Sheldon:

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. Got a special guest today, Mr. Marcus "Sankofa" Nicks is here. So without further ado, Marcus, thank you so much for joining us.

Mr. Marcus Sankofa Nicks:

No problem. Thank you for having me, delighted to be on this platform. Sheldon.

Sheldon:

Pleasure is always mine. So before we get into today's topic, I'd love for you to share a little bit about yourself and what you currently do.

Mr. Marcus Sankofa Nicks:

Awesome. Awesome. Well, I hail all the way from Maryland, more specifically Howard county, Maryland. I have been an educator in the Howard County Public School System of Maryland for 11 years. Seven of those years has been with middle school students, and four of those years up until the present have been with high school students. And so within the Howard county Public School System, which is really, you could consider it as suburb of Baltimore, right outside of Baltimore. I wear many hats in many roles. I'm a part of a program called BSAP, which is referred to as the Black Student Achievement Program. So the focus is reducing the achievement gap for the black African-American students. So the students of color by providing mentoring support, making sure the families and the students have the necessary resources that they need, mindset coaching, being an advocate for them, and even consulting with counselors, fellow educators, teachers, administrators, on what the best practices are. To educate and support those students from a culturally relevant standpoint.

               And then from a trauma informed approach, I also am a co-teacher of the African American Studies seminar. And so I'm just passionate about history in general. So that class gives me a chance to really hone in on my passion. And I also do a lot of healing work, not just in the Public School System, working with black educators or educators of color, but also ranging and extending all the way to Baltimore City, where I'm also been a longtime member of the TNAT Holistic Wellness Center, which is in more of an urban space, more of an inner city environment, but the focus of the TNAT Holistic Wellness Center in Baltimore has really as well been to empower black families, black individuals from a culturally based approach from more of a Afrocentric model. So I've been pretty active and pretty busy doing all of those things.

Sheldon:

How the heck... I almost cursed. How in the world do you find all the time to do all of that Marcus?

Mr. Marcus Sankofa Nicks:

Man. Well, there's always more work to be done. So I had to reshape my expectations, brother Sheldon. I had to realize if, think I'm going to be able to get it all done-

Sheldon:

Yeah.

Mr. Marcus Sankofa Nicks:

... I may have to reevaluate my expectations, but a lot of the work that I do not by myself. I have a team, I have a supportive family. And as they say, when you are doing stuff that you love to do, it can be taxing and tiresome, but it also doesn't seem like work. So I can't get enough of it. And this is what I love to do, man, as you know, what's going on in this society, there is a lot of work to be done.

Sheldon:

Yeah. Tell me about it. So yeah, so I guess I'll make this announcement right now. So, before I was working on a reservation doing special education and I was doing Leading Equity Center on the side, but that has become my job now. I just recently resigned from my position on a reservation, because like you said, unfortunately, the United States of America is pretty racist and there's work to be done and it needs to happen. And so like you said, just trying to be able to find time. And it's funny because as I was listening to you share a little bit about yourself and what you currently do and I was just sitting there thinking like, man, people tell me all the time, "Sheldon you're always seems to be busy." And I'm like, "Dude, this dude Marcus, I swear he got me beat," because it was always the next thing it's like, can I do this too? And then I'm also part of this. So I mean, here's a question that I have because you're talking about healing.

Mr. Marcus Sankofa Nicks:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Sheldon:

And I love it when educators or those who practice certain things that they teach or train, how are you able to create your own healing? Because it sounds like you're doing a lot of work and like you say, you have family and there's a lot of things happening and there's more work to be done. Let's start with yourself.

Mr. Marcus Sankofa Nicks:

Sure.

Sheldon:

What are some of your practices for healing?

Mr. Marcus Sankofa Nicks:

Sure. That's a great question. And I would say, like I mentioned to you already before, my family, I have to start with them, being my parents and my wife, my extended family support system is really been huge. They've been that well to replenish me when I have run dry. So, for me, it's really making it a lifestyle and incorporating it with everything that I do. It's not all this on my to do list. And then I'll get to the self care and the rejuvenation in the practices of restoration over here, I've tried to incorporate it with what I do because everything is connected. So even with the things that I told you, the things that I told you that I do within the school, with the many hats that I wear, even going into the community, I try to look at these things as not compartmentalized fragmented things. Each of these entities have their own duties and responsibilities, and of course the roles are different, but even as I'm an educator I have to also bring it to the fact that I'm a father who is also an educator as well.

