“Ain’t I a Woman?”

A couple of weeks ago I came across this piece on the origin of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs while searching for resources on the role of Black women in suffrage work https://womensmuseum.wordpress.com/2018/02/21/lifting-as-we-climb-the-story-of-americas-first-black-womens-club/ This picture, which I found on the museum website, is fierce and I can feel the strength of these women reaching through time.

In my same search, I also found this review from the New York Times on a book called Finish the Fight , portraying other diverse voices who fought for women’s right to vote: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/24/books/finish-the-fight-excerpt.html

I love history, and I think of myself as a fairly well rounded reader, but there were so many names and details in each of these brief reads that I didn’t know. When I learned about women’s suffrage, I mostly learned about Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, sprinkled with a little Alice Paul and Dorothy Day. I had never heard of Zitkala-Sa or Mabel Ping-Hua Lee and others. And the women whose names were familiar to me (Ida B. Wells Barnett and Frances Ellen Watkins Harper and Sojourner Truth) created more impact than I knew. The resources I came across were a good and necessary reminder that it took the work of many women to gain the right to vote. Bigger than the issue of suffrage, it also makes me wonder how many other names I need to learn as I work to recognize with gratitude all people who have worked and are working toward the beloved community.

One last resource to share, from The Sojourner Truth Project: a selection of video recordings of her famous speech “Ain’t I a Woman?” in contemporary Afro-Dutch dialects https://www.thesojournertruthproject.com/the-readings. I love hearing her truth in other voices.

Explicitly naming it: Looking through a racial equity lens (and a 21 day challenge to help you get in the habit)

In a late night class prep session for my Policy I course, I came across this article on “Applying a Racial Equity Lens to Housing Policy Analysis”. If you are interested in affordable housing, racial equity, connections of both to our public school systems and developing targeted solutions to problems, you should read this: https://housingmatters.urban.org/articles/applying-racial-equity-lens-housing-policy-analysis

If you are not a policy wonk (yet), however, I propose there is a part of this article that is worth thinking about, and that is the importance of explicitly naming something. These authors discuss the importance of naming the inequity that has resulted from structural racism embedded in policies. Being explicit and honest about the way that racism has been embedded in policy (whether housing policy, education policy, welfare policy, etc) is a first step toward identifying thoughtful, anti-racist solutions. And it is a necessary step, because we can’t address something we aren’t honest about naming in the first place.

This is true in policies, in our family life, in our congregate life of faith. It is true in our individual relationships at work and in other community spaces. I have to be honest, unflinchingly so, about the ways racism has permeated my actions and about the ways I have benefited from racist structures even if I didn’t take an active role in it.

Along these lines, I came across this 21 day challenge: https://www.eddiemoorejr.com/21daychallenge/ For 21 days you are challenged to do one action (Read, Listen, Watch, Notice, Connect, etc). I started it recently and there are so many wonderful resources and suggestions for actions there, just waiting for you. This seems like it would be a great challenge for students, friend groups, work groups, faith community groups and others to do together.

Challenge yourself!

Photo by Shane Aldendorff on Pexels.com

Uncomfortable conversations

I have heard a number of calls this summer for the need to “get comfortable with being uncomfortable” in terms of talking about racism, effects of racism, police violence, polarizing politics, and more. I agree that it is important to have these, and I also think it is important to prepare for them. Fortunately, there are many resources available to help with having those conversations.

This is a good Ted Talk to set the foundation: 3 Steps to Having Difficult Conversations: https://ideas.ted.com/3-steps-to-having-difficult-but-necessary-conversations

I have shown this before in class with college students, but it would also be appropriate for community settings and high school students as well. From this Ted Talk you can go into establishing some boundaries and expectations for your own uncomfortable conversation. The Center for Research on Teaching and Learning at the University of Michigan has some great guidelines for discussing difficult and “high stakes” topics that I have also used a number of times, and they are also relevant to helping people prepare for leading these kinds of conversations in multiple settings (faith communities, classrooms, K-12 school meetings): http://crlt.umich.edu/publinks/generalguidelines Teaching Tolerance has a curriculum for having difficult conversations that is built for K-12 settings, but can also be adapted easily for use in higher education and community settings http://www.tolerance.org/sites/default/files/general/TT%20Difficult%20Conversations%20web.pdf

As an added bonus, Emmanuel Acho has developed a collection of videos called Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man. These are videos that can be useful for families to watch together, they could be used in classrooms, they are a tool for you to watch and reflect on personally and then discuss with someone. You can learn more about this work, his upcoming book, and see the videos here: https://uncomfortableconvos.com/ I especially have valued the one addressing race and religion (episode 7), as well as the one about helping parents to raise children to see color (episode 3). The videos are one way to start your own conversation in your own community, whether that is your family, your faith community, or your community of learners.

