Why Our Kids "Won't" Succeed
I took a sabbatical this summer. I drove a lot. I prayed a lot. I laughed a lot. I let go of built up anger. This built up anger stemmed from the racism I dealt with as a Black teacher. It stemmed from the racism my Black colleagues dealt with; however, they were different from me. They kept their heads down and they only discussed it outside of work. They centered their attention on the money they made, taking care of their family, and praying that one day it would go away. That is only fair, right? Who wants to stand up and address racism? One shared, "This is the most Blacks we have ever had. If we stand up and say something, they will find a way to get rid of us all and then there will not be any." This comment alone was enough for me to take a sabbatical. This is 2019.
During that sabbatical, I let go of built up frustration. I forgave people. I forgave my colleagues who attacked me. They are White. I forgave those colleagues over and over (it was mighty hard), and I prayed and thanked the substitute teacher who took care of my babies while I was gone. She even stood up for my son when he was bullied by his white classmates and felt very uncomfortable around those White teachers. I prayed people forgave me. One shared I was like Malcolm X. I do not plan to change, but what exactly does that comment mean? I addressed that "elephant in the room" while others closed their eyes, and their mouth, and looked forward to their paychecks. I applauded myself for what I stand for, but then I questioned God, “Why do you continue placing me in places where I am forced to resign due to racism?” This sabbatical was much needed because my cup had runneth over...
I reflected on why I will never walk into a high school classroom again, unless I was a presenter conducting professional development on such issues. I focused my energy on building my own professional development company that I launched three years ago, but because of this experience, I truly immersed myself into reading more and planning sessions to discuss, lecture, and bid on opportunities to help our community understand the effects of racism on Black women in education, our students, and parents.
I reflected on why we still have the need for equity, diversity, and inclusion missions in the education system directed for teachers. You mean, there are teachers that need professional development on the above topic. Are these the same teachers that are teaching our Black and Brown kids? Are these the ones that are failing those kids too? Are these the ones that I listen to talk about the kids during their teacher "break room talk," instead of using this time to be more productive? Is this the reason for that education gap? Is this the reason why the school-to-prison pipeline is something that affects our Black and Brown kids? Is this the reason why....education hurts so many of our young kids; particularly Black and Brown students?
I reread texts by Paul Laurence Dunbar and other black iconic writers; I re-watched movies; such as Lean on Me and realized that while we are growing, we still have more to conquer to get to a place where people can stand up and say, "Hi my name is (insert name) and I am a White educator and I do not understand implicit bias nor do I understand the importance of removing my cultural bias in and out of the classroom." And after this is done, they sincerely take a moment to make necessary changes. What child wants to sit in a class with a person who cannot take the time to learn about their history? What educator wants to deal with colleagues who judge them based off of perceptions of media and just pure ignorance?
You mean, there are teachers that would like students to learn how to use contractions properly, learn the past presidents, but need training on how “not” to be racist or prejudice in our educational system? You must be kidding me! One thing for sure that I realized during this sabbatical was that I was personally selling myself short. It took about 2500 miles; not including a cruise paid for by a friend to begin my healing process. I needed to be around people that looked like me, that grew up with me, and that understood the pain that I felt internally. I needed to hug my friend who is also a teacher and has experienced what I have. I needed to get the heck away from the racist educators who are forgiven when they “marry” their former eighteen year old student at almost forty. I guess that is that white privilege mess that we overlook. I had to run fast from the White male homosexual educator who disrespects blacks and preferred to read aloud Huck Finn instead of taking time to teach other books to learn the history of the "n-word." I needed to pray for that educator who coaches our Black males on the basketball team, but finds humor about Jim Crow laws. He did this while his Black superior stood in shock and laughed from embarrassment.
Maybe the white homosexual teacher took time to look me up because he forgot his lesson plans or was too busy reading aloud Huck Finn. Maybe it was because he was too inebriated and the system; DODEA that I worked for allowed him to be drunk (well, just smelling like alcohol) daily as he taught our Black and Brown kids. He was a great multi-tasker because he did this while also disrespecting a race of people; looking up teachers (I guess he was concerned about those letters behind my name), and his reprimand allowed him to keep his job. But, who knows? What I do know is I have texts and emails from those who saw what I saw. They were afraid to address the issues and it is because DODEA has been known; particularly at Fort Knox, Kentucky to allow such racist activities.
One of my former colleagues who has taught there for over fifteen years shared she went through the same thing. She is a minority. Several parents have sent emails, texts, and phoned me to share how they can sympathize and empathize with me. I have a recording for one that I listened to again while I was on my sabbatical.
