Black(ness) in Bold: Black Professors, Black Experiences and Black Magic.

a dialectical display of revolution, research, ideas, theory and love.

Black Sista Professors in the Line of Open Carry

texascarry OC_Summary-2016

Today is the first day of my second year as an Assistant Professor of Education in Houston, Texas. As I embark upon this academic year, it is hard to ignore the feeling of unease in my body. As of August 1, 2016, it officially became legal to carry guns on campus. I learned that this would occur a few days after moving here a year ago with a newborn, a 2-year old and my husband. There was much to do at that time to say the least: unpack, become acclimated to life in Houston, Texas, prepare brand new course syllabi, pump breast milk for my son when I was away from him, figure out how to drive, etc. etc. I did not have the time to fully think about what this gun-wielding law would mean for me in a year. So, like most Black women with much to do, I kept going. I created new syllabi, I met new colleagues, I learned about the urban campus in the heart of downtown, which was more on the quiet side in comparison to New York. The silence bored me. I missed the noise of home, but I kept going, because that is what we do, us sistas of the sun, we keep going even when we should stop and reflect.

Many things happened to me in my first year. I experienced racism (been there). I shut down racist colleagues (done that). I spoke up at meetings (I am free). I started this blog (I don’t believe in censorship). I learned that my Blackness (still) precedes my doctorate, my actions, my ideas and my perspective every time I speak. But this does not bother me, because I have learned how to love myself without white supremacist validation. Yet still, actively rejecting white supremacy can be dangerous while living in a Black sista body, rocking Black sista hair and blazing Black sista boldness. And now students can carry guns, because it is “their legal right.” As a Critical Race Theorist, I know that the law is not colorblind in any way, shape or form although, it proposes to be just that. Assata taught me. Tamir taught me. Renisha taught me. Aiyanna Stanley Jones taught me. Jordan Davis taught me, which may explain why I am still cautious about how loud my music is when driving close to police cars or other white civilians who the law chooses to protect when they pull out pistols upon hearing so-called “thug” music. To be free in this Black sista body also means that I have to make a living and come home to my family each day. How do I make a living in spaces that were not built for me, that were not built for the kind of radical sparks that emanate from my soul intentionally and impulsively?

Now that students can carry guns in a state like Texas at a public institution where I am employed, I find myself thinking about how to preserve the integrity of my work. How do I continue to practice social justice pedagogy in a space where some students may be armed? Surely in my classes, I may come across armed students. Now to be clear, the law maintains that the weapons must remain concealed. But I find that danger becomes more alive when concealment comes to play. For example, institutional racism is often concealed too, but it is there, powerfully altering Black/Brown lives because it can and it will. Do I change the radical nature of my pedagogy because of the possibility that I can get harmed for doing so? Or, do I walk by faith and not by sight, as my Christian upbringing whispers in my ear? I honestly don’t know the answer to these questions. I am a revolutionary with a cause but one that I am not willing to put myself in blatant danger for. I can say that honestly and fully. Yet still, I do not compromise on what I believe is right either. I know that teaching my students about the intersections among literacies, race and education is work that must get done. I also know that I love the sound of my daughter’s laughter in the morning. I love the way my son looks at me when he is tired. I love my husband’s faith in my ability to change the world. How do I balance spaces of violent institutional oppression and love simultaneously? At this moment, I do not have any answers.

Today is the first day of my second year as an Assistant Professor and I am armed with love and language. I am armed with nontraditional knowledge systems. I am armed with motherhood and false notions of meritocracy. I am armed with the faith that my fear will have to fester in in the face of freedom.

When the Accused is Innocent and My Father…

This piece was written by one of my students. To protect her identity, her name is not shared. However, I do think her story is an important and complex one to share on this blog regarding rape culture and false accusations.


I was about 7 years old and I was sitting in the hallway of a courthouse somewhere in Corpus Christi, Texas. I remember my older sister and dad sitting across from me on thick wood benches. This was so normal for 7 year old me but it shouldn’t have been. My dad’s lawyer, a tall thin woman that I admired so much for her collection of beanie babies and assorted plants in her office, walks up to us and calls my older half sister and dad over. She points to me for a moment and my dad then tells me to sit and wait until he comes back. I object and ask him why I can’t go. He says to just wait. I don’t like to say I was a daddy’s girl because I was never spoiled but I was attached to his hip and I hated any moment that I was away from him. I remember thinking that I deserved to know and I was big enough to know. Why couldn’t they just let me go with them?