Colorism and The Vanishing Half

Yesterday I was at the dentist and at the mercy of what they had on the television. It happened to be Good Morning America which is not something I would normally tune into, but I am so glad it was on during my cleaning because I got to see their discussion of colorism. Here is the link to the segment and the transcript: https://www.goodmorningamerica.com/style/story/colorism-people-color-overcome-insecurities-biases-71875856

Earlier this summer I heard an interview on NPR with Brit Bennet, author of The Vanishing Half. The link to this interview is here:https://www.npr.org/2020/06/05/870303515/brit-bennett-set-her-novel-50-years-ago-she-didnt-expect-it-to-be-timely

Last week I had the chance to read the book and it was AMAZING. Great character development, a book that spans generations, deals with racism, family stories, family secrets, identity struggles, and….colorism.

This would be a fun book selection and interview/segment review for a group of friends wanting to learn and enjoy the story. It would be a great book critique assignment and mini lesson for a diversity class in any discipline, and it would be a useful component of an Employee Resource Group examining issue such of diversity and inclusion and equity. In short, this collection of resources on colorism is good learning for a variety of contexts.

“Her death hit in waves. Not a flood, but water lapping steadily at her ankles. You could drown in two inches of water. Maybe grief was the same.”

― Brit Bennett, The Vanishing Half

Getting in good trouble: Teaching and learning about John Lewis and CT Vivian

We lost two great men this weekend, two original builders of beloved community: Congressman John Lewis and Rev CT Vivian. They were friends, fellow activists, fellow servants, and left this earth on the same day. People may be more familiar with John Lewis because of his longtime service in Congress, but each of these men were faithful in their work with Dr. King in the Civil Rights movement and faithful in their work in pursuit of the Beloved Community throughout their lives.

Here are some great resources to use in teaching or in learning about these men, their legacy, and how we can build on their work:

I just saw the documentary John Lewis: Good Trouble which came out earlier this month. It tells Lewis’ personal story and also the broader story of activist work during the Civil Rights Movement. The documentary also switches back and forth from the past to the present. As you are seeing footage of the work that went into getting the Voting Rights Act passed, you next are watching news clips and footage from 2013 and beyond that show acts of voter suppression. For teaching about voting rights alone, this documentary would be great for social work policy classes, US history classes, and political science classes. Beyond the voting rights work and voter suppression concerns of today, another powerful piece of this documentary was seeing the young college students in Nashville undergo training to be prepared for the lunch counter sit ins, and seeing the footage of the sit ins. It brings a good topic for reflection/discussion: What is the work I am called to do? What change am I to be a part of? How am I making myself ready?

It was also really poignant to hear John Lewis’ brothers and sisters talk about him when he was younger, and talk about his preaching to the chickens, his desire for education, his faith. It made me think of his brothers and sisters and parents as “good ancestors” in that they could envision his future work and they supported him how they could so that he could prepare. What is the work that we need to do in order that we can be a good ancestor for racial equity and for justice for all?

You can see this on Amazon Prime, Google Play and other digital platforms on demand. I watched it on Amazon Prime for 6.00.

A few years ago, the March trilogy of graphic novels was published (authored by Lewis, and Andrew Aydin and Nate Powel) to tell the story of key events in the Civil Rights movement. Though alot of times we associate graphic novels with kids, these are beautiful novels. Here is a reading guide developed for university students to accompany the first book and could be adapted for any university discipline or really any community setting: https://sites.lsa.umich.edu/marchingforward/wp-content/uploads/sites/500/2017/06/MARCH_ReadingGuide.pdf

One of my favorite “modern prophets” is the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. Here is a soundbite from him about how we can honor the work of John Lewis via policy action: https://www.msnbc.com/am-joy/watch/john-lewis-remembered-by-rev-dr-william-barber-87937093681 and here is a longer written piece by Barber along these lines: https://www.thenation.com/article/activism/john-lewis-obituary-prophet/

Here is a commentary from Sojourners that is a beautiful look at the faith that drove CT Vivian in his civil rights activism: C.T. Vivian Wanted Us to Remember: The Civil Rights Movement Was Deeply Spiritual. https://sojo.net/articles/ct-vivian-wanted-us-remember-civil-rights-movement-was-deeply-spiritual In this you can see the power of a faithful grandparent in the shaping of a young child, and a young man who saw God in his work.

