From Trauma-Informed to Healing-Centered Engagement: Essential Strategies

Healing-Centered Engagement[HCE] moves beyond trauma-informed approaches by focusing on well-being. Trauma-informed approaches to engagement focuses on treating the symptoms of trauma itself.   It is individual, rather than collective. HCE emphasizes collective well-being framed by the knowledge of the impact of collective trauma.

Being healing-centered means that, in this case, young people are more than what happened to them, seeking to saturate young people with opportunities for healing and well-being. Shifting from trauma-informed care or treatment requires expanding from a treatment-based model, viewing trauma and harm as isolated experiences, to an engagement model which supports collective well-being. For professionals whose work involves engaging with young people:

1>Start by building empathy

This model begins by building empathy with young people who have experienced trauma, which takes time. It is an ongoing process, often characterized by having the feeling of two steps forward and three steps back. Persistence is important. Don’t give up on these young people. Critical to this approach, adults are encouraged to share their story first, taking that leap into being more vulnerable, honest and open to young people. This process creates an empathy exchange.

This empathy exchange also strengthens emotional literacy which allows for youth to discuss the complexity of their own feelings. Fostering empathy allows them to feel safe sharing their feelings and emotions and ultimately restores their sense of well-being because they have the power to name and respond to their emotional states.

.the bully

2>Encourage young people to dream and imagine

A critically important ingredient in this type of engagement is the ability to acknowledge the harm and injury, but not be defined by it. The ability to see beyond the condition, event or situation that caused the trauma originally is a great tool. Research shows that the ability to dream and imagine is an important factor in fostering hopefulness and optimism, both of which contribute to overall well-being (Snyder et al. 2003). Daily survival and ongoing crisis management in young people’s lives can make it difficult for them to see beyond the present.

******The casualty of trauma is not just depression and emotional scares, but also the loss of the ability to dream and imagine another way of living.******

“Dreams matter.” 

 “As long as a man [woman] has a dream, he [she] cannot lose the significance of living”  

Howard Thurman

By creating activities and opportunities for young people to play, re-imagine, design and envision their lives this process strengthens their future goal orientation. These are practices of possibility that encourage young people to envision what they want to become, and who they want to be.

girl holding dandelion flower

3>Build critical reflection and take loving action

Healing and well-being are fundamentally political, not clinical. This means that we have to consider the ways in which the policies and practice and political decisions harm young people. Healing in this context also means that young people develop an analysis of these practices and policies that facilitated the trauma in the first place. Without an analysis of these issues, young people often internalize, and blame themselves for lack of confidence. Critical reflection provides a lens by which to filter, examine, and consider analytical and spiritual responses to trauma.  ‘Spiritual responses’ means the ability to draw upon the power of culture, rituals and faith in order to consistently act from a place of humility, and love. These are not cognitive processes, but rather ethical, moral and emotional aspects of healing centered engagement.

The other key component, is taking loving action, by collectively responding to political decisions and practices that can exacerbate trauma. By taking action, (e.g. school walkouts, organizing peace march, or promoting access to healthy foods) it builds a sense of power and control over their lives. Research has demonstrated that building this sense of power and control among traumatized groups is perhaps one of the most significant features in restoring holistic well-being.

We need to listen and learn from young people who have insights that can advance how we think about trauma and healing. We will have the ability to ask new questions, and formulate new and relevant strategies about how to support young people who experience trauma. Healing centered engagement is just a step toward a more holistic, and humanistic framework to support young people who have been harmed. Such an approach encourages us to think and act more boldly about how to restore young people and create places where they can truly flourish.

girl jeans kid loneliness

Continuing to insist that young people be resilient, see them as victims or worse yet, villains, does nothing to address how environmental factors impact their well-being. Practitioners and educators must expand their approaches to promoting the healthy development and wellness of  youth. Particularly relevant is this approach to engaging young people of color, who face intense challenges on a daily basis.

When we view trauma as a collective experience, we are better positioned to identify the systems intersecting with and impacting their lives. It is the necessary awareness of systems, policies and practices with which young people engage, react and respond,  that must be addressed in engagement practices. A step farther, addressing these factors guides practitioners and all who engage youth to also take action. Empower youth, encouraging and arming them with useful tools and skills that will be relevant to the healing journey. Enlighten them, highlighting people, places and pathways into their possibilities. Validating, affirming and encouraging the restoration of  hope, with an eye on the future, promotes their sense of agency and potential for creating changes necessary for life success. Healing-centered engagement prepares young people to upset the setup.

Healing-centered engagement calls educators to expand their reach beyond the classroom. It calls practitioners to expand their reach outside of their offices. It calls us all to do more than ask young people to be resilient and to cope, and adapt. We are driven to see the potential of young people, hear their cries and help them create their solutions. When we see young people beyond their skin color or income or culture or religion or sexual orientation, but as individuals who each have potential, the possibilities are endless.

We believe in them until they believe in themselves. We believe for them and act as parts of the solutions while demonstrating and modeling to them the ways to advocate for themselves. We tell them what their options are, we give them their histories, and we celebrate their cultural and personal identities. Preparing children for adult life means building academic skills, social-emotional literacy and the capacity for civic engagement.pointing gun

We often look at the choices young people make and wonder whether they consider a better tomorrow. Well, many grow weary from having to cope day after day, struggling to survive the immediate challenges and cannot imagine life beyond the present. No, they don’t see themselves in a different life or a life absent the trauma and toxic stress. That is not their fault. They can’t and shouldn’t be held accountable or blamed for many of their inadvisable choices and actions. Do not allow children and youth to assume and/or internalize blame. They didn’t make the rules. We did. We did so, either purposefully or without any concern for the impact on their development.

