The Truth About Leadership

This is part one of a multi-part blog series. If you are so inclined, I welcome your feedback.

I’ve been thinking about something lately that I can’t seem to get off my mind. It’s the idea that too few people write honestly about leadership. It’s all sunshine and rainbows, but not really. The truth is that leadership is incredibly hard. It is challenging, some days more than others, and it does not always feel great or good. Sometimes it can feel scary or unnerving and other times it can be purely exhilarating and full of joy. But nobody writes about the scary and unnerving times. It’s all about how to be great, how to lead with courage, how to set a great example for others to follow. Sure we all need encouragement and being positive is necessary, but sometimes I just want people to tell the truth about leading. It is tough, and the only way out of the tough parts is through. I’m not going to wait any longer for someone to be real and write about the rawness of leadership. I’m doing it. Here goes nothing. In this blog series, I’ll be writing about the hard parts of leadership because there are too many leaders who feel alone in their experiences because so many simply won’t tell the truth.

Nothing is more demoralizing than a leader who lacks authenticity. One who does the things they think they are supposed to do because they want to be sure they live up to the idea of leadership that others promote. During my time in leadership, being committed to being authentic has been a blessing and a curse. Some appreciate it. Others are uncomfortable with it, and usually they are uncomfortable with the opinions others have of them as well if they aren’t all glowing and positive. But the truth is that if you are a leader, you can guarantee that you will be criticized, not liked by some, and it will not feel good. I’m not writing to tell you that you should not care when others don’t care for you. I’m writing to tell you that it is normal to feel concerned when others criticize your decisions, your leadership style, etc. But that concern doesn’t have to be coupled with conformity. Want to get yourself in a rat race that you’ll never win? Try pleasing everyone. You’re sure to burnout fast. By doing what you believe to be the best thing for the people in your organization and those you serve, you lead. You stand on what you believe in and you accept the criticism where it is warranted and respect the differing opinions of others as leaders should. But make sure you don’t fall victim to losing your authenticity as a leader-what makes you….YOU.

In my experience, I’ve had the opportunity to work with and observe many leaders. Time and time again, I’ve watched folks lose themselves in their leadership. Either taken over by ego or reduced by a few loud voices of criticism, they begin to not even recognize themselves. While leadership and the experiences that come with it are sure to impact you, and if powerful enough maybe even change you, your core values must remain solid. The moment you find yourself shifting in what you believe to be right, just, and equitable for all, or consider taking action in a way that contradicts what you believe, you must reconsider your leadership journey. It could mean you aren’t in the right environment or it could mean you’ve allowed the pressures of leading rather than the privilege of leading to drive you. Because leadership is a privilege, and those who lead should never forget that. In those times when I have faced criticism, I’ve had to work to remain balanced and find the sweet spot between taking it too personally and disregarding it all together. It’s the middle ground of giving consideration where it is warranted, but not allowing it to produce a level of self-doubt that negatively impacts me and my ability to lead that has worked best for me. And finding that balance is a never ending journey.

Real leaders reckon with remaining authentic and true to themselves all the time. I am not sure why few share this experience and so many resort to telling the sugar coated stories of leading. My leadership journey, while full of great experiences, has equally been filled with sleepless nights, stressful days, anxious nerves, wonderings of regret, fearful and tearful moments and conversations, and more. That’s because leadership is hard. It is not easy, and it is especially not easy if your greatest goal is to be an authentic leader who accepts yourself, your flaws, your mistakes, your errors as well as you accept your accolades and accomplishments. This is a mammoth task. It requires a level of personal and professional security that is solid enough withstand the winds of change, the voices of criticism, and the uncertainty of it all.

But I am determined to be as authentic of a leader as possible. I’m not afraid to admit that leadership is the hardest task I have ever embarked upon, and it’s been a challenge at every level, big or small, school, district, or state. However, I recognize that what has kept me in it is remaining true to myself, my core values, and real in my relationships with others. That is the stabilizing force in the journey-the authenticity- of it all. I implore others who lead to join me in telling the truth about leadership. It will help all of us.