My dad was being falsely accused of molesting my 2 year old sister who was at that time in foster care under a middle aged white suburban family with several other foster kids of various ages. I didn’t know this until a little later and I realize now why. Of course they wouldn’t immediately share this information with a young child. It’s terrifying if you know what it means and both terrifying and confusing if you don’t.

Both my mom and dad had been married previously to other people before they met each other. Both had older kids of their own. My parents never married each other but they had me and then my sister, 5 years later. Technically you can say I’m the middle child and thanks to having nieces and nephews around my age I never felt alone. When I was born, my dad tells me that I was put in foster care as well. My mom’s mental stability was failing due to alcoholism and years of mental abuse from her family according to my father. I’m not sure if my mother was ever on any other drugs but I highly doubt it and I don’t think I’m quite ready to think about it. On a side note I recently I did some research on what characteristics and behaviors I remember from my mother’s non-drunken episodes of anger and I want to believe she had a form of schizophrenia.

After about a year, with some help from the kind woman who fostered me, my dad was able to prove that he was a more than capable and responsible parent and he was able to take me home. When my sister was born, he struggled a little more because the couple that had my sister, specifically the woman, wasn’t as willing to part with a child that wasn’t hers to begin with. We had visitation rights and I remember taking trips on the weekends to Corpus with my dad and my older sister Kathy from my dad’s first marriage. We would go to the CPS office and they had these small visitation rooms filled with building blocks and other toys. I remember It had this two toned wallpaper that was white and red stripes on the top half and a grass green on the bottom half. I hated those rooms. I hated how they were so small and cold. I hated the way they made me feel about having to see my sister with such close supervision. I couldn’t just enjoy being with her. Later on we were able to start meeting at a McDonald’s. Mrs. Baxter, my sister’s foster parent would bring all her other foster kids and we would gather in the playroom. There were some older boys that I never liked because they were so rough and mean. I really didn’t like going to McDonald’s either because all I wanted was to play with my sister and not the other kids. There was one time my dad, Mrs. Baxter, Jamie and I went to a swimming pool. I can’t remember exactly where we were but I want to say it was the hotel that my dad and I were staying in while visiting in Corpus.

My sister and I were waddling in the water and I remember flashes of her smiling and the shadows of the large Natatorium. Not all the lights were on because there was still sunlight coming in. My dad and Mrs. Baxter sat talking at a table by the poolside. I remember a jerk of the arm, Jamie’s cry, and watching Mrs. Baxter walking away with my sister hanging by her side Jamie’s arm still in the clutches of the woman. I remember crying angrily and wishing I could have told her goodbye; wishing that woman would just go away and give me my sister back. I remember the look on my dad’s face as he watched his daughter being pulled away. I remember him telling me that this wasn’t right. What she was doing to us wasn’t right. He kept asking me if I saw her pull her arm the way he did as if he couldn’t believe that it actually happened. I don’t remember seeing my sister after that. I don’t remember being in a courtroom again after that.

Around mid-October of last year, one night my husband just randomly started searching for my sister’s name online. I was sitting next to him and we had just finished going through the emotions I was feeling about her. After about 2 ½ hours of dead ends and phone calls to my dad to recollect some names, we happened to come across an obituary of my sister’s foster-dad. My heart was seized with 3 main emotions: relief, sadness, and disbelief. The last thing I expected to find was an obituary, and if my assumptions were right about my sister still being with this family, I was saddened because I can’t even imagine the pain my sister felt losing the only father she knew and that just hurt. I was only relieved because we finally had a lead. We proceeded to skim the page of the man’s obituary and there was a small description section where my eyes immediately locked on my sister’s name, then her foster brother’s and sisters and then it clicked. I immediately pulled the laptop closer and went straight to facebook. I put in the only name I remembered from the group of siblings. The boy now young man’s profile popped up and I quickly knew I was heading in the right direction. After spending a few minutes making sure we had the right brother, I found her name in his friend’s list and I cannot express in words how quickly my heart dropped. I burst into tears and laughter all at the same time while also trying to catch my breath. My body reacted faster than my brain because all I remember thinking was that I was in a dream. I couldn’t just stop there though. Once I was composed, I went to Instagram and found the brother again. Not a minute later I found her. Big brown eyes, long dark hair, a thin frame and the cutest nose. She was real. She was so real and I just felt my world fall around me.

