Category Archives: #31DaysIBPOC

#31DaysIBPOC: Reasons

One of my favorite emails to receive arrives on Sundays. Suleika Jaouad’s Isolation Diaries prompts. She began these tiny delights early in the pandemic. I signed up randomly then, not quite sure what to expect, but also relishing the fact that it would be something I could look forward to that would temporarily transport me from the dread and uncertainty I felt as everything changed so rapidly. 

Fast forward three years, and while life continues to be uncertain, I still receive these Sunday joys. I don’t always write to them, but I read Suleika’s invitations, which have documented much of her life throughout this time, and welcome them for the potential that beckons, simply by slowing down to read them. 

It is in that spirit that I write this post to kick off our fourth year of #31DaysIBPOC. Wow it’s been a YEAR, hasn’t it? I’ve never quite felt so weary, so disappointed, so…as I have over this past year. I’ve often found myself coming down much more on the side of thanking clarity for the gifts it reveals about people and systems, and also rage that this is how we can treat each other, particularly our Black children. I’ve felt so vulnerable as I’ve witnessed and experienced how, again and again, schools can give up on Black children and Black families, how “community” doesn’t necessarily mean all children, and how “normal” has meant a nearly soul-crushing march back to maintaining systems that have never even thought of Black folks as human.

Thus, when this week’s Isolation Diaries prompt, #192, arrived last Sunday, it was a perfect meshing of National Poetry month and a reminder that even in a storm, there is good. That good can be so small, though, that it can be overlooked, I realize. 

My post this year is just that: a response to Nikita Gill’s poem “Reasons to Live Through the Apocalypse”. The prompt was: “What are your reasons to live through the apocalypse? Record them in a prose poem or a long, lovely list.”

As you read this month’s entries, there are plenty of moments to reflect, pause, and think about what good remains (however you choose to define it, and not in some toxic positivity way), and how each #31DaysIBPOC writer is helping us to think about our current moment. And, too, if one of these writers has a book, or a fund they support, or something else, please support them, as these gifts they are giving us all require a tremendous amount of energy and vulnerability. Happy May. Thank you for joining us again.

Reasons.

The weeks when yellow forsythia bloom. Calling an old friend who says, “I’ll always pick up the phone when you call,” and knowing he means it. Losing my balance and my 7 yo reaching out with “Mommy, let’s hold each other’s hands.” Spring peas that are beginning to grow up a trellis. Stopping by to play dodgeball with second graders. My partner’s insistence on dancing together in the kitchen as well as her constant reminders and quoting of the Nap Ministry that rest is our right and I need to do more of it. Surprise deliveries of Jeni’s Ice Cream from my bestie. Thoughtful packages that arrive in the mail containing books of poetry, excerpts that are invitations to a book I might like, and a Ketanji Brown Jackson postcard reminding me to persevere. That moment when, on college trips with high school juniors, we crest the hill of a gorgeous campus on a day when the sun is shining just right and they can see themselves thriving there. Anyone who purchased, shared, reviewed, or recommended Literacy Is Liberation. Fiction, especially ones listed here. Unschooling. Black children playing outside together. Listening to their laughter. Dreaming of summer on the Vineyard. Writing and sending a card to someone and telling them that I bought it “because it reminded me of you” (and actually having the stamps to do it!). Deep River sour cream and onion potato chips. Bearing witness to a new teacher talk through their career plans and desire to teach Black children in the city. My mom’s recounting of the fun she had going to lunch with her two sisters.Melissa on the Real World: New Orleans Homecoming. Finding a candle with a nice scent at T.J. Maxx that won’t give me a migraine. The monstera plant my partner gifted me that sits beside my desk and brings more comfort and joy than I ever expected (does this make me a #plantmom?!). When my nephew keeps one of my audio messages. Podcasts, particularly Didn’t I Just Feed You, Still Processing, Truth Be Told and The Stacks. Reading all three of Jacqueline Woodson’s most recent picture books (SO GOOD). Group texts that are simultaneous sites of encouragement, celebration, mourning, love. Red Birkenstocks, especially when my sun takes them and wears them himself. Voice notes. The way my mom asks, “He diiiiid?” when I tell her a story. A wise friend’s advice about how to accept compliments, especially as a woman writer: “Thank you. It’s true.”  Carolina Wrens that visit the window bird feeder long after the other birds have departed. Brunch. Sitting on a bench reading beside my sun who is also reading. Our morning walks to his school. Donut holes. Pho. Happy stories of Black women winning…


This blog post is part of the #31DaysIBPOC Blog Series, a month-long movement to feature the voices of Indigenous and teachers of color as writers and scholars.