Until next time, be you. Be true! Be a hope builder!

Latoya

@latoyadixon5

Certain In Uncertain Times

Since March and the pandemic began, I’ve struggled. Every social pattern I’ve had has been disrupted: family, friends, associates. My sleep overs with my nieces, shopping and dinner out with my mom & sisters, and time with friends laughing and cutting up …gone. And to make things more interesting, I started a new job last January. A new job means “new” people, new relationships, new vulnerabilities. It’s been a struggle, but it did not make sense to me until today. I just finished reading Brene’ Brown’s book The Gifts of Imperfection. It’s the best self help I’ve received since March.

Self-doubt is dangerous. It’s especially dangerous when one feels that everything is uncertain and unpredictable. It’s easy place to go when we are “new” at something. In some ways, second guessing ourselves can feel safer than believing in ourselves. It means if things go awry, I can say, “I knew it would.” But I’ve never been one to be afraid of failing, until recently. I’ve checked all the boxes, attained all the degrees, and built a reputable career. And all of a sudden, I get a new job and a pandemic ensues. Timing really is everything.

Here’s what I recognize: I must dig deep into what’s always worked for me: Believing in myself. Self doubt didn’t earn me-a kid of poverty, of a single parent, who grew up in government housing, on free lunch every year, struggled over and over again-any thing I’ve ever accomplished. Believing in myself, however, did. And that should never change-pandemic or not. And further, I am more than the sum of my accomplishments.

I’ve not blogged in some time, but I’m ready now, and I implore you to join me in not making these uncertain times make you uncertain of yourself. You are enough. I am enough. And it will all be ok.

Now, go read that book I mentioned. And enjoy every moment of life because if anything should teach us that life is too short, a global pandemic ought to be sufficient.

Thankful,

Latoya

Purposefully Present

Like many of us, my mind has been accustomed to anticipating the future and making decisions as a leader that best prepares the team for what is likely coming next. In fact, I find a great deal of comfort and pride in my ability to be forward thinking and believe it to be one of my best skills. But this time that we are living in has changed that. None of us can predict, with any level of certainty or confidence, what may be coming next. Stability can only be found in being sure that life, work, and play as we once knew it is in an ongoing cycle of change. Change is the new constant. And if change was difficult for humans pre-COVID, we can all expect this time period to be one of the most challenging and significant periods of our lifetime.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t share how disruptive this has been for me personally and professionally. And I believe this to be true for almost all of us. Disruption causes discomfort, but in an attempt to shift my thinking I’ve been reminded that it can also be the birthplace of innovation. I am choosing to see it as an opportunity to reinvent myself, to reinvent how we do the work in public education, and ultimately, create a better and more equitable system for all children. It seems that even with knowing we were in the midst of a public education system riddled with too much standardized testing, not enough social emotional learning or personalization, many of us find ourselves longing for what we knew-even though we know it wasn’t the best way to support and lead teaching and learning. It’s a classic lesson and it teaches us that every thing that is comfortable to us isn’t good for us. And without being forced to take on a new perspective, many of us would not be able to let go of the past-no matter how unproductive it has been for many students and educators.

Reinventing ourselves can be exciting work. We get to start over and clarify our values and beliefs. We can create healthier and happier versions of ourselves. We can make our work what we desire it to be instead of feeling stuck in a system that we know doesn’t work for all children. But this period of significance can also be accompanied by fear and anxiety. Not knowing is the height of discomfort and that is why we must solidly rely on what we do know. I am choosing to concentrate on those eternal principles that will never change: 1. Relationships matter a great deal. In the end, it’s our relationships with others that carry us through and make our lives meaningful. I intend to use this pandemic to create and build on those friendships and relationships that matter most to me. 2. The needs of the children must come first. With all the conversation regarding learning loss, it’s easy to gloss over those other needs-safety, security, food, shelter, hope-that our children all have and may even be heightened as a result of this pandemic. When we stop to ask ourselves what it is that our children need, we need to be gut level honest. We cannot make their social emotional needs less important than their need to learn. Both matter a great deal, and quite frankly it is about both need and readiness. If we don’t work to be sure our children are ready to learn, we will miss the opportunity to meet their need to learn. Let’s not assume that the only need for our children is to recover the learning they’ve lost. We all know being academically successful is built on a foundation of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. We need to be attuned to that with a precise focus. 3. The most difficult work can only be done successfully if we work well together. Collaboration is necessary for success, and during this time I find it to be essential. If we aren’t pulling our team together to share the load, engage in powerful discourse about next steps, and support each other, we can be sure that we’ve succumbed to an approach that is purely centered on surviving. As hard as things are, we need to survive and thrive, and in my mind the thriving part has never been more important.

