work. What is that work anyway? What if the other person gives up? What if you outgrow the other person and can't find a way to stay?

There are a million other questions that go along with this. I have thought about them, of course, when considering marriage for a second time. 

But then my friend, Deb, said some magic words to me about wedding planning. 

"Pay attention to the months leading up to the wedding. That's the real wedding. The day itself is just a period at the end of a long sentence."

She's so right. He makes me be the best version of myself that I can be. I'm whole without him and have never liked the phrase "you complete me" (because shut up, Jerry Maquire) because what happens if it doesn't work out? Are you a half a person? Perhaps I just don't get that sentimentality. 

So, while we're doing a few things in the traditional sense, we're doing other things that are very different. I'd even consider it alternative. Take my bridal party. Not a bridal shower since we own a home together and have worked for the last few years on furnishing it. This one was an idea that came from The Cuban which, yes, is the unorthodox part, but I don't have a maid of honor or bridesmaids. My daughters are standing up with me and my sons and The Cuban's sons are standing up with him. We're going into this a whole new family so we want them to surround us and be a part of that.


At a silent auction he found a party at my favorite boutique shop, Bella's. As much as I love it, it's a little more expensive than I can afford so I usually get a piece of jewelry from him on special occasions or I end up at their sale rack and pick pieces that would be considered signature pieces that stand out. It's my style to get one nice thing like a shirt or dress and then get the rest of it at Target or Macy's during a sale.


The party was for 10 of my friends and it included wine and chocolate (my friend Tammy, who organized it, also brought cheese and crackers and grapes).


Everyone would get 25% off all purchases and then, after the evening was complete, I would get 10% of the sales toward things that I wanted to buy. It was a perfect idea! My girlfriends could shop for themselves and not have to shop for anything for me. We all tried clothes on or grabbed a skirt for someone else and say, "Try that on, it's your style and would look good on you."


Unexpectedly, my friends also got me gift cards so I wouldn't have to wait for the 10% part. The Cuban's sister couldn't make it for the party (I know, middle of the week party but most of my friends are teachers who have the summer off!) (Including my soon to be sister-in-law) even called the store ahead of the party and had a gift card waiting for me. So, I came home with some new outfits that my friends helped me pick out and let me model for them prior to purchasing.

 I would never have tried on this dress, which I ended up getting, because it was a size I hadn't recognized in a while. But they convinced me this would be taken on the honeymoon and used for a quiet dinner on the beach.

While I do love the traditional things that go along with wedding planning; the decisions and excitement and crafting things just the way you'd want, this alternative to a bridal shower was just what I needed.

I snagged this particular dress when my friend Piper went over to it and got distracted. While she turned around, I took it off the rack and when I came out with it she recognized it but said it looked so good on me that I should get it.

I obliged her.


It's pretty much exactly the way I would have wanted it. Every unorthodox part of it.

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