Afrika Afeni Mills is an Education Consultant and the author of Open Windows, Open Minds: Developing Antiracist, Pro-Human Students, available for pre-order through Corwin Press. She works with colleagues, teachers, coaches, and administrators to develop and sustain student-centered learning experiences that are diverse, inclusive, and equitable. Afrika has been featured on podcasts, blogs, delivered keynote addresses, and facilitated sessions at conferences across the United States. Afrika believes that all educators can be motivated, engaged, dynamic practitioners and leaders when provided with the support needed to create student-centered, anti-bias, anti-racist, culturally responsive learning environments that inspire wonder and creativity and nurture diversity, belonging, equity, and inclusion.
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Title: Open Windows, Open Minds: Developing Antiracist, Pro-Human Students
Daniel: What’s sad about so many schools is what they claim to be, what they care about, what they value is on the surface level. Case in point, there was a time I’m not going to tell you where, but there was a district I served in who claimed to care about equity. We did some equity audits and visited some schools and looked at what the experience of all children was like in the variety of campuses in this said district. Wouldn’t you know it? What we found were some very inequitable practices existed. Once we uncovered that truth and identified the changes that would need to be made. What happened? That Equity Committee was dissolved, that equity value that was championed, that was broadly and proudly displayed on the websites and promotional materials and yada, yada, yada. It all went away. Today’s guests experience something similar and yet a different context. She’s here to talk about that experience and also how she rebounded from going through that experience and actually ending up last picked last in a vote. She’s also here to promote a really great book that she’s created to call Open Windows, Open Minds. I’m proud of what Afrika has created, and I would highly encourage you to pick up her book, especially if you not only value equity, but actually champion it and do the work as well. Hey, it’s Danny, Chief Ruckus Maker over at Better Leaders, Better Schools. You are listening to the Better Leaders Better Schools podcast, a show for Ruckus Makers , those out of the box, leaders making change happen in education.
Daniel: We’ll be right back after these messages from our show’s sponsors. Take the next step in your professional development with Harvard’s Certificate in School Management and Leadership. Learn from Harvard Business and Education School faculty while you collaborate with a global network of fellow school leaders. For our upcoming cohort go to BetterLeadersBetterSchools.com/Harvard. Are you automatically tracking online student participation data during COVID? Innovative school leaders across the country have started tracking online student participation using Teacher FX because it’s one of the most powerful ways to improve student outcomes during COVID. Especially for English learners and students of color. Learn more about teacher facts and get a special offer at Teachfx.com/BLBS. All students have an opportunity to succeed with Organized Binder, which equips educators with a resource to provide stable and consistent learning, whether that’s in a distance, hybrid or traditional educational setting. Learn more at organizedbinder.COM. Well, hey there. Ruckus makers today I joined. This is the second show. This doesn’t happen a lot with a lot of people, but with awesome people, they get invited back to the show. I can proudly say that Afrika Afeni Mills, is an education consultant and the author of Open Windows, Open Minds Developing Antiracist Pro Human Students. It’s available now. You can get it right now from and press and I highly encourage you to pick up the book. She works with colleagues, teachers, coaches and admin to develop and sustain student centered learning experiences that are diverse, inclusive and equitable. Afrika has been featured on podcasts, this one being her favorite. Of course. Of course, of course. Blogs. You’ve delivered keynote addresses and facilitated sessions at conferences across the US. Afrika believes that all educators can be motivated, engaged, dynamic practitioners and leaders when provided with the support needed to create student centered, anti bias, anti-racist, culturally responsive learning environments that inspire wonder and creativity and nurture diversity, belonging, equity and inclusion. Afrika . Welcome back to the show.
Afrika : Thank you so much. And hello, Ruckus Makers. I’m so honored to be back in the States.
Daniel: Let’s start with a personal story. You talked to me about running for a school committee, and on the surface it looked diverse. But really how it showed up was much different. Will you tell us that story?
