Dr. Sheldon Eakins: (00:00)
Welcome, Advocates, to another episode of the Leading Equity Podcast, a podcast that focuses on supporting educators with the tools and resources necessary to ensure equity at their schools. Today is interesting because this special guest was actually referred to me by one of our fellow Advocates that subscribe to my email list. She sent me this document, and I gotta give a shout out to Dr. Cheryl Wright. Love me some Dr. Cheryl Wright, she's also been a previous guest of the show, but she sent me this article entitled Teachers Must Hold Themselves Accountable for Dismantling Racial Oppression written by Kelisa Wing. So without further ado, Kelisa, thank you so much for joining us today.
Kelisa Wing: (00:39)
Thank you. Thank you for having me
The pleasure is always mine, and I want to get into your article and honestly, over the last week or so, as we're still dealing with everything that's surrounding -- I say "still dealing," I'm talking about historically still dealing with -- police brutality and racism as we're still the latest set of individuals who have been killed, primarily George Floyd, and videos that have surfaced and even the additional -- I don't have the list in front of me, of all the other black folks that have been killed over the last -- I don't know, again, it's been happening. So I've been having a lot of folks reaching out and asked me, "What do I do?" Especially white educators that are asking me, "I want to say something, but I'm not sure how to say or what to say." And again, reading this article has been very helpful for me. And I've been referring to your articles. So before we really get into our conversation, I'd love for you to share a little bit about who you are and what you currently do.
So I'll certainly do that. And one of the things that you said, Dr. Eakins, is that you didn't know the names. So I just want to read just a few: Devon Bailey, Christopher Whitfield, Eric Logan, Demarion Robinson Clavius Layton, Ryan Swyman, Brandon Weber, Jimmy Atchinson, Willie McCoy, Theatric [?] Griffin, Jamelle Roberson, Deandre Ballard, Botham [?] Jean, Robert Lawrence White, Marley Graham, Manuel Loggins Jr, Window [?] Allen, Kendrick McDade, Larry Jackson Jr, and Jonathan Ferrell, Jordan Baker, Victor White, Don Trey Hamilton, Jamar Clark, Philando Castille, Jordan Edwards, Alfred Alango, Keith Lamont, Scott Terence Crutcher, Terrence Sterling, Akeel [?] Dinkens, Kwon [?] Guillory, Patrick Harman, Jonathan Hart, Merissa Grant, and Julius Johnson. I could go on and on and on…
Sandra Bland, Breonna Taylor…
Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice. So many that we could list off. So who am I? I grew up in Toledo, Ohio. I witnessed a lot of systemic racism as a child growing up in a middle-class neighborhood and being the only black family in the neighborhood; was born in the eighties. And I'll never forget walking down the street, being told to go back to Africa, go to your side of the street. I remember being very young and coming home and asking my father, "What is a n****r?" And my father told me to fight. And so I fought, and as I got older, as I've gotten wiser as an educator, as an advocate, as a veteran, I learned that my words are weapons. And sometimes we think that we have to do things so big and boisterous sometimes [inaudible]. If you can't march, you can donate.
If you can't donate, you can give advice. If you can't give advice, then you teach. So there is always something that we can be doing. When my parents got divorced, I ended up moving to the inner city in my middle school years. And that was really transformational for me. I think that's when I really began to want to be really involved in social justice because I couldn't believe the systemic racism that was happening there. The school to prison pipeline became a real passion of mine and has been ever since. So that's really more where my advocacy lies is dismantling the school to prison pipeline, but that is also a -- it's like fruit off of the tree of racism. The root of the problem is racism. That's just one of the symptoms that we definitely have to deal with. And so having to go into a school building every day through a metal detector that was not there to keep me safe, but was there because my teachers needed a sense of safety because they were coming into the inner city, made us feel as though we were an institution and not a place to learn, not much learning occurred there.
And then, I ended up being able to move back to a better neighborhood, and seeing the difference was just jarring for me. And so from then on, I just felt like I had to be a voice. When you live in an environment where that is all you see where you are witnessing, you're being arrested in school for something that you should have just been referred to the office for, you begin to get systematized to believe that that's the way things are supposed to be. And that's how we remain in this state of oppression. So that's my background. And again, I'm just honored to be able to have a voice. And I think to whom much is given much is required, that we need to make sure that we are using our advocacy in the right way.
I'm gonna take a quick pause on that because I mean, you started your response with reading those names, and I do want to take at least a 30 second moment of silence just in remembrance of those names. And again, we didn't read all the names or mention all the names, but just a few. So let's just take a quick second in honor of those who have been killed.