That night I barely slept. I wanted her to know so badly that I found her but I was afraid of what she would think. Would she be scared or crept out? Would she reject me or just ignore me all together? I called my dad the next morning and told him everything. I had to ask him what to do because I just couldn’t think straight. He calmly explained that I should reach out to her and let her know that I had been searching all this time, that I loved her, and that we had never forgotten about her. It took me about half an hour to write it all out but I finally did and sent it to her through Instagram. It took her about a day to respond which worried me but when she finally did, waterfalls were coming out of my eyes and we spent the next couple of weeks texting and calling and crying some more. I would like to go deeper into our discussions but because the circumstances are still rocky at this point, I’m not quite comfortable writing it out. I’m going to end the story with an update though. A little while after we had been talking, my sister had shared with me that she will be graduating this May. I of course told her that I would be there because duh this is such an impactful moment for her and I was NOT going to miss something so special if I could help it. About 3-4 weeks ago, my sister told me that her foster mother was actually not okay with me talking to her (my sister) nor was she okay with me wanting to go to her graduation. I don’t think I even have to begin to explain how saddened and angry I was when I read this. I simply responded that I was going to respect that and when my sister was ready I would be here waiting to talk to her again. We haven’t talked since.

My father’s story has affected my understanding of rape culture in a fuzzy way. On one hand I know far too well how the consequences of false accusations pertaining to rape or sexual assault can have on an entire family. On the other hand, I have had friends who have shared their stories where they were victims of sexual assault and I just can’t believe these things are still happening today. I’m angry specifically because I don’t know what to feel. I want to trust so much when someone tells his or her story and every time I actually do. But then there’s always a tiny voice in my head that asks “what if…” Not specifically to one person or the other but just in general. And I don’t think of that question because I believe it’s the victim’s fault. It comes into my mind because my dad wasn’t guilty but he spent a year in jail and the rest of his life without his daughter that was taken from him. He’s lived everyday thinking about her wondering what her favorite color is, and if she’s getting A’s in all her classes. He doesn’t know what she’s been told but he’s prepared himself emotionally and mentally for the day he gets to reunite with her again. So for me, I want so badly to support #yesallwomen. But I just don’t know how to and I just can’t let what happened to us go. I will never blame the victim and I will never call someone who shares their story a liar because I really just don’t know what they are feeling or going through. But I know what happened in my situation and because of it I take everything with a grain of salt.

I never thought I could hate someone, as much as I hated the woman who still to this day has my sister. It’s a funny thing to not want to have hate in your heart but also to not know how to deal with it in a way that won’t make you lose your mind. If anyone who is reading this has ever watched the TV Show Fringe, you will understand what I’m talking about in the next and last paragraph. If you haven’t, take a moment to Google the synopsis. Then proceed to binge watch the show after you read this post. Just to let you know, this is a big spoiler alert.

In Fringe one of the main characters, Dr. Walter Bishop, creates a machine that allows a person to travel between time and space to a different dimension or a different universe. Walter’s ten-year-old son, Peter, is gravely ill. Walter had also built a window that displays the alternate universe and used it to see what “Walternate”(the Walter in the other universe) is doing to create a cure for the Peter on the other side because both Peter’s had the same disease. Unfortunately, Walter’s son dies before he or Walternate can find a cure. While trying to deal with his depression after the death of his son, Walter continues to spy on Walternate to see if he even manages to cure the other Peter. Walternate was actually very close to finding a cure but somehow (you got to watch it to see) he misses it but Walter catches it from the other side and realizes that because Walternate missed it, the other Peter will not live. In a drunken state, Walter charges up his multi-universe traveling machine, crosses universes, kidnaps Peter, recreates the cure, and saves the boy’s life. However he doesn’t return him back to his universe and manages to convince the boy that what he remembers was a result of his illness. But Walter did all of this because he loved that boy so much he literally crossed UNIVERSES to save him. Of course Walternate and his wife didn’t just let it go. They did everything they could to eventually get their son back. But my point is this: I had to put myself in the shoes of the woman who took my sister because I can’t even begin to think what would lead a person to lie about such a disgusting crime and take a child away from her family, her family away from her and live her life like what she did was right. The only way I could understand it, was if I put in terms of a TV show that I related to so much: Love makes people do crazy things.


Remembering Fertility on Mother’s Day


Today, on the day of Mothers, I want to wrap my lens around fertility. The magic of it. The fear of it. The very idea that it makes one w(hole). The competitive aspect of it. The femininity of it. The masculinity of it. The body as public thorns that wrap themselves around women. Fertility, a weapon and a winner that chooses some bodies and not others. Taken for granted like clean water and fresh air when it’s not you who tried for something you did not receive. Today, on the day of Mothers, I want us to remember that fertility ain’t free. And it is also not deemed The prize by everyone either. It is often measured like Capital yet undermined legislatively at the same time. Maternity leaves are trapped in the crevices of manmade trees that only produce Strange fruit. And yet still, women smile and care and uplift one another, even when some want what the other one has, on both sides.

