WORK IN THE COMMUNITY
This past week has been a roller coaster of emotions, as usual. That’s pretty much expected for anyone involved in racial justice work. Part of my job this year as Ethnic Studies Program Manager is to go out and make connections with school leaders and community groups. My week got off to a good start when I met the leaders of the Densho Project. Densho is an organization dedicated to the oral histories of Japanese Americans. I learned they have free online resources for educators, including a training with clock hours! Why didn’t I know about this before? Because our systems are set up to exclude the work of our community, that’s why.
I also met with leaders from El Centro de la Raza where I got a quick history lesson of the resistance and liberation of Chicanx and Latinx Seattellites. Why don’t our students know the history of the occupation of the abandoned Beacon Hill School that is now El Centro de la Raza? Because our systems are set up to exclude the histories of people of color. I visited with the new executive vice president of Sea Mar, who told me they are so much more than a community health organization. Sea Mar has four low income housing projects across the state, a radio station, day care centers, and assisted living homes, and they serve a majority white, low income population while hiring a majority Latinx/Chicanx staff. Why don’t we know about their good work? Because our systems are set up to exclude the current action and resilience of communities of color.
I love my job because I have the opportunity to get out of my cubicle and meet with these amazing leaders, most of whom are people of color. I get to learn about the good work they are doing in the community, and I am beginning to get a good grasp on how our work can partner to serve our students and families. It’s exhilarating and depressing at the same time. Surely I can’t be the first person from Seattle Public Schools to have this idea, but when I meet with these leaders, most of them are excited to have someone come to them to talk about partnerships instead of the other way around. Some are frustrated their attempts to partner with the district have gone nowhere. This frustration drives me to continue this work. I can’t let our community down.
AM I DOING ENOUGH?
I am always plagued with this question. I was talking with a good friend, Alma Alonzo, about how she pays “Real Rent” to the Duwamish tribe. We talk a lot about “decolonizing” education. That’s a complicated subject with a lot of implications. Some argue that true decolonization requires land repatriation. We agree. I believe the first step in this is to decolonize our minds and the way we are taught. In the meantime, what can we do to right this wrong? Real Rent is one way, and I already financially commit to the ACLU, NAACP, Southern Poverty Law Center, and I have recently committed to funding a project every month on Donors Choose. Where do I draw a line? On top of my financial contributions, my entire career is dedicated to racial and social justice. BUT! I still feel like I’m not doing enough. I will probably begin paying Real Rent, too.
This is a question I ask myself as I go to visit principals in their buildings to try to convince them to start the work of Ethnic Studies. Most principals say they are very interested. Some have used excuses about why they can’t. Am I doing enough to convince them of the urgency? Am I doing enough to protect the students in their schools? The principals who say they can’t or won’t generally use tests as the reason why they can’t commit to Ethnic Studies. We all know how I feel about that.
Many educators are willing and want to commit to Ethnic Studies, but don’t trust the district to support them. Most educators are familiar with the case of Center School educator, Jon Greenberg, who was put on leave when a single white family complained about his curriculum on race. Many educators also are aware of the closing of a Middle College High School where a predominantly POC staff that was teaching Ethnic Studies was displaced, and in some cases disciplined. And most recently, an Ethnic Studies POC educator at Nova High School was displaced despite outcries from students and communities. Nova is the only high school that has implemented Ethnic Studies in all content areas and made it a graduation requirement. This is significant as it is a majority white student population, and the demand for Ethnic Studies came from their POC students. Am I doing enough to convince district leaders to support schools like Nova and educators like those from Middle College who have rightfully developed a distrust of these leaders?
Fortunately, I ended my week on a high at the 2018 Northwest Teaching for Social Justice Conference in Portland, Oregon. Alma Alonzo, Jon Greenberg, Rogelio Rigor, and I facilitated a session on how to create a decolonized curriculum. The photo at the top of this blog post shows that we had standing room only. We had over 50 participants crammed into that room. We ran out of handouts! There were also two other sessions later in the day on Ethnic Studies that were well attended.
I had the opportunity to attend a great session facilitated by Alma and Jennifer Charlton, two friends and colleagues of mine, called “Breaking Bad Allies; allies, gaslighters, and saboteurs.” It was just as awesome as the name and Alma and Jennifer killed it! I’m so privileged to have such dedicated, brilliant, and passionate friends!
Another facet of my job is developing, offering, and facilitating professional development for schools and educators interested in Ethnic Studies. Our first professional development, facilitated by Marquita Prinzing, Director of the Center for Race and Equity, was packed with 50+ participants from across the district. Most of the attendees were from K-5 schools and many had a role other than classroom teacher; para-educators, counselors, district technology positions, and more.
We have received many requests for this from educators in other districts. These events are evidence that our leaders aren’t doing enough to support the people who are ready and willing to do the work. Am I doing enough to engage those who are so we don’t lose momentum? I want to move from, “Am I doing enough?” to “What is my next move?”
¡La Lucha Continua! ¡No terminara facilmente!