Please CLICK HERE to read this year’s and previous years’ contributions.

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#31DaysIBPOC: Gratitude & Goodbye

I loved concluding the series this year. It allowed me the time to go back, reread and savor the gift that #31DaysIBPOC is. I was able to be moved over and over again at the range of experiences, the brilliance of the writing, and the complexities of living.

Thank you to everyone who wrote, to everyone who read and shared these essays, and who will continue to revisit them in the year to come. To our growing family of supporters: Please support these professionals! For the ones who have Venmos or causes they support, donate in solidarity or to say thank you. If you are looking for people to lead your professional development, please, hire these folx and all the folx who have written for the series over these three years. And, of course, please pay them what they are worth.

I pulled lines from all this month’s posts to compose this found poem of gratitude for all of our writers and to close out May.

The highest gratitude goes to my dear friend, Tricia Ebarvia, who is the very best collaborator I could have wished for and who is proof that I am abundantly blessed with so many good people in my life. Be well, everyone.

Assembling a poem, being moved by the voices…

Found Poem for #31DaysIBPOC

Because I come from a lineage of strong-willed, determined, fierce women I foolishly thought I was invincible.1
I didn’t talk about this Black soul scar with my parents until I was 43 years old.2
Imagine being afraid to sleep for days, months, years, and lifetimes and you will still only understand a fraction of my rage, my exhaustion, my fear, my loneliness, and my deep, deep sorrow.3

Today, I am ready to tell the story of my darkest times, to reckon with these times publicly because in the light, there is healing.4

You are not made for simple palates.

I knew the power of stories, that’s why I began telling stories in the first place.6
I shudder to think of all the cultural pride I sacrificed at the altar of attempted assimilation over the years.7
What is “excellent” about lacking the courage to face our history, learn from it, and forge a path forward that is not built on the backs and blood of Black people, the theft of indigenous land, and the criminalization and imprisonment of those we fear?8
A Palestinian mama has no control over her fate or the fate of her children. Her daughter is a Palestinian.9

If we truly believe that we want schools to be a safe place for students, why aren’t they?10

Despite my own experiences and intimate knowledge of the variations of being Black, here I was limiting my view of Black students and what they would need and where they would be. 11
I will not traumatize you based on YOUR cultural identity and connections to family, place, land, tradition, and language; rather it will be a celebration ALL year.12
I want more parents to ask questions. I want educators to welcome their questions, and when necessary, I want us to change what we’re doing in the classrooms or spaces where we teach.13

And all that I had lost, willfully lost…was it too late to reclaim? 14

But she has shown me, even still in these struggles, we resist, we love and we find joy.15

Sitting next to all that is too much are also other things, things like truth, community, kinship, and love.16

The difference between me as a child and me as an adult is that as an adult, I don’t listen to other voices to validate my own experiences anymore.17
I center Black joy and Black folx living they regular degular lives in my instruction.18
We need to resist through joy. We feel it deeply. We feel it urgently.19
Our power resides in our collective strength. We are what we are seeking.20

As a Black person I couldn’t believe that escaping for freedom was even debatable.21
They may fire their cannons or launch their missiles, but I stand firm with my flag erected, for I will fight no more.
Representation is important but that is only a step toward liberation.22

I am getting better at reminding myself that those who harbor hatred need to work on themselves…and get out of my/our way.23
You are a divine being worthy of rest.24
You, showing up exactly as you are, isn’t just good enough–it’s inspiring, and brave, and powerful.25
We can be the love we need and the joy this world tries to take away.26
We can come to realize how small our world is and how big the rest of the world is but, even with our wings clipped, we can visit beyond the margins of our cage.27

We shall revel in the abundance of each other.28

This blog post is part of the #31DaysIBPOC Blog Series, 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 shea martin(and be sure to check out the link at the end of each post to catch up on the rest of the blog series).