Don’t wonder why they use violence and guns for conflict resolution, disengage from school, disrupt classrooms, and present with an angry demeanor. Don’t wonder why they don’t trust us. They tell us why, when we look outside of our comfortable environments. We follow the rules and willingly uphold the policies that lie at the root of the trauma they experience-individually and collectively. They can’t change these rules by themselves-not without our help.

Help them to upset the setup. Guide them toward actions that are organized, mapped and well-thought out, and intentional to create changes. Healing-centered engagement is strictly political, not clinical. Remember that!

After the Protests, What Do We Want From Schools?

The following introduction, taken from a book published in 2018, ever so poignantly echoes every idea, before thought novel and uniquely my own. In fact, this excerpt represents the best efforts that public education can make towards creating a more just society. It is the best chance that we have to foster a new social reality, framed by a new mindset that fully and consciously accepts societal diversity and recognizes the strengths and truths once omitted about black people and our collective American history. The new knowledge imparted to youth will enrich lives and help erase disparities, implicit bias and the clearly systemic injustices about which the world is now protesting.

The title of the book “Introduction to Teaching for Black Lives- Black students’ minds and bodies are under attack.”begins as such and reads like a story intimately allowing readers a peek into conversations and thoughts of black students that go unsaid in the classroom. Either by choice or reading the climate of safety and support within those settings, educators are left to their own devices. They continue to rely on those false narratives and teach with blind inconsideration of the black faces and black lives who sit among them each day.

The book begins with:   

“Fifteen-year-old Black student Coby Burren was in geography class at Pearland High School near Houston in the fall of 2015. As he read the assigned page of his textbook, he noticed something that deeply disturbed him: A map of the United States with a caption that said the Atlantic slave trade brought “millions of workers from Africa to the southern United States to work on agricultural plantations.” Coby took a picture of his textbook and texted it to his mother, adding, “We was real hard workers wasn’t we,” along with a sarcastic emoji. Not only had the McGraw-Hill textbook replaced the word “slave” with “workers,” they also placed the chapter on the enslavement of Africans in the chapter of the book titled “patterns of immigration”—as if Africans came to the U.S. looking for a better life.

In the winter of 2017, a mother in Connecticut wrote about how she was troubled by a worksheet on slavery that her daughter had completed for school. The question asked, “How were the slaves treated in Connecticut?” Her daughter had initially written, “The slaves were treated badly and cruelly,” but crossed that out and replaced it with the answer that was written in the textbook, which stated slaves were, “often cared for and [the slave owners] protected them like members of the family.”

From the north to the south, corporate curriculum lies to our students, conceals pain and injustice, masks racism, and demeans our Black students. But it’s not only the curriculum that is traumatizing students.

In October of 2015, a Black girl in South Carolina was ripped out of her desk and thrown across the room by a police officer in the school for allegedly refusing to put away her cell phone. The video captured by a classmate of the incident went viral. The officer who brutalized the girl was not charged with a crime and instead both the girl videotaping and the girl thrown across the room were arrested and charged with “disturbing schools.” In May of 2017, surveillance video revealed a police officer at Woodland Hills High School in Churchill, Pennsylvania, choked and body slammed a Black boy in the office.

Recent data reveals that school security officers outnumber counselors in three out of five — and four out of the top ten — of the biggest school districts in the country, including New York City, Chicago, and Miami-Dade County, and Houston.

These examples reveal some of the policies that result in pushing kids out of school, making it difficult to graduate, then difficult to get a job, and finally more likely that they will end up in jail. This school-to-prison-pipeline begins with a curriculum that conceals the struggles and contributions of Black people and other people of color. It is a curriculum that fails to respect young Black people as intellectuals, and ignores their cultures, communities, and concerns. In the majority of textbooks, African Americans struggles and contributions are minimalized, portrayed as blatant stereotypes, or confined to a few roles that are acceptable to mainstream white society. This absence (or destructive presence) begins in elementary and continues throughout a Black student’s schooling.

Even when teachers include African American history, they often fail to consider the methods used to teach about Black lives to Black and non-Black children. Command and control lecture and rote memorization are not effective means of teaching for Black lives. Indeed, teaching for Black lives means just the opposite: engaging students in critical self-reflection, grounding our curriculum and teaching in their lives and communities, and orienting them towards community activism and social transformation.

Teaching for Black lives means that we can’t relegate Black history to certain historical time periods or events and we must include Black lives in all aspects of curriculum including science, math, literature, and the arts. Teaching for Black lives also means considering the loneliness of learning about one’s history when you might be one of a few students in class (or few teachers in a school) that this history represents.

When Black history and Black contributions are denied in the curriculum and by those who teach it, Black people are themselves denied. Consequently, students who become disinterested in a course or vocal about its shortcomings and historical erasure are often labeled defiant and pushed out of the classroom. These students may then get swept up by police officers stationed in school and be hit with criminal charges for behavior that was once handled by school administration. If the offending student is sent to administration, they are often required to implement zero tolerance discipline policies prescribed by the school district that mandate suspension or expulsion for various infractions. When a decision to suspend a student is left up to an administrator’s discretion, Black students are far more likely to be punished than their white peers. When students miss school, they fall behind in their classes and are more likely not to pass. The pipeline continues with the lack of tutoring programs, counseling services, college access programs, after school programs, healthcare, proper nutrition, and other support services that would assist students who are falling behind. And if a student makes it through that gauntlet of perils, high-stakes end-of-course exams are waiting to deter them from graduating.