“…Dr. V thank you! You are already stronger because of this. Sometimes we don’t understand his plan but his will is always perfect. What looks like a setback may be a set up for a greater blessing,” says the first Black male principal who watched me cry after he watched the two colleagues I speak about torture me in an impromptu
meeting. This came as a text to me after I sent him a message letting him know that I would not file against him because he failed to protect me. DODEA's policies have changed since this incident (what irony!), but as a teacher, one is expected to file a grievance against their administrators. The most interesting thing is this was the school and the districts first time having Black superiors and an influx of Black educators. I guess their thoughts were, the nerve.....too many Blacks in one place.
Our text came after my colleagues attacked me at an impromptu meeting. The meetings agenda was "She is Black and we don't like her." (BlackWomanEducatorIssues) They had no issues outside of being upset that I modified Huck Finn. The meeting included the president of the union for DODEA (Fort Knox, Kentucky; L. Kidd). She was supposedly the mediator, but the way her finger pointed at me, her loud aggressive voice demeaned me, and the way that that first Black male principal scooted his chair up and said, “You will not continue to disrespect Dr. V….” forced me into a pretty dark place. This White woman's action is the reason why our kids won't succeed and why we as Black women are tired as HELL!
The place was so dark, that I resigned that day orally and provided an email and hard copy to that first Black principal after he shared a lot of things, but what resonates most with me was, "...what will happen when you experience racism again?" This question made me realize that he saw it, and while I already knew this; particularly after he shared his testimony regarding an unfortunate stroke he had a few years ago, which he alluded to the stress he dealt with on account of racism. My response was "I'll run again" because "my mental health and my son are most important to me." I still stand by this and even as I type this, I feel sorry for our kids that "won't" succeed because they have poor administration. They have White men and women that are "mean kids." This is why we need to address those implicit biases in the schoolhouse because if a teacher is knowingly "attacked" how do we protect our students? We cannot have scared administrations in our schoolhouse only concerned with a paycheck or their status. He is on probation for two years and that was his first year. He must tread lightly.
I definitely felt hurt and sad when I spoke with other Black colleagues about the many situations that they saw firsthand because their scared responses were they didn’t want to lose their “good paying” job so they had “keep your head low." Whatever that meant, but I assumed it meant come to work, do your job and if anyone says anything to you, smile and ignore. But, I couldn't! I know as Blacks who had no real place in the system, they did not want their families to "go hungry" and who would blame them? Check out DODEA's hiring process. Why would they take up for me when they relocated to this racist hell hole and are making very close to, if not six figures to teach high school? It seemed so bizarre and it was. I needed that sabbatical to rejuvenate me!
So, how in the heck does this tie into the title? Well, hold on and I will explain in just a moment. I put my sixteen year old son on a plane to go back home after the holiday Yes, go back home. That still seems strange to me considering “ …I know God has been with you every step of the way. It sucks that sometimes we are Job...” says one of the former colleagues who called me the day before the investigation began to tell me that she could not go forth with it. She referenced The Book of Job. She was scared about what I mentioned above. But because of that day, I resigned, and I had to begin looking for another job.
Because I was forced to resign from my job(Kentucky's unemployment department used that phrase too), and I was seriously scarred, hurt, overwhelmed, angry, mad as heck, flustered, and in awe, I couldn't focus. I called my sons dad and we made arrangements to have my son move with him. We collaboratively paid for his moving expenses; airfare, moving POD, transferring his medication that he has to have because he is a Type 1 diabetic. We did this all because my former colleagues could not address those racial issues. It put me at lost for more than words.
I sat and read when I knew I needed to apply for more jobs. I sat and drove around and replayed the school year; the conversation I had with my former principal Lonnie Gilmore after Laura Alvarez, Leticia Kidd, and Jackson left that meeting. I replayed the entire scene from that impromptu meeting that I was forced to attend. I especially hurt for both the first Black principal and the first Black superintendent of that district because they were scared of White people. And if this is the case, how will I kids succeed if they cannot take up for their own teachers?
I replayed Holmes and I standing in the hallway after he walked me out of his classroom. I replayed the conversation we had the day I saw him and his wife sitting at Waffle House on a Sunday. During the latter, we discussed why I could not give up the fight. The fight is, why I could not resign nor why could I let them (meaning White people) get to me. He even provided me a phone number to help me learn the history of Fort Knox. I recall so many other conversations with people who looked like me that saw and experienced the same racism that I dealt with. The difference is they were stronger? Or perspective wise, I was less tolerable? I prefer the latter. Strength comes from advocating, not walking in with your head down.
They told me what to do; just keep your head down the guidance counselor told me when we took a road trip together. This reminds me of what activists are told when they stand up for issues that are noticed by all. She said Washington, who was the first Black superintendent of the district knows and that is why she was placed there by her boss to alleviate the racism, but it’s still a lot of resistance. I was also told that Washington was too afraid to stand up. This could be due to her background. It could be a geographical thing. Most of the Black colleagues I had shared a commonality; they grew up in the south, so they operated differently from me.