Speaker 3: (05:21)
[Moment of silence.]
Okay. So we're going to talk about it. And we're going to talk about what teachers can do. Because we have to keep in mind that our educators are spend[ing] a lot of time with our kids -- primarily our black students, this is what we're going to focus on today. And they spend time with our kids. And again, when we look at the demographics, and we look at our teaching force, primarily white and our student force is -- our student population, rather, is primarily students of color. And there's a sentence, which I don't know off the top of my head, the percentage of black students that are in our public schools, in the US but ideally, there's a lot, right? And so we're constantly influencing our kids and providing that support to them academically. But then there's also that -- the other part of our students beyond just the books and the content and curriculum, there's that emotional side -- the social piece.
And as we think about all of the things that are happening around us, if we don't say anything, if we just brush off these conversations, because maybe they don't impact us, they don't impact us personally, but they're impacting our students and their families personally, we have to talk about it. What are your thoughts on when I'm looking at your article, and you mentioned -- I'm going to read this quote real quick because you said, "We must commit to teaching in a way that totally disrupts and dismantles the systems of oppression." What did you mean by that?
So what I meant by that was I understand wholly, I work in a school system that is standards-based. We have standards. However, my standards -- standards are not the curriculum, and we get real caught up in that as educators, if the standard tells me that I have to make sure the students are able to argue a point or that they need to be able to speak, to listen and to write, then I need to be having my students -- one of the lessons that I used to give to my students, I would start out with Abraham Lincoln, a good man exclamation point or a good man question mark. And we would go through a whole series where my students would look at the Lincoln-Douglas debates. We would go back. We would look at Frederick Douglas when he would go to the white house when he would have these impassioned conversations with Abraham Lincoln and how those things actually changed.
His ability to be an educator to that president is what allowed us to have an emancipation proclamation. That is how you use education to disrupt a system. And many students learn things that they had no idea about, like immigration, how Abraham Lincoln actually wanted to immigrate the slaves back to Africa. However, he had been convinced through his learning and his knowledge that that wasn't it. And at the end of it, they had to write an argumentative essay where they either questioned or came to the conclusion that he was a good man. Typically they came to the conclusion that he was an exclamation point good man, because he allowed himself to learn and to grow. I think about things that happened like the day after the election, and my students were being just very nasty to each other, telling my Hispanic students that they were going to build a wall, and they wouldn't let them in the room.
And instead of that, just putting my students in a circle and having a science lesson and talking about melanin and why hair is coarse. And let's find out the things that are most alike of us instead of having your students do getting-to-know-you things for themselves, have them interview their classmates and get to know the classmates and where they come from and who they are. Identity is so important to this work, addressing students how they want to be addressed. They are getting to know their culture and their background and how they learn best. That's what I meant when I said: "disrupt the system." If you're a social studies teacher, you should be showing your students the current news that is happening within your community on a national scale and global, you've got to become a more globally competent educator if you're going to really disrupt and dismantle. So I know there've been a few comments that we can't control the curriculum. Yes, you can. You have standards. You gave me a link to get to this meeting today. How I chose to connect. I could've went from my phone, my PC, my iPad, but I had access to it. And I think that's the thing. We have to provide access, equitable access to our students to achieve the standards, how we get there by any means necessary. How you dismantle that.
I love how you said that because I get that pushback too. Kelisa, you know, it's always, "You know, well, I can't, I can't be culturally responsive because it doesn't match up with my standards." I'm like, "yes, it does. It does match up with your standards," their standards, meaning these are some things that we want your kids to know. But like you said, how you get there is your choice, and you put in like what you really value. That's what you're going to show. I'm so glad that you started with that. And that's important. And I think, and I'm a history guy too. So I taught history as well. So I'm a little biased in that area also, but it's so important that we provide more information than just the typical stories that we may have been raised on. And often they're told from the white perspective, and it's not providing multiple perspectives when it comes to how people were impacted with certain situations, and keeping on the same subject of history.
I've been on my phone all weekend long, trying to respond to folks who have these comments about looting and writing. And this is not the way, this is not how we're supposed to do things. And if you want to change, you know, violence and all this stuff, right. And I'm just sitting there thinking like, "okay, let's talk about looting." Because assuming that this individual is sitting on land in the United States -- of what we call the United States, that is a result of looting. You have indigenous brothers and sisters that were here way before Mayflower and all this stuff. Right? And the Puritans that came over and all of that information we talk about in our history books, and it's almost glorified in a lot of ways. I mean, we celebrate every year, our independence, but our independence was basically claiming the land of someone else's and saying, you know, "We're independent from you Britain, and we're going to live here. This is what we're going to do. And we're going to follow this." So those protests and riots and all that stuff that was happening then was okay, but what's happening now is not okay? Like that doesn't make any to me, Kelisa.
