By Kirk Clay
“I’d been studying the microphone for a dozen years, and I suddenly saw what I’d been doing wrong. I’d been singing too loud. One night I was listening to a record by Lester Young, the horn player, and it came to me. Relax, just relax. It’s all going to be all right.”
– Marvin Gaye –
Not long ago, we were in a public school to speak on strategies for training students in leadership development. While there, we visited old friends that work in the education community. We began to talk about students of color and their unique mental health concerns as it relates to self-advocacy and self-management. We discussed the importance and implications of self-care and learning to respect and set healthy boundaries. Lastly, we shared with them our goal to work with institutions to create spaces that are liberation focused. We shared our belief that with adequate resources and a cooperative spirit, students of color have the potential to change the future of education in America while improving their opportunities.
Some of our friends were not convinced. They countered with stories of unexpected political events from the past few years. Their point was that “it takes good policies from good leaders to make good change.” They fear that politicians will continue to use “inappropriate” targeted messages and “hyper-partisan” mobilization campaigns to drown out any policy that would genuinely improve America’s education system. Our friends are afraid that students of color may not have the resources to heal, grow, and stand up during this cultural storm.
We do not believe this to be true. First, we can teach our children to recognize and connect with others that are experiencing similar issues. Sure, it may take some work for them to identify communities that share their interests — remember that most of us alter our outward appearances for the “public eye,” but micro-aggressions will still show up as a telltale sign. Second, they must learn that it is okay to feel a healthy sense of cultural paranoia and or suspicion as you “stand up” for what you believe. Just remember to be aware of what is going on in the world and do not allow it to stultify progress. Lastly, we must remind them of the dangers of suppressing emotions through unhealthy activities – this may lead to bad habits as an adult. The key is to acknowledge the current environment while addressing the shame and fear related to it. Then normalize it while helping them to identify tools to help them stay grounded when they are in school.
We must train our students on the importance of boundaries and self-care. As you know, students of color are consistently navigating the “rigorous pulse” of school life while dealing with their own experiences and family challenges. They struggle to find alignment with being a dedicated student and honoring themselves. Many of the students I talk with have experienced tragedy at home. The only way for them to heal is to share their vulnerabilities with others. We must help students of color label the pain they experienced so that they can address this trauma from a place of health. Everything may seem amplified, but they must learn:
- As a person of color, they “are enough” and worthy of taking a break every once in a while.
- It is essential to set boundaries, use grounding techniques, and schedule time for themselves to detox.
We must always remember that everyone is affected by race, and we all have work to do — no matter race, religion, or gender. Even from a policy point of view, there is clear evidence that increased civic participation by communities of color can offset any conceivable lag in voter turnout. This has always been the case, according to a recent study, the African American share of the total vote in Illinois increased from 10 percent in 2006 to 19 percent in 2010. Due to this strong turnout, a candidate who embraced pro-education policy became governor, with only one-third of the vote from others.
Moreover, we believe that with proper education and policy momentum, people of color can impact voter turnout rates across this nation. If we close the gaps between the populations that are eligible and likely voters, we will have a better chance of regaining our voice and enacting pro-education policies:
- Pro-education policy candidates could win Georgia with just 41% of the vote from others and Arizona with just 37%.
- In Nevada, where Latinos represent 16% of the vote share, 69% voted for the “pro-education policy” Senate candidate. This was an increase of 4% over the 2006 turnout.
- In Colorado, Latinos were an impressive 12% of the vote share and pushed the “pro-education policy” candidate over the top.
We finished our conversation, concluding that educators and policymakers must become familiar with theories of liberation psychology and ways to apply those strategies in their work. The truth is that students of color are most influenced by authentic educators that experience things similarly in terms of history and culture. We have and can continue to come together to develop transformational relationships that dramatically impact education, leadership, and civic engagement. We agreed that by embracing commonalities and addressing differences, we could seize the moment to build a bridge of promise for education in America. Communities of color and their expanding share of America’s educational system should not create anxiety; instead, it should reinforce America’s steadfastness for a new all-inclusive brand of education.
To be continued …
Kirk Clay is the President of Capitol View Advisors — a collaborative acting on its values in creative and strategic ways to connect communities with the information and resources they need to support and further their aspirations.