               And so they're just different aspects of the one me. And so when I look at it like that, I know on a practical level, I love to journal, I love listening to, different types of music, especially with this pandemic. I found myself hitting up Spotify and really checking out some of that old school jazz and that soul music. That's really gets me in a good, good place. I love to meditate. And many of the things that I share with students and the educators and those who I work with, they're an extension of me. So some of the programs from mindfulness meditation groups and some of the things with our affinity groups, these are things that I've implemented within my own life. And I've shared them and exposed people to these things because they've done wonders for me. So exercise, trying to make sure I eat somewhat healthy, making sure I try to get rest, all of those types of things. And so those things, having good people in my corner and not beating myself up if I don't get it perfectly. Right. And knowing that it's a process.

Sheldon:

It's a process. And one of the things you said that really stuck out was you don't come compartmentalize everything, everything is kind of embedded, it's incorporated in what you do when it comes to your own healing. And I think that's good. And I love listening to music. I think I'm starting to get old now because I have students that would tell me that 90s music was the oldies and it broke my heart, man. I said, how could you say that to me? That hurt. It really did hurt, and I needed some healing for that. So I just think that it's important that what we're doing, and I love, again, how you said it's incorporated in everything that you do. So let's transition to the folks that you have been working with, specifically black educators.

Mr. Marcus Sankofa Nicks:

Sure. Sure.

Sheldon:

Tell me, why do you think it's so important for black educators to make sure that they are participating in healing processes?

Mr. Marcus Sankofa Nicks:

Sure, sure. So I guess I'll start off with answering that in this way. Last year, 2020, you all know that 2020 was a year of the ages. I wrote a article in a publication called Liberating Literacy. Big ups to Ashley Ameen, who oversees that platform, that publication, but the piece that I wrote was called Silent No More: Healing For The Black Educator. And well, my inspiration was for writing that piece was really reflecting on just the weight that black educators had to deal with. You looked at what was going on in society with the continuous murders and killings going from George Floyd to Ahmaud Arbery to Breonna Taylor and so on down the line. And then in addition to the racial hostility in the murders and the violence, you also took into account what was going on in the political scene and how that environment was so contentious and so hostile.

               And then just looking at what the pandemic brought and we know that for communities of color or black communities, there's intensified affects from health disparities, from the things that our black communities are already dealing with, are already facing. And so seeing how this impacted a lot of my colleagues, my fellow black coworkers, being in virtual spaces and seeing my colleagues, black educators, almost on the verge of breaking down. Black educators having a hard time navigating all of these things that were highly stressful and even traumatic dealing with family issues, but yet having to try to still give their best to their students, to their professions, and to their coworkers. And so I noticed that, and I had noticed that there was an additional weight and an additional strain, and there's a study that speaks to this. And it was a study that was brought forth by the Atlantic. It was a article that was quite a few years ago. And this spoke about, from 2012 to 2013, the data suggests that 22% of black public school teachers move schools or left the profession altogether compared to it's about 15% of white non-Hispanics.

               And so when you look at dropout rates, a lot of times the conversation is centered around students, the black students dropping out. The school to prison, pipeline, all of that. And we know that there's merit behind those things, but what my research has brought forth to me and what I've also experienced and notice in real time, not just engaging with black educators, but being a black educator myself, is that there's also the black educator dropout rate. And what that would suggest is, because black educators are under so much stress, they're under so much strain, they're under so much pressure. They're having to try to be the heroes for the students. They're trying to be Superman and superwoman and put on their armor and navigate these educational spaces, putting their best foot forward.

