My “deep gladness” and the world’s “deep hunger”, and conversations with my children

I have not felt motivation to write lately, or frankly, to do much of anything. I am struggling some with post-quarantine re-entry and while I am thankful to have the vaccine and some safety to “move about the cabin” of the world, I am not feeling quite myself in terms of being with people. I am thankful for my people who have, and who are, hanging in there with me while I go through this season.

I have been trying to be intentional about showing gratitude, even (or maybe especially) in this season and one of the things that brings me joy and helps me find purpose is working with students. I am grateful for a way to earn a living and live out my calling in the same context.

Frederick Buechner, Presbyterian minister and author, says that “the place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet”. I believe God has called me to this place of working with students and helping them learn to engage with the world and its needs. This calling into higher education is an evolution from my initial calling into social work practice, which is a call I still hear and still heed.

I have also been hearing another call in the past few years, to speak out, in little ways and large ways, about oppression and racism. Of all my callings, this is probably the hardest one for me to feel confident in and I wonder… maybe I am not supposed to be fully confident as my discomfiture keeps me humble.

I have the honor and privilege of having a good many conversations with students about their callings (even if they use different words) and I have a gracious plenty resources on the topic. But of all the ones I have, the two I refer to the most and the two I keep coming back to are this one by Buechner, and the piece by Vincent Harding (theologian, leader in the Civil Rights movement, father, teacher, etc) entitled, simply, “I hear them calling”.

In this piece, Harding recounts the voices that have shaped him over the years: his family, the church of his childhood, his teachers, the media, the voices of his ancestors. His calling to be in the Movement made him realize how little he knew of history. His calling to be a husband and father transformed him. Throughout his life he continued to heed the call of the creation of the beloved community, and he “heard voices more loudly than ever before”.

Me, a white southern woman “of a certain age”, raised to be polite, in a faith tradition that has not historically heard the voices of women….I feel an unlikely candidate to speak out against racism and oppression. But, as Harding said repeatedly “callings are strange things”.

In my not-actively-writing phase, I have been jotting down ideas that I want to capture about this calling, and how it is showing up in my teaching and in my family life and other relationships. Hopefully, I will eventually get to writing them.

Here’s something: we finally finished our family read aloud of Stamped: Racism, Anti Racism and You. This is geared toward middle schoolers but unless you are a very intentional student of all (and I mean ALL ) of the world’s and US history there will be learning for all ages in this book. We had some good conversations that stemmed from it, and also some periods of discomfort and anger: as we should.

“Nothing but legal, modern slavery, however kindly intentioned” (Malcolm X)

I have written here before about my work in child welfare (on disproportionality here and on the Do No Harm podcast here and possibly some other mentions here and there about my love for children because it is a love that is deep and wide.

This is a picture book about Malcolm Little, who grew up to be Malcolm X. In his biography, Malcolm X talks about how the child “protection” system decimated his family

And yet…the past few months I have been reading some proposals on and calls for the abolishment of the child welfare system as we know it. And I can’t help but agree. Even when I was doing child welfare work as a young (possibly too young) professional, I knew that there were families we (the system, and my role in it) had made less stable because of our work. And there were other families where the court ordered supports we offered them were not what the family would have found to be the most helpful. While I felt lucky that I worked at an organization that wasn’t CPS, and thereby had more degrees of flexibility, I knew that there was inequity in the system. I saw it.

The increasing attention we are paying to ACEs and to the need for strengthening parent capacity is one piece of an answer, I think. We are recognizing that we need to be proactive in supporting families before crisis happens. However, until our practices catch up completely, we also need to attend to the fact that our current system of child protection too often falls short of the general child welfare goals of SAFETY, PERMANENCY AND WELL BEING .

Here is one of the pieces that has been the most convicting to me, and I plan to use one of Dr. Roberts’ books the next time I teach a child welfare class. The excerpt below is a useful frame for thinking about what alternatives could look like:

Ending the system doesn’t mean leaving people to fend for themselves in a society that is structured unequally. We are talking about transforming society, including making structural changes at a societal level and changes in our communities. Ending structural racism is a tall order, but we need to work toward that. We need to care for families by providing housing and food, as well as universal, equal and free health care and education. At a community level, we need to care for each other without relying on violent systems like police, prisons, and child removal. It involves mutual aid and figuring out how to deal with families’ problems and needs and the conflict and violence that occurs in families, in ways that are not punitive, inhumane, violent and terroristic.