Afrika : I think about how I began because I think the interesting things about all of us, one of the things that I find to be interesting in my own life is I am such an introvert and I think I present myself very differently. I know that they like missed understandings of what introversion and extroversion is or what they are. It got to a point where I was living in the Northeast and I had been spending time helping to develop educators and different ways. I was like, “The things about you should be the change that you want to see in the world.” I can’t be out encouraging and espousing that. People should be bold and should take opportunities to inform and influence what’s happening in education spaces without being willing to do that. Where the introversion comes in, is in order to really be in those spaces, I really need to self promote. You need to be outside and you need to be like making small talk. Anybody else who’s introverted or loves an introvert that’s the worst possible thing. I love small, intimate gatherings of people that I am emotionally close to, but I’m like, Let me just go ahead and do it because I’m an educator. I live in this town, my children go to school here. It felt like the right thing to do. What was hard about it, though, is that even though I was living in a town that is very like multiracial, multiethnic, it’s one of those situations where and I think about this a lot when it comes to like integrated spaces and segregation and things like that, that there is surface integration. Where you can have representation of different folks from different racial backgrounds and ethnicities and cultures. But you can look around and see that diversity to a certain extent. When you look at the leadership structures in the town or you look at the people who are the decision makers in a space, it’s not necessarily diverse all the way through. At different levels of leadership. I should go ahead and do this. I feel because the district had identified working on equity and diversity, equity and inclusion was a priority, I’m like, Well, this is perfect. I’d be a part of a team of people that think that the school committee was composed of about nine different people. I have some things that I can contribute and because it’s important to me to continue to be a learner, I felt like I could also learn in that space so it could be mutually beneficial. What feels like showed up for me is that the underlying I don’t know what the tension I guess is the best way to describe it that exists between people of different backgrounds was so it was almost like it felt like another candidate to me that was running in the race as well that in a space to have. And I’m like, oh, this is hard for me because for me, when I do this work and I’m not at all trying to promote myself as someone who is without flaw, that I don’t have challenges, I totally do that. All human beings do. One of the things I don’t tend to struggle with is losing focus on education related initiatives, because for me, like it always has to be about the students, they always have to be at the center. I thought that having that focus would be enough, that would be enough. But it really came down to a lot of things, who had relationships with who in the town, who was being supported by certain people of influence in the town, trying to being encouraged to avoid certain people in the town, even down to when it was time for me to put my my lawn signs out, having people who would push back and be like, “Oh, well, you shouldn’t have your lawn sign on that person’s lawn. I’m like, Are you serious? All of these conversations don’t have anything to do with children, which was really what was heartbreaking for me, honestly. As I got into the race, I was like, I don’t know, did I make a mistake? I don’t know if I’m built for this because there was a lot of tension and a lot of infighting. I was saying, a lot of distraction away from the issues about kids in schools and how we best support teachers and families and and really partner with families. Those are the things that excite me. It was a very humbling experience, too, because when we got toward the race, the day of the elections. It’s going to have to be what it’s going to be. I’ve done the best that I can. This was one of the most trying experiences of my life. We’ll see what happens. Out of everybody, I came in dead last. Of all the people running, I was like,”Dang, not even next to last, dead last.” I was like, “Wow, that’s tough. “Not to say I’m good with that. The fact that I didn’t win is okay, but I’m like what someone like me with the experiences I’ve had, I’m just like, I find that interesting that I came in last out of everybody. I don’t regret doing it because I feel it was something I should have tried, but it was very hard because my children were at school in the district and they were impacted by the things that were being said and the infighting that became pretty prominent during the race. I’m proud of myself for trying for sure.
Daniel: I do have a follow up question. I’ll get to that in a second. One of my lived experiences, I see a lot of districts say they want the thing, but then doing the work maybe not. It’s very easy. Probably every district should say we should have an equity focus as the right thing to do. But then you start to explore who has access to which schools, which teachers, the resources and what does that say about us? What changes do we need to make? I see equity initiatives killed at that point because what it’s uncovered is almost so sacred to not necessarily the community, but the powers that be, we’re not going to do anything if we do something. But for my kid. They see it as a loss. It’s unfortunate but it can be the reality quite a bit. You said this was hard. I should have done it. You weren’t thrilled with the result. Obviously in that stung. What did you learn because those kinds of moments, even though they were tough, it should be like a pretty cool learning moment. What did you learn from that?