Here is a Library of Congress Oral History interview with C.T. Vivian, recorded in 2011 for the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. https://www.loc.gov/item/2015669105/ It is a 4 hour interview but rich with detail. He talks about his childhood in the Depression, and also how his mother and grandmother planned ahead and moved so he could be educated in a desegregated school and eventually go to college. (Talk about some visionary women!) He talks about his early work in sit ins in Illinois, his shift from business when he got the call to ministry, how he and his wife answered that call. It is answering that call to ministry which brings him to his time in Nashville at American Baptist Theological Seminary, where he met other civil rights activists including John Lewis. Both Vivian and Lewis learned from James Lawson, and this is where Vivian began to practice the principles of nonviolent direct action in the sit ins of Nashville and other locations. Some of the most emotional and poignant detail is when he is reflecting on organizing the plans for the 1961 Freedom Rides and the commitment to nonviolent action even when others are acting with violence toward you. He also talks about other events in that era that are less well known (or at least, were less well known to me) and shares how he learned of Dr. King’s assassination and of traveling to Memphis after he got the news. Aside from learning history, and first hand reflections on strategies of non violent direct action, this interview also really illustrates the importance of relationships and being in community with people who have the same vision and commitment as you do. It is powerful.

And finally, along the lines of relationships, see these fierce and faithful men looking at the jailers, convinced in the rightness of the work they were doing:

Reflections of a baby addict: (We have to address disproportionality in child welfare)

I love babies. My children call me a baby addict. I love their coos, their squishy cheeks, their ability to wrap grown people around their tiny fingers…and most of all, I love their potential. So much potential to create, heal, inspire…wrapped up in a blanket and often with a stinky diaper. All kids have it (the potential, and the stinky diaper)…but we have a child welfare system (a system created to protect children) that creates inequity and in this sense goes in opposition to its direct mission.

I worked in child welfare before I had my kids. On a purely personal level, my deep desire is that all kids have someone to love them as much as I love my kids. I don’t have a perfect track record as a mother but I love them with my whole heart. Every kid deserves that kind of love. On a professional level, my deep desire is to address disproportionality in child welfare systems.

Disproportionality means that there is an underrepresentation of some groups, and an overrepresentation of others. What we hear most about in terms of this issue is the overrepresentation of African American and American Indian/Alaskan Native children (they are more likely to be removed from their parents’ homes, more likely to have placements in group care settings than foster homes, etc). That’s my focus here today.

It is important to look at disparity in how we work with families and children, because disparity in approach leads to inequity in outcomes. If you train social workers or other helping professionals, or teach people who want to be these things in the future, I hope the resources at the end of this post help you frame a discussion and class session.

If you are not a social worker or other helping professional, you still have a voice in this and a role to play. Every state has a public child welfare system that should be concerned about this issue. Look on their website and see what they are doing to address disproportionality. Ask them to fully fund resources that work with families and children at the stages of prevention and early intervention. Ask them how they train their employees to be culturally sensitive. If you want to volunteer in child welfare, no matter where you live in the US, you could be a CASA (court appointed special advocate) or serve on the foster care review board (FCRB) for your county.

There are so many ways to make a difference in the life of a child!

Here’s a general collection of resources on this issue: https://www.childwelfare.gov/topics/systemwide/cultural/disproportionality/

And an amazing Ted Talk: To Transform Child Welfare, Take Race out of the Equation

And here’s a 13 minute video from C-Span on racial disproportionality in child welfare:


Don’t want to protest? Don’t worry, I have 197 other ideas for you.

Sometimes we want to show our support for a cause, but we don’t know how. Sometimes there are visible ways (like protest marches) of how we could show alliance, but not everyone is able or comfortable in this, and that’s okay. There are lots of other ways, at least 197, that you can show your support for a cause without marching.

In Fall 2020 I will be teaching, for the first time, First Year Seminar. The general theme for FYS at my institution is “ways of knowing”, but it is a course that can be shaped by every professor who teaches it. There are a lot of interesting sessions on any given year, and this year my particular section of the course is called “Yes We Can! The Power of Resistance and Nonviolent Protest”. I developed this theme because this (the study of social movements) is my favorite part to teach about in the community practice class, but I never have as much time as I want to spend on it. So this semester I will be exploring a whole range of non violent protests and other forms of resistance in achieving social change.