When I pulled out of the parking garage, after seeing my son off on the plane all I could think of is "What if he didn't have a great dad" or as I asked everyone who has been too scared to come forth "What if I didn't have my credentials to find a job in less than 24 hours? Or what if this entire incident happened to a younger, less experienced Black woman and she was unable to recoup? Or maybe she was unable to obtain another job?
But back to that conversation, with my former colleague who called me the night before the investigation began to share she did not feel comfortable. I replied with, “Thanks for calling! This is why I feel nothing will ever change. I understand your position but what happens with the next black teacher who has to go through the same thing? But I respect what you said...!
I continued with, “But when he [the investigator] calls because I’m not going to take your name off of the list, just let him know that you do not want to share. I am not trying to ruin anyone’s life, but it boggles my mind that [in] 2019 we are still dealing with such issues. My black son was affect and everyone was too afraid to help and say something…and it was evident with me just walking in and being a black woman. Take care and wish the babies a great year! Maybe telling the guy [like you shared with me] that you are afraid because [your son] is in his class would be helpful too.” I ended that final sentence with a shrug.
And this is where the title comes forth! Our kids “won’t” succeed because teachers, educators, and many administrators are afraid to address the BIG issue that we still have in our school house, and systems are reaching out to vendors to place bids about racism in their system. How do we expect our kids to learn if we are still stuck in time? How do we expect to move forward when the first Black superintendent and the first Black principal in DODEA are afraid to address racism, but lower their heads at a grown White woman sleeping with a baby and a drunk racist man enjoying saying the word nigger? ( I spelled it out for a reason).
I am the 2019 Teacher of the Year for Madison County Florida. I remember practicing saying this in a circle while we were in Orlando, Florida as a cohort. I won after being in Madison, Florida School System for four months. My first encounter with racism there made me want to vomit. A white woman shared with a professional development educator that we have three types of students; the ones that will go to college, the ones that will go to work, and then those criminals (alluding to our Black males). This was maybe my first three weeks there (and I still won TOY, so it shows my character) when I truly “went off!” Black and whites sat in that small room and no one said anything. Later I heard another teacher call a Black student a nigger and as I watched those that sat in silence and realized that our students “won’t” succeed because we have teachers that are: 1. Too afraid to advocate for them; 2. Those that think so little of them.
While in Madison, I had a white coach accost me about taking a trip with him on his boat after I shared with him a personal story that would have left anyone else finding a way to uplift me. This was sexual harassment. I felt paralyzed and actually looked at him with tears in my eyes. How dare you try to proposition me. He is married and has kids, but that white male privilege didn’t stop this. And sadly he has the fate of many of our kids at his hands now as an administrator. I recall sharing this story with my Black female principal and just like she told me to close my eyes to the racist remarks, she did the same about this white man who will probably have her job soon, if not already. We have too many that are scared and can you blame them? Its all about protecting yourself; hence, another reason our kids won't succeed.
This administration, "The Goose" sent me personal messages after I resigned, but I made everyone aware of the racial issues, but everyone was still too scared to address it. Maybe it is because the last recorded lynching in Madison, Florida was in the late 1900’s. Racism is still a pain for them. Maybe because they knew how the nepotism and that darn old superintendent who stepped down earlier this year operated. Blacks don’t have a voice there. Parents in Madison are led to believe their kids need to be in special classes. That is definitely not the case. The teachers need special classes to learn to teach those amazing babies.
I watched coaches play our Black boys on the field, but fail to help them in the classroom until it was time to get noticed for college. I taught eleventh graders who were on third grade reading levels. So, do you believe me now? Our kids “won’t succeed until we as adults can address those "elephant in the room issues". My aunts and uncles experienced segregation. Over my life, I heard comments from them sharing “don’t trust a white man unless he is on a money bill.” Ha! That is so darn funny, but as I sit in rooms filled with educators, my heart hurts for those students that look like me.
As I am working on yet another bid for another school system that centers on assisting with “disparities that separate low-income students and students of color from their peers” I am reminded that: 1. Blacks are afraid to advocate because many of them have been affected by racism and they are protecting themselves; 2. Whites do not want to get it, because they fail to see that the world is not viewed through their eyes by everyone.
Our students have every chance to make it if we can confront and own our biases. They have every opportunity to make it if and ONLY if we address and confront our colleagues when they are wrong. God sent me on my sabbatical to remind me that while I will never go back into a K-12 classroom as a teacher, I am here to conduct professional developments that I know will leave lasting effects on our educators so that “Our Students Will Succeed.”
Rick Ross shared in his song with Raphael Saadiq Apple of My Eye, “I’m glad Donald Trump became president, because we got to destroy before we elevate.” To move forward in education, we point them out and then we move them along so they will not affect our babies! To avoid failing our students, we need less diversity, equity, and inclusion and to do that, we need to be mindful of who we allow in this field.