Afrika : I feel there were many, many things that I learned. I would say probably some of the top lessons were and some of what I talk about in my book a bit toward the end of the book is so I’ll talk about what it is and then I’ll bring it back to what we’re talking about. One of the people that I interviewed for the book talked about Jennifer Gonzalez. I believe her name is the author of an article by Cult of Pedagogy called Find Your Marigold. I was like, what do you mean? I’m not really a gardener type. I’m not really into plants and flowers and things like. They’re beautiful, but I don’t really know a lot about the qualities of different flowers and things like that. When I looked into it, I was like, Oh, so basically this concept is that marigolds are like, they can be a protective plant or protective flower that if you plant them around other plant life that they can provide nourishment and like a barrier from things that can be harmful to other plants. When I was interviewing the person who contributed to the book, she said, “For teachers, the article is specifically written to new teachers, but I feel like when it comes to work around anti-racism, anti bias is just like really in favor of what’s best for us as a human family. It’s really important to think about that too. Like how do you create and sustain a community around you when you’re doing something challenging? Because otherwise it can be completely daunting and you can really it can be hard to sort of persevere. It can be hard to persist. In the midst of the things that were challenging, I definitely began to notice people who were marigolds for me. And I’m so soaked to this day, I’m so grateful for them. People who are, “Don’t worry about the noise. You’re always going to have people who have strong opinions, who want you to do things a certain way, even if that doesn’t align with who you are as a person. But I’m for you. We can do events together or we can go door knocking together.” It was like a balm for me. Seriously, it was so soothing because I mean, unfortunately, there were not a lot of people who made themselves available in this way. But for the people who did, it just really helped me to maintain hope. It didn’t feel like the thing was completely a negative experience. I also started to really realize how important it is when you are putting yourself out there to be involved in leadership or direction of any type. But particularly when we think about students, it is to be really clear about what your purpose is and what your motivation is and to be able to convey that right. I think lots of people would say, “We believe in schools, we believe in education, we believe in children having healthy, thriving environments. Being able to articulate what that means and what that looks like and what is the way to get there, that’s something not everybody is prepared to to have those conversations. Running for office, I think when you’re trying to do it in an effective way, it does require for you to be clear and to be able to talk about what do you envision? What is your vision for students? At least that’s how it should be. How do you see yourself contributing to bringing that vision into reality? I appreciated the opportunity to get clear about what I believe about education and about students, and then also for a long time in my earlier education career, and I totally credit my husband with this because he is involved in ministry, He’s a pastor. But prior to him becoming a pastor, he was the director of the Department of Extended Learning Time After School and Services for Boston Public Schools. He taught me so much about the difference between family and community engagement or involvement and family and community partnership, because those things are very different. Running for office in a community, “I’m like, okay, even though I’m an introvert and door knocking totally like freaks me out, there was something really powerful about like getting out and meeting people in the neighborhood and, and really like taking it from the perspective of whether I win or not, getting to know my neighbors better, getting to have conversations with folks is so valuable and it’s something that we don’t do as much of.” I did appreciate those opportunities to make those connections. Even though I didn’t, it didn’t have the outcome that I was hoping for. There’s definitely things I learned and that helped me to grow in the process.
Daniel: I love love so there’s so much to love from what you said. Going through the process, right? I’m working with somebody and they’re wanting to start a podcast, and it’s like, “What if nobody listens?”
Afrika : Well, right, okay.
