Free to Speak your Language

A recent story broke about a Duke professor stepping down after she asked her students to speak English 100% of the time. The students were heard speaking Chinese, which is their native language. In my opinion, the professor was wrong to tell students they should speak English 100% of the time. For starters, they are college students and feel most comfortable speaking in their language. Second, she cannot demand that someone talk a particular language especially when they are not talking to her.

What was even more appalling was the fact that she wanted to remember the students’ names and faces just in case they tried to apply there for a job after college. These students do not deserve to be blocked from a job they have not even applied for and on top of that just because they were speaking their language.

I think this professor could really learn from this experience. Although she may have her opinions about what students should do, it is not her place to tell what language they should speak. The college should look into any other professors that may have been involved in the situation or have expressed  similar opinion as she did.

We live in America, in a mixing pot of different nationalities and cultures. This is country where people come because they want the freedom, the opportunity, and the diversity, but somehow it seems we have become a place where that is not possible. It is almost sickening to keep seeing people being singled out for who they are. I hope those students stay true to who they are and understand it is important to be comfortable in any setting they are in. I also hope the college has a conversation with faculty and staff members about how they accept all students.

 

Pathways in Education Needs to Remain an Option

School choice has gained ground in the eyes of education advocates over the years. Charters and vouchers remain a topic of debate but they are far less contentious than they were even a couple of years ago. However, there is one frontier of school choice that remains relatively unexplored and controversial: Schools that serve non-traditional students. Such is the case with Memphis’s Pathways in Education.

Pathways in Education is a non-traditional charter school that primarily serves students that for whatever reason didn’t succeed in a regular classroom setting. Many of the school’s students have children or other obstacles that prevent them from regularly attending school. Pathways enables those students to complete work online and come to school once or twice a week. Many of these students admittedly would otherwise drop-out or fail to graduate.

The problem that the school is facing is that according to the measurement system the state uses to grade schools, Pathways in Education is not a good school. Only 6 percent of students were on grade level in English Language Arts according to the state test last year. Other metrics were similarly bad.

But this is not a fair way to look at this school. Most of the school’s metrics are purely a function of the students that choose to attend the school in the first place. Obviously, a school that caters almost exclusively to students far behind academically or at-risk of dropping out would have lower scores. Those students wouldn’t be at the school if they were thriving in regular educational environments. This means that comparing this school’s results to another traditional school is at-best misguided and at-worst intellectually dishonest. We often default to comparing charter schools to traditional public schools, but as we push the boundaries and scope of choice-education, we will find that those comparisons don’t always make sense. And this is a clear-cut case where those comparisons don’t make sense.

The original purpose of school choice is to enable students and families to find a school that works for them. Given the anecdotal experiences of those involved with the program, it’s safe to say that Pathways in Education is working for some students. Those students should have the option of a learning in an environment that serves their needs.

Pathways is not a school for everyone. It is not meant to replace traditional public education schools and it certainly isn’t out to compete with them. It’s a school for the students who have been left behind and underserved in those environments. If we are truly ready to embrace the different types of schools that come out of school choice, then we have to be ready to embrace different types of evaluation as well. Let’s be honest, Pathways in Education isn’t going to be the primary option for most students, but it’s an option that needs to exist for some.

 

Parents, Don’t Compromise Your Instincts for Your Child’s “Dream”: Reflections of Surviving R. Kelly Documentary-Series

If you weren’t completely riveted by the information detailed throughout the Lifetime Network’s six-part documentary-series, Surviving R. Kelly, then I’d assume you may be probably void of human feelings.

As Lifetime Network’s website states:

In the ground-breaking documentary series “Surviving R. Kelly,” women are emerging from the shadows and uniting their voices to share their stories. Celebrated as one of the greatest R&B singers of all time, R. Kelly’s genre defining career and playboy lifestyle has been riddled with rumors of abuse, predatory behavior, and pedophilia. Despite damning evidence and multiple witnesses, to date, none of these accusations have seemingly affected him. For the first time ever, survivors and people from R. Kelly’s inner circle, are coming forward with new allegations about his sexual, mental, and physical abuse. They are now finally ready to share their full story and shed light on the secret life the public has never seen.