“People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them” (James Baldwin)

One of the things I am proudest of for this spring semester is that I was able to get students interested in history…the history that isn’t often told in school, to be specific.

The first session of my Social Movement/Social Change class happened on January 13, a week after the events at the Capitol. I started the first class with sharing a poem by Lucille Clifton (see below) and we talked about that poem and what they thought it meant.

Out of a class of 26, not too many people offered their thoughts on this first day. Throughout the course of the semester, though, they became so engaged in discussion on various topics that we never got finished with all I hoped we would in a session. We were learning about the abolitionist movement, and about early resistance by indigenous peoples, and about workers’ rights movements at various stages, and women’s movements from suffrage to #metoo, and the United Farmworker’s strikes and the Chicano student sit ins and so much about the Civil Rights work in the south…throughout all of these sessions and more, at some point a student would say “why didn’t I learn this in school?” I heard this from students who went to private schools, academic magnets, charter schools, and public schools of all spectrums (rural, urban, suburban).

The book we used for the course is one I featured here, and I still heartily recommend this book for anyone who wants to learn more about what they didn’t learn in social studies or history. The book is made up of primary documents with just a little bit of overview in front of each by the editor, Michael Long.

There were numerous other resources I shared with students over the course of the semester as well, and some of the ones were related to envisioning how we could teach history in a less whitewashed fashion. These were the favorites in terms of usefulness, and a couple of students even used them for their final assignment in which they created lesson plans for elementary, middle school, or high school teachers with respect to specific topics.

Teaching for the Culture:

Learning for Justice:

Teaching for Change:

Facing History and Ourselves

On the last day of the semester, I ended where we began, with the Lucille Clifton poem above. They had SO MUCH to say about what it meant, and it was rejuvenating to hear it. Like, “I wish I had recorded it” level of inspiration.

My favorite line on a student’s reflective paper at the end of the semester was how they planned to do some independent study on their own this summer about social movements and change efforts in their own state, both current and past, because “…I am now suspicious that the state of Texas didn’t teach me everything I should have learned about Texas history.”

“…it takes a whole hand—both hands—to grab hold of hatred”

Today is the anniversary date of what is often referred to (in Tennessee) as the Waffle House shooting. That is an accurate description as far as names go but one that has always felt too impersonal, because part of the loss of life in this shooting was personal to me. One of the people who was killed was my student, DeEbony Groves. She was a social work major and a student to me; more importantly, she was a daughter, a sister, a friend. She frequently ran late, she was a lover of Chick-fil-A, she was a hard worker, working 2 part time jobs while taking a full load of hours each semester. She made bold choices in hairstyles. She was generous with what she had. She believed in sisterhood. She had faith. She had amazing facial expressions and when she sat in the front row of class, you always knew exactly what she was thinking in terms of whatever was being discussed. I could tell you other things about her, but here’s the most important thing:


Her life, and the lives of three others, were cut short due to a senseless tragedy. Beyond the 4 people who were killed, there were others wounded and they along with others who still deal with the trauma of this event.

There are many ways you can honor and remember their loss and pain, across classroom and community settings. On the first anniversary, I had a “teach in” and students learned about public safety measures in their own states that were proposed to address gun violence. Whether you have in person discussions or virtual events or just point people to information and ask them to call or visit their decision makers…we have to do something.

Jason Reynolds is talking about racism in STAMPED: Racism, Antiracism and You when he says “we must be players on the field, on the court, in our classrooms and communities, trying to do right. Because it takes a whole hand—both hands—to grab hold of hatred. Not just a texting thumb and a scrolling index finger.” But, the same principle applies here (and heaven knows there are crossovers in the issues).

If you don’t know where to start in terms of information, here are some of my “go to” sites: Moms Demand Action ( and Every Town ( and the APHA (

And, De Ebony’s amazing, strong, resilient mother has created this foundation to serve and support others: Check it out too.

“Joy is an act of resistance” (and into every life a little RAIN must fall)

In 2020 I happened upon a group called the Resistance Revival Chorus and they have been on steady repeat in my playlists ever since. At the end of one of their songs, they share that the poet Toi Derricotte says “Joy is an act of resistance”.

I have said that many times since then, and I agree with it, but in the past few days I have wished I could feel it on a cellular level. I am “pandemic good” (i.e. good all things considered) but so weary of so many things. I feel burnt out in so many ways and have a hard time remembering what even brings me joy. I feel unvalued and unworthy and did I mention exhausted. I had both rage and tears, all before 7:30 this morning. It was a dark beginning.

