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On Peace and Freedom…

“You can’t separate peace from freedom because no one can be at peace unless he has his freedom.”

-Malcolm X

I conclude the semester feeling overwhelmed with emotions. There have been many nights where I sit up at night and think about court-influenced youth. Although I have not started mentoring yet, I feel that I have learned so much through the course readings, activities, and videos watched both in and out of class. My soul has not been at peace since viewing Kenneth’s story 15 to Life.

What is absent from so many conversations about people of color and incarceration rates is the larger picture of American society that sets certain individuals up to fill positions in our prisons. This was a concept discussed in class, and in light of the current climate of our nation, and trending topics such as #criminingwhilewhite, that continues to plague my thoughts about the inequities and inequalities that exist for people of color.

I think about Kenneth, who committed one crime at 14, who helped his mother break her addiction from drugs, who taught fellow inmates in prison, and who ultimately experienced rehabilitation during his time spent incarcerated. I think about how differently the situation would have been if Kenneth were White, if he was afforded the opportunity to make mistakes much like his White counterparts. My heart aches for the many stories just like his where young people of color who the government deems as incapable of making adult decisions (such as the right to vote) can be tried as adults before a court and sentenced to spend the entirety of their youth behind bars.

My closing thoughts reflect upon the above quote by Malcolm X. I question why I can’t feel at peace as the semester ends. And the answer is that I, we, people of color, don’t truly experience freedom in this place. When Black bodies are devalued, and lives are diminished and destroyed, the reality is that freedom is not afforded to everyone, and until this changes, we will never have peace.

The Son will Arise…Once More

Today, I had the powerful experience of being part of the march that took place in New York City starting at Washington Square Park. I wanted to share the images as well as a poem that was written in honor of Mike Brown and other Black males murdered in the summer of 2014 (and prior). I thought the words were relevant in today’s social climate. I’m still feeling energized, moved and left questioning “What next?” after today’s events. Images can be found here.

The night was long—

Black dreams were missing like Black bodies buried beneath mahogany mud— stretched from Mississippi to Mandingo sands.

Dark souls descended upon hot streets blazoned by ghetto flames,

Burning upon the breast of fiery dark places,

And streams of red blood crept six feet beneath the hard surface of Ghetto Earth.

The night that challenges the light of the Sun,

the darkness of the night stalked the Son—

At once closing his eyes.

He is now blind to his Blackness,

While hues of crimson Blues encroach upon his dark skin.

The night, the shadow of his Blackness, appears so with emptiness—

Eclipsed stars, the fallen dreams in his skies,

Give way to a broken moon—which is his crescent heart.

Then, I felt his mother’s tears, drenched upon Black garments that draped her supple, sable lap.

Prevailing in audacious echoes were sorrow songs,which provoked shrieks of wild thunder beneath the Black veil that hid her eyes.

We forgot about her because she was hidden behind the shade of our darkness.

She is our tomorrow—the sparrow and her song

which bear the light of morning, piercing the darkness of today

like the full moon and moonlight that leads to a new day.

Weeping, though it endures for a night,

Joy sits at the edge of dawn—

A new day forthcoming, which says to us . . .

The Son will arise

once more.

—By David E. Kirkland

***Title was inspired by the words of David E. Kirkland. For more thoughts on politics, education, and moral justice please check out his blog site: https://davidekirkland.wordpress.com ***

Words (can) Hurt…

“The old story sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt you—words will get you killed.”

-Ameena Matthews (Violence Interrupter)

To my babies,

I am sorry that I have failed you. Day after day I taught you lessons on turning the other cheek; that words can’t hurt you. Unfortunately, I lied. Words have the ability to crush spirits and tear apart families. Words can erase friendships and stomp out pride. The reality is that words hurt, a lot.

I wish I had taught you that words can hurt but words can also heal. I should have shown you the two sides to this double-edged sword that our tongues have the power to unleash. As your very first school teacher I should have been the person to acknowledge that I, too, have been hurt by malicious words and have hurt others. In wanting to protect you, to shield you from the realities of violence that plague our communities, I left large gaps in teaching you about how to cope, how to deal with true emotions that accompany harsh words. Please forgive me.

If I could have a chance to do this over, to reteach lessons that I’ve had time to reflect on; I would share with you how to use words to empower and uplift each other. We could learn together about how to make our communities stronger, had I not silenced your voices and discredited the power of words. I would read you Martin’s Big Words over and over again, until the pages ripped from callous fingers flipping though pages. We would sit on the carpet and share moments of when we’ve been hurt, in an attempt to prepare us for a world that at times, could care less about our bruised feelings.

I wouldn’t teach you to merely turn the other cheek, because I understand the complexities of doing so. I would teach you that it’s ok to feel hurt and upset, but its what we do with those emotions that can be life changing. I never want evils to drive you to make life-changing decisions. Your lives are too precious. You are too precious. Your value is immeasurable.

I would try to help you understand that in your hurting (a valid emotion) there are times when you have to choose your battles and choose them wisely. I read what the media has to say about Black boys and it pains me. I know about the kind, loving spirits that enter my class each year— boys who just want hugs and positive attention from teachers. I know what how it feels to love Black boys with every ounce of energy in my body. I know how three simple words “I love you” can change lives.

Hear my words. You are loved, you are valued and you are appreciated. When others use vicious words to make you believe otherwise, please know that words do hurt, but the hurt doesn’t last always.

With love,

Nicole (Ms. McGowan)

When Reality Isn’t Good Enough: Addressing Real Race Issues

By Nicole McGowan

I became conscious that I was Black when I was 5 years old.

 Surrounded by pink bodies, I was ashamed of my brown skin. All the dolls in school were White along with the children in our textbooks—laughing, happy, smiling faces that didn’t look like me.

This is how I begin my personal statement, which explores my identity, self-worth, passion for education and ultimately my future contributions to society. It’s safe to say I’ve been thinking about race for a very long time.

Today I received an email from a professor sharing an article on Huff Post that again forced me to take a critical stance on race and its implications for achievement within the United States. The Difference We Haven’t Overcome: Why the Color Line Endures in America introduced me to the perspective of viewing race as the “different difference”. Robert T. Carter points out “Other historically oppressed groups in the United States have seen dramatic improvement in their circumstances”. In an attempt to not undermine his argument, I strongly suggest reading the entire article.

What I would like to point out is his attention on the inferior status of the services provided to people who are oppressed due their skin color and how these services are not improving. The reality is that people of color in the United States suffer and the injustices aren’t making marked improvements. The hands of institutionalized racism are killing black men and women. And as Carter points out these aren’t “isolated events”.

As an educator, it’s difficult to comprehend what this means for my Black and Brown babies I encounter in the classroom. How can I trust this world to support, uplift and foster my kindergarteners’ education when I can’t trust that they are being treated fairly based on their character rather than their color? I don’t worry about myself. I worry about my babies. I am overwhelmed with a sense of guilt— wishing I could protect them from the evils and dangers that attack and vilify children of color.

My wishing and hoping won’t change the fact that race plays a very important role in shaping the lives of my young learners. Until we can get everyone on board with this understanding and proactively working to change this heinous reality, I will continue to be plagued with fear.

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