               But at the same time, it's still taking a toll on them because they still have to deal with microaggressions or some even say macroaggressions, they still have to deal with the trauma. They still have to deal with the pain and the hurt in an educational context or in a workforce environment, which really compromises their ability to teach. It compromises their ability to connect. And so what happens is, as the dropout rate suggests, a lot of times they look for other professions. Or what I've noticed happening is they stay within school system, but then they develop what Dr. Joy Degruy in Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome speaks about, is this ever present anger. So they still are in these spaces, but they have resentment. They have frustrations. They have anger. And they're bitter. And so some of them shut down. Some of them go to other professions. Some of them, it impacts their ability to be the best version of themselves.

               And I can tell you a number of different stories, but I had educators who have wanted to move on, they wanted to move up or they just stayed put and just got better. And so here I am, I'm excited. I'm gung ho. I'm trying to, I'm all for our black students. And I'm trying to be the best version I can be for them. But then it's almost like this additional weight on me because my partners in the struggle have left.

Sheldon:

Yeah.

Mr. Marcus Sankofa Nicks:

So even if they don't leave physically, and even if they stay within the school setting, they'll drop out mentally, they'll drop out psychologically. And as it's been said, the best thing you can give your student and in relationships. The best thing you can give the other person is presence. If you can't be present, how can you do any teaching or build a relationship or go from there? And so it's hard if teachers are not feeling safe, if they're not feeling secure.

               And so that is what has inspired me and led me to do this work, because I think a lot of times, Sheldon, we expect the school systems to do a lot for the educators, which they should, but even as history has shown empowering our students, educators, black educators, [inaudible 00:14:53] empowering themselves. We were the ones to pull it together and handle our business and support and empower each other. We didn't necessarily always expect or wait on the system to come and do for us so we can do for ourselves. And so I'm just trying to get us back into that mode of thinking so we can be able to empower and heal each other.

Sheldon:

There's so many areas I want to touch on. So the bottom line that I heard about, burnout if you will, because that was kind of the overarching theme that I received as far as the message that you were providing just now and that comes from the additional work, if you will, or expectations for not just black educators, but for educators of color, I would throw that in there as well.

Mr. Marcus Sankofa Nicks:

Sure. Sure.

Sheldon:

I learned about cultural taxation from Dr. Javier Perez when he did a session with me doing my Leading Equity Virtual Summit a couple of years back. And that was my first time hearing about it because one of the things that I have experienced and even doing this equity work was like things that I experienced I didn't necessarily have a name attached to. I didn't have a term for it. It's just part of what I did or what I experienced. So when I worked here at the university, I'm one of a handful of black staff let alone with a doctorate or having hiring authority.

               That's a whole nother conversation, but I was just one of a few that were representative of the school. And guess what? I got all the black students coming to me, asking for support, telling me about their stories and wanting me to advocate for them. But I still have my main daily task to attend to, but I'm not going to turn a student away who needs help. And so I didn't like calling it extra work, but it is a cultural taxation because the mentality is if I don't do it, if I'm not a resource, a person for you to come to, then who is? Who will be that person to do it? And then, like you said, Marcus, you're all gung ho you actually can have a couple people that are about the cause, but then someone were to leave, whether physically or mentally and then you're left to keep it up, to hold the mantle up and do the work, it can be a challenge.

Mr. Marcus Sankofa Nicks:

Yeah. Yeah. It definitely can be a challenge. And there's all types of research and data out there that just speaks to the pressure of how black educators have to show up in these spaces. So being in the space and being seen as a disciplinarian, you're solely the disciplinarian. Or being overlooked to be able to move up, or for promotions or further opportunities, or to be assumed, oh, you're from poverty, yo. Or how did you get that degree?

Sheldon:

Yeah, you're from the hood.

Mr. Marcus Sankofa Nicks:

You're adopted, they must have gave you that degree my brother, oh, you must have to earn that or having to feel like you always got to over prove yourself. You always on eggshells, you got to be on point, you got to be perfect, or you got to ease up your tone because you can't sound too strong, or you can't sound too angry.

Sheldon:

Aggressive.