Daniel: Yeah, maybe. kind of thing. Right. But right there are benefits for the artists, the creator, because it helps clarify what you’re all about. That’s huge. I heard that come through what you shared there. The last piece, maybe I should try to sell my book, Knocking on Doors. I’d be crazy. I try to be honest, but what I really loved with what you said about that is getting to know your neighbors. At the end of the day, Chuck lives right there. I won’t tell you the last name, but he lives right there. And that’s my neighbor. We couldn’t be further apart politically and that’s okay if I didn’t sit and talk with Chuck every now and get to know him and family, it’d be very easy for me to formulate a story about how he’s different and he’d become the enemy and how can you do this kind of stuff? It’s really hard to do that to Chuck when I talk to him because the guy’s actually pretty cool. He’s actually really nice. He’s not any of the evil things that I think about sometimes, but I think of people that disagree with me. I share that personal experience because getting to know folks and having I think that’s a lot start having a conversation with all sorts of people, especially people you disagree with. Thank you for knocking on doors. I really appreciate you sharing that.
Afrika : Oh, absolutely. I was going to say the other thing that I’ll share, I kind of in the same vein of what you just talked about.
Afrika : I’m such a big room fan. I have listened to the whole Atlas of the Heart book. I have watched HBO Max. I watched all the things I do believe in vulnerability and that it’s hard, but I think it’s powerful and important for us to connect those people. And it was really tricky for me running as a black woman in a town where there were so many underlying racial issues because some of, like what I mentioned a bit earlier about like, oh, people feeling a certain type of way about my long time being on someone’s lawn. Some of that came from people of different races being like, “Oh, well, what does that mean if that person has your sign on their lawn, are they tokenizing you? Do they misperceive who you are? Are they trying to use you as a black person to support a message that’s not really what you believe in?” I really try to be intentional about what it is that I do, but it’s like, like really trying to figure out those pieces that connect to the core of our identities. That’s some grueling stuff when that happens. And so that was part of it that was really hard about me being like, I really just want to want this to be about students. But it really seems like there was so much that was being attached to my candidacy and how I was choosing to engage with the folks in town. And so that was hard. That was hard, too. But I agree with you. It’s really hard.Bryan Stevenson talks about the power of proximity, right? When we’re in a relationship with one another, how powerful that can be. I might not agree with you in what it is that you like, how you go about expressing what you believe the things should, how things should be in the neighborhood or in the town or in the country, in the world, but I think when we get to understand each other better we might not land in the same place, but that’s where that pro human piece comes from. For me, I’m just like, it has to be about us in our human family.
Daniel: Yeah, absolutely. I appreciate you sharing that, too. Not going to endorse and there’s an introvert, right. That’s already pretty, pretty tough and something to navigate. But not even knowing you’re showing up like you already said this, right? As a black woman, navigating topics that can be tricky sometimes. I’m guessing you find yourself in front of a lot of white educators and white students, and you’re talking about bias and racism and potentially things that they might even be doing consciously, unconsciously to brown students. Talk to me about that experience, too. That seems a lot harder to me than knocking on doors, but I don’t know.
Afrika : Why that’s not. Well, you know what? Here’s the thing. It’s like I really I definitely hear you on that because it’s not I wouldn’t say it’s easy at all. It definitely feels like I don’t want to say risky is not the word. It’s just like you don’t necessarily know how it’s going to go.I think for me, the way that I approach that work and this is another thing that connects to how I’ve approached the book, is that and let me give my caveat first when I mentioned people who are not as racially aware or have not done racial identity work. When I think about the people who are the audience that I tend to work with or who I’m writing to. I’m not talking about people whose life experience has led them into a space of being hateful or violent toward anybody. I think that’s a different matter altogether. I want to be clear about that. It’s not that I’m excusing behaviors that fall into that category. I’m going to separate that out. But mostly what I feel is that I try to come from a place of doing my own exploration, of my own identity and thinking about things like, what does it feel like when I have operated from a place of privilege? The example that comes to mind for me is that a number of years ago, I think probably about five years ago, I had the opportunity to participate in Boston Educators for Equity, the first cohort