An #EcuadorianAmerican, #DissertatingLatina Chronicle: A Response to “Latinas don’t have the DNA to be successful” Narrative

“Little Latinas don’t have the DNA to be successful”, said (allegedly) Wanda Ginner, an alumna and board member for San Jose State University’s Tower Foundation.

I read this report as I was doubting my ability to be a successful candidate for postdoctoral and faculty appointments. I took a break from writing my personal statement where I wrote “My professional and academic work reflects my desire to be a professor one day”. I typed it and quickly erased it as if writing out loud sounded ridiculous. It was in that moment when I read what was reported in Inside Higher Ed, that I, a Latina, may not be good enough; and even if I did feel like I was good enough I know that someone, somewhere believed – firmly – that I was not good enough for the academy because of how people may perceive this line right here: “A Native New Yorker, Blanca is the daughter of Ecuadorian immigrants”.


My DNA, reflected in my face and on my body and in my speech will always be indicators to someone in power that I may never be successful.

So what do I do? I continued to plow through my faculty applications. As I expressed my desire to become a professor one day, I remembered that my dad only attained a second grade education and my grandparents were farmers who were also illiterate. My father, also a farmer, knew at 9 years old that he wanted a different life for himself. He left home to pursue a life outside of agriculture.

Let’s think about that for a minute: he didn’t leave home because he was treated poorly; he left his home because he no longer wanted to be poor. At 9 years old.

What were you doing at 9 years old, Wanda Ginner?

In his 30’s, my father decided to leave Ecuador entirely and come to the U.S. where he was told he could make dollars, not sucres (i.e. former Ecuadorian currency). Prior to leaving Ecuador, he made arrangements with an acquaintance already in New York to help him with housing in Queens. This man also promised he would show my father how to take the trains. Instead, he purposefully left my father alone on a train in New York City, where my father barely knew the language and had no friend to call. My father ended up on 110th Street in Manhattan. This was 1968.

He found himself lost on 110th Street at night, so he went to a hotel, a hotel where he encountered drug dealers and prostitutes, locked himself in a room, and prayed for the morning to come. When it finally did, he did what he was accustomed to doing since he was 9 years old: explore his surroundings. He walked north and noticed St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital on 114th Street and Amsterdam. He walked a couple blocks more and saw a large campus. He entered and asked the security guard “What is this place?”.

The security guard said, “This is Columbia University, one of the best universities in the world.” In that moment my father told himself “I can work at either of these places and my daughters can come to school here.” He saw this as an opportunity for him and for a family he desired to have. My father worked at St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital and learned English at Columbia University.

Unfortunately, his daughter did not make it to Columbia University as an undergraduate…but I did complete my doctorate in Higher Education and finished my dissertation entitled “Beyond Incidents and Apologies: Toward a New Understanding of Campus Racial Conflict” at Teachers College, Columbia University.

So much for that unsuccessful DNA that us poor Latinos have, huh?

Despite this strong spiritual foundation, my doubts roared (and continue to do so) at me – can I really be an intellectual, a professor, and academic?

Self-doubt aside, you know what DOESN’T help? Reading my fears on the news: “Latinas don’t have the DNA to be successful”.

The microaggressions and anti-Latino sentiment feel like a 1,000,000 cuts.

Dr. Vega’s HEOP students

The little Ecuadorian girl from Harlem who grew up watching Rocky movies and still pops a Rocky movie in when she has to get ready to rumble with her writing shakes that dirt made of doubt off her shoulders. But that dirt/doubt gets piled on, over and over again. I have heard similar comments throughout my graduate career from faculty, I have held my hermanas/os in the struggle after they have heard related remarks, and because my focus of my dissertation is campus racial conflict, I also have to read about anti-Latino sentiment in news reports and reflected in my respondents’ interviews.

I would like to kick that dirt/doubt off my shoulder but that dirt/doubt has been piled high for Latinas/os in the academy. Really high.

For these reasons, I created the hashtag #dissertatinglatina. In the spirit of political autobiography, I documented the trials and tribulations, victories and triumphs, that I as a former dissertating Latina experienced on the road toward the professoriate. Using social media as a platform, my hope is to counteract the negativity surrounding Latina intellectualism and academic potential. Between tweets and selfies, although not sufficient, my hope is that the hashtag provides some support to other Latinas/os who are in a similar struggle of doubt.

