The Impact of Dr. King Lives On

As we approach the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we are reminded about how his death impacted the educators of Memphis.  Teachers and students who were living during this tumultuous event share their thoughts and feelings with Chalkbeat.

 “The television was on and I was on the phone with my husband telling him hurry up and come home, you know we want to get a good seat. [The newscaster said] ‘Dr. King has been shot.’ I think the world stopped. I told him, ‘I don’t believe this.’ And then, about an hour afterwards, they said he was dead.”

Read more here

Five Ways Parents Can Maximize Spring Break for Their Kids

By David McGuire

Not every family can travel during spring break. It may not be in the household budget to fly to Disney World or to an island paradise. Sometimes parents have to maximize spring break for their kids in other ways. Unless parents are teachers they do not get a full week off work like their kids do, so parents have to use their time wisely to help their child maximize spring break. Here are five ways parents can maximize spring break for their kids.

1. Spring Break Project: Parents can do a spring break project with their kids. Kids will look forward to having a project to work on each day. The project can be an indoor project like building a Lego robot. The project can even be something outdoors like planting flowers in the garden in the backyard. No matter how big or small, a spring break family project is a great way to ensure your kid has something to share about break when he/she goes back to school after spring break. 

2. Kid Freedom: The best source of information to find out what your kid wants to do over spring break (if you can’t afford a trip) is your child.   Children are full of ideas. As the parent, just make sure you provide supervision. Giving your child a choice will make them feel empowered during their break.  

3. A Day Trip: We have already talked about how some parents cannot take an entire week off work, but parents might be able to take a day off to take a day trip. Day trips are always fun because families can wake up to hit the road and be back home at a reasonable time. The best day trips are typically to places that are no more than two hours from home. A day trip will be worthwhile for you and your child. 

4. Take Your Kid to Work: Whether they admit it or not, some children really do wonder what their parents do all day long. They wonder what it is like to be at their parent’s job. If you have a job that wouldn’t mind you bringing your child to work, then over spring break pick a day where you can take your kid to work. Then, they will see what a day in your shoes is like. This is also a great time for parents to talk with their kid about careers and college. 

5. Kick Your Kid out the House: Now-a-days kids like to be in the house. With so many technological options such as PlayStation, Xbox, MacBook, and cable television, kids do not play outside anymore. Spring break is a great time for your kids to break out their bikes and rollerblades and get some fresh air. Make your child go outside and play with the kids in the neighborhood. Force them to have some fun outside of turning their eyes red and getting finger blisters because of video games. 

Kids do not really understand how quickly that week or two weeks of spring break will fly by. That is why it is up to parents to make sure spring break is still fun even if you can’t take a big trip. If you do not have any ideas, use these tips to help!

Women’s History Month Tips for Your Classroom

By Andrew Pillow

March is Women’s History Month. Half of the month has already gone by. Have you taught any women’s history? Have you been celebrating the accomplishments of women? If not, don’t panic. You have come to the right place. Here are some tips to ensure you give your students the Women’s History Month they deserve:

1. Incorporate women’s history into the subject matter you already teach.

Just like Black History Month, teaching women’s history doesn’t require a teacher to completely abandon their standards and long-term plan. Best practice is to incorporate women’s history into the content you already teach.  Women have made enough contributions to society that you can organically include them in pretty much every subject.

  • Teaching the Civil War? Talk about the contributions Clara Barton or Susie King Taylor made to medicine. 
  • Teaching chemistry? Incorporate Marie Curie into the conversation.
  • Teaching literacy? Be sure to have your students read the work of female authors.

2. Allow student interests to direct your teaching.

Often times, teachers feel the need to teach against their students’ interests when in fact they should be incorporating them into their lessons. For example, many of my students are into watching and creating makeup/hairdressing tutorials. Why not use that opportunity to introduce them to Madam C.J. Walker?

As previously mentioned, you don’t need to abandon your standards, but for the most part, it is much easier to use your students’ interests as a conduit to teach them the content they actually need to know. 

3. Don’t neglect the present.

Remember, you aren’t just teaching history; you are living history too. There are plenty of contemporary women and women’s issues that are relevant and worthy of discussion in class. Talking about Malala’s crusade for women’s education in the middle east may not qualify as “history,” but it will definitely be considered history one day. Why have your students wait years from now to learn about it? 

Current events are just as if not more important than history. The month is called “Women’s History Month” but if you are truly following the spirit of the month then you will discuss current events and accomplishments along with those of the past. 