The school-to-prison-pipeline is a major contributor to the overall epidemic of police violence and mass incarceration that functions as one of sharpest edges of structural racism in the United States.

The rise of the #BLM movement

A new rebellion against structural racism is underway in the form of the Black Lives Matter movement, galvanized by extrajudicial executions of Black people by the police and white vigilantes. The murder of Trayvon Martin in 2012 and the ensuing national protests that followed showed the potential for a mass social movement — and the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter was launched by three Black women, Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometi. Their demand that all Black lives have value was simple, yet visionary — especially in its call to highlight the most marginalized Black lives, including LGBTQ folks, women, and Black immigrant lives.

In August of 2014, Michael Brown was killed in the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, his body left in the streets for hours as a reminder to the Black residents in the neighborhood that their lives are meaningless to the American Empire. But this time the potential for a national uprising was actualized as thousands of mostly Black residents of Ferguson took to the streets and inspired rallies across the country and around the world. Only weeks after the non-indictment decision of Michael Brown’s killer, Darren Wilson, a NY grand jury failed to indict the officer who strangled Eric Garner to death on camera, and the movement went into high gear. Student walkouts, mass marches, and urban rebellions swept the country as people’s anger boiled over at the racist criminal (in)justice system.

In 2015, the African American Policy Forum coined the hashtag #SayHerName in an effort to raise awareness about state violence against women — including Black queer women and Black transgender women — and the campaign took off in the aftermath of the death of Sandra Bland who died in jail while in police custody after being detained by an officer for a traffic stop.

Despite the ongoing protests, police killings of Black people have continued unabated, including widely known cases of Freddy Gray, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, and Charleena Lyles, a pregnant mother who was killed in front of three of her four children. In addition to these adults, police have also killed many Black children in past few years including 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones, 12-year-old Tamir Rice, 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, 15-year-old Jordan Edwards, 13-year-old Tyre King, and 15-year-old Darius Smith.

The continuing police murders of Black people, and the refusal of the court system to punish police for these crimes, has continued to fuel an explosion of protests — from the streets to the schools. Protest even erupted on NFL football fields in 2016 when then San Francisco 49er quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, sat and then took a knee, during the national anthem in protest of police brutality. Following Kaepernick’s lead, student athletes from middle school through college took a knee against racism.

In Seattle, on October 19th 2016, the movement for Black lives burst into the struggle for equitable education when some 3,000 educators came to school wearing shirts that said, “Black Lives Matter, We Stand Together,” with many of them teaching lessons about the long history of the struggle against racism. This movement spread across the country with educators in Philadelphia and Rochester, NY, holding similar actions. Then during the first school week of February, 2018, educators from around the country organized the first national, “Black Lives Matter at School” week of action. Educators taught lessons throughout the week that corresponded to the thirteen principals of the Black Lives Matter Global Network organization and raised three demands:

1) End Zero Tolerance Discipline and implement Restorative Justice.

2) Hire More Black Teachers

3) Black History/Ethnic Studies Mandated K-12.

Teaching for Black Lives grows directly out of the movement for Black lives. We recognize that anti-Black racism constructs Black people, and Blackness generally, as not counting as human life. The chapters here in Teaching for Black Lives push back directly against this construction by not only providing educators with critical perspectives on the role of schools in perpetuating anti-Blackness, but also by offering educators concrete examples of what it looks like to humanize Black people in curriculum, teaching, and policy. Throughout the book, we demonstrate how teachers can connect the curriculum to young people’s lives and root their concerns and daily experiences in what is taught and how classrooms are set up. We also highlight the hope and beauty of student activism and collective action.

The first section of Teaching for Black Lives, “Making Black Lives Matter in Our Schools,” frames how police violence and the movement for Black lives can explicitly be brought to schools and classrooms by educators through organizing mass action and through curriculum. The pairing of these is purposeful: Not only is it critical that we teach about the systemic violence against Black people and the travesty of Black deaths, it is also important for students and teachers to understand their roles in organizing in support of Black life and Black communities, and against anti-Black racism.

In Section II, “Enslavement, Civil Rights, and Black Liberation,” Teaching for Black Lives takes a historical turn. Here the chapters focus on how Black history is taught in the classroom. We recognize for instance, that the enslavement of Africans and their descendants, the Civil War, and the Civil Rights movement are all regularly taught in schools, but, as we alluded to at the beginning of this introduction, we also know that these subjects are too often taught in ways that further dehumanize Black people and perpetuate anti-Black racism. Thus the chapters we include in this section reframe the teaching of these histories in ways that challenge white supremacy and reject many of the popular, yet racist, myths that all too often paint Black people as non-actors in their own liberation. To that end, through textbook critique, role plays, and other classroom-based activities, several chapters in this section focus on how racism and white supremacy have operated historically, and highlight how Black people organized in the interest of their own freedom.

