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We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today.”

~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

June 6, 2020

I want to start by acknowledging as a #ClearTheAir community we have learned so much in the past four years. I want to thank you for continuing to trust me to facilitate these vital learning experiences and for inviting new people into our community every day. Y’all are the who, what, why, and how #ClearTheAir is possible. Thank you! 

For about a year or so, I have reflected seriously about the next iteration for #ClearTheAir. There will always be members of the community who are just joining us, and I want to encourage them to check out previously curated resources. We are willing to meet you where you are, but you will have some major catching up to do. Quickly, now. 

Additionally, there will always be new things to learn, so I will continue to offer some learning opportunities in Fall and Spring. 

However, something else has made my heart go pitter-patter, and I want to follow the calling. 

In 1968 Martin Luther King, Jr wrote, “Education without social action is a one-sided value because it has no true power potential.” We have learned a lot together, but I would hate to think that you believe reading and journaling is enough to get us racial justice. It won’t. If recent events have taught us anything, it’s that we can and should be doing more, myself included. Our latest #ClearTheAir shirts quote King and say, “persistent trying, perpetual experimentation, persevering togetherness. Like life, racial understanding is not something we find but something we must create.” We have no more time to waste. 

My new project is called Persevering Togetherness. You already have it on your shirt. 

Who Are We: 

  • We are a group of educators committed to collective liberation 
  • We actualize collective liberation through our work in education 
  • We celebrate the many different ways to work toward collective liberation
  • We understand that collective liberation takes time, commitment, planning, doing, and learning
  • We also understand that our work must be localized and focused so that we can see and measure the change
  • We know working toward collective liberation means that we have to work on ourselves while working with and for others. 

What We Do: 

  • Create, curate, and provide free project-based support and resources for educators working toward collective liberation and justice in schools or communities
  • Support anti-racist school board member candidates (This is a long-term goal. Shout out to Julián Castro for inspiring this part of the idea!)

In the fall, I will be launching the Persevering Togetherness Fellowship Program. This will be a small cohort-based model of educators working on a localized project toward collective liberation and justice in schools or communities. I have a very loose idea about how I am going to pull this off. *insert Michael Scott gif* However, to hold myself accountable, I am holding an informational session about the Fellowship Program on Wednesday, July 29 @ 7:30 PM EST. Curious? Sign up here

To be clear, this is not a Lebron James financed production just yet, so I can’t pay you for your participation, nor am I charging those accepted into the fellowship. This project is me trying to live out the words on the #ClearTheAir shirt. I hope a few of you are ready to join me. I am going to be serious AF about it, so if you are not serious AF about it, no worries. Catch me when you are ready. There are still multiple ways to engage at your level of readiness. 

Thank you for your patience as I work this out. I can’t wait to tell you more. 

P.S. Thank you to everyone who listen to me and gave me feedback over the last few days! I appreciate you.

In solidarity and until victory,

Val

It’s 2020 and I Was Supposed to Living Like The Jetsons. Instead I Am Cleaning My Own Closet.

May 7, 2020

#31DaysIBPOC

If this pandemic has taught me anything, it’s taught me about how much stuff I have and how much stuff I hold on to. This story starts in my closet.

My standard wardrobe in May 2020 of the COVID-19 pandemic is one of my eight onesies. (Depending on the weather, you need long sleeves, short sleeves, or sleeveless options.) If I am not in an onesie, I am in tights and whatever shirt I feel most comfortable in on that day. My closet should assist me in getting dressed, right? Not fully like in my Jetsons dreams (which should have totally been true by the year 2020, but I digress), but at the very least, I should be able to find my onesies. Instead, my closet told the story of a time when I didn’t think that I had enough stuff. Or the right stuff. Or enough of the right stuff.

In my “I-watch-Hoarders-and-that’s-not-me” defense, I did recognize that my closet was making me unhappy. I believed the unhappiness was caused by the fact that my closet was too small and insufficient. I would regularly walk by it, squint, point, and say, “You are the problem. You.” When I couldn’t find what I wanted to wear, I would purchase something inexpensive and end up adding to my closet. If, by some miracle, 99% of my clothes were laundered at the same time and I didn’t have space to hang everything up, I would buy more hangers.

Now that my work travel has come to a screeching halt, I get to spend more time with my closet. I would look over all of the clothes and go straight to the onesies. Before I realized it, I had moved all of the onesies to the front of the closet so I could save myself some energy. This time my closet was pointing and squinting at me, “You are the problem. You.”

I recognized my closet’s aggressive energy, and simultaneously felt overwhelmed by what I can only describe as “all the stuff” [read: living and working through a global pandemic]. Cleaning my closet was something I could control. I sought help from The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo.

“Many people get the urge to clean up when under pressure, such as just before an exam. But this urge doesn’t occur because they want to clean their room. It occurs because they need to put “something else” in order” (Kondo, 2014, p. 20).

I put the book down and look around. Is Marie in here?