I am hopeful that we can all take this opportunity to reinvent ourselves and our work in ways that benefit us and those we serve beyond this pandemic. My goal is to come out happier, stronger, and a better leader than before. To do that, I’ll have to let go of my need to anticipate what is coming next and focus on being purposefully present-enjoying every good and happy moment life offers, making the most of my experiences, and finding joy in knowing that moving through this pandemic one day at a time is more than o.k. instead of thinking ahead. I’m committed to being purposefully present and collecting all the joy I can find.

Until next time, be you. Be true. Be a hope builder.

Detoxing: A mind, body, & spirit experience.

During the time I have been detoxing from social media, I have found myself alone with my thoughts. I can’t fill the empty spaces with scrolling or reading a feed of some sort, so I sit and I think, and reflect, and gather my feelings. It’s amazing how much social media can add to our emotional lives and at the same time, lead us to a place where we know our feeds better than ourselves. In this month of cleansing my mind by taking a break from social media, journaling, and meditating, I have found myself nose to nose with some of my deepest fears, aspirational goals, and emotional needs. I can’t hide from what’s inside by distracting myself by absorbing the thoughts, opinions, and reflections of others posted for all to see. In this season, I am alone with my thoughts and feelings. And for now, I think that is a good thing.

I’m not one to watch much television, so aside from my binge watching of Season 5 of Greenleaf in two days, I’ve sat quietly quite a bit. Sometimes sitting outside staring up at the clouds and letting my mind be free from its’ usual distractions. Other times, sitting on the couch and taking a minute to just be still. Something I rarely do as my type A personality views time spent idle and unproductive to be one of life’s many ways to practice a lack of discipline. Yet, I have found that this time of stillness has been much needed. It has helped me to clarify what is important to me, to set my intentions around how I wish to spend this next phase of my life, my career, and determine which personal relationships I need to nurture more. I remain a solid believer that my need for deep, meaningful, and authentic relationships is at the core of who I am, and there is no substitute for that-social media included. I need human interaction, and it appears it may be more beneficial for me to invest more consistently in those relationships and friendships no matter how few they may be in quantity.

I recognize that our empty moments, a minute filled with silence, a pause in the daily grind of life does not have to be filled with scrolling, trolling, or news feeds. It’s more than ok to be still. It’s required to think clearly, to live with intention, and to stay true to one’s self.

I’m posting this blog using an automatic button on WordPress that will post it to Twitter for me, but I won’t be back on social media until next month. And somehow, I know I’ll be better for it in all ways possible.

Until next time, be you! Be true! Be a hope builder!

Latoya

Again.

It has happened again. Jacob Blake. And no, I didn’t watch the video. And I haven’t watched anything about Kyle Rittenhouse either. I’ve read about it, but I can’t watch trauma. It doesn’t help me. Writing does, and so I write. Here’s the full quote that this series of blogs has been centered upon:

Write hard and clear about what hurts. Don’t avoid it. It has all the energy. Don’t worry, no one ever died of it. You might cry or laugh, but not die.” -Ernest Hemingway

The crying part is a definite. Putting my feelings into words seems difficult these days. All I know is that it is a deeply painful time to be Black in America, and acknowledging that pain doesn’t make me ungrateful to be American. It makes me sad and hurt and sick of the attack and murdering of Black and Brown people, and for those who advocate for equal justice with us and for us, but may not look like us. Murder is wrong. There is no debate about that. What will it take for us to all agree on that simple fact? Murdering someone is wrong.