that existed. It was a wonderful experience. One of the things that was really powerful that we did. It wasn’t like the identity exercise where it’s just like, let’s all stand here. And people take steps forward based on what you can not identify with. It was a bit different. It was more like we were all lined up against one wall. And then they would say, like, if you identify as X crossed over to the other side. And when I went into that experience, I had not expected to cross over very much. I’m a black woman. I’m hardly ever going to cross over. I’m expecting to really focus on where I’ve been marginalized or where I’ve been excluded. What ended up happening actually is like when it came to race, definitely, I had the opportunity to cross over when it came to gender, I had the opportunity to to cross over. But then they were like, if you identify as Christian, I’m like, “Oh yeah, I do.” So that’s the space of privilege for me. If I am someone who does not require assistance to move or use parts of my body. If I’m able bodied, “I’m like, okay, I am able bodied. If I have a US issued birth certificate, I’m like, Oh yeah, that’s true. I’m like, Am I? Have I been speaking English my whole life? I’m like, Whoa. Am I heterosexual? I’m like, Dang, there are all these spaces of privilege that I don’t think about because we’re so binary in the way we think. A lot of times we do think about race, and justifiably so, because race is a significant, massive issue. I don’t mean to take away from it. At the same time, I think when I think about spaces where our whole privilege, I can relate to what it might be like to be a white person growing up in a mostly white town and mostly white schools with mostly white teachers who did not delve into racial identity work, or studies of people who are different, who are racially or culturally or ethnically different. When you grow up in a space and you don’t really hear the narratives of people who may be different from you, then you do make a whole bunch of assumptions and you might believe some false narratives or many false narratives that are given to you. I try to come from that space where I’m like, “All right, what did it feel like for me when like as an able bodied person, when someone has talked to me about what life is like with their disability, there’s a ton that I don’t see and there’s a ton that I don’t know. When I do that work, I start from that place. I’m like you. Probably, unless you had an extraordinary childhood, did not grow up having your natural questions as a child that you have as a child about differences racially being answered. Beverly Daniel Tatum talks about her son coming home and being like my friend told me in preschool that I’m brown because I drink too much chocolate milk. So that’s what kids automatically think. Usually, instead of engaging in their questions, we usually hush them and they don’t learn to not ask the questions, which then breeds ignorance about things. In that work, I try to come from that place and say, “we’ve all been racialized. Let’s talk about how we understand what’s been done to all of us, even though it manifests differently? How do we grow from that space? How do we do better? How do we learn how to work in solidarity with one another? How do we dream of freedom? How do we work toward building a better world for everybody? I really try to come from that place. I feel like it’s a healthier and more considerate place and a more productive space to be when it comes to doing this work.
Daniel: I want to ask you about growing students’ perspectives, and we’ll start there immediately after a short message from our sponsors. Take the next step in your professional development with Harvard’s online certificate in School Management and Leadership. Learn from Harvard faculty without leaving your home. Grow your network with fellow school leaders from around the world as you collaborate in case studies of leaders in education and business programs For our upcoming cohort at BetterLeadersBetterSchools.com/Harvard. During COVID. Every teacher is a new teacher. That’s why innovative school leaders are turning to Teach FX whose virtual PD is equipping thousands of teachers with the skills they need to create engaging, equitable and rigorous virtual or blended classes. To learn more about Teach FX and get a special offer, visit teachfx.com/BLBS. Today’s show is brought to you by Organized Binder. Organized binder develops the skills and habits all students need for success during these uncertain times of distance learning and hybrid education settings. Organized binder equips educators with a resource to provide stable and consistent learning routines so that all students have an opportunity to succeed, whether at home or in the classroom. Learn more at OrganizedBinder.com.
Daniel: We’re back with Afrika Afeni Mills. She wrote the hottest book out right now, Open Windows, Open Minds, Developing Antiracist, Pro Human Students. We’ve been chatting about the book and her lived experiences, and we ended our discussion before the break talking about growing perspectives. When you work with a system, multiple schools or a single school or classroom, whatever that is,What does it look like to help students grow their perspective around bias and equity in these issues? What does that look like?