Mr. Marcus Sankofa Nicks:

Aggressive. And this is the reality of what many educators feel when they're in these spaces. And Resmaa Menakem from a book, My Grandmother's Hands, speaks about the blackening and how trying to give our best to what we do, but also not trying to be threatening. And so the things that I've just mentioned, some of the examples, it's hard to be able to navigate that space once again, where you have all of these things in the back of your mind, but yet you have to put your best foot forward and give the best to your profession and your students and your families. And so it's something that definitely takes a toll. And just the day-to-day discriminations it's something that definitely takes a toll. And racial battle fatigue, whenever those killings and murders continue to happen.

               And whenever I held the affinity spaces for the black educators, and we would come together and people would say, people didn't even acknowledge that people in my building or other educators of other walks of life yeah. We're acting like business as usual, just the other day, somebody was killed. Somebody was murdered. A Black boy is at the hands of the police or so on and so forth. And so I noticed there was a spirit of defeat. There was a spirit of hopelessness. A spirit of powerlessness. I mean, and it's understandable. And so it's definitely important to continue to within this particular time, like I've said, like you have said, just to continue to create spaces, or as some say, reprieve spaces. Just to be able to have it be black educators so they can be able to restore, they can be able to heal, even though there's, I would say there is a place for all educators to come together.

               I work in a school system where I would say it's pretty diverse in terms of, there's a whole spectrum of different ethnicities, nationalities, people of different walks of life and backgrounds. But I would also say that there's also a place for affinity groups to be able to affirm each other and to be in a space with those who look like you and not having to over prove your humanity and being able to just continue the process of trying to walk in your true authentic self. So a lot of the work that I do, even though, of course, we want to empower our students. We want to teach and build up our students. You can't give from an empty cup. So a lot of the work once again, that I do is being able to work with educators to be able to deal with their own stuff. And of course we have to throw in there too, the racial self alienation.

               So we also can't ignore the fact that many of our black educators have internalized the inferiority or feeling less than, or this narrative. They have to work twice as good to be... These are things unfortunate that have been internalized. And I remember, even when I started off about 11 years ago or so in middle school. And when Marcus "Sankofa" Nicks, you know what I mean? Now I'm at a point out our represent all aspects of me unapologetically. I've grown to love more and more who I am, but when I first was in the school system, I wasn't putting on a dashiki or African oriented beaded necklace. Like all my students know me when they see me in the hall, I might be rocking a dashiki, or I might be wearing like a beaded necklace, or I might have something on me reflective of pride, black excellence, or just embracing my African-Americaness, my Africanity, whatever you want to call it.

               But when I first went into the school system, I had a shirt, a tie, I was clean shaven, and don't get me wrong because you have that on doesn't mean you're a sell out. It doesn't mean that you're any less down for the cause to empower and to push forward blackness in a positive way. But I wasn't comfortable putting myself out like that. Being in spaces where I'm the only black in the meeting and everybody else is Caucasian, I wasn't comfortable in that space. And so even myself have had to evolve in the process and getting more comfortable within my own skin to move about in these contexts. And even historically, before integration happened and before a lot of the color schools, the segregated schools, desegregated and had to intertwine and intermixed with the white schools, one of the things that was already there was that spirit of community.

Sheldon:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mr. Marcus Sankofa Nicks:

So many of those black teachers, some of them might've lived with the black students, they lived in their own neighborhoods. And so it was a little bit easier. They knew each other from the churches. NAACP, in many local areas was also part of the larger network. So I said all that to say it was the network, made it more conducive to being able to come together and heal and support each other. And I think that, it's good to look at what constitutes or what can be done to get us back to that point so we could be able to heal each other.

Sheldon:

I love that. And fellowship, comradery, developing a sense of self-worth, all these things are things that I've heard in regards to being a part of affinity spaces. I remember when I lived in Oregon and I was a school principal at the time, and I used to go up to the local university because they used to have a black male space. And I looked forward to it every week to attend these sessions. And it was just us being able to bond, share, it wasn't just a vent session. Sometimes people think that these affinity spaces are just vent sessions. I just want to complain about my day and this person said this to me, and I know that you can understand my situation. And that's what an hour is for. I think there's a time and a place, but I think also there needs to be some rebuilding. Sometimes there needs to be some fellowship sometimes. And sometimes we would just meet and we'll just have lunch, we'll have dinner together, just being able to bond that way.