“Let’s imagine a cluttered room. It does not get messy all by itself. You, the person who lives in it, makes the mess” (Kondo, 2014, p. 21).

I put the book down. Why is Marie coming for me, though?

“Tidying is just a tool, not the final destination. The true goal should be to establish the lifestyle you want most once your house has been put in order” (Kondo, 2014, p. 21).

All I wanted y’all was to be able to wear my onesies, tights, and comfy t-shirts. I finished my reading for the evening and went to bed committed to making some drastic changes the next day.

True story. The next day I did a half-ass job. But Marie kept whispering in my ear.

Don’t aim for perfection. Start off slowly and discard just one item a day.” What lovely words to ease the hearts of those who lack confidence in their ability to tidy” (Kondo, 2014, p. 17).

Is it just me, or is Marie making this personal?

The next day I went back to my closet with more resolve. As I went back through the clothes, I realized the ones I avoided wearing were relics from a time when I tried to fit into “school district central office respectability” culture. Don’t get me wrong, I can rock a suit, or a pencil skirt or dress with the best of them. But rarely did those items come with pockets I could actually use. The lifestyle that I wanted included wearing clothes of my own choosing that I felt confident in. I should have not allowed the dominant culture to dictate that. You see that didn’t get Hillary Clinton where she wanted to be.

I have three bags of clothes to donate now. I kept the work, home, and pandemic ones that made me feel comfortable and confident. I actually enjoy going into my closet, immediately finding what I need and want and getting on with the business of the day. My closet and I have settled our beef.

Before I wrap this up, I want to revisit the quotes I selected from Kondo from an educational justice lens. The edits I made are in bold.

  • Don’t aim for perfection. Start off slowly and discard just one item a day.” What lovely words to ease the hearts of those who lack confidence in their ability to tidy achieve educational justice.”
  • “Many people get the urge to clean up focus on equity when under pressure, such as after a racist incident at school just before an exam. But this urge doesn’t occur because they want to address racist behaviors clean their room. It occurs because they need to appear to put it in order put “something else” in order”.
  • “Let’s imagine an inequitable school or classroom a cluttered room. It does not get messy all by itself. You, the person who lives in it, makes the mess.”
  • “Tidying is just a tool Surface equity work is the beginning, not the final destination. The true goal should be to establish the lifestyle school you want most once your house has been put in order.”

Well, looky here, Marie is talking to you all too.

Too often in our schools, we are doing very surface work when it comes to racial and educational justice. Then we lift our hands to the heavens in consternation wondering where we could have gone wrong. We often look to blame other sources when we are the ones living in the messes we have created. In the middle of this pandemic we recognize that all the rules and procedures that felt required should now be suggestions at best. It’s time to clean up for good.

This blog post is part of the #31DaysIBPOC Blog Challenge, a month-long movement to feature the voices of indigenous and teachers of color as writers and scholars. Please CLICK HERE to read yesterday’s blog post by Hema Khodai and CLICK HERE to read tomorrow’s post by Lorena Germán (and be sure to check out the link at the end of each post to catch up on the rest of the blog circle).

Sis, how is your heart?

May 19, 2019

#31DaysIBPOC

In 2016, just 22 days before my 36th birthday, I was hospitalized and diagnosed with hypertension.

Leading up to my hospitalization, the signs that my body was in trouble were there. I just ignored them.

For months I was having serious headaches and it was not uncommon for me to cope by taking twelve Tylenol (200mg) a day. My neck was in constant pain and it did not matter how many times I adjusted my ergonomic chair. There was just no relief.

I was drinking coffee every morning to wake up and drinking a glass of wine every night to wind down. I could not sleep, and often times I chose not to sleep because I was afraid to not wake up. I thought I was going to have an aneurysm. I only shared my fear one time with my husband, and then quickly brushed it off as nothing. 

The morning I was hospitalized I got up to do my home yoga routine. I had recently started yoga as a way to alleviate some of my stress. That morning I experienced extreme shortness of breath and my thinking was incredibly foggy. I remember feeling frustrated because I could not do the really simple move of balancing on one foot.

When I finally looked in the mirror, I realized that a blood vessel had popped in my eye, and a bright red spot the size of my pupil rested above it. I freaked out, but I was in no pain and my vision was not impaired. Outside of a long-ago knee injury, I was a healthy woman and typically made decent decisions about diet and exercise. Heart disease was the last thing I expected. Maybe I poked my eye in my sleep, I thought. I had a busy day at work and frankly, my eye would have to wait.

At the time I was working in a district level position that actually should have been four different positions, and I worked easily from 7:30 AM – 7:30 PM just trying to keep my head above water. It was common to continue working until 11 PM from home answering emails or preparing PDs. I was a wife and mom too.

Thankfully, my (Audre) Lorde and savior, several loving co-workers, a Black woman ophthalmologist still in her residency, a call to my mother who also has hypertension, and my failing mind and body got me to the hospital that day and saved my life.