Afrika : It looks a bit. I think the landscape right now is a bit hairy. When I say this, when I talk about book burnings and people showing up at school committee meetings, talking about children, like being what people are saying that they’re against critical race theory, which is not quite what it is. I’ll leave that to the side for right now. That’s not the first time we’ve seen resistance to engaging with students truthfully about the history of this country, of our world, teaching about what it is that makes us different, and celebrating the joys and brilliance and celebrations of all people. We see states enacting laws against certain curricula or books or like or saying that we would really want to make sure that white students are not ever made to feel uncomfortable. I know that’s a particular challenge right now, but it is a shape shifted challenge. This is not the first time we’ve seen this. What it looks like is if we’re paying attention and I think that it’s important for us to do this resistance is not coming from children. It’s not coming from stories. It’s largely coming from adults who did not have these experiences engaging with this type of learning, who are unfamiliar to them. And then because it’s unfamiliar, there is fear. There are false narratives around this work. I’ll give a perfect example of how I know that this is true. When I started to see the list of books that were being banned by certain school districts, Let me take a look just because I want to see what might be causing concern. Seriously, I’m just like, okay, so you don’t want children to learn about there’s a book called Not Mormon, so it’s a little black boy who has a goldfish. I’m like, I’m not really seeing what’s dangerous about this. Or there was another one called Max and the Tagalong Moon about a little black boy who’s like maybe four years old, who thinks that the moon is following him as a lot of kids do. I’m like, so this is not about really it’s not about indoctrination or concerns about that. It is unfamiliar and I want to try to stop this. I think that some of that is like really making sure to connect with spaces where the leadership and the teachers and I include the teachers in the leadership as well. I don’t only mean administrators because teachers are leaders as well, where people are willing to be undaunted by the noise and to persist in learning experiences that are really holistic and whole for children. I will say that I can imagine, like I used to be in the classroom, I’m not right now. I can imagine that it’s hard to continue to persist while trying to counter that resistance in the midst of a worldwide pandemic. I’m not saying that it’s easy. It’s definitely not easy to begin that approach to teaching and learning, if that’s something. That’s new to you. There are a lot of competing priorities for educators right now. It’s really been about why I feel so privileged and honored to have been able to write this book. During the pandemic, I got a chance to connect with educators who are like, I don’t care what the noise says. This is what’s right for kids. I think that really connecting with folks who are willing to engage despite the noise and despite what could feel potentially scary at different grade levels. For example, there was a teacher who talked about working with her second grade students. I just talk about like, what does it mean to be a person? She explores reading one of Fox’s books and they talk about things like, what makes a person a person? How little kids are just like, oh, we all have we all have eyes and we all have arms and we all have hands. She starts being like, Well, what if someone doesn’t have arms? Does that mean they’re not a person? Of course, little kids like, no, you can still be a person if you don’t have arms. They actually explore what it means to be human. She builds on learning about who we are as people, like building from there and reading lots of different books and engaging kids in things like deep learning and conversation. I think trying to find places where teachers and schools are still invested in the work and not trying to like go into a space where we’re like, say, the state has a law against it. It’s like, that’s going to be a harder challenge. I feel like that’s not everywhere. It’s like trying to find the spaces where that work can continue. It definitely helps to have a book coming out that will help people to be able to connect with me about it. I’m really excited about that, but I think it’s about trying to find spaces where folks feel like, Yes, this is hard, but we’re going to do it anyway because we can do it because it’s totally necessary.
Daniel: It’s hard, but we’re going to do it anyway. I think that’s a really good reminder too, that it’s not everywhere where you see some of these laws being passed, the book bannings ,and the curriculum stuff that certainly isn’t everywhere. I don’t have my thoughts polished here. One of my coaches, Rich Litvin, said that it was messy, sexy. I believe that. I definitely.
Afrika : I’ll figure it out. We can just jump in.
Daniel: I prefer progress over perfection. I haven’t fully thought through what I’m about to say. I know my gut tells me, listen, you can love the country and I’m talking about the United States and that kind of thing. You can critically view an honest history of the terrible things that happen. Both can exist. I think that’s one thing that motivates me to make this place better. It’s like not repeating the sins of the past type of thing. The other idea that I wanted to put out there, too, I mean, anything around the book burnings and all that kind of stuff, I want to be clear from my platform, I’ve created it so I get to do what I want. That stuff is absolutely wrong, but to me it’s wrong. You shouldn’t be banning books. If you look at places in times in history when books have been banned. Hello. Those were not good moments to be proud of.