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#31DaysIBPOC: We Begin, Again

I almost fell for the okey doke. 

In our house, we use that phrase as a playful, cautionary reminder to be thoughtful about making decisions and to not be fooled.

When school was called off seven weeks ago and I became my child’s full-time teacher, I almost did, indeed, fall for the okey doke.

How could I help my sun master–wait; let’s be real here–maintain the skills he’d been working on if he wasn’t in school daily? It didn’t matter that I’ve been teaching young people and adults for nearly two decades. An almost-six-year old is not a high schooler, no matter how much their dispositions are similar on a given day.

I immediately went down the online rabbit hole of fancy schedules, programs, and apps that had no diverse books or materials, and what seemed an endless stream of worksheets for printing (and my annoyance for the prevalence for these with a lack of regard for those of us without a printer).

Around the same time, I started leaning really hard into rituals and routines that have always anchored me, especially during chaos and transition (cue current moment). Those include running, journaling, and reading. And by reading, I mean fully immersive reading, where I lose track of days, what my kid is doing, everything.

I’d picked up A Black Women’s History of the United States (ABWH) by Drs. Daina Ramey Berry and Kali Nicole Gross at Boston’s fantastic Black-owned Frugal Bookstore, with every intention to read it some day. But once #pandemicreading ensued, I couldn’t quite find a book that spoke to me. Young adult authors, contemporary fiction– books that usually were the perfect balm–weren’t working. When I remembered the copy of ABWH in my car (my greatest fear is to be stuck somewhere without a book, so I have them everywhere), I went looking for it, thinking (hoping?) that it might be an answer to getting my reading life back on track.

I could not put it down, and the voices of all these Black women ancestors shook me, telling me: look, you got this! 

This being educating my child and building on the traditions that Black women (and in this case, Black women educators) have been doing for Black children, families, and communities since we were in this country. 

Ms. Nannie Helen Burroughs
Photo from Library of Congress

I keep thinking about Ms. Nannie Helen Burroughs, particularly.

An educator and activist, Burroughs’ dedication to Black women and girls, and her belief in the brilliance of them, led to her founding of the National Training School for Women and Girls among many other accomplishments. The writers summarize: “…she embraced both industrial and classical education, and expressed early Black Nationalist and feminist ideologies. She encouraged race pride by celebrating dark skin, and she remained a champion of Black women’s voting and labor rights” (p. 2). I also kept circling back to Burroughs’ motto for her school: “We specialize in the wholly impossible.” 

Throughout the book, I read and learned about SO MANY Black women who have done (and do) just that: specialize in the wholly impossible by dedicating their lives and work to collective struggles for Black freedom for Black women, girls and femmes, especially during times when so many others denigrated and dismissed us. 

ABWH reminds me that the ancestors are always watching and helping if I just listen. Black women have been here educating children and adults for generations. With schools that have systematically attempted to destroy us, we’ve made our own classrooms in places within our communities, written or revised texts to make them affirming and empowering for Black children, and been the teachers, time and time again. While adversity that included racism and sexism was consistent, our responses to it have always been to creatively organize ways to help as many folks as we can, with whatever tools we have. We have consistently specialized in manifesting the wholly impossible, and we’ve always been creative and resourceful. 

Who am I to forget that or to not do the same?

Because there is a foundation of Black women educators who have assured the flourishing of Black children (and many others), certainly I can teach my sun and in the process heap tons of love on him. Surely I can understand that schools can be damaging, traumatic places for Black children and decolonize my own thinking that what we do at home isn’t as good as–if not better–than what schools might be trying to teach. Absolutely I could reach out to all the wonderful early childhood educators I know (his teacher included), and figure out how to design instruction that resonates with his deep desire to know, ask questions, and be immersed in learning. 

I would merely be doing what Black women educators have been doing all along, and what Black women educators have been doing for me all along.