Mr. Marcus Sankofa Nicks:

Yeah, you're right. And as you speak to that, there's a book that just was released and it's a great work Jarvis Givens called fugitive pedagogy Carter G. Woodson and the Art of Black Teaching and it's dead on with what you said Sheldon. And of course the venting has its place to be able to release what has been so picked up. But one of the things that is indicated in the book is that you, once again, looking at historically given some historic context to where we're at. Many of these black teachers associations, coupled with NAACP, they read work from some of the scholars in the field, in profession of teaching and continue to build their craft. They reviewed theories and continue to sharpen their sword or sharpen their iron, so to speak, to be effective quality educators. And they knew that it was up to them to be able to establish a sense of community within themselves.

               And so even when you look at what's going on now with the pandemic, I know you've been putting out content just reflections and different stuff about how this thing has really impacted the teachers. And one of the things just from being on the ground here in, and talking and engaging with a lot of my fellow colleagues and teacher associates just seems to be at times a little bit disheartening that the teachers, a lot of times are the last ones that are thought about. Of course, it's not to say that the students are not important. Of course they're important. Families are also important, but it's interesting how, when the pandemic is hit you, a lot of times you heard people say when things are virtual, oh, I have such new respect for the teacher. I have a whole new regard for all the things that teachers go through.

               But then you also heard people say whenever there was these major pushes to get students back into the buildings. Oh the teachers just need to teach to come in and just teach, they need to just come in, open the schools, like it's so simple and so easy to just come in and teach. Teachers don't have families and teachers don't have risk factors and help situations and other things to consider. So once again it's always been, and this is the long tradition of black education specifically, and this is not always taught in teacher preparation programs, but that culture of being communal and empowering each other that has always been there.

               And then I think when we speak about what we deal with and what we face in the educational context, even if we have a husband or a wife or spouse, or we have people that we know outside of the school system, they could be a support, but it's different when you are locking arms with those who are within the system of education, which and so it's different when you want to battlefield together. But yeah, so I think that that's something that's really important to give back to, to help us push through.

Sheldon:

I love that. So Marcus, I definitely consider you as providing a voice in Leading Equity. What is one final word of advice that you can provide to our listeners?

Mr. Marcus Sankofa Nicks:

Sure. Well, I would say make self-care a priority and not a luxury. And I would also say, learn history. History is very, very important. And that's something that we see missing a lot of today. I would also say embrace that, which recharges you or what revitalizes you. So like I mentioned, there are some things that I do to get me going and to keep a sense of balance in my life, to keep from being worn down and burnt out and different things like that. And don't be afraid to speak out. Don't be afraid to use your voice. And so as I mentioned in the piece Silent No More: Healing For The Black Educator, we don't have to suffer in silence. We can be assertive. We can assert our voice and speak up.

               But healing is very essential, is very important. And the gentleman that was on that, I heard few episodes ago said it very well. A lot of times we will read all of this information on anti-racism and restorative practice and black lives matter. All of these things. And when it hit the ground running, boom, let's make it happen. And it's important to do the work, but also remember that the self care work is very vital and is very crucial to the larger work that we strive to do. So let's also remember to put things in its proper perspective and know that we have to reflect on our own biases and our own assumptions that we make and continue this healing work. So you can't give from an empty cup. So I thank you brother Sheldon for having a conversation. I'm going to continue to support here. And I thank you for having the platform so we can talk about this.

Sheldon:

Oh, no, no, I appreciate you. I'm the one who's honored. So thank you for joining us. If we have some folks that want to connect with you, want to reach out, especially those in a DMV area, what's the best way to connect with you?

Mr. Marcus Sankofa Nicks:

Sure. So my email is [email protected] So that's [email protected] You can connect with me Twitter @NicksMarcus. You can connect with me, Facebook Mr. Marcus Sankofa Nicks.

Sheldon:

All right. Once again, my special guests was Mr. Marcus Sankofa Nicks. Thank you so much, Marcus. It's been a pleasure.

Mr. Marcus Sankofa Nicks:

Likewise.

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