However, we know that anti-Blackness isn’t just historical: It is spatial too. Through gentrification and the violence of displacement, anti-Blackness terraforms Black communities into white ones, and working-class communities into spaces for wealthy elites. Anti-Black racism also starves Black communities of resources, either turning them into neoliberal marketplaces for profit – as in New Orleans post-Hurricane Katrina, or simply allowing them to remain toxic for Black residents. Teaching for Black Lives takes this up in Section III, “Gentrification, Displacement, and Anti-Blackness.” In particular, the chapters in this section highlight how these issues can and should be taught through a critical lens of racial and economic justice.

Displacement is not just a socio-economic process. It is real and concrete because it happens to Black bodies. Specifically, this happens in part through our schools’ roles in the mass incarceration of Black people. In Section IV, “Discipline, the School-to-Prison Pipeline, and Mass Incarceration,” the chapter authors explore the ways that school discipline policy and practice contribute directly to the disproportionate punishment and incarceration of Black students. This section examines what it means to teach students whose family members are incarcerated, as well as how to teach about the system of mass incarceration impacting Black communities. Section IV concludes with chapters that highlight the ways that schools can challenge mass incarceration, including some possibilities for restorative and transformative justice.

Finally, Section V, “Teaching Blackness, Loving Blackness, and Exploring Identity”, recognizes that Teaching for Black Lives encompasses more than just teaching critique and social action. It is also about teaching Black identity and the beauty of Blackness both as self-care for Black students and as a way to directly confront anti-Blackness. Here, we pivot towards looking at ways we can and should affirm Black identity in our classrooms and with our children, as we explore the varied and complex relationships between teaching, learning, and being Black. This includes respecting and affirming the language that bathes our existence, and explores the intersectionality with other identities. Here the authors celebrate Blackness and all of its hues while explicating the tensions between being seen and unseen all at once.

We do not expect Teaching for Black Lives to end police violence against Black communities, stop anti-Black racism in schools, or end the school-to-prison pipeline. We do, however, see this collection as playing an important role in highlighting the ways educators can and should make their classrooms and schools sites of resistance to white supremacy and anti-Blackness, as well as sites for knowing the hope and beauty in Blackness. The ferocity of racism in the United States against black minds and black bodies demands that teachers fight back. We must organize against anti-blackness amongst our colleagues and in our communities; we must march against police brutality in the streets; and we must teach for Black lives in our classrooms. We call on others to join us in this fight.”

This is the number one book to read before any new educators enter classrooms and any new school leaders and decision-makers begin to implement any new initiatives. Before anyone endeavors to place additional demands on children of color, design any more tests and are bold enough to say they are supporters of social, racial, restorative or educational justice, read, re-read and reflect. Then, run, don’t walk, to your nearest bookstore or favorite website and grab a copy of this masterpiece. It is the first step in demonstrating that black lives really do matter-to you. When you know better- you do better! Be better.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

outlines and details the reality of people of color, specifically speaking to youth’s reactions to education as it characterizes black history in our schools. It examines the false narratives being told to them, even in the 21st Century. It informs us that we haven’t yet gotten over the fear and self-loathing of the nation’s past. How does one deal with a past, better left forgotten, when it is in your face everyday? 

Fifteen-year-old Black student Coby Burren was in geography class at Pearland High School near Houston in the fall of 2015. As he read the assigned page of his textbook, he noticed something that deeply disturbed him: A map of the United States with a caption that said the Atlantic slave trade brought “millions of workers from Africa to the southern United States to work on agricultural plantations.” Coby took a picture of his textbook and texted it to his mother, adding, “We was real hard workers wasn’t we,” along with a sarcastic emoji. Not only had the McGraw-Hill textbook replaced the word “slave” with “workers,” they also placed the chapter on the enslavement of Africans in the chapter of the book titled “patterns of immigration”—as if Africans came to the U.S. looking for a better life.

In the winter of 2017, a mother in Connecticut wrote about how she was troubled by a worksheet on slavery that her daughter had completed for school. The question asked, “How were the slaves treated in Connecticut?” Her daughter had initially written, “The slaves were treated badly and cruelly,” but crossed that out and replaced it with the answer that was written in the textbook, which stated slaves were, “often cared for and [the slave owners] protected them like members of the family.”

From the north to the south, corporate curriculum lies to our students, conceals pain and injustice, masks racism, and demeans our Black students. But it’s not only the curriculum that is traumatizing students.

In October of 2015, a Black girl in South Carolina was ripped out of her desk and thrown across the room by a police officer in the school for allegedly refusing to put away her cell phone. The video captured by a classmate of the incident went viral. The officer who brutalized the girl was not charged with a crime and instead both the girl videotaping and the girl thrown across the room were arrested and charged with “disturbing schools.” In May of 2017, surveillance video revealed a police officer at Woodland Hills High School in Churchill, Pennsylvania, choked and body slammed a Black boy in the office.

Recent data reveals that school security officers outnumber counselors in three out of five — and four out of the top ten — of the biggest school districts in the country, including New York City, Chicago, and Miami-Dade County, and Houston.

These examples reveal some of the policies that result in pushing kids out of school, making it difficult to graduate, then difficult to get a job, and finally more likely that they will end up in jail. This school-to-prison-pipeline begins with a curriculum that conceals the struggles and contributions of Black people and other people of color. It is a curriculum that fails to respect young Black people as intellectuals, and ignores their cultures, communities, and concerns. In the majority of textbooks, African Americans struggles and contributions are minimalized, portrayed as blatant stereotypes, or confined to a few roles that are acceptable to mainstream white society. This absence (or destructive presence) begins in elementary and continues throughout a Black student’s schooling.