Given my obsession with documentaries as well as the music and styles of 90s culture, I was eager to view the series.  And while I had definitely been familiar with some of the content shown throughout the series, because I am now much older, this time, the context was different.

During the three days the docu-series aired, I found my mind in a race of thoughts.  I found myself holding my breath during segments, not truly realizing this until I felt myself let out a relieving exhale.  And I couldn’t wait to further breakdown what I had witnessed with a few close friends who viewed the series; I was eager to hear their takeaways from the series.

And while each of the six parts left me with a sense of shock, sadness, frustration, even nostalgia (just from music and images), it truly was not until parts five and six that I began to feel the worst.  Because up until the final night of viewing, each young lady involved, while they shared they were being “controlled” in some form, there always seemed to be the opportunity to leave and return to their home/families.  

But with the introduction of the parents, things began to become more real for me because

  1. These incidents were more recent and
  2. I, too, am a parent and an educator of young children.

Each time that black screen appeared and a new woman or child was introduced, my anxiety and discomfort soared.

And as it related to the parents’ testimonies, helplessness was what I felt most.  It is very important for me to avoid being judgemental, but my one takeaway was the need to ensure parents are not so enthralled in their children accomplishing their perceived dreams that they ignore possibly clear signs of danger. The thought of not seeing or hearing from my child for three years is unimaginable, and now, an adult at 20 years of age, the Clary family reported this to be their reality after allowing their daughter, Azriel to seek mentorship from R.Kelly after, from their own words, several red flags. While they never blatantly said they may have been too eager and maybe didn’t use their best judgment when it came to ensuring their daughter(s) had been safe, it was certainly obvious.

The Clary family, unfortunately, chose to ignore R. Kelly’s past association with predatory behavior along with their own incidents of concern according to their own timeline of events:

  1. Brought Azriel to R. Kelly concert at age 17 and allowed her to be called on stage by the singer to participate in his show.  Was led off stage via backstage exit where contact information was then exchanged.
  2. Shortly after the first encounter, daughter went missing and was eventually located in a hotel with R. Kelly “auditioning”
  3. Parents allowed both Azriel and their older daughter to visit R. Kelly in Chicago for Azriel’s artist development.
  4. Azriel’s older sister, while she initially reported withholding SOME information for fear of her family being harmed, revealed to her parents her own experience and concerns of safety for Azriel
  5. The Clary’s continued to allow Azriel to work with R. Kelly under the guise that he would provide a woman from the record label to serve as her mentor to ensure her schooling, etc. remained a priority.

By this time, Azriel had turned 18 and was an adult, so her decisions were her own.

And while I’ve heard some say their focus was one of greed, but based on the home videos made available of Azriel performing, and beautifully I may add, I choose to consider that these parents just wanted their daughter to be happy.

Watching those parents reach out to the Chicago PD for a wellness check within R. Kelly brick fortress of a studio, only to be told they had no ground to break down the door to enter and seeing them throw rocks at windows covered with iron bars, was just too much to handle.

So many times I thought about the regret that I KNOW they had; hindsight is always clearer.

So many times I thought about how many arguments they probably had amongst themselves about who was more responsible for this outcome. So many times I thought about the nightmares, the tears, and the sheer helplessness. So many times I considered the plight of wanting nothing more than for your children to see the manifestation of their dreams, but in this current world of instant gratification, overexposure and quick rise to celebrity, the likelihood to lose sight, is real. Too real.

It is beyond critical that we as caregivers and parents maintain a vigil watch on the influences of those we were put here to protect. One statement made by the Clary family that stood out to me was made by Azriel’s mother who shared that Azriel would “make her little threats” which basically forced her parents to go along with her desires to work with R. Kelly for fear of their daughter’s reaction.  As caregivers and parents, we have to be willing take on the wrath of our children’s anger and disappointment based on our keeping them safe then to face the danger that is breeding out in the world. Because while the world and dangerous individuals can sort through and select from a multitude of expendable victims, our children are indispensable. And while they may not understand it at the moment, it is up to us to do our absolute best to maintain their safety as they navigate this often cold and cruel world.

Click here for resources from The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children

Click here for resources to prevent violence against women.