Yeah, it doesn't make any sense to me either. I think about the Boston Tea Party. I even think about, let's talk about Monday. I believe it was the…
Tulsa -- where people went in and just massacred people of color who are black people who had really achieved so much. And we don't talk about that. We don't talk about just -- America's story is a story of looting, stealing, taking things that didn't belong to you, and claiming it for yourself. Let's even talk about looting and stealing, looting and stealing black bodies from African continents, bringing them here to Virginia, the state that I live in and then creating a massive slave trade and then profiting off of those bodies for 400 years, building generational wealth and to pass along families and things that did not belong.
What are your suggestions for educators with supporting our black students?
Thank you so much for asking my question. I think, first of all, we need to do an inward look within ourselves. We need to identify our own implicit and explicit biases. And I know people say that a lot so much to the point where it almost mystified. "How do I even do that?" I think we have to kind of face ourselves, trace back into our own histories. Think about some of those triggers that we have that set us off into that mindset, where we start to feel that bit of uneasiness or that discomfort get comfortable with the discomfort and then seek to replace whatever it is that got us to that place. And I definitely believe through education is what is going to help us. I often share a story about how, after 9/11, as a veteran, I started having a lot of fears about Muslims.
And so instead of leaning into that fear and then letting that fear become bias and letting that bias become prejudice, I learned as much as I could about Muslims, about Islam and everything else that I could. And I replaced that with the truth. So I think the first thing is we have to seek out the truth. The second thing is we have to really look around our classrooms and see who is represented in the posters that are on our wall, in the books that are on our shelves in the units that we're going to teach. Black history should not be taught in silos within a month. That is the shortest month out of the year. It should certainly be embedded in every facet of whatever it is you're teaching because black history is American history. And then the other thing I would say is just to really kind of look at those natural integration points.
You don't want to force something you don't want to be making up rap with your math or coming up with something really corny or cheesy. You need to just get to know your students, what are their cultural needs? And by culture, I don't mean race. How do they best learn? You need to get to know their parents. And before anybody tries to come for me and say, "I can't do that. I'm a middle or a high school educator." I was a middle and high school educator. And I made it a point in the first two weeks of school to call every single parent on the roster, all 168 of them and introduce myself, get to know them, make sure that they knew me, make sure they had access to me. Relationships have to be at the foundation of every single thing that we do by doing that. Then we create that space where my students trusted me to be able to go into these really deep engaging conversations and learning on culture and what makes us who we are and especially identity.
I would even add on top of that. Of course, yes. We want to make sure that our just our classroom as a whole, the environment looks welcoming to all of our students. And I love that you brought out the what's on the walls and who's on the walls. And I think that's great. And also, you talked about the importance of our academic content being culturally responsive as well. And we just can't leave out the fact that we also have to address the current times as well. So when we think about that relationship piece relationships, sometimes we have to have these conversations that aren't pertaining exactly to what lessons we're teaching that day. Some of that relationship building, it's just showing our students that we care about what's impacting them in their communities. And if we don't say anything and we just say "open up your textbooks to page 600," and we have police brutality happening, and we have all these other things occurring in a pandemic, and we just don't address these things; then, to me, that you're missing that relationship side of things. And you're also missing a great opportunity for us to show our kids that we genuinely care.
And that also kind of segues into the other quote I wanted to bring up because this is kind of towards the end of your article where you say, "We must teach like our lives depend on it because for some of us it does." Could you go a little deeper and share? What were your thoughts when you were putting that together?
My thoughts were just really centered around all of the black lives that we've lost, not just recently in this 21st century, but even going back to Emmett Till, and I'll never forget, his mother Mamie Till said -- they lived in Chicago. And as a black woman, during that time, she didn't feel like the plight of the black Americans in itself was the same as her. She didn't think that she had to worry about that because that wasn't going to touch her son. They were living up North. They didn't have those types of issues. And then she sent her son down South. And what happened to him? Brutal lynching -- just like the lynching that we watched the other day -- happened. And so we can't begin to believe that just because we live in certain places and these things aren't touching us or impacting us that they don't matter.
