Sunday, January 24, 2016

My Journey: Race, Economics, and White-Privilege #KidsDeserveIt

Inequality is something that has received more and more national attention lately.  From economic injustices, to racial prejudice, and so much more. From shootings, to marches, to court cases.  It's everywhere.  And it's something that is heavy on my soul.  Something that my personal journey has led me to.  So I wanted to take this place to share my thoughts, my story, my heart.

I'm white.  There's no denying that.  I grew up in a home of white middle-class parents.  From birth, my family was able to provide all my basic needs.  I was never denied a service when I went somewhere.  I wasn't stared at because I looked different or whispered about as I passed by.  Women didn't clutch their purses as I walked past them, I wasn't called racial slurs, I was able to just.....be.

Growing up in southeast Texas though, I saw prejudice.  Especially racial-prejudice.  I just didn't know it at the time.  But, oh what I know now.

My parents divorced when I was leaving 6th grade.  I moved with  my single-mom to a new town.  A town a little more racially diverse.  I learned what it was like watching my mom struggle sometimes to make ends-meet.  To provide my brother and I with things we wanted or needed.  I saw fear of being able to put food on the table.  I learned about hard work.  I caught a glimpse, just a glimpse, of what it felt like to be "poor".

When I was little, I grew up around people who looked like me.  I often heard the n-word, derogatory names for Mexicans, hurtful terms used to describe the LGBT community, and more.  But the funny thing is I never found myself using the words.  Not once.  For whatever reason, I could sense the pain in those words and knew they'd never leave my mouth.

I share that background of myself first, to lead into who I've grown into as an adult.

I remember being in college, working to be a teacher, and being in a city that was filled with families who did not speak English.  I remember saying things like "if you're gonna live in this country you need to learn our language, ENGLISH!", "you shouldn't come over here if you're not willing to put forth energy to learn it", and so on.  I was convinced I was right.  I heard others backing me up, telling me they agreed, so why would I be wrong?

My how things have changed for me.

I remember my first eye opening experience was when I visited Venezuela for 3 weeks in 2009.  I went to visit a good friend of mine and stayed with his family.  It was my first trip out of the country.  And I was surrounded by people who didn't speak my language.  The only person I could comfortably communicate with was my friend.  No one else spoke English.  The first few days were ok, but then it became overwhelming.  Not being able to feel like I could express myself.  From that moment...something in me clicked.  Working with students where almost 40% of them were hispanic, I came back with a different appreciation and understanding.  Not a complete one, but a deeper one.

Then, I became a "connected educator" about 3 years or so ago.  I stepped outside of my realm of familiarity and my eyes were opened.  I connected with educators, students, thought leaders from around the world, and my eyes were opened.  I met people of all educational, racial, and socioeconomic backgrounds.   And I did more than talk, I listened.

I then started EduAllStars podcast (with my buddy Chris Kesler), and began interviewing game changes in education from all walks of lives and I heard their stories.

I think to me that made the biggest impact.  Stopping and listening to people, where they came from, what they fought through, the struggles they faced and still faced.

I remember talking with a Hispanic Principal and hearing him tell me that to this day, even with National Awards and World Wide recognition, he will still have parents call him a "stupid Mexican" or a "wet-back".

I remember talking with a teenager at an educational conference who told a small group of us what it was like being bullied because of his sexual-preference.  To see the incredible work he's done worldwide to help others, and the daily battle he himself still faced at school.

I listened to an African-American teacher tell me about how a parent of one of her students said she should teach his child because she was a "stupid n-word" (he used the word).

I sat in a room with a group of diverse kids and listened as they told me the hardest thing about school was that there weren't adults that looked like them.  That all their teachers were white, and often the felt like they didn't connect.

My heart broke.  It still breaks.  These stories aren't from years ago.  All four stories listed above are from the last 8 months.

I feel like we can do more.  I feel like we can work together more.  And I don't mean just one group.  I mean all of us.  Every single one of us has played a part in the way things are now, and it will take many of us to make a change.

I love Margaret Mead's quote "Never doubt that a small group of people can change the world, when indeed it's the only one that ever has."

I look around now and on the news see constant hatred still spread.  Telling us to kick people out of our country because of race or religion.  Telling us to shoot at or boycott cops because of skin color.  Telling us one person is better than another because of money, skin, religion, language.

I know I'm white.  I know I'm middle class.  I know, now, that there are privileges that have been afforded to me because of those things.  But I also understand more.  I also now am aware of those things, and being aware makes a difference.

I'm by no means saying I completely understand the plight others face.  I never will.  You don't understand, until you walk in those shoes.  But the more I watch on social media of people still proudly spreading hatred and misunderstanding, I couldn't stay quiet.

I teach in a school where only about 10% of the students are like me.  I work with little hands, bright smiles, tiny bodies.  I work with kids who have limitless potential.  Kids who will change the world.  Kids who sleep on dirt floors.  Kids who eat only what is served at school.  Kids who have skin color that is darker than mine.  Kids who speak more languages then I can.  Kids whose dream is just to make it to college.  Kids who coming to school is the only time they're guaranteed a hug.  Kids who battle drug use at home, violence, abuse.  I have 750 students under my charge, who I have no choice but to fight for.  To try and understand.  To connect with.  To be their voice.

I want to be more.  I want my voice to speak more, louder, out for those who aren't like me.  I want to be a voice for those who don't feel they can stand up.  Who don't feel they'll be heard.  I want to stand along side them.  I want things to change.

So today, I share my story.  My journey from being who I was to who I am right now.  I'm not done growing.  I have more to understand.  But I'm in a place where I can see that all of us matter.  Every skin color, every language, every religion.  And I'm tired of what I see around.  I want to be the difference.