Even when teachers include African American history, they often fail to consider the methods used to teach about Black lives to Black and non-Black children. Command and control lecture and rote memorization are not effective means of teaching for Black lives. Indeed, teaching for Black lives means just the opposite: engaging students in critical self-reflection, grounding our curriculum and teaching in their lives and communities, and orienting them towards community activism and social transformation.

Teaching for Black lives means that we can’t relegate Black history to certain historical time periods or events and we must include Black lives in all aspects of curriculum including science, math, literature, and the arts. Teaching for Black lives also means considering the loneliness of learning about one’s history when you might be one of a few students in class (or few teachers in a school) that this history represents.

When Black history and Black contributions are denied in the curriculum and by those who teach it, Black people are themselves denied. Consequently, students who become disinterested in a course or vocal about its shortcomings and historical erasure are often labeled defiant and pushed out of the classroom. These students may then get swept up by police officers stationed in school and be hit with criminal charges for behavior that was once handled by school administration. If the offending student is sent to administration, they are often required to implement zero tolerance discipline policies prescribed by the school district that mandate suspension or expulsion for various infractions. When a decision to suspend a student is left up to an administrator’s discretion, Black students are far more likely to be punished than their white peers. When students miss school, they fall behind in their classes and are more likely not to pass. The pipeline continues with the lack of tutoring programs, counseling services, college access programs, after school programs, healthcare, proper nutrition, and other support services that would assist students who are falling behind. And if a student makes it through that gauntlet of perils, high-stakes end-of-course exams are waiting to deter them from graduating.

The school-to-prison-pipeline is a major contributor to the overall epidemic of police violence and mass incarceration that functions as one of sharpest edges of structural racism in the United States.

The rise of the #BLM movement

A new rebellion against structural racism is underway in the form of the Black Lives Matter movement, galvanized by extrajudicial executions of Black people by the police and white vigilantes. The murder of Trayvon Martin in 2012 and the ensuing national protests that followed showed the potential for a mass social movement — and the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter was launched by three Black women, Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometi. Their demand that all Black lives have value was simple, yet visionary — especially in its call to highlight the most marginalized Black lives, including LGBTQ folks, women, and Black immigrant lives.

In August of 2014, Michael Brown was killed in the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, his body left in the streets for hours as a reminder to the Black residents in the neighborhood that their lives are meaningless to the American Empire. But this time the potential for a national uprising was actualized as thousands of mostly Black residents of Ferguson took to the streets and inspired rallies across the country and around the world. Only weeks after the non-indictment decision of Michael Brown’s killer, Darren Wilson, a NY grand jury failed to indict the officer who strangled Eric Garner to death on camera, and the movement went into high gear. Student walkouts, mass marches, and urban rebellions swept the country as people’s anger boiled over at the racist criminal (in)justice system.

In 2015, the African American Policy Forum coined the hashtag #SayHerName in an effort to raise awareness about state violence against women — including Black queer women and Black transgender women — and the campaign took off in the aftermath of the death of Sandra Bland who died in jail while in police custody after being detained by an officer for a traffic stop.

Despite the ongoing protests, police killings of Black people have continued unabated, including widely known cases of Freddy Gray, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, and Charleena Lyles, a pregnant mother who was killed in front of three of her four children. In addition to these adults, police have also killed many Black children in past few years including 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones, 12-year-old Tamir Rice, 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, 15-year-old Jordan Edwards, 13-year-old Tyre King, and 15-year-old Darius Smith.

The continuing police murders of Black people, and the refusal of the court system to punish police for these crimes, has continued to fuel an explosion of protests — from the streets to the schools. Protest even erupted on NFL football fields in 2016 when then San Francisco 49er quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, sat and then took a knee, during the national anthem in protest of police brutality. Following Kaepernick’s lead, student athletes from middle school through college took a knee against racism.

In Seattle, on October 19th 2016, the movement for Black lives burst into the struggle for equitable education when some 3,000 educators came to school wearing shirts that said, “Black Lives Matter, We Stand Together,” with many of them teaching lessons about the long history of the struggle against racism. This movement spread across the country with educators in Philadelphia and Rochester, NY, holding similar actions. Then during the first school week of February, 2018, educators from around the country organized the first national, “Black Lives Matter at School” week of action. Educators taught lessons throughout the week that corresponded to the thirteen principals of the Black Lives Matter Global Network organization and raised three demands:

1) End Zero Tolerance Discipline and implement Restorative Justice.

2) Hire More Black Teachers

3) Black History/Ethnic Studies Mandated K-12.

Teaching for Black Lives grows directly out of the movement for Black lives. We recognize that anti-Black racism constructs Black people, and Blackness generally, as not counting as human life. The chapters here in Teaching for Black Lives push back directly against this construction by not only providing educators with critical perspectives on the role of schools in perpetuating anti-Blackness, but also by offering educators concrete examples of what it looks like to humanize Black people in curriculum, teaching, and policy. Throughout the book, we demonstrate how teachers can connect the curriculum to young people’s lives and root their concerns and daily experiences in what is taught and how classrooms are set up. We also highlight the hope and beauty of student activism and collective action.

The first section of Teaching for Black Lives, “Making Black Lives Matter in Our Schools,” frames how police violence and the movement for Black lives can explicitly be brought to schools and classrooms by educators through organizing mass action and through curriculum. The pairing of these is purposeful: Not only is it critical that we teach about the systemic violence against Black people and the travesty of Black deaths, it is also important for students and teachers to understand their roles in organizing in support of Black life and Black communities, and against anti-Black racism.