7 times. 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Four numbers I will never forget. George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Aubrey, and now Anthony Huber and Joseph Rosenbaum. What does it say about us when we are working to convince a segment of our society that murder is wrong? Why are we in the midst of a debate about what warrants a violent attack on another human being? There is nothing in my heart that warrants taking another human life, and the idea that folks feel comfortable in justifying what is inhumane and undignified scares me. We are in a dangerous place.

I find myself in a space between fearful and hopeful. I am afraid that it will not end, and that things will get worse before they get better. I am fearful for my friends and my family members. I am fearful that we too, may find ourselves in a dangerous situation subject to the act of violence, harassment, and expression of racism by someone else. But I know I cannot wallow in fear or allow it to lead me through life. And so I hope that others can clearly see that America’s soul is on the line, and quite frankly so is everyone of ours each and every day that we are a part of this world.

I am hopeful that courage and conviction will smother prejudice and bigotry, that love will outweigh hate, that speaking up will override silence, and that good folks, of all races, creeds, and colors, will refuse to give in to a way of the world riddled with too many lives lost at the hands of hatred. I am hopeful that the old will learn from the energy and effort of the young, and the young from the sacrifices of the old. I am hopeful that good will win over evil, that compassion and empathy will override power and privilege, that justice will ring true in our hearts and our lives when we say “with liberty and justice for all.”

Do not give up friends. We cannot relent and we must not retreat. We cannot ignore it. We cannot pretend it is not so. We must press on and continue the work to change it.

And when we feel alone, we must know that our collective spirit of hope, change, justice, and equality has the power to change this nation-one conversation, one decision, one interaction, one friendship at a time. Stay on the battle field. Our children are watching and they need us to plow the ground. For we shall reap what we sow. Let it be love and light.

Until next time-be you! Be true! Be a hope builder!

Confessions of A COVID-19 Summer

A little more personal than usual, but a much needed release. Check out my latest blog post: Confessions of A COVID-19 Summer

Summer has always been my favorite season. Even as a young child, I yearned for the time of year when Momma would let us wear shorts. In our house, you didn’t wear shorts before May 1st. That’s how Momma knew all the potential “cold snaps” had passed. I know cold and April don’t seem to coincide, but that’s how it worked for us. Fast forward 40 years and my nieces are granted the opportunity to wear shorts when they ask-May or not. At any rate, this summer has been a real struggle, and it’s not just because of COVID-19.

Obviously, practicing social distancing has impacted my life. Other than my travel to work and a few socially distant visits with my family, I’ve pretty much been at home. I have gone to the grocery store or drug store as needed wearing my mask, of course. Otherwise I have been at home. I’ve tried to spend more time outdoors and I’ve taken up weighted hula hooping which as been fun and good for my mental health. But beyond COVID-19 and the changes it has forced on us all, I’ve undergone other changes.

I started a new job in January, making the transition from my old job to this one over the holiday break, and I have taken no time off, other than our granted Spring Break, since then. I’ve worked hard to support the work of our district, helping plan for reopening, supporting principals as they work to get ready for the school year, working with my instructional team colleagues to plan and execute professional development. I’ve put together more documents and plans in the span of three months (June-August) than I can remember in a long time. I’ve worked long hours, weekends, and evenings to get things as ready as possible for our district, as have many of my colleagues. And when I find myself saying I am so tired, I feel tremendously guilty. We are all tired. All of us. And I am particularly tired of COVID-19.

My usual travels in the summer have been non-existent. For the last three summers, I’ve traveled to Nova Scotia for what I call my Zen Retreat. There on Locke’s Island, at the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, there is real spotty internet, and not much to do. It is beautiful, and still, and quiet. It forces me to stop, and I can feel my mind at ease while I am there. While there I’ve hiked in Kejimkujik National Park, visited with friends, and been able to simply stop. Of all the places I’ve traveled in my life, it is by far the place where I have found the most peace-mentally and spiritually. And I can tell I have not had that experience this year.

