Tiffany Shawn

Being a black woman, race has always been something I notice. I became aware of my blackness at the tender age of 6 while in kindergarten. So I can only imagine how strongly some students feel that awareness of race in 2017.

When I’m the only black teacher in a meeting of 30 on the first day back to school, I notice it. When I was in graduate school and in class after class, I never saw a professor or student who shared my melanin, I noticed it. And I went to an HBCU on purpose to avoid that feeling.

I feel more at ease with those who share my melanin. It doesn’t mean I cannot work with and be friends with non-persons of color, it just means more times than not, when in the presence of those who look like me, we share similar aspects of life.

I find comfort in this. I therefore want all my students, in particular the non-white students, to feel comfort in our classroom when discussing topics like injustices for minorities outweighing those of Caucasians.

The teachers I work with have done a great job of engaging students in discussion and have based it on facts and on their own experience with activism – even those new to it in this way. I’m proud to work in a district that does not ignores travesties in our city.

I heard of a principal telling teachers, “I don’t care how you feel about this. We are here for the kids.” Perhaps the sentiment was genuine in meaning to put more emphasis on teaching than personal emotions, but our emotions cannot be denied.

I was in tears at least twice at school when the Stockley verdict came down, but I held it in for the kids because they didn’t know the latest news update nor did they need to know my thoughts on the situation before I had time to process.

In speaking with coworkers, many sources have been gathered to help not only adults process but to assist students in processing and discussing topics that we cannot ignore. I suggest: http://Tolerance.org, “Let’s Talk About Race” and “Soundless Cries Don’t Lead to Healing.”

To open up discussion with kids, start simple by asking if there anything they want to discuss in current events. Print pictures and headlines and have kids plan a discussion around their views. Explain ways people show traits of activism.

And no matter what, read. Read. Read. What better way to expose children to the world than through carefully sought out books that show people breaking the barriers of inequalities, sexism, and racism!

Tiffany Shawn is an educator and activist who blogs for MyNaturalReality.com.

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