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Thailand with The Exodus Road

"Long before I wrote stories, I listened for stories. Listening for them is something more acute than listening to them. I suppose it's an early form of participation in what goes on." - Eudora Welty

Back in June I traveled with other storytellers to Thailand. Prior to getting up to speed on Southeast Asia and a part of the world that's never been a part of my world, I didn't know anything about sex trafficking there or the slave industry. To say it shocked me is an understatement. Naturally, I did my part to find out information about Thailand and we had a briefing day from local Thai residents who shared with us culture and customs and traditions. 


For instance, I hadn't realized how rude it is there to point with your finger towards someone with your palm facing down. When they hail taxis there it is with all fingers extended and a slight wave towards yourself.

Try it. If you're an American, that feels weird, doesn't it?

But, it's important to have some competence in a culture if you're going to visit so these were the kinds of things that fascinated me. 

I have to have full disclosure about something here: I am ordinary person. Sure, I can tell a good story and I have an animated face while doing it. I'm Midwestern, middle aged, and even mixed-race. IT DOESN'T GET MORE ORDINARY OR MIDDLE OF THE ROAD THAN THAT.

If I hadn't become a classroom teacher in my 20s I would have wanted to be an actor who got to try on costumes and personalities, but even my dramatic flair made for good instruction. Most teachers will tell you that. When I went into administration 12 years after my first teaching job I found it still came in handy. Most of all, I mastered my poker face so as not to appear shocked at the things I witnessed in schools. Basically, my being ordinary came in handy because the activisim streak in me is also strong.

I have never lost that naive belief that an ordinary person like me could make a big difference.


As you would expect, what hit me the hardest in my very tender soul was the first night we went to visit a brothel to see the very thing The Exodus Road was fighting. We got some basic pointers and my poker face came in handy when I saw the half-nude young girls dancing and hoping to make more money for the night. 


Make no mistake: these were young girls. Some of them looked so very close in age to the middle school students I had just seen a week prior to getting on a flight and heading halfway across the globe.

You should be doing algebra in a classroom. You should not be doing this.

 I couldn't stop thinking that.


It was their voices that hit me. Young, tender, kind. Their voices, in telling me their stories, will forever haunt me. That's a privileged statement to make for sure. If that's the worst I have to experience with this trip it's still better than what many of them live with daily.

But it was also the voices of the fishermen, grown men who had been drugged and kidnapped and taken out to the middle of the ocean to work for pittance while they toiled away under horrendous conditions. 

I'm an American and a westerner with values that reflect that and as much as I wanted to tell their stories I wanted them to have the automony to tell them. 

I'm also a woman and one of the most jarring parts of the visit was meeting the men they call "lady boys" who dress as women. It can be a dangerous job if they negotiate for sex with a man and they don't know they're actually men. While walking through an area full of brothels the lady boys would bang together noisemakers to get attention and sometimes would reach out and grab my breasts or smack my ass. It occurred to me that even all this way from home I, a woman, felt like these men took my automony from me and assumed they had access to my body.

That right there is a global problem but it still didn't outshine the difficult lives of the women and girls in brothels or the men taken to fish for large companies not of their own will.

Here's why I'm sharing this now: The Exodus Road can continue to do this work with donations as little as $35. That's what it would cost for them to go out and do their work in a night. You can also become a Freedom Partner with them to help rescue the young girls trafficked.

Please visit the stories shared by my storytelling partners Heather, Roxanna, Erika, and Doug.

And consider being ordinary with me to accomplish something The Exodus Road is doing that is extraordinary. 


Writing Roundup for August

I'm doing a lot of either freelance writing or writing to fill in for other people in so many place that I wanted to pull them all together in one space.

First, my friend and the founder of EduColor, José Luis Vilson, took a much needed vacation and let Rusul Alrubail and me take over for the week. I wrote about both microaggressions and macroaggressions of my experiences in the public school system. Here is a part of the second one:

When I go down the list of things that I have had to endure as a Black woman in the classroom as a teacher as well as in an office as an administrator I think the offenses are fairly common.

Has a parent or teacher called me a racist? Check.

Has a colleague told me my curly hair didn’t look as ‘professional’ as when it was straightened?Check.

Have I been summarily dismissed when I try to bring up race as connected to discipline or lack of representation? Check.

School culture can, however, be far more nefarious than those obvious and jarring examples. It took me a long time to notice that how we talk about work ethics and what makes a ‘good’ educator are actually damaging parts of the cog in the institutionally racist school systems. To tell that story, I have to go back a good decade.


I wrote another piece for Tue/Night.

I have spent the better part of two decades realizing that what people don’t know about me is that I am always going to stretch boundaries about issues of equity and race. I’m perfectly happy having difficult discussions. I’d argue that school systems should be glad people like me will challenge them within the system.

Alas, that was not the case.

Instead, I’ve been labeled as ”difficult” and ”hard to manage” when, in truth, the only managing done to me was to move me forcefully to different schools. That’s happened twice in my career. Yet it always came without bad evaluations or disciplinary letters in my file.

So, two weeks ago, I quit and started working on an initiative to respond to Illinois Senate Bill 100 on restorative justice. My reasons for quitting are complicated, but one was that I felt motivated to come up with actionable items to tackle systemic racism, something that SB100 seeks to address by responding to how we as a school system unequally distribute discipline for Black and Latino students.

Arnebya wrote about Being Black at School as well as her own experiences as a parent of public school students. 

A few places did some roundups as well about what people were talking about last week.

Chalkbeat, Teaching Tolerance, and Fortune magazine wrote about the work I'm doing with Being Black at School.

This is all a building up of the work I'm doing on Being Black at School and the partnerships are (already!) happening very quickly with people who want to support this work. Stay tuned, sign up, make a donation. Do what you can for now. 

It's going to be very big.


Writing over at The Root

I'm over at The Root today, writing about the pushback against the NAACP's Anti-Charter School stance. 



Go check it out here

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