My social interaction with friends, nights out to dinner, travels to the beach or Mountains, gatherings for fun nights of laughter have been missed. I think if I have learned anything during this pandemic it is that we need each other to thrive-not just to survive. Yesterday, I hosted a virtual check in for educators who wanted to just chat and be encouraged. We spent two hours doing just that and I have to say, it was uplifting and as much for me as it was for them. I needed it. I am because others are. My relationships with others serve as a source of energy, inspiration, and much needed stimulation for me. There is no doubt about that.

Each day, I try my best to be positive. Some days I am better at that than others. I try to post something uplifting each morning and set my intentions to have a great day, to be still in my mind and heart, to be a servant, and to give my all and my very best. So many mornings I see that my post has helped someone else and that gives me so much joy and energy to keep going. And in this time of heightened uncertainty, where we can’t be sure of anything other than ourselves and our hearts, I hope we all recognize that at the core of our humanness is a need for connection and relationship. I hope we will all pick up the phone, call a friend, send a text, and have virtual happy hours. I hope we will not become desensitized to COVID-19 and how it has altered the way we work, live, and socialize. I hope we will not let isolation become the norm. I hope we will check on each other regularly, especially our strong friends.

This is a marathon and the road ahead is long. But I’m encouraged because I have an opportunity to strengthen relationships, to build new ones, and to gain clarity about what really matters. As we embark on a new school year, I am exhausted. I am weary, and I am tired, but I am hopeful. And it is that hope that better days are ahead that keeps me going.

The best really is yet to come.

Until Next Time, Be you! Be true! Be a hope builder!

Latoya

@latoyadixon5

Leading Thru Uncertain Times: A Call for Unity

My journey in leadership has not been without challenge, and I’d be dishonest if I said there weren’t times when I was uncertain about my abilities. With experience, both the good and the bad, I’ve learned that doubting yourself every now and again isn’t abnormal. In fact, it helps keep you humble and lead with the same grace you want extended to you when, not if, you make a mistake. If there’s one thing I’m more comfortable with now than ever before, it’s the realization that perfection is not required of leaders. For many of us, we enter this work believing that our job as the leader is to make sure errors don’t happen, to remove obstacles, to avoid pitfalls, and do it all with flawless execution. Nothing could be further from the truth.

While it has taken me many years to come to this realization, I now know that our job is to demonstrate grace under pressure, to set an example of what resilience looks like when things go awry, to be the steady in the times of uncertainty, giving those we serve comfort and reassurance that things will improve and eventually, all will be well. That’s true leadership. It’s our ability to deal with imperfection, uncertainty, and the unexpected that makes us leaders.

In this present time of a global pandemic, this ability to lead under pressure, could not be more important. The country is looking to America’s educators to help return society to the first step of back to normal. Understandably, many educators, like parents and children are afraid. We are living in a world of unknowns, and the lack of control we now have over our everyday lives and our ability to protect ourselves and our loved ones is considerably different than it used to be. Dealing with COVID-19 hasn’t been easy for me. My socialization has been severely restricted. I’ve not been able to see my family on a regular basis, and I’ve missed many social events with friends and colleagues as we are all trying to do our part and stay safe. While my natural tendency is to plan ahead, this pandemic has taken away every measure of discipline I’ve worked so hard to establish. But I’m not giving up, and giving in isn’t an option either.

What leaders need to do now, more than ever, is simple. Unite the members of your organization. In a world where a public health crisis has been over politicized, folks are feeling forced to take a side. Instead, we need leaders who can pull the group together with a focus on what’s right-not who is right.We need to turn our attention away from attacking each other about our personal and political beliefs as educators, and apply that energy to those who are attempting to destroy a foundational cornerstone of American democracy-public education. Educators and those who understand that public education benefits our entire society need one voice, and they need it now. I fear that while many are focused on who is right, those who set policy, administer funds, and decide the future of public education will have stripped the very thing that we all love so dearly, and we will have missed it because we were too focused on who was right instead of what was right.