Yikes, I just reread my symptoms and the long list of people who needed to intervene for me to seek help.  Apparently, I needed a lot of convincing. It should not have required that. 

This story has a happy ending. Since being diagnosed I have become acutely aware of my own heart needs. I am doing well because of supportive friends and family, a small dosage of medicine, physical activity, veggies, water, and sleep.

I am also more sensitive to the heart needs of others. Teaching is very much heart work, and we need whole healthy hearts for the job at hand.

In a recent conversation about how fabulous we look – shout out to the cab driver who just thought I was 27 – Sister-Educator Heidi O’Gilvie reminded me that Black women “wear our issues in our tissues.”

When my Sister-Educators talk to me about their stress at work, I feel fiercely protective. One of the first questions I ask them is, “Have you checked your blood pressure?” No one ever asked me, and probably didn’t see the need.

I no longer assume that even though my Sister-Educators slay on the daily, the stressors of the teaching profession and the additional stress of fighting racist and oppressive systems isn’t doing long-term internal damage.

Racism impacts three domains of Black life: individual, cultural and institutional. Individual racism occurs at the interpersonal level and can include dealing with bias and bigoted beliefs from the oppressive group. Cultural racism can refer to the portrayal of marginalized groups from a deficit mindset. Finally, institutional racism occurs when policies and practices restrict or place at a disadvantage the marginalized group (Lee, Corneille, Hall, Yancu, & Myers, 2016).

For Black educators all three levels show up at school or work Every. Damn. Day. Combine that with the general stress of teaching, and frankly y’all are lucky we even bother to show up.

However, we continue to fully show up, many of us with broken and breaking hearts.

In their study, Lee, et al. (2016) found that experiences with racism were significantly associated with elevated blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. In order to reduce the health inequities, they argue individual level prevention strategies, and institutional and macro level changes need to take place. 

As y’all may be aware, educators of color have fought this individual, cultural, and institutional racism since 1619, and there is only so much one can do in a (shortened) lifespan. That’s why I no longer hesitate to let my Sister-Educators know it is completely ok to leave a bad position and find a role, school, organization or leader who won’t contribute to their untimely death. My Sister-Educators make the world a better place, and I need them around for more than just fixing the racist and oppressive schools they didn’t create.

I have learned that one of the best things I can do for my blood pressure is dance, which is why dancing regularly is a genuine focus for me in 2019. Alice Walker, one of my favorite poets, must have known this when she penned her short poem “Mind Shine” in Hard Times Require Furious Dancing.

“Woman

of color

lighting up

the

dark”

Sis, light up the dark places with your dancing. Dance in your classrooms. Dance in the hallways. Dance in and out of meetings. And when they ask you why you are dancing, tell them that you are protecting your heart.

This blog post is part of the #31DaysIBPOC Blog Challenge, a month-long movement to feature the voices of indigenous and teachers of color as writers and scholars. Please click here to read yesterday’s blog post by Ebony Thomas (and be sure to check out the link at the end of each post to catch up on the rest of the blog circle).

References

Lee, A. K., Corneille, M. A., Hall, N. M., Yancu, C. N., Myers, M. (2016). The stressors of being young and Black: Cardiovascular health and Black young adults. Psychology and Health, 31(5), 578-591.

Walker, A. (2010). Hard times require furious dancing. Novato, CA: New World Library.

#ClearTheAir Goes to The Antiracist Book Festival

April 28, 2019

On Saturday, April 27, several regular #ClearTheAir participants had the opportunity to attend the inaugural Antiracist Book Festival in Washington, DC. Read about our experience.

Twitter Moment

I Decided to Reach Out to My Ex

April 7, 2019

I got married young, and in May 2003, I went through a messy divorce.

I was a reader and writer for as long as I could remember. The first thing I can recall writing was an alternative version of Green Eggs and Ham, in which the protagonist started from a place of yes. “Why, yes, I will try it on a train. Thanks for asking!”

I let journalism put a ring on it sophomore year in high school, but by 22, we were done. I left for many reasons, but one of the main reasons was that I covered the police beat. All day every day I read police reports, listened to the scanner, and chronicled the tales of the local police department. On my fun-o-meter scale, it ranked pretty low.  

So as soon as I made it a year on the job – a time framed deemed appropriate by my parents – I literally packed everything away and left town. I spent the next year pretending to get a graduate degree in interior design, and honing my skills selling thongs at Victoria’s Secret. But I didn’t write unless I was forced. I lost the drive. I lost my voice.  

I tweet now, and it’s quite enjoyable. I love expressing myself with the clarity of 240 characters and gifs. However, it is my writing educator friends who blog weekly or monthly who are serving as an inspiration for me reaching out to my ex. Plus, I am tired of feeling painfully out of practice when people ask me to write.

So I am sorta-kinda asking my first love if they want to go get a cup of coffee once a week. I am not asking for or making any long-term commitments. I just want to get to know them again.