In Section II, “Enslavement, Civil Rights, and Black Liberation,” Teaching for Black Lives takes a historical turn. Here the chapters focus on how Black history is taught in the classroom. We recognize for instance, that the enslavement of Africans and their descendants, the Civil War, and the Civil Rights movement are all regularly taught in schools, but, as we alluded to at the beginning of this introduction, we also know that these subjects are too often taught in ways that further dehumanize Black people and perpetuate anti-Black racism. Thus the chapters we include in this section reframe the teaching of these histories in ways that challenge white supremacy and reject many of the popular, yet racist, myths that all too often paint Black people as non-actors in their own liberation. To that end, through textbook critique, role plays, and other classroom-based activities, several chapters in this section focus on how racism and white supremacy have operated historically, and highlight how Black people organized in the interest of their own freedom.

However, we know that anti-Blackness isn’t just historical: It is spatial too. Through gentrification and the violence of displacement, anti-Blackness terraforms Black communities into white ones, and working-class communities into spaces for wealthy elites. Anti-Black racism also starves Black communities of resources, either turning them into neoliberal marketplaces for profit – as in New Orleans post-Hurricane Katrina, or simply allowing them to remain toxic for Black residents. Teaching for Black Lives takes this up in Section III, “Gentrification, Displacement, and Anti-Blackness.” In particular, the chapters in this section highlight how these issues can and should be taught through a critical lens of racial and economic justice.

Displacement is not just a socio-economic process. It is real and concrete because it happens to Black bodies. Specifically, this happens in part through our schools’ roles in the mass incarceration of Black people. In Section IV, “Discipline, the School-to-Prison Pipeline, and Mass Incarceration,” the chapter authors explore the ways that school discipline policy and practice contribute directly to the disproportionate punishment and incarceration of Black students. This section examines what it means to teach students whose family members are incarcerated, as well as how to teach about the system of mass incarceration impacting Black communities. Section IV concludes with chapters that highlight the ways that schools can challenge mass incarceration, including some possibilities for restorative and transformative justice.

Finally, Section V, “Teaching Blackness, Loving Blackness, and Exploring Identity”, recognizes that Teaching for Black Lives encompasses more than just teaching critique and social action. It is also about teaching Black identity and the beauty of Blackness both as self-care for Black students and as a way to directly confront anti-Blackness. Here, we pivot towards looking at ways we can and should affirm Black identity in our classrooms and with our children, as we explore the varied and complex relationships between teaching, learning, and being Black. This includes respecting and affirming the language that bathes our existence, and explores the intersectionality with other identities. Here the authors celebrate Blackness and all of its hues while explicating the tensions between being seen and unseen all at once.

We do not expect Teaching for Black Lives to end police violence against Black communities, stop anti-Black racism in schools, or end the school-to-prison pipeline. We do, however, see this collection as playing an important role in highlighting the ways educators can and should make their classrooms and schools sites of resistance to white supremacy and anti-Blackness, as well as sites for knowing the hope and beauty in Blackness. The ferocity of racism in the United States against black minds and black bodies demands that teachers fight back. We must organize against anti-blackness amongst our colleagues and in our communities; we must march against police brutality in the streets; and we must teach for Black lives in our classrooms. We call on others to join us in this fight.

Why It’s Critical That Teachers Become Learners

How would you feel, as a parent or educator, if your child attended public or private school and he or she receives scant relevant instructional content? George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Susan B. Anthony are the only figures about whom your children learn by year’s end-every school year. The instruction they receive and explore relates to African and/or indigenous Americans 89 out of every 90 school days.Your child might feel left out, that he or she doesn’t belong, and struggle with possible anger issues and behavioral concerns.

He or she would be more at risk of dropping out because of consistent disengagement. The school determines your child as having special needs-a learning disability. They perceive your child as being the problem. In reality, you and I know that it is the school professionals’ fault. Your child looks different from his or her teachers, who happen to teach about all things irrelevant to the child. No one considers the possibility that there is a real special need-for cultural relevance. Children NEED to know that they matter and have someone to look to and identify with—they need stories.

Would you not have a legitimate concern, and want to advocate for expanded instructional content, with the classroom teacher, the administration, the school district and so on? Learning in school settings must reflect cultural relevance with respect to diversity. In order to foster respect for self and others, every child needs to learn about themselves and others.

In the United States, the mainstream social studies curriculum largely ignores Black history. Or, it has been misrepresented. Early versions of history characterized black people as lazy, docile, uncivilized and at least one book portrayed blacks as content being slaves; they liked to sing, dance, laugh; they admired bright colors and were never in a rush. In essence, we exalted everything characterized as being white and demeaned all things associated with blackness. The narrative must be changed, and teaching a fully comprehensive American history is the perfect vehicle.