I challenge every leader, from superintendents, to principals, to teachers to find a way to focus on protecting the institution of public education by working to make it look like it can and should be. This is our chance. The uncertainty we are experiencing has opened a door for us to finally move away from a structure that no longer fits the needs of our children or our country. We have an opportunity to think about teaching and learning in new and unprecedented ways. If we are strategic, and more so united, we can do more than preserve the institution of public education. We can make it a system that works for ALL. We can reduce inequity. We can move away from the billion dollar standardized testing industry that drives our daily operations. We can focus on what children really need, addressing the whole child in a way we haven’t been able to before. We can do this.

Let’s be good stewards of the unknown by embracing this time as a time to reimagine our profession, to bring back the joy to teaching and learning, and to do what our children need us to do: be steady. This will not be an easy task, and it won’t be perfect. Let’s all lead during this uncertain time with the certainty that our profession and public education is a cornerstone of America’s democracy.

We’ve got this.

Moving Beyond Conversation: The Power of Courage & Conviction

This is the fifth blog in my series inspired by Ernest Hemingway’s quote: “Write hard and clear about what hurts.”

In the days following the death of George Floyd, many of us have shared our perspectives about the importance of speaking out and speaking up, along with the detrimental impact of staying silent. I applaud those who have been courageous enough to enter into conversations about race, systemic and structural racism, and it’s traumatic and tragic impact on Black and Brown people in this country. These conversations matter and they are important. They matter more than any statement an organization releases, any text message you send to your Black friends and/or coworkers, or any social media post you make to demonstrate your commitment to anti-racism. But make no mistake, conversations alone won’t bring the kind of change we need to heal this gaping wound in America’s soul. It’s going to take many conversations-not just one to say you care and you’re sorry. And more importantly, it is going to require conviction.

Conviction is the internal signal that we must act. It’s what doesn’t allow us to stay silent. It’s what makes us speak up and take action, when we know the consequences will be great-loss of friends, connections, advantage, and in this situation, power and privilege. Conviction has no connection to fear. It is rooted in an internal and spiritual courage that starts in the soul, travels to the heart, and manifest in the ways we carry ourselves, live our lives, and ultimately the way we think about and treat other people. Conviction-an unrelenting spirit of what we must do, coupled with the hope that our courage will not fail us. When we are convicted about something, about saying something or failing to speak up, about doing something or failing to act, the internal agitation of our heart, mind, and soul will not allow us to escape. We can’t talk our way out of it, negotiate our minds into a different perspective, or substitute our thoughts and feelings with something else. Conviction gives us no choice but to give-give into what we know at our core is right, and more importantly to act on that.

In the days, weeks, and years to come, we don’t just need the courage to remove the names of buildings that are named after those with a legacy of racism and bigotry or to take down statues that have stood for centuries as a symbolic refusal to let go of a dark past filled with hate. We will need folks with both courage and conviction. People whose hearts and souls won’t allow them to gloss over the issue with a conversation. Those who will be awake at night if they don’t act. Those who won’t be able to look at themselves in the mirror if they don’t contribute to the change. Those who worry they may end up living an inauthentic life because they failed to follow the path of their heart and soul. Change won’t come from conversation alone. This kind of change-a new way of thinking, living, and loving one another-requires courage and conviction. I’m leaning into it. I hope you will too.

Until next time,

Latoya

The Cost of Courage: Freedom

This is the fourth blog in my current series inspired by this Ernest Hemingway quote: “Write hard and clear about what hurts.”

In the wake of all of that has happened recently in our nation, I could not help but think of a quote I penned some time ago:

“We are made free by our courage or held hostage by our fear. I choose courage.”

Latoya N. Dixon, Ph.D.