While there are various critiques over the “selfie”, I believe that selfies particularly among people of color are powerful tools to counteract what Junot Diaz describes that White Supremacy does to Latinas/os – turn us into vampires, monsters who are genetically incapable of being successful, a people without reflection. Like Junot Diaz, I want to make a couple of mirrors. I take selfies and write my experiences as a dissertating Latina because I am tired of living in a culture where Ecuadorian women are told they are ugly or are invisible; I get sick just thinking that I live in a society where people really do feel that Latinas/os do not have the DNA to be successful.

Dr. Vega with some of her HEOP students


My silence about my pain or success does no one any service – and I refuse to be in collusion with people who believe without any evidence that Latinas/os are genetically incapable of being intellectuals. I refuse to fall into the traps of White Supremacy where people who believe in Latino inferiority then feel that they have the power to make us successful.

The audacity of the Latina/o intellectual is this one: “[We] are just better at life than you”  [Richard Sherman]. We have to find a way to heal those million cuts/microaggressions we receive and still find the time to think, write, and research. We have to navigate hostile racial terrains on our campuses, while creating supportive environments for students of color.

This sounds like powerful DNA to me. Don’t you think?

A native New Yorker, Dr. Blanca E. Vega is the daughter of Ecuadorian immigrants. She earned a doctorate (Ed.D) from the Higher and Postsecondary Education program at Teachers College, Columbia University. She recently defended her dissertation entitled: “Beyond Incidents and Apologies: Toward a New Understanding of Campus Racial Conflict. Blanca earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Anthropology from Brandeis University and a Master of Arts degree in Higher Education at New York University. Dr. Vega is currently in the process of transitioning to #DoctoraLatina from #DissertatingLatina and continues to capture these moments in the spirit of political autobiography using social media.

Dr. Vega’s research, teaching, and administrative work centers on access to, persistence in and completion of postsecondary education for underserved populations. Her work is informed by her interest in the role of race and racism in educational settings. Dr. Vega has publications and has done research in the following areas: campus racial culture and critical race theory; undocumented immigrants in higher education; and performance funding in higher education.

This post was originally published on Dr. Vega’s on November 18, 2014 at 8:16 pm here:

Feature Fridays with Jay: Teen Black

Source: Atlantic Releasing Corporation

So the other day I’m channel suffering and I bump into a childhood favorite movie of mine, Teen Wolf. Excited to watch the film, I immediately stopped and watched. As I’m watching the movie I found myself analyzing and truly dissecting the film. No longer did it seem benign, comical or jovial. It became a very layered movie about acceptance, and being comfortable in your own “skin.”

I’ve come to realize that Teen Wolf was really about being safely white. I know we can find race in anything, but I really believe Hollywood found a clever way to talk about race. Think about it, the character Scott, was a white nerd from the ‘burbs. He has a main core of friends, but that wasn’t enough for him. He wanted to be popular, he wanted to play basketball. But he couldn’t do that as the white nerd, right? So he finds out later that through anger and embarrassment he has super powers. That he comes from a family heritage of super wolves, which I believe is code for “big Black strong slave blood”. As his wolf heritage is finally revealed at a basketball game, through pressure and anger he decides to live as the wolf. He becomes magically good at basketball. He can now jump higher, run faster, and is instantaneously popular while being the wolf. That’s great right? All his dreams finally coming true huh?


Now let’s dissect that. The wolf is darker, stronger, taller, hair all over his body and face. Are they calling us animals subconsciously? Is that how white folks view black people? Obviously the wolf is an animal, but why was the wolf chosen to be the character he morphs into? These are questions I ask myself while watching the film. White male jealousy and anger for him and his popularity for NO other reason than he’s different. White women’s fascination with him sexually, all while not seriously committing. God forbid she’d be in love with the wolf, the outcast, AKA the Black guy. But sexually, it’s all good. Give me that so called ” Mandingo Animal Penis”. But a serious relationship? Meh, not so much.

images (1)