He must be stopped

R. Kelly has the world fired up! I guess hearing the exact same rumors and allegations 20 years ago vs. seeing it on TV gives it more validation! Since his documentary has aired, why has his record sales increased?

As a mother, I am really appalled that so many people are defending and still patronizing him. People like him are given a pass because they are a celebrities. He continues to abuse and destroy so many young girl’s lives. Giving passes to people like him keeps criminals like him on a pedestal.

R. Kelly is a creative genius, but he has a problem and he needs help. What is sad is how many people sat back and watched him: his managers, friends, family, etc. and no one said a word. No one tried to protect the young girls. Maybe they did, but they didn’t try hard enough. Everyone was okay with it because of his status and financial gain.  

The parents, his staff, friends, and his family have to be held accountable for putting these children in danger and not speaking out sooner. R. Kelly has to also see and accept his bad behavior choices. The young ladies went along with it because parents were excited to be connected with a celebrity.  If some of the victim’s parents had reported suspicious behavior as it occurred or if they talked to their children letting them know how bad this situation could end, I’m pretty sure there would have been a different outcome. We need to have conversations with our sons and daughters about relatives, friends, and people they may encounter in life, no matter if they are a celebrity or not. We also need to let them know they can come to us if they feel uncomfortable or violated in any way; communication is VERY important.

Improving While Black: Kamilah Campbell should be Celebrated

When you’re black and excellent, institutionalized racism will say you cheated. After working her ass off to improve her score by 300 points, a Florida high school student is having her SAT score questioned and invalidated. On her first attempt, Kamilah Campbell scored a 900 out of 1600. Not satisfied with her score, Kamilah studied, attended tutoring, and took SAT prep courses to prepare for a retake.

She killed the retest and improved her score to 1230 on her next try, but her celebration was short-lived after what her attorney, Ben Crump, said is possible implicit bias. ETS, which manages tests, issued a letter stating, ” based on substantial agreement between your answers on one or more scored sections of the test and those of other test takers,” suggesting Campbell cheated to improve her scores. Crump believes the suggestion of cheating is tied to the belief that a young black girl could not have improved her scores as much as she did without some help from other students around her.

Even though the deadlines to apply to her school of choice, Florida State University, have passed Campbell vows to fight back. “They tell you that you need to practice and work and study to do better, but then when you do better they question it. They’re saying I improved basically too much,” said Campbell. She and her family and working with their attorney to urge College Board to review her test scores in time for Campbell to apply for FSU’s dance program.

The SAT is far from being culturally competent, but that does not imply that students of color cannot do well when taking it. This is not the first time College Board has had to deal with controversy over one of its tests. An investigation should be launched into these allegations as per its own guidelines; cheating is highly unlikely and near impossible when proctors and site administration follow test proctoring guidelines. What is more likely? Implicit bias. Kamilah Campbell should be celebrated for working hard to improve her scores, not penalized.

 

Education Highlights from 2018

Happy New Year! We hope everyone had a safe and wonderful holiday. The break was much needed but lets face it, you missed us. I know, I know.. you missed reading about what’s going on in Memphis regarding public education. Well good news! We are back and ready to keep you informed!

Today Chalkbeat published a list of education stories you might have missed over the holiday break.

Click here to check them out.

The Black Parent’s Fight Against the Hoarding of Information and Opportunity in Education

Today I carry no title other than human being. Yes, I am a proud Black woman and a mom but I am still mentally reeling from and dealing with so many tentacles of raw emotion from my visit last week to the Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama. They represent America’s first national memorial dedicated to victims of racial terror lynching and a new museum dedicated to slavery and its legacy, lest we forget.

I remain mentally and emotionally charged from reading and “feeling” the many first hand accounts of the anguish of the Black mother during the era of slavery and segregation, of having her children snatched from her arms solely to fulfill another man or woman’s desire for lust, greed and hate.

As a result, I feel compelled to start off with a disclaimer quote to all the people, Black and White, who are silent and turn a blind eye to human suffering and oppression of others, particularly Black and vulnerable children.

Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.Frederick Douglass

Lest we forget, Black history is American history

I get it and the status quo gets it too. Literacy equals liberation.

