Sheldon L. Eakins:
What's up folks? Dr. Eakins is here with another episode. I just got back from Chicago. Shout out to IDEAcon. Had the opportunity of keynoting their Thursday morning session and also I did a few sessions on Monday as well. It's good because my family's from Chicago so I got a chance to see my family in addition to being able to meet a lot of people that I've connected with virtually. It's always a pleasure to be able to meet people in person. And I enjoy being on stage and having an opportunity to share my thoughts and my passion towards education.
As a matter of fact, I was on social and I got to give a shout out to Billy Spicer who said, "While listening to Sheldon Eakins present his keynote this morning on the final day of IDEAcon, I'm struck by how many educators, administrators, pre-service teachers and more need to hear his message and I'm thankful for IDEA Illinois for highlighting voices like his." If you are looking for some training, if you're looking for some keynote, any of those type of things, please reach out to Leading Equity Center. I'm happy to come out. I would love to meet you love to work with you as well.
Welcome to the Leading Equity podcast. My name is Dr. Sheldon L. Eakins and for over a decade, I've helped educators become better advocates for their students. What is an advocate? An advocate is someone who recognizes that we don't live in a just society. Advocates aren't comfortable with the status quo and are willing to speak up on behalf of others. No matter where you are in your journey towards ensuring all of your student are equipped with the resources they need to thrive, I'm here to help you build your knowledge and confidence to ensure equity at your school.
One of the sessions that I did was entitled, I'm No Longer an Ally and Here's Why. See, if you're following me on Twitter or Instagram, you probably have seen me wearing a shirt or hoodie that says, "Ally," and it's crossed out and underneath that it says, "Disruptor." And if you want to get your hands on one, you can go to destroythenorm.com, destroythenorm.com and pick you up one as well. But I've really spent a lot of time thinking about the advocacy work that I enjoy doing and helping others with. A lot of the language and verbiage, a lot of times people say, "Sheldon, I want to do better. I want to help others. I want to be a voice and support my peers, my colleagues, my students, parents. However situations occur and I don't necessarily know the terminality, I don't know necessarily what to say or how to respond."
And so I like to give educators the tools and resources necessary to ensure equity at their school. I try to give that language and provide examples of situations, this is what I said, this is what I would say in these type of situations to help folks out. And as I started thinking about a lot of my experiences as an educator and as an individual doing this work, I already started looking at the word ally. I'm no longer an ally and here's why.
I remember doing my student teaching. I'm not going to tell you how long ago it was but it was a while ago, let's just say that. I was a young lad. I remember going to one of the schools and I remember being in a teachers' lounge and just kind of listening to some of the teachers as they talked about the school and talked about some of the students. And I'll be honest, I didn't feel very comfortable. This is brand new environment and who am I? I'm just a student teacher. I didn't have any clout. As I listened to some of the staff members make some negative comments about some of the students, some of the students that were labeled as troublemakers or students that you weren't highly or maybe weren't seen favorably by some of the other staff members. And I remember not saying anything. I just remember, you know what? This is making me uncomfortable and I ended up walking away. I left the staff lounge and I don't think I went back there throughout the rest of my student teaching.
I shared this story with one of the professors at my university. I used to love talking to her because she was one of those individuals that she spoke her mind and she didn't hold back. And so I'm sharing this story and I finished and I'm smiling. I was like, "I walked away. I did the right thing." I'll never forget what she said to me. She said these five words, "And what did you do?" See at the moment when I was at that school and I was doing, and I thought I was doing the right thing by just walking away and not engaging in the conversation, I knew who the students were. I had been there enough to know who they were talking about but I was a student teacher. I wasn't even certified. I was senior year in college. I was brand new. No one knew who I was. Who was I? I thought the right thing was just to walk away and not say anything.
But what I realized after I looked at her face of disappointment because I responded with, "Well, I didn't do anything. I left." But I realized me not doing anything was not doing anything. Does that make sense? Me not doing anything was not doing anything. And sometimes we have those opportunities where we overhear something or we witness something or we're in a staff meeting and the things that are being said and discussed, we feel like we should raise our hand and speak up or we feel like, let me stop. Let me interject. Let me intercede. However, sometimes our positionality may hinder us. I feel like that phrase imposter syndrome gets thrown out a lot where it's like, who am I to be in this space?