4. Don’t forget women of color. 

We often talk about schools neglecting the accomplishments and contributions of minorities in history. Women’s History Month is no different. Make sure your class is shown a wide variety of women from various backgrounds in your discussions. Women are not a monolith and there is no “single story” for women so make sure you use many types of experiences. The best way to do this is to incorporate women of color into your content for Women’s History Month.

It’s not too late to educate your students about the accomplishments and contributions of women. The first step is to try. Hopefully, these tips will help you do that.  

How to Teach and Practice Intersectionality

By Florentina Staigers

For Women’s History Month the word “intersectionality” comes to mind along with the myriad of signs I’ve seen at recent demonstrations. At the Women’s March in 2017 in Washington D.C., I saw numerous brightly decorated signs that demanded “intersectional feminism.” This past January in New Orleans, I saw one that read, “Feminism without intersectionality is not feminism.” But I’m also afraid this is simply a catch phrase for many people. I wonder how we might go beyond symbolism, to truly begin understanding something as complicated as intersectionality. Because if we don’t understand the concept, then we can’t use it as it is intended to be used: as a practical tool. We should be using a framework of intersectionality whenever we analyze history, when we look at statistics, and even when we are relating to one another in a room. Thus, one can see that it’s especially important for teachers to understand so that we begin teaching children from an intersectional lens.

Kimberle Crenshaw coined the term intersectionality thirty years ago. Essentially, intersectionality is the recognition of the interconnected nature of multiple identities that create overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination, disadvantage, oppression, and privilege. It is a relationship between identity and power.  It’s also important to understand how Crenshaw developed the concept of intersectionality in order to understand the definition itself. 

As a young law professor, Crenshaw was reading about a case where a woman wanted to file an employment discrimination case against her employer.  This woman, a Black woman, noticed her employer was not hiring Black women for certain jobs in the company. The court denied her claim saying this would be like double dipping into two class action suits. She had to choose one, either a case based on race or gender. But the claim couldn’t stand on its own when separated because there were both Black men and White women being hired. What the court was not seeing was how one woman’s body, both Black and female, was situated at the intersection of these two collectives, each of which had different forms of discrimination. Crenshaw, both a critical race theorist and attorney, recognized this and coined the term.

Yet this intersection, or “intersectionality” of being both a woman and a woman of color is often ignored in many analyses and history. The discussion often centers around Black and White or Male and Female, and as a result, the impact of being part of these two marginalized groups isn’t fully recognized. But when this information is available, we see the impact. For example, looking at wage gaps, we clearly see intersectionality at play. As a whole, White women earn more than Black men. But White men, as well as Black and Hispanic men earn more than Black women. Hispanic women earn the least.

When we teach from an intersectional lens, it is also important to avoid the pyramid of oppression, or oppression Olympics, where we compare the suffering of different marginalized identities. Instead, we must practice non-dualistic thinking, recognizing that groups experience different forms of racialization, oppression, and discrimination without trying to compare experiences or create a hierarchy of suffering. For a person of color who is closer to concepts of whiteness, it is also important to not use intersectionality as a means to distance oneself from privileges gained by being closer to whiteness. In an intersectional analysis, we have to acknowledge the deeply rooted nature of anti-Blackness, especially on a global scale.

Most important, we have to practice this way of thinking, to use this information as a practical tool.  In groups, I often see an intersectional dynamic play out. White men speak first, and then White women or Black men, and women of color are the last to speak.  Without awareness of this, we will continue to perpetuate the dynamic. On the contrary, if we begin to notice the dynamic, we can begin to change it. Educators can begin to use an intersectional framework to teach history and to review statistics to build this habit until it is second nature. Organizational leaders can look at their work from an intersectional lens to ensure that the needs of females of color are specifically addressed.  When reviewing history, one must think about how women of color were and are impacted. In statistical analyses of race, such as in education, housing, and unemployment, we must look for and demand a gender analysis as well. We must incorporate an intersectional framework into our thinking and acting so that we are not just talking about intersectionality or holding up a sign with the word. We must practice intersectionality.

Beverly Stanton McKenna

By Danielle Wright

“If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.” – Audre Lorde

Although racial and gender disparities in the field of journalism caused Beverly McKenna to change her intended college major from Journalism to English, she never gave up on her dream of utilizing journalism as a tool to elevate the voices of African-Americans and document the accurate contributions of African-Americans to the culture and progression of this country. 

Nearly 33 years ago, in 1985, Beverly McKenna along with her husband Dr. Dwight McKenna, Kermit Thomas, and James Borders, founded a monthly newsmagazine, The New Orleans Tribune. Today, Beverly McKenna currently serves as publisher and executive editor of the publication. 