Only until the mid twentieth century did mainstream social studies textbooks begin to eliminate text that was explicitly racist. Imagine that! In the late 1960’s, black students, teachers and parents began to insist that black history become a part of the curriculum at school or stand alone courses. It has been  almost 60 years of asking for a comprehensive multicultural education in schools, and we haven’t gotten there yet.
In a nationwide study of 525 elementary, middle and high school teachers, and a review of social studies standards in all 50 states and D.C., results indicated that teachers considered Black history as central to understanding the complexity of U.S. history. Many teachers stated that they infuse elements of black history in every historical era, often going beyond state and local standards.
Topics such as forced African migration, Brown v. Topeka Kansas[better known as the Board of Education], the impact of the civil rights acts of the 1960s, and the Obama election were most taught. However, despite teachers’ enthusiasm about teaching black history, approximately 1 to 2 lessons or 8-9 percent of total class time is devoted to black history in the classroom. Students aren’t being taught about Harvard University’s Dr. Henry Louis Gates, and he represents current history. As a matter of fact, he researches history-our history, everyone’s history. He is relevant to science, math, language arts, and social studies.
Black history has now been required at all grade levels in school districts in places like Chicago, Minneapolis and Philadelphia. Philadelphia city’s school districts have made African American studies a requirement for high school graduation. If done to appease black people because there is a large population in that city, then why not? The black population in America is not limited to a few pockets around the country, but in every major city, and all over the South.

assorted book in library
In states like New York, the mandates are seen as being in name only. There is no enforcement, curriculum enactment or financial assistance for this inclusion in schools. No targeted textbooks in the standard curriculum. Children can’t read texts on their free time, because books don’t exist, and libraries have limited stock, and high demand for its book collection. Not every child or family has reliable internet access, except cell phones, and though helpful, one cannot expect all research-oriented school work to done on a tiny screen and keyboard.
Still a conundrum exists where students can ONLY name famous black figures like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks and Harriet Tubman. A Southern Poverty Law Center’s report noted that the majority of states received grades of Ds and Fs for their approach to teaching the civil rights movement, with 5 states ignoring the subject altogether.Other research has indicated that what is taught is sometimes lethargic, too celebratory and absent complexity. The answer to this is more dynamic instruction regarding Black history. When it is not, it becomes stagnant, with the same topics revisited year after year.

The sad fact is that teachers, white teachers in particular, aren’t aggressively teaching black history because they lack knowledge, confidence, time and resources. This indicates the necessity that teachers educate themselves on the subject and structure, teacher training, resources need be emphasized and delivered in order to support this area of history education, not limited to the content area alone.
There may also be concern about children’s maturity level to tackle complex knowledge. Yet, at the earliest ages, children understand sadness, injustice, cruelty and the concept of unfairness..
Clearly, Black history has gained momentum in subjects taught in our nation’s schools, and rightfully so. African-American children greatly outnumber whites in many schools and in school districts across the country,  hopefully, it is being realized that, in order to increase engagement, motivation, and overall achievement, these students require the previously omitted pictures of themselves and others like them.
Also, these students need to gain deeper knowledge as they age in the k12 education system. At present, the once per year recognition of Black history, continues to reproduce lessons about the same 4 or 5 people. The result of this repetition is that students who would ordinarily actively engage in the classroom during this dedicated month of studies, are still bored in school.
To counter this disengagement, during one out of a 9 month academic school year,  expand the figures and historical events, relevant to African-American history in EVERY ACADEMIC SUBJECT and content area. There is no absence of noteworthy people of color to explore with students. EVERY SUBJECT AREA. This responsibility does not rest in the classroom of the social studies teachers alone. All students should be able to graduate high school with a minimum familiarity with 20 authentic facts and figures in African-American and Black history.

children wearing white academic gown during graduation ceremony at daytime

When teaching and introducing facts and figures in history, you’ll most likely  learn along with your students. That’s just fine. Take it slow. There has been stated concern about the complexity surrounding teaching this history, and students’ capacity to process it.  The traditional approach has thus been to omit the history almost completely. This explains the absence of black history in texts and instructional materials. Or does it?

Not obvious to some, the omission points to the purposeful and targeted efforts to bury and hide this knowledge from young children. They must not know the population’s historical value to American society, in the interest of continued inequity. The system-wide purposeful acts to undermine one population’s upward mobility, with the same rights and privileges as whites, would also mean an intentional admission of guilt.

There is not much that children cannot process, if presented developmentally appropriate. The truth is much better told. Research, research, and study and learn. We can’t teach what we don’t know. Step outside of your comfort zones. Life long learning for students, has to apply to educators, as well.

With commitment, eventually Black history content will be fully embedded in the general curriculum, and pre-service teachers will be required to be at least, basically versed. This will require educators to fully integrate Black history AND other people of  ‘diversity’ into pedagogy within a normalized approach.
Black history, thought of an ‘area’ of education, separate from traditional standardized content, will and must be considered requisite and intertwined with all things America. Whether we care to fully acknowledge this fact,  America would not be America without Africa-American contributions. There is not one area of society untouched or uninfluenced by black people. It couldn’t be more clear that this is factual, as evidenced in music and dance, sports, language, beauty, science and engineering, the culinary arts, just to name a few.

photo of children inside classroom

To ignore or be ignorant of Black history is to allow children to continue to be ignorant of this population’s importance,  influence and impact on their lives. We’ve got a long road ahead of us, but the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. Teaching Black history to young learners and learning Black history for adults and educators, is the first step towards demonstrating social justice and learning the true meaning of empathy and respect. ‘Diversity’ has grown weary of being tolerated.  They communicate this in their expressions of anger and the ways they rebel. Instead, to be appreciated is the essence of being recognized and valued.

Be a pioneer or thought leader in your field or area of expertise. As an educator or professional, you’ve got to disrupt. No one is more remembered or hailed as genius, brave or innovative, than he or she whose immediate impact was viewed as a disruption. The first demonstration of disruption should be in the classroom.

