A place where Black Mothers can celebrate excellence and motherhood.

I show up for other people kids, I have to show up for mine.

As many of you know, I am a restorative practices specialist. I work for a Baltimore based non-profit agency Community Conferencing Center (come April will be Restorative Response Baltimore). My non-profit offers conferencing, an alternative to a justice system that does not operate in favor of People of color. Through conferencing we pull together people that are in conflict and provide space for them to try and get to the root cause and hopefully come up with a resolution. On the proactive side of things (thats where I come in) I offer trainings on restorative practices, values, principles and important parts of the restorative practices continuum.

I work onsite with identified partnership schools weekly through community building circles, restorative conversations and observations to help the schools shift to a restorative culture. Restorative practices is important because it creates a space for shared power and for students (especially students of color) to have a voice. Its also an alternative to suspension, classroom extraction and power imbalances that once again largely impact students of color. I love my job, its my dream job and my office is well diverse; made up of mostly Black women (ya’ll the office always smells like sheabutter and incense. Every time you walk in the office you literally are walking down a soul-train line full of compliments.) I’m not joking ya'll, I’m blessed that my organization has a partnership with my daughters school. Since we work with my daughters school, I am onsite for trainings and give consultation on their implementation, offer feedback and suggestions. This has been going well up until one week ago when I gave our new training, restorative mindset to the staff of 60 in total. The restorative mindset training focuses on the mindset needed for successful implementation. We discuss Dweck ‘fixed’ vs. ‘growth’ alongside the restorative mindset and why we need to have ‘growth’ mindset alongside our restorative mindset. One would note, if we are speaking about mindset then we have to touch on bias, implicit bias at that.

The kirwin institute defines ‘implicit bias’ as "Attitudes or stereotypes that are activated unconsciously and involuntarily. They are not the same as biases that a person might try to hide because they’re unpopular or socially incorrect.” There has been much research conducted that shows the importance/dangers of how teachers implicit biases show up in the classroom and how we need to have a conversation around them.Back to the staff demographics, of 60 three of them are Black. I tried to make the ‘eye contact’ with those three before we got to a particular part of the training and two of them heads down or elsewhere but one sister (thank God for her!) caught my eyes and gave me the subtle nod. Cool. I’m safe, she got me. I figure the training would go well. Well meaning, some of the white folk in the room would nod in agreement, some would be stuck from shock and embarrassment and the others would be mad and play the but I don’t see race, I treat all of my children the same regardless of race, this doesn’t happen here bullsh*t. Heads up: very few were in the middle and very little nodded in agreement.

In fact, I ruffled some feathers when I brought up how Black and Brown parents have to have a particular conversation with their children in Elementary School about interactions with police officers. I wasn’t surprised at the pushback that would come from the data presented, I was surprised at who the pushback came from. Tatiyana’s teacher responded back with the data presented about how ‘all’ families should have conversations about how to behave when police approach civilians. His response started an echoes of ‘I don’t see color’ and ‘I treat all of my students the same.’ Yawn. Even after myself, one Black teacher and white S.T.A.T. teacher discussed how the conversation can be had and yet it is still different than the one in Black homes.
The training area was tense. Like T’challa claws couldn’t cut through it if he tried. Fast forward to the end of the week, Friday I picked Tatiyana up and she was off. Her aftercare teacher said, ‘something isn’t right with her. She was off to the side by herself today.’ Once we got in the car and before I could ask how her day was, I got a text: Is everything ok with Tati? She looked really sad when I saw her earlier. 

Red flags are popping up in my head, Did any of the teachers say something about me? Did one of the teachers do something to her?  I gently asked her, did something happen in school today? After asking her open-ended questions for what seemed like eternity, she finally spilled the beans. Her teacher sent her out of the class for talking. "He's lashing out on my daughter because I exposed his fragility as a white man." That was the first thing that crossed my mind. So I contacted a person that I'm close with at her school, 'I knew this was going to happen. This was my fear that the staff would retaliate through Tatiyana. Wrong parent, my work does not make her a target.' 

I reached out to my mentor, her dad and my colleagues informing them of what happened and talking though how to approach the situation. Isn't it funny? The same woman who co-powers Black parents to advocate for their children is struggling to be vocal for her own.. The following Monday I emailed her teacher and the principal together asking for a meeting in regard to Tatiyana as I had a concern. 
I dreaded the entire week leading up to the meeting and 90-minutes before the meeting her principal called to let me know she had to step out of the building and could no longer attend the meeting. Cue Anxiety attack. At this moment I was so angry and embarrassed with myself and I kept asking myself How come I can show up for every one else child(ren) and suddenly I can't find the words for my own? Luckily, my amazing colleague and friend who is one of the most thorough Womanist I know had texted me just in time and I asked her What Would Alice Walker and Audre Lorde do? 

She sent me the Audre Lorde Questionnaire to oneself and I took twenty minutes to complete it. You can find it here: Audre Lorde questionnaire for oneself. I immediately felt better and what I realized after I completed the worksheet was that I was not afraid of speaking out I was afraid of what people thought of me and because I had this fear it was causing me to shut down and not speak up. Whats the worst that could happen though? If I do speak up,  I do advocate for my children and I can ensure their safety and well-being. If don't speak up I am making this about me and putting my daughter in harms way. Especially knowing that this is how its starts, Black children are punished for exhibiting normal child-like behavior, their spirit is broken, morale decreases and they become aloof. Just like Tatiyana did... 

So what happened?

The meeting went well! I explained to him why I was there and my fear of his choice to redirect her. I also bought up the training that I facilitated earlier that week and felt that he was lashing out at her because we had different opinions. I told him I was taken back by his comment especially since he and I had these conversations prior to the training. Getting the story is so important, her teacher explained how when he went home that afternoon he reflected on the incident and realized he was being hypersensitive in response to something in regard to his family and for that he apologized. He also apologized for making her feel unwelcome and sad by removing her from the classroom.  He said that moving forward because removing students from the class is ineffective he will use other means to redirect students. 

In reference to the training, he apologized as well on his half for the misconnection; the space where the training was facilitated  has poor acoustics and his hearing isn't 100%. When he made his statement it was from a place of all people should have these conversations however its not happening that way because everyone's lives are not threatened by police brutality i.e. Black people. He said in hindsight he wishes that he and I talked after the PD because the misunderstanding of his comment led to those in the training who don't get it to push back against data that he's talked about as well. 

When I consulted the schools champion team yesterday, I made it very clear that by definition they are a restorative school because they have community building circles, ask restorative questions/facilitate restorative conversations and use affective statements but by no means are you restorative until you are aware of your bias and how they show up. It is not a restorative school until parents of color excluding myself, feel comfortable challenging the school, its teachers and its practices. 
Her induction as RHOsebud Sunday March 18

Overall, I am happy that I showed up for my daughter and that I advocated for her. I'm happy that she is in a classroom with a teacher that is culturally aware and takes the time to reflect on his classroom management, teaching methods. Whats even more important, in spite of what he was feeling initially he still opened up space for us to have dialogue so that Tatiyana and I can be heard and things could be clarified. He is a restorative teacher  and I wish there were more like him.

My daughters know that they have parents, especially a mother that will advocate for them and make sure everyone is accountable for their well-being and their continued success. Especially in a world where Black girls and women are not given the space to feel and be.

1 comment:

  1. I appreciate you sharing this. These honest conversations are really hard, but I appreciate how everyone involved stuck to the restorative ethic of staying connected and talking until the people were satisfied that they were really hearing one another. I've shared this on the IIRP social networks. - Josh Wachtel