And along the way, we could read books written by Black authors that reflect my child (like The Brownies Book); books by other authors of color that offer mirrors into experiences he needs and wants to know more about (like We Are The Water Protectors); and have a few moments of transformation. We also could be aspirational and think about the skills, dispositions, and experiences I want him to have and then think about how to realize them beyond the nearly oppressive chatter of “gaps” and “deficits” and “learning loss” that threatens to drown out any other more important talk about normalizing high achievement for all children in the district. 

I’m learning much about early literacy as my sun learns how to read, and I’m also remembering how my own grandmother taught me. She collected scraps of wood from my uncle’s shop. As a carpenter, there were always remainders amidst the piles of sawdust. She had him cut them into smaller sizes, and on those she wrote letters and words. As I gained proficiency, she’d add more combinations of words, requesting more scraps as she needed. She, too, specialized in the wholly impossible. The everyday, wholly impossible. She didn’t see it that way, though; rather she’d simply say “I haven’t done anymore than I should have done.”

Let me remember the foundations on which I stand. 

Let me not fall for the okey doke.

Instead, I find myself feeling relief and gratitude for being able to learn about the phenomenal history of Black women who have actively worked to make this world better. I am working hard to remember their names and to make sure my sun learns their names and their accomplishments, too. Daily, I inventory more “funds of knowledge” (Amanti, Neff, Gonzalez, 1992) our family has (and that we’ve always had), and think about how we can use those to connect to other things we desire and need to learn. 

I hope to make my world a bit smaller by figuring out how to work together with other Black educators who have the ability to teach through their screens and make it feel like their children never left. I’d like to be able to think about how they can share their brilliance to even more families who are working hard to help their children thrive. 

Together, we channel the spirit of Nannie Burroughs–and the millions of Black women who have and will continue to be here–as we continue specializing in the wholly impossible: yesterday, today, tomorrow. 

Be encouraged.

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.

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#31DaysIBPOC: Do Something Different

I knew someone years ago who told me that, during moments when something happened that was either unexpected or undesirable, her father would encourage her to “Do something different (DSD).” My sense is that those words were not always welcome, especially during particular moments of frustration, but what it did was to encourage her to stop, to gain some perspective, and to make a change.

Doing something different created #31DaysIBPOC and it also was a factor that influenced my participation as a judge for the Boston Globe Horn Book Awards.

Wait–How Many Books?!
I was honored when Roger Sutton selected me because, well, free books! Then, the books began arriving (from June ‘18-May ‘19), and I quickly understood why I needed to be careful what I asked for. Some days, I’d receive boxes of hundreds of books, combinations of picture books, nonfiction, young adult novels and everything in between. I explained to someone that we were essentially looking for a needle in a haystack. The criteria was simple: “excellence,” but as you might figure out, excellence can be a moving target, especially because we read books through the lenses of who we are. Roger knows about my work as a literacy organizer and he also knows I’m vocal about equity, so I’m certain he knew what kind of lenses I would bring as a judge.

I also adhere to the words of my dissertation advisor, Dr. Arlette Willis, who told me, “You never know if they’re going to invite you back.”

My Post-It that I kept on my desk at one point so I could keep track of diverse books

My lenses are particularly attuned to looking for books written by BIPOC authors and illustrators, and as I opened the boxes, I read through all of the books and kept tallies of the ones from writers and illustrators of color. At one point, there were at least 25-30 books featuring animals and fewer than 10 about BIPOC kids. That snapshot was fairly typical. I’d say out of the nearly 1300 books we read, a slim number of those were about BIPOC, and an even smaller number were #ownvoices. And while I always knew this was the case, to live through the process of unboxing book after book after book about white children who might have an incidental Black or Brown friend–if that, as often there was just whiteness– was demoralizing. It’s no wonder BIPOC authors and illustrators have such a hard time gaining any recognition: they’re simply outnumbered by volume. When so many books arrive in such a short time, with a tight deadline for reviewing and considering it for an award, unless a person is looking for who and what is missing, the absence can go unquestioned.