But courage comes with a cost, and I don’t want to fail to acknowledge that. In one of my previous post, I emphasized the implications of being silent in the wake of racism, prejudice and bigotry. While a failure to speak up contributes to the continued mistreatment of those who are victims of hateful thinking, many of my White friends, much of whom view themselves as allies, have shared how difficult they find it to speak up sometimes. This seems to be especially true in their work places and social circles, in spite of social media postings that point to their intentions to live with open minds and hearts. It seems too simple to boil this down to a simple lack of courage, and that’s why I think it is fear that holds these folks hostage.

Fear is a powerful emotion. It can shift thinking, change decisions, and imprison us from living our true and authentic lives. Fear is what keeps us doing things that bring no value to our lives, in relationships that no longer serve a purpose, stay with a job that brings us little to no joy, and in “friendships” that contribute to keeping us fearful rather than giving us the freedom we need to be our authentic selves. As I get older and wiser, (My momma has always said that wisdom comes with age and experience) it has become incredibly important to me that my friendships are authentic and genuine, and because of that my list of friends-real friends, isn’t very long. Authenticity is so very important to me. It means we can be exactly who we are, share our hopes, fears, and imperfections, and mostly it means we are not judged for what we are not. I’ve often wondered how it is that these inauthentic friendships most folks work hard to maintain drive their inability to act with courage. To this end, I have more questions rather than answers, and I’d love to hear from those who struggle with this in an effort to help them find their courage and act upon it.

I imagine that if the majority of us had courage, why did it take so long for the nation to see the intentional and consistent mistreatment of Black and Brown people? Why is it that what has been a lifetime trauma for my Black and Brown brothers and sisters is a new awakened grief for some? What is it that they have been watching? Did they not see what happened to Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Sandra Bland, Botham Jean? Did they not know of the practice of lynching used to keep Blacks fearful and “in their place (Emmett Till)? Were they unfamiliar with the assassination of Blacks who fought for Civil Rights in non-violent and peaceful ways (Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King, Jr.)? This is a blatant stain on the history of America, yet it seems it is almost as if some just saw it. The issue of peaceful protesting isn’t new either. Dr. King’s famous Letter From the Birmingham Jail was a response to eight White clergy from Alabama who criticized King because they believed him to be an extremist and thought his encouragement of protest would cause violence. Two days after Dr. King was released from jail he delivered a sermon in which he outlined his frustration with Whites who suggested his suggestions were too progressive, and his timing was too soon:

“And that’s all we’ve heard: ‘Wait for a more convenient season.’ But I want you to go back and tell those who are telling us to wait that there comes a time when people get tired.”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

But don’t take my word for it. Research the letter from those clergymen for yourself, and then read Dr. King’s Letter From the Birmingham Jail. You’ll quickly see how fear is often seen as the antidote to courage. It was then and it is today.

My challenge to every person (especially educators) who personally and publicly denounces racism is to act with the courage that can create a future we can be proud of and that can help heal the wounds of America’s soul. Being brave isn’t hard when it is about doing what is right: Treating every human being with the dignity and respect he or she deserves, and doing so consistently, regardless of context, space, or time. Courage is the critical piece to moving toward a more perfect union, where justice is established and maintained, and domestic tranquility is real and not just ideal. And if folks who need to find it, can tap into their personal courage, attach themselves to others who are also willing to be courageous, their collective voices can shift this ugly place we’ve been in, things can change, people can change their minds, and their hearts. No matter how divisive things may seem, we are in this world together. Any separation is by choice. But courage is also a choice. And that ‘s what I am choosing. Will you join me?

Until next time, be you. Be true. Be a hope builder.