The history of The New Orleans Tribune dates to circa 1864, when it was founded by Dr. Louis Charles Roundanez. It was the first black daily newspaper in the United States. The publication maintained an unwavering dedication to social justice and civil rights. Since the inception of the modern Tribune in 1985, Beverly Mckenna has carried out the legacy of Dr. Louis Charles Roundanez through the publication’s relentless dedication to depicting the lived experiences of African-Americans through their own voice. 

Beverly’s commitment to documenting and preserving the art, culture, and history of African-Americans extends beyond her work with the The New Orleans Tribune. She is also the founder of Le Musée de f.p.c., a historic house museum, dedicated exclusively to preserving the material culture of free people of color and telling their story. 

Ms. McKenna is the first person of color to own this Greek Revival residence located in the Upper Treme neighborhood of New Orleans. The museum is revolutionizing the way that free people of color are depicted, expanding the historical schema beyond the placage system of white men’s relationships with mixed race women. Le Musee de f.p.c. elevates the stories of free people of color as successful entrepreneurs, craftsman, artisans, property owners, innovators, revolutionary thinkers, and political and community leaders. Le Musee offers private, group, and school tours. The venue also hosts art exhibitions, cultural and wellness events, weddings, and other special events.

Beverly McKenna has always believed in the economic power of African-American entrepreneurship and the African-American consumer market. Working to advance equitable economic opportunities for black businesses, she created a directory of black businesses called the New Orleans Black Book, available in both print and as an app. 

Beverly is also leading the creation of an ecosystem for black entrepreneurship that seeks to create more equitable opportunities for African-American seasoned and novice entrepreneurs in the City of New Orleans. Located on the historic Bayou Road, it is a corridor for the resurgence of black owned businesses in one of the city’s oldest thoroughfares that once served as an illumination of inspiration for free people of color in the 1800’s. The corridor is comprised of African-American owned business in the areas of retail, food and beverage, entertainment, and beauty and grooming. The corridor also includes a wellness center which offers yoga classes, mindfulness meditation groups, and counseling services.  

Ms. McKenna’s contributions to preserving and advancing the historical legacy of African-Americans in this city are remarkable. She continues to break racial and gender barriers, and as she continues to break those barriers, she reaches back to create pathways for generations coming behind her.  We salute her during Women’s History Month and thank her for her efforts.

They Are Not Alone – School Walkout for Gun Control Joins Rich History of Student Protests

By Erica Copeland

They’re Not Alone – School Walkout for Gun Control Joins Rich History of Student Protests

On Wednesday, March 14, droves of students across the U.S. left their classrooms and took to the streets to protest government inaction on gun control legislation that could prevent mass school shootings like the most recent event at Marjory Stoneman Douglas  High School in Parkland, Florida that has shaken the nation for two decades.

The Women’s March Youth Empower, the protest organizer, said this demonstration is to honor the 17 students and teachers who lost their lives in the nation’s most recent mass shooting tragedy.

But broadly, Women’s March wants to call out political inaction on the issue around gun control. The students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, the site of the Valentine’s day shooting, are staging their own March on Washington in Washington D.C. next month. Thousands are expected to attend.

This new wave of student activism has drawn mixed reviews from lawmakers, media, and the public. Some conservative lawmakers have cast doubt on the sincerity of the students’ efforts at gun reform. They claim adults are influencing the teenagers who are not able to organize social protest on their own.

But others laud the students for using their voice in politics to stand up for themselves and their peers, especially as they are most affected by government delays on this issue. It is their lives at stake as one of the famous mottos claims, these students are fighting for their lives.

Despite public skepticism, the Parkland students have continued to push their concerns on social and televised media. Now it appears the government is listening. Many are amazed that children have been able to inspire political action where adults have failed.

On the same day as the student walkouts, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill on school safety that would enforce stricter background checks for potential gun owners. It would also investigate and create policy to guide law enforcement agencies like the FBI on how to detect mass shooters earlier on before lives are lost.

This federal bill is followed by another piece of legislation that came out of Florida’s state legislature earlier this month that would raise the age of gun ownership from 18 to 21 and certify teachers to carry arms in school.

This movement in student activism is not new.

It is a reminder of past acts by school children over the last half century who took to the streets to exercise their citizenship, participate more fully in our democracy, and create outlets to express their discontent.

Here is a timeline of high school student protests over the years. Most of the demonstrations listed are skewed toward the past 15 years, but include demonstrations that go back as far as the mid-1900s.

