Pass the Mic to VLP Staff

Posted on Wednesday, July 1, 2020 by Melissa Howison

We at the Village Learning Place are a community of lifelong learners and practitioners of cultural awareness. As such, we consider it our duty to listen while in conversation with others, invite all voices to participate, and act when a moment calls us. The uprisings in streets across the globe and the flooding of digital spaces over the past month send a clear message: people in positions of privilege need to enact anti-racism. Staff at the VLP have responded by reflecting on what more they can be doing, at work and in the world, to do so. Some wanted to share their reflection. The Village Learning Place released an official statement, but this is our staff in their own words:

As an immigrant of this country, I had no idea or deeper understanding of the root of racism, Black Lives Matter protests, white privilege and white supremacy until I have lived in Baltimore for almost 5 years now, and experienced interactions with people of color and white people.  At first, I could not understand why there is such a label called black and white people. In my head, I was thinking, why not just call all people in the United States Americans? With this confusion, I started asking questions and reading blogs/articles and watching videos about racism to inform and educate myself. I was shocked when I learned more about the roots of racism.

As an educator, I have a crucial role to play in educating children that I serve about racism since their core beliefs about their identities are formed in early years. Seeing the impact of racism and all the suffering lately, I am committed to educate myself first so that I may influence my students to have a better understanding and to respond with compassion and justice towards their fellow human beings. I realized it takes a lot of hard work to dismantle a deeply ingrained belief system and internalized shame caused by years of slavery and unfair treatment and oppression.

Doing my part in creating a change or progress in this area will give me a sense of fulfillment in my job.

The resources I’ve been reading are from Miki Kashtan’s work on Facing Privilege and YouTube videos by Jane Elliot.

Noraleen, LINK Assistant Teacher

I have spent the last 20 years of my life unlearning all the history I learned in the first 20 years of my life. That history was what I was taught in school, in the books I read outside of school, in the easy narratives that we were spoon fed all through high school and beyond. Some of it is my fault for not only believing it, but letting those beliefs form a foundation for everything else I took in, but I am not the only child this has happened to, so the fault cannot lie just with me.

That history and narrative involves white people as the heroes in their own story.

In college I took a class on women in early America. We read about countless women who worked and taught and fought for their rights long before they were given the right to vote in this county. They were all white. I never asked why the class didn’t include a discussion on American Black Women, enslaved or free. I took a class on the Civil War and Reconstruction. I learned about “40 acres and a Mule” but we never talked about reparations and I never asked why. I took a class on Modern American Cities. I never asked why historically Black neighborhoods were razed to make room for downtown freeways, we never discussed red-lining and racial covenants, I never asked more about segregation. We understood it was “bad” and “wrong” in our “modern thinking” but I never asked who or why or how or perhaps, most importantly, how all those policies sidelining Black Americans benefitted white Americans like me.

I taught history for 13 years in Chicago Public Schools. I was usually the only white face in the room. And as the years passed and I educated myself more and more I struggled with how much to tell my students about how pervasive systemic racism really was. My kids saw the cops as the problem, but I knew that a hundred years of careful planning and legislation and redlining and segregation and over-policing meant that the system worked exactly as it was supposed to. How do I stand in front of a room of black and brown faces and tell them that my life had been made better while theirs harder because the system was designed like that? How do I encourage kids to go for that Bachelor’s degree I didn’t have to work very hard to achieve all while overcoming incredible obstacles and making sacrifices I was never asked to make? How do you motivate kids while providing them with information about just how rigged the system is? How do you instill hope in teenagers when the gears of “justice” are poised to crush it? I still don’t have an answer. But I have learned that the best way to start is to listen rather than talk. Hear rather than speak. And show interest rather than lecture. I also know that my life has been immeasurably enriched by being the “white lady” in a room of Black faces and my students have been inspirational, hilarious, constantly surprising, and simply awesome. 

Kim, Academic Youth Advocate (LINK Leaders)