And I do believe that to be able to choose joy in these moments is an amazing act of resistance. But I didn’t have any pool of joy to pull from. Enter RAIN.

I am not a woo-woo person, and sometimes when people talk about mind/body connections I just don’t get it. I see the importance of it but I don’t get it. I don’t like to meditate in a traditional sense. I am not really good at practicing mindfulness but I am working on it.

So…about a year ago I learned this RAIN method of tuning in to what I am feeling and sensing what it is I need. As I mentioned, I am still learning to practice this and learning it is okay to feel my feelings, the whole range of them. You can learn more about it here and practice the technique with a guided recording as well:

R—Recognize What Is Happening

A—Allow Life to Be Just as It Is

I—Investigate ­with a Gentle, Curious Attention

N—Nurture with Loving Presence

I have practiced this a couple of times today alone. (As I mentioned, it has been a day.) And there was a space in between where I had a chance to choose joy, and I did. And it felt good.

As Victor Frankl noted: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

Here’s to recognizing more spaces.

“I didn’t try to register for you”: The power and strength of Fannie Lou Hamer

I can’t remember how old I was when I learned about the life and work of Fannie Lou Hamer, but I know I was older than I should have been. I find that with my students too; while a few of them have heard her name, most have not. In my Social Movement and Social Change class this semester, we have spent a couple of weeks focusing on the Civil Rights movement/era in the US, and one of the readings was Fannie Lou Hamer’s testimony before the Credentials Committee of the Democratic National Convention.

This image is from the Library of Congress: Fannie Lou Hamer at the Democratic National Convention, 1964

You can listen to this testimony at the site below. Content Warning: There are several references to violence where she is recounting what she endured after registering to vote.

While her most famous quote might be “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired”, I think her words that best illustrate her power and her resolve are Sometimes it seem like to tell the truth today is to run the risk of being killed. But if I fall, I’ll fall five feet four inches forward in the fight for freedom. I’m not backing off.

Here are other places where you can learn about her life and work to bring about political and social change:

“Memory knows before knowing remembers”— Using Memorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoir in teaching about trauma

Memorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoir is by Natasha Trethewey and it was published in 2020. The quote in the title of this post is from William Faulkner, used by the author in her work. I finished the book last week, as was assigned in an integrated learning community (ILC) that I am teaching in this semester. The concept of an ILC is part of our general education program, and every student is required to complete it.

Each ILC consists of two courses where a topic is explored through two different academic or professional disciplines. There are ILCs on wellness, ancient wisdom, diversity, and all kinds of other topics, including the one I teach in, which is on trauma and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). The course I teach is a standard Human Behavior in the Social Environment course with a heavy grounding in how the experiences of ACEs and other trauma have the potential to impact individual development throughout the lifespan. The second course, taught my colleague who is a faculty member in the English department, is a literature and writing course. At the same time students are learning about human development and adversity (and resilience and post traumatic growth) from a social work perspective, they are also reading memoirs and novels that have a connection to trauma and we are able to apply the concepts we are learning in the social work class to the experience of the characters in each book.

The first full novel they have read this semester is Trethewey’s Memorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoir. Trethewey is a former Poet Laureate and Pulitzer prize winner in poetry. She also, at age 19, experienced the trauma of her mother’s murder by her step-father. Prior to section of the memoir when her mother meets Big Joe (the stepfather) we learn a good deal of the author’s family history. In particular we learn about the marriage between her mother (an African American woman) and her father (a white Canadian man) in Mississippi at a time when miscegenation was still illegal, and we also learn about her grandmother and extended family history in the Delta region of Mississippi. We learn about the value her family places on education. We learn about the community she spends her childhood in, and how that environment shaped her and her identity.

After she and her mother move to Atlanta, we see through her eyes what “white flight” looks like, and we see the resulting impact on schools. We also meet Big Joe, who will become her step father. If you have ever used or seen the Power and Control Wheel and the Cycle of Violence, you will recognize all of his behaviors and the relationship dynamics.

Throughout the author’s adolescence, we continue to see her protective factors, including the relationship between her and her mother. We also see the limitations of the legal and criminal justice system with response to survivors of intimate partner violence. There are likely other ways you could use this book in teaching, but these are just a few.