To the four finalists for the position of ASD Superintendent:

Almost 5 years ago, I packed my life and my daughter in my car and moved to Memphis to work for the Achievement School District (ASD). I knew nothing of Memphis or ASD before I came, but I believed in the mission of the organization I bought into the words, enthusiasm and passion that exuded those who represented the organization – without having proof or a track record. I sat in the cafeteria of one of ASD’s direct-run schools in the summer of 2013 and I heard the call, I heard the message, I understood the urgency. Not being from Memphis, I listened intently to the “facts” that were provided to the teachers and staff of the schools, the dismal pieces of information that created the larger picture of what we faced in my mind.

See, as I sat in that cafeteria that day – I asked myself, what if we don’t reach the top 25% in 5 years? What happens next? That questions laid heavy on me, so I asked anyone I thought had the answer, even the Executive Director. No one thought of that as an option.  And for the first time in my life – I was in a place where I didn’t see not reach the goal as an option either. Why? Because the families of Frayser couldn’t afford for us not to.

As the years have gone by, I have seen many come and go. I have taught in ASD schools that I wouldn’t send my own daughter to.  I have given days, nights and weekends to my students, understanding the urgency that exists. My students and the students that are being served by ASD, whether direct run or authorized, never had time for us to get it together. Not then and especially not now.

So, I write this to you and urge you to be different – or as they say, be the change.

Because the question I posed 5 years ago is not a probability – it is a reality.

I was blessed to be a graduate of a school that was created to set the bar of excellence, in its town and nationwide. It began, just like the ASD, as a dream and vision in a conference room many years ago, but its present reality sits on the opposite side of the spectrum of excellence as ASD.

Therefore, I present these suggetsions  to you…

·         Understand that the families and students you serve don’t need your pity – they need excellence. Excellent leaders produce excellent teachers who require excellence from their students.

·         Furthermore, those who operate in excellence, care about being an asset. Surround yourself with leaders and thinkers who care more about the long-term effects of their existence on the community and others, not a resume booster.

·         Be cognizant of the cultural competency of your staff. Create action plans that address the unintentional biases that may occur when someone sheds “light” on the demographics of the students they serve. Be committed to having cultural representation in the classroom and in the curriculum. Be careful of making generalizations and blanket statements – they don’t apply to the majority of the people. Be incredibly careful of making decisions for the majority based on generalizations – as you can see, they don’t work.

·         Understand what the community needs. In order to do that, just ask. I promise, we will tell you. And please don’t just listen for the sake of listening- Hear then DO. Requests that are not addressed in a timely fashion with ACTION, looks a lot like passive avoidance. No one likes to be disregarded, especially parents.

·          Understand what you’re walking to. Your past experience will be beneficial to your current work – only if you know how to apply it. Think of it like remarrying after divorce with both parties having children. Allow your previous “marriages” to provide exceptional insight to the changes you have to make to make this time work, while committing completely to the children.  Because ultimately, they deserve different and better.

·         Say what you mean and mean what you say. It seems cliché but it’s a mantra that is necessary. If anything presents itself as not conducive to the betterment of the community and the students you serve, eliminate it, even if it hurts to do so. No one said the work would be easy.

·         Have a vision of how your leadership will change the trajectory of the community and students 20 years from now. Know how your work exponentially contributes to drastically changing the educational landscape that currently exists. We need your best – every moment. If you’re not sure, gracefully bow out now. Everything ain’t for everybody.

·         Be present, aware and purposeful in all your decisions and actions. Our babies can’t afford more losses. We are apprehensive, fragile and angry. Our time has been taken for granted, our passion for our children seen as pushback or refusal. We want what’s best. Period.

While I am not a parent of a child who attends a school you will serve, I WANT to be. Thus, I speak as an educator in those communities, standing in the gap for the parents I serve. I see my own mother in the eyes of my parents, wanting more for their children than they have for themselves. I hear the anguish in the voices of the fathers and think of my own father, who challenged teachers on my behalf.

I extend my voice as the representation of what the possible looks like. I speak for those who want a glimpse of what excellent teaching and education looks like 20 years from now.

And ultimately, I want to believe so much in the work that you will do, that I would send my daughter to any school in your district. What better compliment? What better way to demonstrate my trust in your abilities?

Make us trust you again. Do the work. Produce results and see how different things can be. I promise, when parents see great things happening for their children, we are the most loyal and consistent word-of-mouth campaigners ever. When we don’t….well, you already know that too.


Student Activists Should Be Well Informed

By Shawnta Barnes

I had good veteran teacher mentors early in my career who encouraged me to include current events in my classroom lessons as a way to engage students.  I have always followed that advice. For our quick write last week, I asked my students to express how they felt about the #enough National Student Walkout on March 14 to bring attention to school shootings and common sense gun control laws.  I was surprised to learn my students were unaware of the walkout, so they didn’t have anything to say.  After explaining what happened in Parkland, Florida, what student activists are planning to do, and why they are protesting, my students were able to write their responses.  Most of them felt the protest was necessary.  Many of them didn’t believe a school shooting could happen at our majority minority urban school and they didn’t understand how walking out of school was actually going to stop another kid from doing what the Parkland, Florida shooter did.