As a Black mom, the more I learn about the educational system in America, the more I realize the extreme lengths the “existing structure” or status quo will go to keep Black parents and their children from accessing the necessary information and opportunity needed to access the promise of democracy. We strive to become self-sufficient, independent thinking and productive citizens but not everybody supports us in that quest.

Then and Now

There is a reason that southern plantation owners did everything they could, even post slavery during the reconstruction era, to keep books out of the hands of black families. White folks knew that in order to maintain their lavish lifestyle and position of power, it was imperative that Blacks never learn to read. Any access to information via the written word would spell big trouble for their racist way of life and so began the still common phenomenon of information and opportunity hoarding.

“From the first days of their freedom, Georgia’s freed slaves demanded formal education.

“Many whites did not want blacks to become educated, fearing they would challenge white supremacy and not be content with jobs working in the fields or in domestic service.

Now fast forward 100 hundred years to the Civil Rights era of 1954 to 1968. Black parents still had to fight for their children to be justly educated because, once again, white families hoarded the access to good information about educational opportunities that could lead to self sufficiency and success. This is precisely why Oliver Brown, a Black father, pastor and welder was the plaintiff in the 1954 US Supreme Court case Oliver Brown, et al. v. Board of Education of Topeka, which declared unconstitutional any state laws establishing separate public schools for Black and white students.

Upon further reflection, I realize there isn’t much said in America’s history books about what happened to the thousands of black teachers that once taught in these segregated schools of the civil rights era. And there lies the very clear unintended—or intended consequences—one’s perspective often depends on what generation of folks you ask – of Brown v Board of Education

This Ebony article entitled Sixty Years After Brown V. Board, Black Teachers Are Disappearing—Again speaks to the plight of the black teacher.

With the Brown case pending, Black teachers waited anxiously for the ruling on school segregation, with thoughts fixed firmly on their Black students. Would the case solve the wide racial disparities in facilities, funding and resources? Would Black students’ sense of ethnic identity and cultural solidarity suffer from desegregation? And lingering in the back of Black teachers’ minds: Would they be the collateral damage in the battle to integrate schools?

If truth be told about the Brown case, it wasn’t just the fact that whites and Blacks were educated in separate schools during the civil rights era, because we have had and still have majority Black schools successfully educating Black children. It was the lack of equal access to the resourcesnecessary to ensure a quality education in urban districts as compared to the abundant resources in white suburban areas.

That is why I can relate to the words of civil rights activist James Meredith.

If black people use their resources properly, they can become as competitive as any group in society – take control of our neighborhoods, our businesses, our schools, including our teachers. The only thing keeping black people from doing it is this idiotic idea about integration, about being racially balanced.James Meredith

Now today, 64 years later, post Brown v Board of Education, Black parents are still fighting just as hard for their children to be justly educated. The status quo—aka information and opportunity hoarders—are doubling down on their efforts to ensure Black parents and their children are still denied, as much as humanly possible, access to the good information needed to gain access to the resources and the educational opportunities needed to live self sufficient lives while also having the ability to compete in the local and global market.

Do you remember Kelley Williams – Bolar, the Black Ohio mom arrested and convicted for sending her two daughters to school just a few blocks away to where her father owned a home, paid taxes and lived? There was only one reason for her choice to do that: she wanted a safe and quality education for her children.

Do you remember Kiarre Harris, the Black New York mom who was arrested and had her elementary school aged children taken away and put in foster care for several weeks because she notified the school district that she had chosen to homeschool. Why?

“I felt that the district was failing my children,” she told WKBW-TV, “and that’s when I made the decision to homeschool.”

These are clear examples, throughout history and still today, about how far the status quo will go to deny Black parents access to their unalienable rights of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. By blocking access to information, hoarding resources and opportunities, and telling us, again and again, that our Black children can’t learn and succeed in life unless they sit beside white children in the classroom.

Let us be very clear as Black parents.  The status quo has left no doubtabout where they stand when it comes the safety, education and overall well-being of Black children – our babies are not seen as human beings therefore there lives do not matter!

So now it’s time for us as Black parents and human beings to stand, embrace our Black history because it is American history.

We, as a nation, must learn from history so as to not repeat the horrors of black human suffrage of the past.