Scott enjoyed the fame and popularity of the wolf when everything was positive for his image; he loved it. But when things turned negative, and he became angry (because apparently all Black folks and animals are always angry), he withered into his safe place of being the white nerd. He realized he wasn’t ready for the discrimination, the jealousy, and the hatred that came with being the wolf. He couldn’t handle being Black, excuse me, the wolf, for a few months because it became too complicated. So like Hollywood typically does, it wraps everything up in a bow and Scott goes back to being Scott. The white nerd with the white picket fence, and the pretty white next door neighbor who always secretly loved him, but they’re finally together now when he decides to be himself. I think this narrative honestly started with a lot of white people, especially white men’s disdain and jealousy of Black NBA players. Players, who out of all the sports leagues, get into the least amount trouble. Yet, they’re still labeled “thugs.” Why? Because they’re Blacker, taller, more talented, faster, popular and richer? Because if they wanted to, can take your blonde wife? Oh, don’t worry man she’s marrying YOU, But she’s going to fuck him. Or like the NBA changing dress codes because it was starting to get too “ghetto” or too Black? Teen Wolf was made to say, in my opinion, it’s nice to be the strapping, handsome, talented Black guy for a day or two. But in the end, the Scotts of the world are the safest men to be. There you go, a bow!


Jarmil Belle aka Jay, is a sneaker and music culture enthusiast. He is a man of worldly and intellectual views, who demands himself and others to think outside the box. People who regurgitate platitudes need not be around him. You can follow him on twitter at @Jahb1911.

If You Think You’re Giving Students of Color a Voice, Get Over Yourself

Source: PBS Rikers Island Documentary


Miss, miss! What the C.O. toldju about us? They already gettin’ in y’all heads right?

Miss, we human! I’m a human! We have families….

-Rikers Island Youth Workshop Participant

The walls on Rikers Island are the same as the walls in my high school. In a facility six security check-points deep, where it takes myself and my team of social justice educators over 1.5 hours to get from the first screening to the classroom where we run a workshop with a small group of incarcerated adolescent boys, the walls are the same style of brick as every inner-city school I have ever attended or visited. While I am struck by the visceral effects of this very concrete reality for these young men who have attended public schools across the five boroughs, I am not at all surprised. Still, within the physical, psychological, and emotional confines of this space that they navigate daily, I am the one who often feels the deep constraints of internalized social attitudes and perspectives about young Black and Brown men, who they are, what they need, and how they should be engaged within the context of the classroom. The possibilities of our time together are tethered to my internal work—The shedding of any savior complexes and constant collective reflection with the team to live in the tensions and questions of our work as critical educators.

So imagine my horror when on a recent phone call, a white educator who expressed interest in my youth development work, squealed with congratulations and awe for the way that we “give so many young people voice.” Her words were deeply disturbing, but hardly surprising. Grateful that in our last email I chose the ‘phone call’ over the ‘in-person’ or ‘facetime’ option for our meeting, I rolled my eyes, and promptly ended the call.

I should not have ended this call. I should have said to this woman, “if you think you’re giving students of color a voice, get over yourself”… then hung up the phone.

So what’s the big deal? Why get caught up on words when you know that kind well-meaning woman only meant to celebrate the work that you are doing?

Some of the most deeply problematic issues of inequity within the field of education are sustained by well-meaning people embracing progressive politics without intentional frameworks of self-reflection to guide their praxis in a healthy direction.

Here’s the problem:

The idea of “giving” students voice, especially when it refers to students of color, only serves to reify the dynamic of paternalism that renders Black and Brown students voiceless until some salvific external force gifts them with the privilege to speak. Rather than acknowledge the systemic violences that attempt to silence the rich voices, cultures, and histories that students bring into classrooms, this orientation positions students, and by extension, the communities of students, as eternally in need of institutional sanctioning. I do the work I do for these very reasons.

When the young men at Rikers share their work, I am fully intimidated by their uses of extended metaphors, similes, and other literary devices. But all we did was lend them an ear. They woke up like that. We did not give them a voice. We gave them space to be heard. We need educators who are down to create space for the rich identities of their students to thrive, and who are down to be schooled by their students as authorities of their own voices and narratives in the classroom

We need educators who have the courage to do the internal work of critical honesty around their attitudes toward students. Is there space in your classroom for the realities, perspectives, and identities of your students? What is your attitude toward your perception of their cultures and how does this affect the interpersonal dynamics of your pedagogy? So much of the rhetoric around colonialism, imperialism, and American chattel slavery had to do with giving civilization and Christianity to people who were “less fortunate.” Do not align your pedagogy with the same narratives that perpetuated so much evil in our world.

If you think you are giving students of color a voice in the work that you do, get over yourself. They woke up like that.

If you think you are giving students of color a voice in the work that you do, get over yourself. They woke up like that.