And, throughout, the author weaves in her memories of that time with her current reflections and processing on the trauma. She finds there is power in remembering rather than avoiding. As she says toward the end “Even my mother’s death is redeemed in the story of my calling, made meaningful rather than merely senseless. It is the story I tell myself to survive.”

Happy birthday, Rosa Parks

“Memories of our lives, of our works and our deeds will continue in others.” I am making a short post in honor of Rosa Parks’ birthday, born this day in 1913.

I learned about Rosa Parks in high school (maybe before, but I definitely remember high school) and I learned about her in the conventionally wrong way. I learned that she was tired, and finally having had enough, and decided not to give up her seat on the bus. And (so I learned) by doing this she unknowingly started one of the most well known campaigns of the Civil Rights Movement. This erroneous teaching strips the power away from not only this aspect of the movement, but also from the fact that Mrs. Parks was an advocate for many years before and after the Bus Boycott.

I was SO MANY YEARS OLDER when I started learning the fuller history, and I always try to make sure students know the fuller history as well. This recent opinion piece in the NYT is good, and I love the truth of the title: “The Real Rosa Parks Story is Better Than the Fairy Tale”

I also really like this piece from the perspective of her niece, and there are some photos in there I had not seen before:

Finally, I always like to make sure my students (here in Tennessee) know about Mrs. Parks time at the Highlander Folk School, and here is a good history of that:

Black history is American history

Black history is American history, all year long, not just in February. That being said, the textbooks and curriculum most often used in the US still minimizes the contributions of Black people with respect to scientists, educators, inventors, writers, and others. As Sachel Harris wrote in February of 2020, “With 80% of teachers being white and 40% of all public schools not having a single teacher of color, Black students across the country are being robbed of the opportunity to see themselves in what they’re studying” (

This February I am committed to being more intentional about incorporating Black history into my teaching (and into my own daily life, to know more as a human and to teach my children). To give me some much needed structure, I am going to use the prompts provided by Rachel Cargle on her Facebook page and website, which she has given permission for public sharing and use. You can access it here: I am sure I will not have the mental bandwidth or time to post here every day, but I hope to share in shorter form on social media and write longer posts here with information about what I have learned and how I have shared it with others.

I also found this helpful, the history of Black History Month, from O, The Oprah Magazine:

And now, off to learn about the Middle Passage and Port Makers Project.

Centering other voices: The US and the 4th of July

This semester I am teaching a class called Social Movement and Social Change. It is the first time I have taught this course, though I had a bit of trial run last semester when I incorporated the themes of resistance in my section of the First Year Seminar. There are 25 students in class, a good mix of majors and experiences. We are using the book We the Resistance, which I have written about here before and this group of students is loving the book as well

Just as the freshman in my class said last semester, they are learning about events in our country’s history that they have not learned at all in history classes, or (if the topic has been addressed), it has been addressed in a whitewashed fashion.

The book includes Frederick Douglass’s speech “What to a slave is the 4th of July?” and none of my students recognized it as something they had heard before. After they read it, I shared this with them as well, of Douglass’ descendants reading his words:

from NPR, July 2020

We had such good discussion about this; so many students (I teach at a PWI) acknowledged they had never thought about this. A couple of my students of color (one Black, and one who is Japanese American) articulated their appreciation of having this discussion, and not assuming that we could all equally celebrate this day. We also got into discussions of what patriotism really looks like (this was a couple of weeks after Jan 6).

Later that week, I found these pieces that coincided with another part of history we were reading about: forced removal of indigenous people from their lands, and the colonization of the sovereign nation of Hawaii. Students were crushed to learn more about the Indian Removal Act, the Trail of Tears, and the coup against Queen Liliuokalani in Hawaii. They were also inspired to learn about the acts of nonviolent resistance that people demonstrated, particularly the Ho-Chunk nation in what would become Wisconsin, and the Queen’s actions herself, including demanding an audience with President McKinley.

So, to go along with the historical documents they were reading, I shared these pieces with my students: “We are not Americans, we will die as Hawaiians” ( and a blog post from the National Museum of the American Indian, “Do American Indians Celebrate the 4th of July?”

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, students were in disbelief and embarrassed that they have not thought about these perspectives before. I told them that while they might feel like they are in a history class right now instead of a social work class, that it was important to understand the context and origins of the injustice we see in current time. Centering other voices is a key part of growing our understanding.