Think about it. MLK, Ghandi, Newton[Huey, not Isaac], Marshall, Tubman, Parks, Jemison, Carver, Daly, Easley, Giovanni, Vaughan, Dean, Walker[Alice and Madame C.J.], and a host of names that can provide complete lessons each individually. Black students need to know. White students really need to know, and parents ought to know. Teach and learn along with them! “…You know better; you do better!”[Angelou] 
There is an abundance of materials from which to develop lessons. Organizations and websites such as:

Teaching Tolerance[https://www.tolerance.org] offers free resources and fully developed lesson plans.

Blackmail4u: [https://www. blackmail4u.com] offers facts, biographies, and all things “Black History”.

TeachersFirst’s: [https://www.teachersfirst.com] offers ideas, research material and interactive sites for studying black history in all grades.

Teacher Planet: [https://www.teacherplanet.com] offers free activities and classroom resources.

This is your starter list of resources. Teachers become learners, too.

Why Are White Children Using Guns To Solve Problems?

Shocked was I when I heard about yet another school shooting. In California, another distraught and confused youngster, 16 years old, entered his school and shot and killed classmates. It happened during what the school calls Zero Hour’. What is most hoped for is that, at that hour, there were zero incidents in that learning environment.

Right now, America is operating in reactive mode. Surprised, confused, sad, angry, hurt and dead, all certainly descriptors in the aftermath. By this time, one would hope that we would be more proactive, doing more acting than talking, and preventing these types of tragedies from reoccurring in the U.S.

When we speak about gun violence in this country, we usually refer to the violence plaguing the inner-cities, where the poorest and most dark complexioned people live. But, once again, the mass violence NEVER occurs in these communities, by those people. Violence is violence by any means. When violence is turned outward into society, an entire population, we are all forced to do something. We take notice;we have no other choice.

It is frightening to feel as though, at those moments, or any moment where mass violence is committed, it could have been you or I or our children. Why at school? What is it about the school setting that makes it attract such acts of violence? What makes kids feel safe enough to express their anger, frustration, hurt or emotions they themselves may not understand?

Schools are supposed to be safe and supportive environments. It is in school that children learn about themselves, society and their place in society. During the teen years, in particular, youth are struggling with emotional literacy, and they are struggling to be and feel accepted, love, recognized and validated.

It is disturbing to know that the persons who commit these ‘unthinkable’ acts, walk among adults and their peers at least 5 days a week. But, no one saw, suspected, feared a powder keg rising? Not one teacher, janitor, counselor, principal noticed any signs prior to the explosion. If someone did notice a change in demeanor, and said nothing to someone else, then the title of ‘Professional’ is erroneously placed.

This is not to diminish the roles of educators in schools. Their jobs are challenging, without a doubt. But, what is it about students in classrooms, walking the halls, riding the school bus everyday that allows us to miss signs of impending distress? Are we ignoring the signs, passing the buck or waiting for someone else to take action?

Are teachers thinking that they have much more to concern themselves with, that they decide to let it go? Too many tasks already. What about the parental role? Are we expecting parents to recognize and resolve issues before becoming critical?

Can we still, in good conscience, expect parents to be super parents and omniscient when it comes to their children? Their children are released into our care and custody for the bulk of the day. Most parents are at work, and they trust that, in the best interest of their children, schools have their back. Communication is expected, not only when there are problems, but especially when there appears to be.

It’s better to contact a parent with information we have possibly misinterpreted, than not at all. Better to share observations, in the realm of being proactive, while seeking confirmation or finding that we’ve overreacted. Besides, it’s not what we say, but how we say it. As a parent, I would prefer to know that, no matter what, someone is paying attention. My kid is not just a number or face in the crowd. Knowing that would communicate to me that my child will be getting a good education in that environment, because someone’s paying attention.

I don’t know what it is about the predominantly white school communities, largely middle class, that gives children a sense of appropriateness to make the school their target of emotional outbursts of the violent types. Ironically enough, these communities are filled with adults who favor gun possession, and where, with relative ease,  obtain guns legally. Guns are in the home, for protection or sport.

From whom are they protecting themselves? According to the news media, there is little to no crime in these communities, which makes no sense. Why feel the need for a gun when there is no crime in your backyard? One would expect the argument for weapons possession should be from people living in high crime areas. That makes sense. In these areas, guns can’t be bought legally, though. When the police approach them with weapons in  their possession, it’s an arrest-able or shoot-able offense. In fact, even when there aren’t weapons, they get shot.[that’s a different argument]

Mothers don’t know about their sons having guns in the home or in their possession. On the other side of town, mothers have purchased these guns, for the family’s safety. How are these types of crimes made possible? None of it makes sense.

What is clear, though, is that a terrible tragedy befell many innocent families, and there is trauma throughout that community. Schools are being pleaded with to incorporate mental health screenings, discussions and SEL throughout the curriculum. Accompanying these efforts, family engagement needs to be embedded in the framework of education. It is not just for parents of students with special needs or IEPs. Every child has special needs.

America, what are we doing to, rather than for, our children, white children in particular, that they think solutions to problems are found down the barrel of a gun? Have we ever attempted to compare characteristics of school shooters to create a profile of those most likely to explode like this? Maybe, we would be better at recognizing when we should act when we knew the signs to look for, right? I need answers. Parents need answers, and our youth definitely need answers.