Jamila Lyiscott is currently a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Institute for Urban and Minority Education (IUME) of Teachers College, Columbia University. She also serves as an educator, community organizer, consultant and motivational speaker locally and internationally. Jamila’s work focuses on contexts where the cultures, literacies, and literatures of young people of color are critically engaged and humanized for social change. Her scholarship is situated in Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy, Literacy Studies, and Black Literature. Jamila is the founder and co-director of the Cyphers For Justice (CFJ) youth, research, and advocacy program, apprenticing inner-city youth as critical researchers through hip-hop, spoken word, and digital literacy. She was recently featured on where her video was viewed over 3 million times. Along with several publications, she has lectured and directed educational justice projects widely. Through her community, scholastic, and artistic efforts, Jamila hopes to play a key role in forging better connections between the world of academia and communities of color outside. 
























On a bright Sunday morning,
she murdered expectations without a weapon, but with a truce,

She made a truce with her heart
that Reality
could no longer fuck with her,
even if it meant that sometimes she had to buy books

instead of pretty flowers.

You see, people are made of flesh and bone. And blood.

And their actions hurt if you rely on them.

But if you can only hold on
And hold out for the “fuck you”
Buried deep in your consciousness,
Nobody can ever hurt you

© Crystal Belle 2016

#BlackMenGreeting – Recognizing Each Other’s Presence and Humanity

DeVaughn Ward and Pastor Al Johnson greeting local kids on their first day of school in Hartford, Connecticut.

A couple of weeks ago the #blackmengreeting hashtag made its rounds on social media. I was reminded of when I was doing interviews for my dissertation. I asked my participants to reflect on an incident in the past year and a half that spoke to the significance of their presence as Black male teachers in their schools. There is this silence that I allow to stretch for moments as they sit there in their reverie. Garreth tells an anecdote where a parent who had the reputation of being aggressive approached him at the beginning of the school year and asked him how he was going to ensure that her son was not going to end up a part of the school to prison pipeline. He says that he was completely taken aback by the question, as it was literally his second week of teaching. He explains her demeanor changes as he introduces himself and she learns more about him:

I think that a big part of it was she trusted me on a deeper level because I was a Black male and some of the experiences I had because of being Black and male; and throughout the year we were able to foster a good relationship and ultimately she trusted me a lot more than I think she would have had I not been a Black man. 

As he talks there are nods of assent from the other three participants and it becomes apparent that this is an understanding of experience that the others can speak to, too.

Alex adds that the way he interacts with the kids at his school makes him feel like his presence is a little different than just being their teacher; that there is something familial about the interactions; where he could easily be an uncle or big brother. He says:

It’s that family relationship where you can be mad at one another and still have respect for one another outside the context of the classroom. It’s a tough thing for me because I’m trying to be the teacher and they don’t always want me to be that and they want me to be something else and if they feel like I’m being too “teachery” they let me know.

Jay reiterates that being Black is enough sometimes – that being the only Black male on the teaching staff is enough and that kids sprint out of their lines to greet him or to hug him, and that he knows that it’s an acknowledgement of self.

When Ricky starts talking I am struck so deeply by his passionate stance. He literally vibrates with it as he talks. He informs us that he works at a school where 98% of the population is Black boys and that he is one of 3 Black men on the teaching staff. He says that he wants to be able to create a perfect balance between keeping a strong relationship with students and meeting academic excellence. His voice breaks a bit when he says that he tries to grow as much as he can as a professional but “without taking out the edge and rawness (he) came in with”. He goes on to say:

It’s tough because my colleagues in higher positions don’t like it, because it isn’t what the norm is. But I’ve come to realize that I really don’t care because they won’t mess with you when you are getting the results -they won’t mess with you -and that is something that I’m trying to push myself to do right now is to become the best teacher I can possibly be in this system in any system and don’t keep…don’t lose that realness and edge that I have.


I am so profoundly struck and I see his anxiety and his worry that he will lose his edge; that he will get caught up in a system that doesn’t love him.

“Talk more,” I say to him; to them, “I see you shaking your head…and there is a lot of shaking of heads and head nodding as he (Ricky) is talking; because I think you are talking about the same thing. Talk more about what that edge is.”

He looks to them as he starts to answer…they nod to him. An affirmation. A dap. They see him. They see themselves. He says:

The edge is an unspoken respect or unspoken vibe almost, that we have. The kids know, it’s like when I see another Black man in a setting where we are not the majority and we are the minority – we always connect. If I see you walk past, I’m going to say ‘what’s up’- I give you a head nod. I give you the dap. We know what it is. It’s the same with the kids. It’s like a special power and it’s a gift – at first I thought it was both a gift and a curse, but it can’t be a curse because it can only help you push the students to where they need to be academically – it works hand in hand. Other people are great teachers and I can’t take that away from them and others are great at this and that subject but I’m great at what I do. It flows professionally and into the professional realm of our career.