But those five words that woman said to me, I still remember that. I'll probably never forget what she said because it really got me thinking about, oh man, I didn't say anything. I thought I did the right thing by not responding, by walking away but what I realized is I could have said something. I could have said something such as, "You know what? I know I'm new here. I know I'm not even staff but I have to be honest I'm a little disappointed because I'm really excited about being an educator. I'm a candidate right now and it's kind of disappointing to hear the negativity being spoken to our students." I could have left it there. I could have gone even further and said, "I don't know. I haven't been here long and I don't know the student's back story. However, he's a human being and I think he deserves a chance. And if we take the time to create that relationship, maybe we wouldn't feel that way."
I'm no longer an ally and here's why. See the thing about the term ally, to be honest. And this is Dr. Eakins' opinion, an ally isn't what exactly needed right now at this moment. And to be honest, allyship can become very performative. Sometimes I hear the question of, will things change when it comes to equality, when it comes to folks being treated fairly, the end of racism, will that happen in our lifetime? Or will these things continue from generation to generation, to generation, to generation? I think a lot of the reasons why things do continue to be the way that they are, especially for those who are wanting to end things. But if we say, "Yes, what's happening is wrong," but we don't do anything about it. If we just say, "I wish that things were different but I want to be a safe space so therefore I'm an ally." Or I have a poster, I have a sign or flag in my room or things like that. But where's the action?
And unfortunately, a lot of the allyship can quickly become performative. Now you might have heard this term performative, performative wokeness and I'll give you a little definition here, "A superficial show of solidarity with minority and oppressed bodies of people that enables people to reap the social benefits of wokeness without actually undertaking any of the necessary legwork to combat injustice and inequality." And that's from Lizzy Bowes, 2017. I like that definition because at the end of the day, the question that I have for you as you listen to this episode is, well what are your motives?
Yes, we're educators. We want to be there for our kids. We want to support them. And I think we can all agree, no matter what your views are, we can all agree that we want the best for our students. I believe it was John Dewey and I'm paraphrasing because I'm not going to quote this exactly but basically I think he said something such as, do what you would do for your own child. I think we can agree that we want the best for our students but what are your motives?
I did a training one time, I was working with a group of teacher candidates, as a matter of fact. I was invited by a good professor colleague of mine and they had me talk. And so I did my whole speech. I did my training. I did. And I love to do Q and A because the thing about Q and A's, when I prepare a session, when I prepare a lesson for some group that I'm going to work with, I'm assuming that I'm delivering information and engagement based off of what is needed. I love to follow up with Q and A because maybe I missed something or maybe I didn't touch on a question or a topic that an individual in the audience might have had.
A young White woman raised her hands, she said, "Listen, I am finishing up. I'm about to be a teacher. I am very into equity work and I want to be the best teacher that I can be and I want to be there for my students. Should I go to an urban school or should I go to a suburban school?" I remember responding. I said, "I can't answer that question. What are your motives? I don't know you. I know nothing about you. If you're are saying, 'I feel like I can do good at an urban school, teach kids and help provide a voice and advocacy work. Or should I go to a suburban school, provide a voice and teach our students in those schools about social justice.'"
I said, "The bottom line is be your authentic self." Kids can tell when someone is putting on a show, kids can tell when someone's motives aren't genuine. Just because you're an educator does not mean that your students, their parents, their guardians, the community knows that you have the best intentions. You can say that in your opening letter, you can say that in your weekly newsletters but are you showing that through your actions?" I think no matter where you choose to go, whether you decide to work in a school that's primarily Black and Brown or a school that is primarily White, I think at the end of the day, we're doing our kids a disservice if our intentions aren't genuine. Are you coming to a school because you feel like I need to save this group? I need to save this community? Are you coming to the school because it's just another paycheck for you?
Or are you coming because you recognize that in order for our educational system to change and for us to develop future good citizens, good citizens, those who respect each other and respect differences of opinions, who learn to help others, if you want to be there to support students in that manner, in addition to teaching them those other life skills but preparing them for outside of the classroom. I don't believe even the real world because school is the real world as well. But preparing them with the skills they need to operate as adults, it's not an indoctrination. It's just teaching your kids to be good people, good human beings. What are your motives?
I'm no longer an ally and here's why. It's unfortunate that I sometimes get to the place of what's next? We live in a world, especially if you're in the United States, you live in a world where media, had a newscaster friend once told me the way that they operated news was if it bleeds, it leads. And it often takes tragedy for folks to start to listen. And we support various causes for whatever reason but I always wonder sometimes is there more that I can do as Sheldon Eakins? Is there more that I can do? Did I do enough? Or can I do more? Are there topics on my show that I haven't covered that I need to cover? Or are there topics that I should cover more? I question myself a lot because again, I tell folks, what do I say every time I come on this show? I say, "Welcome advocates." I talk about being an advocate. I say it in my newsletters. I talk about advocacy, but sometimes I wonder, am I doing enough?