And as for this Black mom, I am unapologetic in the fight for children rights, as a whole, because the whole child matters and where they live and their heritage does too! .

I’m for truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who it is for or against. I’m a human being, first and foremost, and as such I’m for whoever and whatever benefits humanity as a whole. Malcolm X

This article was first posted on http://www.realtalkgwensamuel.com

We Need to Get More Strategic in How We Increase the Number of Teachers of Color

new study by the Tennessee Education Research Alliance highlights an issue with retaining teachers of color in the state. The report notes that not only are teachers of color underrepresented in comparison to the student body, but that teacher turnover for Black educators is much higher than their white counterparts. The study suggests schools should do more to hire and support teachers of color

But, there has to be more to this conversation and practice than just “hiring individuals that look like students…”

As I continue to wrestle with these statistics and the notion of hiring individuals to increase diversity among staff, I think we are missing the bigger picture and the opportunity to craft how exactly our vision of equity and our mission center around diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Most recently, I’ve centered my work and studies around the work of equity and what that looks like in a school setting/learning environment. Here are the three strands that shape my thinking:

  1. Equity in terms of access for all learners, ensuring learners have what they need to be successful and display academic growth
  2. Equity in terms of content that’s social-justice centered and focused; and
  3. Equity in terms of adequate representation of students (i.e.: hiring practices, culturally sensitive curriculum, inclusivity practices, student voice, and choice, etc.)

When I think about the educational settings in which I’ve worked, I keep returning to a few questions: How much do we level the playing field? How do we ensure resources are adequately distributed? How do we know/address the varying academic and social needs of students to help guide their success? These are all questions that require more than just some thought but strategic ways of application and figuring out what works best.

I wonder how much of equity is relational? It is obvious that time and trust goes into ensuring relationships are worthwhile and one can assume that in the learning environment, relationship building is extremely critical and necessary in hopes of being an effective practitioner. At least that’s what I believe. So, with the cultivating of those relationships come the realization of what students need. Equity is not seen as some unfamiliar phenomenon, but rather an obvious and organic occurrence that takes place as a result of a continual relational build. Maybe? Maybe not? This is what I’m currently wrestling with.

In Memphis, the population of students was always a majority of Black students, and we often didn’t feel it necessary or adequately equipped to even have such conversations around race, equity, diversity and in some cases, competencies. There was no preparation for making such a commitment as an educator and no gauge to measure our own racial consciousness.

Now we must ask ourselves, what exactly is our motivation behind placing more teachers of color in classrooms. I believe there is more to it than just the simple hiring of teachers. We should be ensuring spaces are created that are supportive of all teachers and that best practices that suit the needs of learners are utilized. These are the conversations that should be being held in a broader scope. Why is turnover so high in some places? I would argue the support pieces are not in place. We have not formalized what it looks like to fully support teachers holistically beyond curriculum implementation and standards teaching. I shared my thoughts in a recent blog post published by Ed Week and I’ll share similar sentiments here:

With these initiatives, the data is still startling. What about this system doesn’t appeal to teachers of color? I actually can answer that question by sharing my own perspective and truth. I made a personal and later public vow (after I resigned from teaching) that I would never (willingly) be a part of the problem. I wouldn’t lie to students via final grades reflecting their allegedly learned skills and competencies, and then pass them on. For students that couldn’t read, I wouldn’t simply excuse it. I would move beyond calling it out and help that student learn to do what others sometimes seem to brush easily past.

I will not look into the eyes of innocent faces and not try my best to properly equip them for futures that await them. So for this particular teacher of color, no amount of money and/or incentive could ever get me back into a classroom to pass on those lies and inequitable practices that I had to witness daily, and I still sadly observe and witness in schools across this country.

Sarah Sanders and the White House Don’t Want You to Believe What Your Own Eyes Are Seeing

For all the talk of White House chaos stemming from Trump’s declining mental stability (whether said decline is from a rumored battle with dementia or narcissistic personality disorder is still up for debate), we can’t ignore a common thread running through his staff: they seem to be incompetent AF. From Eagle Scout letter mix ups to tweets calling Melania by the wrong name, it looks as though many on payroll at 1600 Pennsylvania are not actually qualified for the job. A remixed old adage fits perfectly here: Like employer, like employee. Sure, some of these things can be chalked up to human error, but when you represent the leader of the free world and the United States as a whole, errors are unacceptable.