Daniel: I think we’re all in agreement. If you’re a Ruckus Maker , do your homework there. You can’t debate me on this. That’s a fact. Absolutely. The last thing is the uncomfortableness, like why some of these laws are getting passed and they say we don’t want white students to feel uncomfortable, that’s actually a disservice to students. Here’s why this is a metaphor. But I grew up, of course, privileged in any way you can identify. But I also grew up privileged in the sense that my mom treated me like a king, honestly. I didn’t have to do that much as a young man. , I am an adult and I’m in a relationship and because of the very cozy and comfortable way I was brought up and I’m not saying that was the wrong way, but I’m just saying that there were consequences. When my partner and I have discussions about what needs to get done and things like that, or you can listen to an episode I recorded with Miriam where she told all of Ruckus Maker Nation, think of this Afrika . If your partner got on a podcast, told everybody, “Danny, you don’t clean, you push dirt around the counter” that’s what she said. So that’s just one example. But because I was comfortable, I had to push dirt around as a kid. So then if you extrapolate that to just consciousness and race and the complex things we’re talking about here it is just going to be in disservice to that individual. So hopefully people see the connection.
Afrika : Absolutely.
Daniel: If you disagree, like I honestly don’t care, don’t write it because I’m not going to respond.
Afrika : I told you I was just going to say, I totally agree with you because I’m like whenever you think about growth of any kind, there is some discomfort in it.
Daniel: My zone of proximal development, you got to get stretched, right?
Afrika : That’s exactly what you have to do. Whether you think about it like the learning pit, you’ve got to struggle and you’ve got to grapple. And this is how you construct meaning. It’s like that’s how it is. The way our bodies are in general in the world is right when we think about ever having if anyone’s been through any type of exercise regimen. I have a friend who just recently ran a half marathon. In order to do that, she had to do a lot of prep in order to get ready for that. It wasn’t always comfortable actually. It was really uncomfortable for her in a lot of ways, but it was something she was determined to do, so she was able to push through and do it. But the same thing too. When I’ve been in physical therapy, I’m just like, are the exercises comfortable? Not at all. If the ultimate goal is to strengthen that part of my body or to heal that part of my body, I have to go through a bit of discomfort to get to the other side of it, where things are going to be more whole and healed. I like being uncomfortable. I don’t think anybody should make anyone uncomfortable for the sake of doing that. I’ll give an example of when I was uncomfortable about something. I’ve been thinking quite a bit about how internalized oppression shows up for me as a black person and as a woman. I was raised by mom and dad who really focused quite a bit and taught me lots about black history. They were the first people who taught me about the failed promise of 40 acres and a mule. I grew up in Brooklyn and I’m like Spike Lee, 40 acres in the new Filmworks. I’m very aware. As I started to connect more with folks who are indigenous and learning more about indigenous folks, then I was like, Hold on, 40 acres. Like if that actually happened, that would have been people stealing land from Indigenous and First Nations folks to give it to another group of folks who were also on the receiving end of much cruelty and oppression and all the things. Right. But that’s something that was uncomfortable for me because I’m like, I had to become comfortable thinking about this is what we deserve as black people. We deserve to have some reparations for enslavement and the manifestations that we still see today. But when you grow, it is about like, Oh, well, I had this idea, but now there’s some dissonance there. And that’s okay. That’s how we grow. When it’s good. It’s good too.
Daniel: Grow. It absolutely could grow cool well so talking about this and maybe before I get to the last questions I always ask, we’re talking about growth. There’s educators who care about your message right there for sure, going to pick up open windows, open minds, developing anti racist pro human students. But do you have any last sort of words of encouragement to educators who want to do this very important work? The political reality can be very challenging for them. So what would you say to them?