When I teach this part of community practice class, one of the resources I have students review and reflect on (in written form) before they come to class is this piece from the Einstein Institute: 198 Methods of Nonviolent Action (available here: https://www.aeinstein.org/nonviolentaction/198-methods-of-nonviolent-action/)

I ask students to review the list and identify any actions that they have done, any that they would do, and any that they most certainly would not do, just to get a sense of the range. I also invite them to ask about any strategies that they have never heard of before, or any that they don’t understand. (In this vein, students often ask about mock funerals and guerilla theatre, so be ready to explain those, at least). This discussion leads us into our discussions on how we show solidarity with people, what does it mean to become an ally, and broader discussions about working for social change while being creative and acting in accordance with your ethics/beliefs. This piece, also from the Einstein Institute, is a good general discussion of what non-violent action is: https://www.aeinstein.org/nonviolentaction/what-is-nonviolent-action/

This would be good for any macro system level class in social work, education, sociology, etc and could also have a place in social science courses across disciplines. I think it would also be an interesting discussion for churches and other faith groups to consider and discuss, since they are already a collective engaged body and can mobilize other faith groups to action.

What does it mean to say”I am anti-racist” ? Questions from a former student

I have done most of my teaching since the onset of social media. There are several implications of this, but one of the most significant is that I still get to have a relationship with many of my students after they graduate and I am no longer ever in a position to give them a grade for anything. For the students who choose to “friend” or “follow” me, I love this way of maintaining connection.

Last week I got a message from a former student via Facebook. She asked if she could ask me a question. When I responded in the affirmative, she said she had been thinking about the term “anti-racist” and she said it had made her wonder if the use of the term would be or could be counter productive. One of her concerns was that the use of the term “anti” signals intolerance and that the use of the term would be divisive. Her other major concern was that the use of the term sounds like the end goal has been achieved and would, in essence, give people a pass on continually exploring their implicit biases and more subtle ways that we are shaped by racist ideology.

I thought these were great questions. I love it when my students (current or former) ask questions that make me think. Here is part of my response to her: “I would say that saying ‘I am anti-racist’ is acknowledgement of a journey, not a destination. And saying ‘I am anti-racist’ is more active and action oriented than being ‘not a racist’…meaning, in the first scenario someone is taking responsibility for their actions and is intentionally aware of racist structures in our country. While in the second scenario people could honestly say they are not racist in the sense that they may not be actively individually engaging in racist behavior. However, they are not antiracist because they are still complicit in benefitting from the broader systemic and structural racism.”

I also shared some resources with her that I had found helpful: What it means to be anti-racist: https://www.vox.com/2020/6/3/21278245/antiracist-racism-race-books-resources-antiracism and the Talking About Race resources from the National Museum of African American History and Culture https://nmaahc.si.edu/learn/talking-about-race and specifically the Being Antiracist link from the museum: https://nmaahc.si.edu/learn/talking-about-race/topics/being-antiracist

Black Lives Matter: How you can help a student (or anyone) think through the problems with the statement “All lives matter”

I remember the first time I talked about Black Lives Matter in a classroom that someone voiced “but all lives matter”. I feel like I had been coasting along, talking about the BLM movement for a couple of semesters, when one evening (because of course it was a night class at the end of a long day) one of my students said she thought the statement “All lives matter” was a better reflection of her beliefs and perspective, both as a person of faith and as a social worker to be. I was taken off guard, though I shouldn’t have been, because I know social work students (just like social workers) are not uniform in how we interpret and experience the world around us. However, I was taken off guard, and my first response, to buy me some time, was the old professor standby: asking a question to the class as a whole, of “what arguments have you all heard about why this response is or is not an appropriate response to the statement that ‘Black lives matter’?”

We had some discussion and mercifully, the end of class came. I was dissatisfied in my ability to respond to the student in a way that held space for everyone, in a way that was promoting critical thinking, and in a way that was intentionally inclusive for the (small number) of Black students in the room. So, I thought about it and came back to the class the next week with the image below and used this to lead off discussion. (This particular class meets once each week and I make an announcement a few days before the class to let students know what “the plan” for the class is, so they were clued in to the fact we would be picking up this topic again.) The original source of the image below is https://chainsawsuit.com/comic/2016/07/07/all-houses-matter-the-extended-cut/

I had also used the time between classes to think about my own honest response as to why I find the phrase “all lives matter” problematic. I shared this with the student who raised the issue in the previous class in a private email, because I wanted her to know she had helped me by asking her question, and I also wanted her to know why I was bringing the topic back up again and that it wasn’t “at” her, but that I hoped it would be a learning moment for all of us.

The use of the graphic and me sharing my thoughts in a transparent way were both helpful in “furthering the work” of the conversation. And, though I wish I had had “the best” response in the moment of the original question, coming back to it the following week also modeled for students that it is okay to not have perfect words, but that what is required is willingness to keep thinking and keep growing.

If you are looking for other creative ways to help students think through this same question, I thought this list was helpful as well: https://www.vox.com/2016/7/11/12136140/black-all-lives-matter