I think about my friend, Leanne Erickson, who teaches in Iowa, has no black students, lives in a town with no diversity, but chose to take our students on cultural curriculum exploration, where they could get to know and kind of demystify black Americans by learning about them. And one of her students said to her, "Before I took this class, I hated black people." And it was out of fear because a lot of times you fear what you don't know. And so when I was writing that, I was thinking about her. I was thinking about just different people that I've encountered in my life, especially as a veteran and going places and being told that I'm the first person of color that they've ever even met. That's not right. They should have been introduced to other cultures in their learning and not just Martin Luther King and not just Michael Jordan or Malcolm X.
There are so many other people who have done incredible and amazing things. And there are people right now who are currently doing things I often would use Tupac to teach poetry. And I was having a really profound conversation with a friend today about how far ahead of his time Tupac really was I was listening to some lyrics the other day. And I was just had to pause and say, "wow," just at some of the things that he, the [inaudible] and just people who listened to him and how far ahead and forward-thinking he was. So when I wrote that, I was really thinking about, we have to teach in a manner that you might, this might be the only time that you get to expose these students to different people who don't look like them. This also might be the first time that you're exposing students who are sitting in your class with knowing, you know, James Baldwin said to be black in America, is to be in a constant state of rage.
They are fully understanding that double consciousness. They are fully understanding that they are black. And that is the way they're seen first before they're seen as anything else. So you have to give those students mirrors to see themselves in. Otherwise, you're denying them the ability to see themselves represented in their own curriculum. And you've got a whole group of students who've seen themselves represented in their curriculum all the time, and it's not right. Ta-Nehisi Coates even talks about the innocence that black children do not get to have. And I was listening to someone earlier, and they were saying, it's time to make everybody uncomfortable. It is time to get comfortable with discomfort. And if you are comfortable, you are not growing. And so if we keep some of these children in a constant state of comfort, they will never grow beyond the systemic racism that they have been born into and raised up into. And then we'll just continue to keep the cycle going. So we have got to dismantle, and the way we're going to do it is through education.
Hmm hmm. Hmm. I don't even have a rebuttal. Like you've just dropped mic so nice. Thank you for dropping these gems. I want to provide, I definitely consider you as providing a voice in leading equity, and I have thoroughly enjoyed meeting you and enjoyed our conversation. You just seem like someone, I could just like if -- too bad we're social distancing right now, but I'd love to just sit there and just pick your brain. So I appreciate your time. What is one final word of advice that you can provide to our listeners?
One final word of advice that I would provide to our listeners is, and I wrote -- since you read my last blog post, I wrote one on Monday. And the one thing that I wanted to make sure that I conveyed, mainly to our students, but especially to just people who are feeling hopeless and a sense of despair was that I want us to know who we are, my ancestors, our native people, as well as slaves, we endured some of the hardest things -- our ancestors. I mean, can you imagine being chained together in the bottom of a boat with no food, people are speaking to you in different languages. You don't even understand what's going on. You are going through all of this. Many people didn't even survive, but you made it. And if you are a black descendant of slavery and you are here today, that's your lineage.
You come from that tenacity. You come from that strength. And so you have to know that you have everything inside of you that you need in order to persevere, make it through these tough times. America has had its knee on our neck for over 400 years. And it's time to lift up that knee. And for us to be able to enjoy those inalienable rights that were afforded to everybody when we frame this up, our constitution in this country. So I just want, my final word is to stay encouraged. Do not forget who you are. I saw somebody with a shirt on that says, "I am not my ancestors. I'll fight." I am my ancestors. We are our ancestors. Our ancestors have so much strength, so much everything inside of them. And we are yet the ancestors of those not born to us. And so it is really -- while it is hard to see some of the things and I know we're tired, we should really start to have this renewed sense of strength that here we are on the precipice of changing this world, we cannot go back. Somebody said 2020's canceled, no, 2020 is the year where our consciousness is woken up completely. And we can never go back. There is the sense of normalcy that people got to enjoy was only enjoyed by a certain select few. And so we have to make something new, something better for ourselves, for our children and for those generations that are yet to come so that they can finally live out that dream that Martin Luther King had, where they can say we are free at last, we're not free-ish. We are free.
We are not free-ish. We're free. There it is. Kelisa, if we've got some folks that want to reach out to you and they want to connect online, what's the best way?
You can hit me up on my website, www.kelisawing.com. I'm on Twitter @Kelisa_L2teach. I'm on Instagram @kelisa_javon. I'm on Facebook, Kelisa Wing, educator, advocate, author, and I am super responsive. If you reach out to me, I will reach back to you. So I just appreciate being able to be used for such a time as this.
Yeah. Again, I appreciate your time. So thank you again. Kelisa Wing is here with me today. It has been a pleasure.
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