Afrika : Yeah, what I would say is I first would want to start from a place of acknowledgment. I think sometimes people just don’t worry about it. Just go ahead and do the work because it’s important. I’m like in the vein of being pro-human, I’m in the midst of like all this time that we’ve been grappling with COVID 19 and all of the ways that that’s manifested in our lives and all the challenges that existed in education prior to that, that have now been whether it be exacerbated by or illuminated because of the right. All of those things are very, very valid. We really don’t know how it’s impacted people’s individual lives unless we ask and we listen, right? I want to say it’s not easy to take on a very different way of approaching teaching and learning in the midst of that. When we think about our teacher prep programs, we don’t really get to engage in this work. So it’s like, so I definitely want to acknowledge that, yes, this is hard. It’s important that when we are thinking about what we’re capable of, that we are very capable of doing hard things and we are best suited to do those hard things and to persist through it when we surround ourselves with the community, because we don’t need to be doing this work alone. Thinking about the importance of trying to find spaces of encouragement, I know that there are many spaces that have been created for educators to support one another to engage in this work, because sometimes it might just be you or a few other teachers who are committed to this work in the school. If you don’t have administrative support, that is hard. And especially if that on top of that, you have some resistance coming from the community. I would say that, yes, things are hard, hard stop. Also we can do hard things when we support one another. To do them is to try and so then to try to find how we can engage in this work with one another instead of going and trying to go it alone.
Daniel: Gotcha. Brilliant. Cool. I want to be reminded. The speaker is listening. This is going to go way back. Oh, my gosh. So it was May of 2018. You were on episode 195 of season one in the title was going deep, deep with equity. I looked that up. I will point to the Ruckus Maker listening to that episode to see how Afrika answered the question about building a dream school for time reasons. But I will ask you the question about marquees. Yes. So Afrika , if you could put a message on all school marquees around the world for a single day, what would your message read?
Afrika : Oh, it would definitely be. I would put the word and I don’t know if I’m going to butcher the pronunciation. So I apologize ahead of time if I do. But that concept of Ubuntu that’s you be anti you right. And so it’s like that I am because you are and I’m like I really feel like we make so much progress with one another when we realize how connected we are. And so I would love for that to be the message for us to think about like, yeah, how are we a human family and how do we support one another? And I know a lot of times in spaces like because I’m such a touchy feely person and some people might not even vibe with this, but that’s okay. Like you said, I’m unapologetic about this. It’s like I do this work out of love. I think you have to like we have to have some type of love for whether it be children or education or or the human family. So yeah, one, two would be what would be on a marquee for me.
Daniel: Brilliant. Be a bridge builder. So Afrika . Yes. Listen, thanks for being a part of the Better Leaders Better Schools podcast. Again, of everything we talked about today, what’s the one thing you want a Ruckus Maker to remember?
Afrika : Oh, I definitely want a Ruckus Maker to remember that it is important for us to connect with other Ruckus Makers. It’s sad when we think about whether things that we are doing that are going to be really arduous or very challenging. There are so many spaces where we can be supportive to one another. I’m thinking about that concept of like the braid. Like if I just have one single rope, that could be something that would be easy to fray. But if we look at a braid and we think about how interconnected things are and how much stronger something is when it’s together and when it’s linked, that’s the image. And the message that I would want Ruckus Makers to hold on to is like, let’s be in this together, let’s support one another because we have important work to do. And we are well suited to the task. We just have to make sure that we stay the course.
Daniel: Thanks for listening to the Better Leaders Better Schools Podcast Ruckus Maker. If you have a question or would like to connect my email, [email protected] or hit me up on Twitter at @AlienEarbud If the Better Leader Is Better Schools podcast is helping you grow as a school leader, then please help us serve more Ruckus Makers like you. You can subscribe, leave an honest rating and review or share on social media with your biggest takeaway from the episode. Extra credit for tagging me on Twitter at @AlienEarbud and using the hashtag#BLBS. Level up your leadership at betterleadersbetterschools.com and talk to you next time. Until then, class dismissed.
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