In a time where this administration routinely lambasts verifiable truth as “fake news,” yet lies are lauded as “alternative facts,” it has become increasingly difficult to figure out whether or not this chaos is par for the course or purposefully planned. Take for instance the latest gaffe committed by none other than the US Press Secretary, Sarah Huckster-bee Sanders. This walking, talking, Chrysler 300 stands before our nation’s press everyday spinning lies into more lies and never blinks. (I honestly don’t know that she *can* blink with those wonky eyes, but that’s neither here nor there.) Her latest lie actually came with visual aids.

On the day after midterms, our tyrannical-tangerine, toddler-in-chief gave a press conference which could be classified as one of his most combative to date. At the podium, he seemed more defensive than usual, quick to insult reporters and rebuke their questions. He belittled National Urban Radio Network’s April Ryan, saying she was very rude and forcefully repeating “SIT DOWN!” when she would not let him escape a question on voter suppression. He chided PBSNewsHour’s Yamiche Alcindor when she asked about his proclamation of being a nationalist, calling her question “racist.” He pretended to not be able to understand a reporter who asked him about the two Muslim victors in the previous night’s election. The entire thing was a hot mess (you can read the transcript here).

The biggest showdown, however, took place on the front row between Trump and CNN’s Jim Acosta. Jim tried to get an answer as to why Trump and the GOP were classifying the caravan of asylum seekers traveling through Mexico as some sort of dangerous immigrant invasion right before midterms. Trump gave his usual non-answer, then got frustrated when he couldn’t escape Acosta’s follow-ups. As he repeatedly shouted “That’s enough!” a female white house aide tried to bumrush Acosta and snatch the mic, as he calmly stood there trying to get his question out. Most people who saw this in real time witnessed exactly that.

Later in the day, it was announced that the White House was revoking Acosta’s press pass. Huh? For what—asking a public servant questions the public wants answered? When asked for clarity, storytellin’ Sarah issued this statement: “President Trump believes in a free press and expects and welcomes tough questions of him and his Administration. We will, however, never tolerate a reporter placing his hands on a young woman just trying to do her job as a White House intern. This conduct is absolutely unacceptable.” When most of the sane American public read this, their response was a resounding “Girl, WUT?” Surely señorita smokey eye was mistaken because NOBODY in their right minds who witnessed that exchange would believe this load of nonsense, right?

Wrong.

As soon as the rebukes of her statement came rolling in, Huckabuck Sanders tweeted out a video which she claimed “clearly documented” the “inappropriate behavior” from her official Press Secretary account. It was liked over 100,000 times, and retweeted almost 32,000 times. The trouble is, anyone with half a brain can see that this video was doctored to give the illusion of Acosta’s hand moving faster than it did in real life.

Another issue? The video reportedly originated from Infowars—a well known far right-wing conspiracy website who, along with their laughable leader Alex Jones, has been banned from almost all of social media and youtube due to propaganda tactics. Yet, the PRESS SECRETARY OF THE UNITED STATES is spreading their bovine excrement as FACT. What level of incompetence is this? I mean, we know the Trump administration is full of idiots, but really Sarah? Being built like a brick is bad enough, you gotta have a head like one too? Are you aware that you are the press secretary of the country, and not Trumpito’s personal PR agent? Or, could this all be purposeful persuasion via prevarication?

This White House knows their base is just a box full of dull tacks and tools, layered with rocks. Anything they throw out there will be accepted as the gospel truth (as found in “two corinthians”). So as to continue their trend of discrediting the press while turning our democracy into a totalitarian regime, they are now citing Inforwars as a reliable source.

This is either the most inept administration of our lifetimes, or the most insidious one. Either way, America? You in danger, girl.

