A reflection on holidays, hoarding and how to make Black lives matter in education by Stacey James McAdoo
🎵 Mama used to say, Take your time, young man
Mama used to say, Don’t you rush to get old
Mama used to say, Take it in your stride
Mama used to say, Live your life🎵
Some things momma told me as a child flew into one ear and out of the other as soon as the syllables whizzed down the canal. Other things hit a nerve and stuck. “Never buy anyone anything you wouldn’t want for yourself,” is one of them.
In early December during the wee hours of the night, I ran across something that sparked an idea for a lesson I’m still currently developing. Before I realized it, I was deep inside a rabbit hole perusing the 13 Principles of the Black Lives Matter Week of Action shared by Teaching Tolerance. I found myself nodding in agreement with the needs of their demands for our educational school system to end zero-tolerance discipline, to implement restorative justice instead, to hire more Black teachers and to mandate/require Black History & Ethnic Studies in K-12 classrooms.
As a result, I bought the book Teaching For Black Lives with the expectation of sharing some of its nuggets with our Black Student Union club sponsors and then giving it to my husband as a Christmas gift. But when Christmas Eve arrived, I couldn’t bring myself to gift-wrap it. So, at the eleventh hour, I went to Target to see if I could find a replacement present for him. I ended up purchasing a wireless charger for the phone that always seems to be out of commission whenever I need to reach him. Feeling good about what I had just accomplished in record-breaking time, I resolved to continue reading the book and then gift it to someone else during one of the upcoming Kwanzaa celebrations. Before Ujima (the third day of Kwanzaa that focuses on collective work and responsibility) had even arrived, I knew that I would not be able to part ways with the book.
The book reminded me that although I am the only black female educator in my department (in a school known for its historic significance for desegregation), I am not alone in this fight. Very few people of color will dispute the important role that relationships and representation play in the education & development of our youth. And while I grew up during a time where I saw very little of me in the curriculum that I was taught, my nephews are facing a different reality. Multicultural posters often adorn the classroom walls. Teachers in charge of plays and programs often seek out content that will lend itself to a more diverse, inclusive and non-traditional cast. And although textbooks & curriculum now incorporate ethnic names in their examples and passages, they often serve us one-dimensional characters and/or revise our history by telling flat-out lies and omitting the hard truths. (Here’s a real example of a worksheet sent home with my then eight-year-old family member who was well aware that this was not his understanding of the history, conditions or terminology associated with chattel slavery in the United States.)
Rocky. The Karate Kid. Pretty Woman. Most people like a feel good story where they can root for the underdog. It amazes me how emotionally invested we can become over characters in a novel or on the big screen. In less than an hour we have typically grown to love and appreciate (or at least understand) their rough edges. Before the story is over we find ourselves hoping, expecting and sometimes praying out loud for them to catch a break, find redemption and/or ultimately win. And it makes me wonder if our real life students are not worthy of the same compassion & investment so freely given to fictitious characters and actors? Had it not been for the nine brave children who sixty-one years ago accepted the challenge to fight the status quo, I wouldn’t be allowed to be the previously mentioned only Black female educator in my department in a school known for its historic significance for desegregation.
Those that truly know me, know that I have a difficult time discarding things. And so as is the case of all the other things that I cherish (like my students, my family and often my voice), I simply couldn’t let go of the book. I had come to love the authors, teachers, students, and poets, as well as, the artwork and photographs sandwiched within its 360+ some odd pages. You can also blame that on my momma. One other thing she told me as a child that stuck was, “Because you never know what tomorrow will bring… if you love something, hold it tight, fight for it and never let it go.”
Leave a comment and share something that your momma usta say that stuck with or helped shape you.
*Stacey James McAdoo, the 2019 Arkansas Teacher of the Year (affectionately referred to as 2019ATOY), is a 16 year Oral Communication instructor, AVID Coordinator and sponsor of the spoken word collective called Writeous Poets from Little Rock, Arkansas. She teaches at the historic Little Rock Central High School where she is the living embodiment of her ATOY platform of using passion and poetry to close the opportunity gap.*