However, students in my school spoke up. They asked our principal for permission to participate in the walkout without penalty. She granted them permission as long as they leave out of Door 3 promptly by 10:00 a.m., stay in the courtyard, and return to class by 10:25 a.m., they would be allowed to take part in the walkout. 

Now, that students know there is no penalty for leaving class, I believe there will be a mass exodus today. They’ll walk outside not because they understand the protest, but because teachers like me brought it to their attention or because of the relentless media coverage.

Is this real student activism?  Switching from my teacher role to my parent role, I wonder if schools are playing into the misunderstanding of student activism.  I live in Washington Township and Sunday evening parents received guidelines for what they would permit at the high school, middle, and elementary level.  My twin sons are in first grade.  Other elementary parents and I were surprised there was even an elementary option.  One parent told me, “They don’t need a walk in instead of a walkout; they need stay in class.”  

This is what the letter said about elementary schools:

WT Elementary Schools

The elementary schools will operate on a regular daily schedule.  Students may even be completing the IREAD 3 assessment during this time.   We are unable to maintain normal safety and security measures while supervising elementary students outside during a walkout.  We need your support assisting us in this serious safety issue.  Therefore, the alternative at the elementary level will be an optional “walk in” supervised in the gymnasium from 10:00-10:17 AM.  Students who do not participate will remain in their classroom for normal instruction.

 Activism should not be a fad and students shouldn’t participate because everyone else is doing it.  It’s hard work and many times you don’t get what you want.  Typically, there are consequences.  Today, some youth feel entitled to get whatever they want.  For schools to make alternative plans for elementary students, who are probably not discussing the school shootings and who do not understand the process it would take to change the gun laws in our society, without the properly educating our children about the policy process are doing a disservice to our students.

I’m interested to see how many students stay involved in the movement behind the walkout after today.  I support student activism as long as students are well informed and understand that activism is more than 15 seconds of fame and a hashtag.


White Flight and Who Really Needs Protecting

By Lamont Douglas

After I read the article, “‘White Flight’ Remains a Reality,” I thought back to my days as a young man and recall hearing  “you know whites used to stay back there” or “that used to be a white school, park, grocery, or part of town” never realizing the impact. Although white flight is a term we have heard often, many times we don’t talk about  its destructive remnants. 

In its path, white flight leaves abandoned buildings throughout suburbia, rural areas, as well as many inner cities in America. The barren wastelands we usually see driving down an old highway are becoming more prevalent. One begins to ask, “What is so sacred to a group of people (who are lifelong colonizers) that would make them only dwell in a settlement as long as it is feasible to them? White Flight brings up some very thought provoking questions indeed. 

  • What eventually happens when each and every time an ethnic group of your disliking comes too close into your desired territory of dwelling? 
  • Do you continue to pack up and flee leaving behind economic turmoil that still affects outcomes in the territory? 
  • What happens when you become the minority and the space that is untainted by ethnic hands in your beloved America is at a minimum? 
  • When you have pillaged all of America for all her worth, what will you colonize next?

This group of white Americans are the worst group of humans. They are liars and infidels. They pose themselves as loving families, but they perpetuate racism, bigotry, prejudice, and hated while simultaneously believing it’s only about a better way of life for their own. The worst part is that they dwell among us. They are the very people who you enjoy a sporting event with. They falsely befriend you at a festival, parade, gathering, or bar. They are ok schmoozing, mingling, drinking and hanging as long as when we leave, you go your way toward the ghetto, redlined area, or acceptable dwelling that’s not located in their neighborhood.. Because if you are, “there goes the neighborhood.” They are fine with you entertaining them, serving them and cleaning up after them as long as you go back on home when you’re finished or they can go to their safe, protected, and at times, gated community; safe from you in their own reality. 

Finally, they have no problem moving into an area because it’s cool, hip or happening with your cultural identity…just as long as that cultural identity will be held in check in a few years, carried out at a minimum, and at decibel levels that is conducive with their way of living. When that is achieved and you have shared all that you have and they have pillaged your soul, they will conveniently raise taxes, insurance, and impose their form of tariffs that will get you well away from that area.‘White Flight’ does remain a reality. It is a destructively nomadic way of living and it will soon take away all they think they are saving. 

The next question is: what are we going to do about it?