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

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



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. 























Children’s Literacy Habits

(C) AMITY Publications

I have always been a lover of words and language for as long as I can remember. The magic of stories coming to life on the page is intriguing to me. My mother also has a love of language and words, although she never went to college. Her Trinidadian upbringing, in a postcolonial era during the 50s, frames many of the words she used at home such as “cantankerous,” a personal favorite of hers which later on helped me when I saw it on the SATs. Many times, we associate “proper” literacy practices with wealth, but there are a myriad of literacy practices familiar to working class homes that are equally as important. In our working class home growing up, we had weekly debates based on the news, politics, and various happenings in our community. I grew up with deep literacy-based values in the home that was not only tied to reading books but also speaking, debating and various English dialects (Trinidadian dialects and African American Vernacular English).

Now that I’m a mother, my love of reading and the power of literacy is something that I aim to pass down to my children. My 3-year-old daughter already has an intense love of books and my 7-month old son loves story time. In fact, his ability to listen to an entire story at this age is fascinating to me. Similar to his sister, he loves the rhymes of Dr. Seuss at this age. My daughter has advanced to more lengthy stores with morals/messages. Yesterday, on Valentine’s Day, we read one of our favorites titled, Happy Valentine’s Day Mouse. Here is how the conversation went:

Z: Mommy this picture is so funny!
Me: Why is it funny Z?
Z: Because he shouldn’t be exercising like that.

FullSizeRender (7)


Engaging in a critical way while reading is an incredibly important aspect of critical literacy that I want to share with my kids. Question everything. Be observant of everything on the page. It is the same way I want them to approach life. That of course is my hope as a mother. Part of my identity as perpetual teacher and professor shapes these values, but I also know how important it is in this world, especially for Black children.

One of the things I love about our local supermarket is the wide array of things they have: floral arrangements, children’s books, toys, etc. As a result, going to the grocery store always turns into book shopping, too. My 3-year-old loves getting new books. Our latest Valentine’s Day book purchase is called Happy Valentine’s Day Little Critter. It’s a cute story with great illustrations. Essentially, the story is about creating valentines in school and hoping to receive some from your friends. Although my daughter doesn’t quite get the concept of making valentines yet, she did enjoy the pull out flaps in the book (think of pop-ups but in a sleeker way) and the images. I think it’s one of our new favorites.

The cover of Happy Valentine’s Day Little Critter

I sincerely hope that my daughter’s love of literacy remains throughout the course of her life and I hope my son becomes more immersed in the power of literacy, as well. As a mother and as a professor of literacy studies in education, it is something that is critical for the development of my babies. I hope the teachers they eventually encounter embody this principle, as well. Only time will tell.

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