Selecting a Winner

The next challenge could come from whatever processes the committee uses to narrow the selections. I will say upfront that the chair of my committee, Monica Edinger, was a pro. She’s served on other awards committees, so she was able to offer guidance while moving us along and providing reminders that helped us to record our favorites, discuss our thoughts, and meet deadlines for winnowing the selections. I’ve said in several places that this experience was what it was for me because of the chair, and that’s another takeaway: the chair has incredible power to guide or derail a selection committee (and keep in mind I’ve been on one, and only one, of these committees) because if there’s no process that gives all the final choices an equitable discussion, (if any diverse books have made it to the final rounds in the first place), then all books don’t get the same consideration. I appreciated that all the books we’d put forward as individual favorites received equal time in deliberations.

There were also moments when that same white woman chair called me out on my love of a book that, when we got down to it for example,  glorified poverty, another that had rhymes that didn’t quite work, and other points that I needed to have made to me because, as I said, I read through my own biased lenses, and I’m still learning, too! She also spoke up about whiteness and named issues that I’m not so confident other white folks would be able to name and own so readily. I was grateful that I had the opportunity to learn more and read more (my TBR list is going to last me the rest of the year). And, as compared to other situations I’ve been in where white women have been condescending and have felt they needed to wield white knowledge to “teach” me something, I always felt I was in high-caliber, thoughtful, respectful discussions that were grounded in a broad definition of excellence about a range of texts that were not derailed by white fragility, maybe for the first time in my life in the context of working with white colleagues.

Again, because we read through the lenses of who we are, if we are in spaces where folks tend to share the same ideas, and where everyone upholds white supremacy, well, then, nothing different happens. We need challenges, even if we feel strongly about a book, in this case. I will also say that I’m often surprised when white women, particularly, speak up about inclusivity and diversity, and actually do something that changes outcomes. It seems like this is a bit of a broken record, but if you’ve not seen the Horn Book Award winners for 2019 yet, here they are. I emailed one of my doctoral professors, Dr. Violet J. Harris, to ask if she’d seen the winners and she said something along the lines of being “shocked” about the number of authors and illustrators of color and then looked more closely at the judges (waves hand). A diverse selection of winners is still shocking and surprising, unfortunately, but it shouldn’t be. There are so many excellent, truly excellent books for children and young adults that are consistently written by BIPOC authors and illustrators.

Now that I’m on the other side of the judging, all I can say is that I get it. I get why it’s so difficult for a book by a BIPOC author or illustrator to get picked up (see the current comments on my timeline in response to Black scientists attempting to get their books published and getting no traction from publishers). If it does get published by some small miracle, then it is even harder that the book will catch the eye of enough people who will think it should be considered for an award. For most books written by BIPOCs, that’s really the end of the line. Many will go out of print before most know they even existed in the first place. Maybe some of those texts find niches or gather momentum through word of mouth or advocates, but it’s still unpredictable, especially if the people in positions to make the decisions are refusing to look.

Wrapping Up May

This month’s #31DaysIBPOC blog circle was a project that began with a desire to do something different and to stop wishing and waiting for white spaces to incorporate the robust, powerful, important voices of BIPOC folks, many of whom wrote for #31Days, but extend far beyond just one month. We honestly could have done #365DaysIBPOC.

We brought our own folding chair.

Asking all the contributors who wrote posts this month was sheer delight–I was absolutely giddy when we reached out and people said yes so enthusiastically. Then, once the posts began, I was most proud of how well received they were by such a broad audience, particularly by so many who did not know about all this excellence that has always been here: in your classrooms, in your universities, in your communities, in your conferences. We did something different for May, and now, as we close it out, I’m curious to know what happens next. Do we say this was a great project and return to the way things were, or do we linger and reflect on all the ways we have been pushed and challenged to reflect on our identities and literacies and make ourselves do something different tomorrow and every day after?

If nothing else, judging the Horn Book Awards and working alongside the #31Days contributors has reaffirmed that BIPOC excellence has always been here, in all ways. All we need to do is look.

Thank you for supporting #31DaysIBPOC. Look for us again next May in what we hope will become an annual tradition. In the meantime, please continue to follow, make space for, and support the brilliant work of our contributors.

Have a restorative summer.

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 LaMar Timmons-Long (and be sure to check out the link at the end of each post to catch up on the rest of the blog circle) and start at the beginning with Aeriale Johnson’s Day 1 blog.


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