When he is done talking we are silent; all of us are caught in reverence. Ricky has articulated beautifully this connection we feel as Black educators, as Black people and I know I am not the only one in the room encouraged to hear it described as a ‘gift’ and a ‘special power’.

Alex explains the dap in the school setting:

It was equally as shocking for me in retrospect to realize how much the Black nod is really, like a real thing. I think it happens in school as well. The kids are looking for us to affirm their existence and their reality, and you realize that you look to them for it, too: What’s up, how you doing? That’s the reality… yeah, that’s how we roll you know- it’s not like us to ignore each other’s existence.

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Marcelle Mentor is South African & a Ph.D. candidate at Teachers College, Columbia University. She is a former high school English Teacher. Her academic interest focuses on Critical Race Theory, with an emphasis on Black Masculinity. She is an activist, a mother of two teenaged sons; a scholar and teller of stories.

Feature Fridays with Jay: The McDonaldization of Hip-Hop


You know, the advancement of technology and time has made our lives a little easier. No longer are the days when we had to use rotary phones to call anyone. We nhiphopow have cell phones. Hell, no one actually calls anyone anymore (except mama), we only text to communicate. Even with that, we’ve expedited it. Sometimes people send me texts and I feel like I’m reading hieroglyphics. I don’t know what the fuck they’re saying. I say that to say this, I don’t know what the fuck I’m listening to these days! The Mediocre has risen and well the cream, the cream is just taking too long to drop new material frankly. Not only has the Mediocre risen, it’s churning out cheap product as often as possible. And we’ve all gotten fat on it.

Contrary to popular belief and avid music lovers, FUTURE is the most “popular” artist in hip-hop music right now. I know, I know, you don’t want to hear that shit, but it’s true in the metrics and in content. Future has learned and literally mastered how to make actual “crack music”. It’s intoxicating and addictive sonically, but the substance not so much. It reminds me of McDonald’s, the king of making fast, affordable food with legendary secret sauces and all. But how are they able to do that while producing so much product? With the help of GMOs, steroids, fake meat, even fake fries etc. McDonald’s Big Mac, a societal staple, is probably part cow, chicken and plastic all rolled together to mass produce and build an enormous profit.

I watched a documentary called Food Inc, and it made me question every edible decision I’ve ever made. I assure you it looks as bad as it sounds. Which brings me back to Future, the art of mass production is his gift. He realized the quality doesn’t really matter as long as the beat is musically close to appealing and has a twinge of bounce and reggae. From there it’s rinse and repeat. You think it’s different, NO it’s all the same. He exclusively talks about drugs, money and women in a non-creative high school way. Then he flips it, women, money, drugs. And why would he change it? It’s a winning formula and others have followed suit. Even some of our “so called” greats and favorite artists occasionally follow suit because it undeniably works.

I blame Jay-Z for this metamorphosis in hip-hop, because he mishandled his photographic memory gift that allows him not to write. His ability to make music effortlessly with the same content and make it sound fresh was damn close to genius. He made LAZY artists feel they could do that as well, and they obviously  can’t. They viewed not writing as a short cut, not as a crafted God-given skill. Hence, I believe it was the birth of the lazy-no-thought musical genre and probably the beginning of the demise of New York hip-hop. How fast he used to put out “quality” music annually would be way too late now. Now artists are dropping product every other week just to keep up. Forget about the quality, they’re just trying to stay relevant. It’s like the people who really want to eat well, but can’t afford it; McDonald’s will have to do. Tastes so good, but yet so bad for you and your bowels. There’s nothing developed in a week that’s great, I’m sorry. However, living in an ADHD society, this is looking more and more like the new norm. Not everyone has the luxury of Beyoncé, Kanye, and Adele of taking their time to make substantive music and when it drops, it drops. Tragically, they’re all in a race to be the queen or king of mediocrity while sipping lean and making lots of money. It rarely ends that way though. I wrote this while listening to FUTURE. Now I either need to head to the strip club or pop a Xanax while wearing Gucci flip flops. Wonderful SMFH…


Jarmil Belle aka Jay, is a sneaker and music culture enthusiast. He is a man of worldly and intellectual views, who demands himself and others to think outside the box. People who regurgitate platitudes need not be around him. You can follow him on twitter at @Jahb1911.

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