Latoya

The Price of Selective Silence: Collective Grief

The selective silence of White folks is a major contributor to the collective grief of Black people. It sends a message that the pain my Black and Brown brothers and sisters experience watching our fellow people be killed in the streets of America for no reason is not more painful than the discomfort felt by White people when there is a desire to talk about racism, prejudice, and bigotry. Instead of confronting it head on, some have just carried on business as usual. This repressing of oppression is traumatic for people like me. It’s a constant consideration of someone else’s discomfort over your own personal pain. It is such work to try to figure out how to get through the day, deal with your own grief, without making someone else upset because you’re sad and hurting. It’s emotionally complex enough to cause physical ails and loss of appetite. Anyone who has ever experienced deep emotional pain-the loss of a loved one, an ending of a relationship, or deeply hurt feelings knows exactly what I mean

The grief we are feeling now isn’t due a singular incident or happening. While the death of George Floyd opened the eyes to what racism in America is for many, (i.e. being murdered in the street), it is not this incident alone that brings me such deep pain. It is a collection of experiences with racism and prejudice. It’s the time my White friend invited me to her birthday party in 3rd grade and at the 11th hour her mother called to say too many people were invited and I didn’t make the cut. It’s my sister’s story of waiting for an office hour appointment with a professor and overhearing him use the N-word. It’s being asked by a candidate running for office in my local community, “Are all the Black principals as smart as you are?” It’s being told by a White friend that her parents were disowning her because she was in a relationship with a Black man. It’s my White friends who are open enough to tell me the jokes that are made in their presence, at the Thanksgiving table, at work, etc, but are afraid to speak up in the spaces where it matters most. It’s their assertion that they don’t feel that way, but their cowardice to say something when they see something. It’s social clubs and organizations that clearly have an understood rule regarding what you must look like to become a member. And… it’s the murder of George Floyd, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Aubrey, and Botham Jean-to name a few. When you mix these personal experiences, with this collective national trauma, and a national rhetoric of hatred, it’s an exact cocktail for a pain that runs deep and wide. It hurts-and even writing that seems insufficient to describe how raw and real the hurt is and what it feels like to carry it daily. What the nation has now seen clearly, we already knew very well. Your initial grief is our lifetime of trauma. We’ve already gone through all the stages-sadness, anger, resentment, exhaustion. This isn’t new to us, and we need you to recognize this-and not call it playing the race card. This isn’t a game. It is as real as watching that officer take his knee and press it into George Floyd’s neck while his colleagues stood as bystanders.

This selective silence, especially in the spaces where it matters most sends a deafening message to people like me. I cannot begin to describe the pain I feel from those “friends” who have said nothing. There are no words to illustrate what silence feels like in a time like this. It certainly isn’t safe, and it has led me to evaluate several of my friendships. I’ve tried to reconcile why this is so. Perhaps you care, but not enough to risk your privilege and place in the world. Not enough to lose your advantage at work, at church, and in your community, but I need you to know that your private propositioning won’t help our public crisis. What we need from you now, more than ever, is courage. Nothing is more deeply painful, hurtful, and disappointing than those who see racism and say nothing. It’s not about a blanket statement either. While many organizational leaders have produced those and I think they are incredibly important, your actions in subsequent events will tell the ending of the story. What will you say when you hear an inappropriate joke next time? How will you respond when you see racism happening? Can you be counted on not just to pray it away or to offer private condolences, but to speak up? This lack of courage is the test of America’s soul. If selective silence continues, and does not lead to collective courage, our collective grief will be our never-ending story.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. There were those who were willing to be brave and vulnerable because they believed in the dignity of all human beings. Look them up: Judge Waites Waring, James Reeb, and Jonathan Daniels to name a few. They sacrificed their lives to support the rights of fellow human beings because they weren’t afraid to do what was right. It’s not about whose side you’re on, but about being on the side of what is right. Unity and treating every human being with dignity is a human rights issue. Very simply, racism is wrong. It hurts. It kills. It is traumatic. It’s really that simple.

As educators, we cannot afford to overlook this or pretend like it doesn’t exist because we didn’t do it. We must act now with the courage of our children. We must approach it with clear heads, even clearer hearts and commit to a collective courage that can heal us all and help heal our nation. I hope you’ll join me. Let’s love our way through this. It is the only thing eternal.

Until next time, be you. Be true! Be a hope builder!

Latoya