The Physical and Psychological Toll of Activism

One could say this administration has shaped me as an activist. It was when now Vice President, Mike Pence was Governor that I became vocal about social justice. Showing up regularly at the Statehouse to do what I could to speak out against legislators blatant attacks on the LGTBQIA+ community. It was when 45 was elected to the Presidency that I made a decision to shift my life’s focus. I turned to the nonprofit sector and became fully committed to being an advocate for social justice. These past couple of years, I’ve had the privilege to speak at several rallies, vigils, and panels. One, in particular, has changed me in more ways than I ever imagined.

Earlier this year I was asked to speak at the March for Our Lives Rally. A young woman from one of the local high schools had heard me perform (I’m also a poet) and speak at a panel a few weeks prior. I was ecstatic because this rally was being put on by the youth to talk about the gun violence that plagues their everyday lives. I was also able to speak in the building where it all began for me, the Indiana Statehouse. When I was writing my speech I made a point to write specifically for the youth that were present. I was fully aware of what the politicians were going to say, and I wanted to speak directly to the youth and be honest. I made a point to speak about state violence perpetrated by the police, not just mass shooters. I spoke about black lives, trans lives and Palestinian lives mattering. I left that stage being heckled by a few adults, but I knew the youth understood that they were not in this alone. I was inspired. I was ready to take on the world. I was reminded of why I decided to get into this work. I was full.

Days later, it came to my attention that a white supremacist vlogger got ahold of a clip of my speech. A clip that was filmed by a family friend and only shared on our Facebook pages. A clip used in a video released on YouTube with a picture of me and the term “Anti-White” next to it. He then used the clip of my speech to go on a 10-minute diatribe about why “blacks are inherently prone to violence”, used skewed FBI statistics to “prove” white privilege is not real, amongst other hateful, racist commentary. The video (with over 80,000 views and 2000+ comments) referenced my personal blog as well, where people began leaving hateful comments attacking me. Needless to say, I was (and mildly am still) in shock.

I had to come to terms with how open we are because someone had to send this hateful person this clip, causing me to reformat how I use social media. On top of that, I found it difficult to be in public. I became terrified that someone had seen the video, believed what was being said about me and would lash out. I worried about my children and my mother. I became worried that I’d lose my job due to backlash. I shut down and only found refuge in my home, behind closed doors and drawn blinds.

As I was going through this and trying to keep up appearances, I was supposed to speak for the 50-year commemoration of Dr. King’s assassination. The day of my speech, I pulled up to my house with my children in tow, to find a police officer parked in front of it. Mind you at the time I lived in an all-white neighborhood, that never had a police presence. Now, I am aware it could be a coincidence but will be honest in saying, I don’t believe in coincidences. He remained there for 30 minutes before he pulled off. I still to this day have no idea why he was there and will probably never know. What I do know is I was terrified because it was in that moment that I realized I wasn’t even safe in my own house. I canceled my speech as I couldn’t let go of what I was going through and the reason I was asked to speak that day. I do not consider myself anywhere near the level of Dr. King but am not blind to the world we live in either.

The reality of being an activist and the dangers that come with it became very real for me and I had to take a step back to consider how far I was/am willing to go, especially while being a single mother. This became even more evident when I learned that the (white) nonprofit I work for has no protocol for protecting it’s employees and did not take the video, nor my fear of police intimidation seriously. I realized that I had no game plan for myself or my family, for protection. I have changed how I navigate the world, especially as more articles come out about activists losing their lives or their loved ones. I feel grateful that my reality check came in the form of a defamation video and nothing worse.

Despite all that has happened, I’ve learned that silence is what they want. Those that benefit from our fractured system, want us to be quiet and complacent. I refuse to sit back and let this go by without exposing it for what it is. I am currently working on a chapbook and art installation, to be released on December 7th, using the video and the comments, to show people what it’s really like to be a queer PoC activist on the front lines. I hope that everyone that reads this will take the time to truly think about how far they are willing to go out on a limb to stand up for what is right.

Not everyone is made to be on the frontlines. Not all of us have the privilege to be vocal or the safety to be seen. Yet, we can’t just sit idly by in silence either. We must all take a stand even if it’s behind others. Know that it’s okay to take a step back to re-evaluate what your role is going to be.


Tatjana Rebelle is a 2018 Wayfinder Foundation Fellow from Indianapolis, who uses various art mediums as forms of activism and is especially focused on elevating the voices of young people.