I think just saying that, if I was to say that I'm an ally, I feel like that's a self title. I don't know a lot of people, maybe it's my circles that I hang around but I don't know a lot of people that say, "Oh yeah, that individual is an ally." I hear a lot of people say that they are an ally. They give themselves that title. But if I was to ask one of their students, if I was to ask a parent that knows them or a colleague that knows them, how would their response be? Would they say, "Yeah, I believe that this person is an ally." And then I guess it depends on also, are they okay with them just being a safe space? My good friend, Ken Shelton always says, "Safe for who?"
I'm no longer an ally and here's why. Years ago I lived in Oregon and I joined the NAACP because I wanted to join a national organization. I wanted to be a part of the movement. And I have absolutely nothing against the NAACP, I don't but my experience in this national organization made me really think, is there more that I could do if I'm not affiliated with a group or an organization? And I'll tell you what happened. I remember joining up and I remember us going to our meetings and we would talk about various initiatives that we were working on. And I remember looking at the president, listening to him sometimes and just thinking, he seems a little frustrated. It seemed like sometimes he was hitting walls. It was like, okay, I just met with this individual or I met with this organization or I met with the city's this or that but it still didn't produce the outcomes that we were hoping for. Sometimes it seemed like the doors would get closed in our faces.
We were advocating, we were organizing and we were talking about different things that we would love to see changed. And a lot of the stuff was simple stuff. It wasn't even big deal like pass this law or any of those type of things. Some of it was just simple strategies such as maybe getting some new books at a school that could utilize books, didn't have the funding or just little stuff. Nothing. Some of it wasn't the biggest ask if that makes sense or just, hey, pay attention to this. You may not be aware that this is happening. But it seems sometimes, a lot of times rather, seemed like folks just didn't want to hear what we had to say.
Right around this time, Dylann Roof goes into the church and kills eight church members. Now all of a sudden our phones started ringing off the hook. "Can the NAACP come speak? Can you participate in this vigil? Can you do this? Can you do that?" I started thinking, I was like, man, where were you before that? Seemed like sometimes we were hitting walls and now all of a sudden tragedy happens and then people want to listen. We're invited now. Oh, okay. Now we want to hear what you have to say but we want to hear what you have to say but we want to hear it regarding this recent tragedy. I hate that it takes tragedy sometimes for folks to want to listen. And even when they want to listen, often they want to listen to just, oh, just talk about what happened. Nevermind, everything else that's going on in the world that was happening before this tragedy and probably what will happen after to this tragedy. Just talk about this.
There's that level of comfort. Well, I was prepared. I had an opportunity to do some research on this story, this tragedy that has occurred. I have set up my mindset to take in what is being said but outside of that, I'm not prepared for that and so I'm not ready to hear it. Again, I enjoyed my time as a member of the NAACP but then I recognize, I really started to think, is it possible that as an individual I could do more for my community? Because sometimes when you see those national organizations and you know what they stand for, some folks will automatically start to get defensive or they automatically think or assume that you have an agenda because you're with this group, as opposed to me being Sheldon and advocating as a member of the community, in that part of an organization.
I'm no longer an ally and here's why. When you look at the definitions, according to Miriam Webster, the definition for ally is to join yourself with another person, group, et cetera, in order to get or give support. See, nowhere in that definition does it say anything such as actionable steps. I can get or give support but what does that look like? I prefer the term disrupter. Now you might hear people say co-conspirator and I think advocacy can be put in there as well or activism but I like disruptor because the definition of disruptor is to break apart, to interrupt the normal course or unity of. To break apart. See an advocate is what? Person who recognizes that we do live in a just society. They're not satisfied with the status quo and they're willing to speak up on behalf of others.
My final question to you is what are you? I know this is hard. That question that I just posed, what are you? Might be a hard answer for you. I'm going to leave it there because I really want you to think about that. What are you? As an educator, as an individual because it's one thing to be an advocate, a disruptor within the classroom, in the hallways. What does that look like in your community?
This episode was brought to you by the Leading Equity Center for more podcast interviews and resources, head on over to leadingequitycenter.com.
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