Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Ups and Downs

There's a party tonight at the Green Turtle. It's for bloggers and their readers, and it's sponsored by HoCoBlogs and Totally HoCo. This event, and a related one tomorrow, are in support of Toys for Tots. Read more here, and let them know you'll be coming.

I don't think I will be there, although I'd like to, because I've finally succumbed to the cold that's been working it's way through my classroom and all I want to do is go back to bed.

I went to the Board of Education meeting last night. I'd like to order the commemorative DVD of the event. Or perhaps an expertly curated sampling of the evening's events. They could call it "Highlights for Sharing."

In a blog post over a year ago, I suggested:

If parents and teachers truly united to seek improvement and change on shared goals, they would be unstoppable.

I look forward to reading other bloggers' takes on last night's meeting. There's quite a bit to process. I'm going to have more to say on this but at the moment I have a date with decongestants and ibuprofen and tissues.

Thanks to all of you who got together and got me a new Board of Ed. You're off the hook for Christmas gifts this year. As to who gave me the cold, you are probably three and I wish you would cover your face more when you sneeze. But I'm letting you off the hook, too.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Now We Begin

There's  a countdown ticker running over at the Better Board of Ed website. Right now it reads eleven hours, forty six minutes. When the countdown runs its course a new Board of Education will be sworn in and a new era in the Howard County Schools will begin.

It has been a long, long slog to get to this day. Those engaged in the work of bringing change to the school system might be forgiven for thinking that today is the long-awaited end to the process. Finally, finally, the majority has changed. The 5-2 voting machine has been broken, and the status has shifted.

Finally. It will be time to breathe a collective sigh of relief.

But when the counter runs down and the long wait is over we will be not at the end, but at the beginning. At the risk of sounding like Captain Obvious: we haven't yet begun the journey we have set our sights upon. We didn't elect a better Board of Education so we could go back to ignoring what goes on and let someone else take care of it.

No matter how good they are, they will need our help. They need our voices, and our participation. Things like transparency, accountability, and responsiveness are a two-way street. They thrive when there are constituents who are consistently engaged in the process. It's true that we don't have to worry that they'll be so outrageously awful that we need to watch them every minute. But that does not give us a free pass to check out.

Part of electing a better Board of Education was doing the work of making things better. Nice job, Howard County. Now keep doing it.

11:14...tick tock...

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Let Me Call You Sweetheart

I got a message from a friend yesterday. "They're showing that video at the One Howard event," she wrote.

I was incredulous. After what I had heard from members of the community, I thought that was an extremely poor choice. I wondered if it would cause discomfort for people in the room who had come to the meeting in good faith.

It did. From a women at the event:

I watched the video last week and felt horrified, not entirely just by the video, but also by the reactions- felt like they wanted someone to smooth it all over for them, and he complied.  It felt like all the pain of the victim community got shoved back down so the majority could not feel uncomfortable.  And, that's honestly how we who are minorities have been "trained":  don't ruffle feathers too much...  make it feel okay, even when it's not.  I'm sort of done with that.

I'm not going to link to the video because, frankly, I don't want to give it any more publicity. I wrote about why I feel it is problematic in Friday's post. Dr. David Anderson, pastor of Bridgeway Community Church, and creator of the Gracism brand, made this video and has made much of how many views it has garnered.

I'm not sure he understands how much damage it has done.

One very brave woman in attendance, Renee Grant,  attempted in a quiet and polite way to get the organizers to stop showing the video, but she was rebuffed. 

I stepped up because no one else would. I asked two people to stop the video before I went to the front and did it.

If you are running an event which is meant to promote community healing and you discover that you are doing something which is hurting instead of healing, I think that should be a wake-up call. But a quiet request was not enough. So a small group of women stood up to publicly push back against the message of the video. 

African American business owner Renee Grant stepped in because the situation warranted it. 

And Dr. Anderson called her "sweetheart."

Imagine if the tables had been turned, and Dr. Anderson was pleading to be heard, and she called him "buddy." Or "boy".

Communty member Deeba Jafri:

I just could not take it any more when that video went up. I just started crying. I just felt that the event was just going to turn into a feel-good event for white people without the realization of how much damage these acts are causing in households across our county. So I spoke...

Ms. Grant yielded the microphone to Ms. Jafri. She spoke eloquently, and from the heart. 

Friends, this is not okay. Dr. Anderson and Bridgeway Community Church have a history of being positively engaged in our community but I think we need to stop and take a hard look at where we are right now. Who exactly does Dr. Anderson represent right now?

The County Executive, like HCPSS before him, wants to outsource "race relations" to Bridgeway instead of getting in there and getting messy themselves. As one woman at the event commented, this was a:

...great example of lack of multiple perspectives reinforces bad choices.

That's it in a nutshell. Men in charge don't respect women who dissent. No African American students chosen to be on the panel.* One prominent pastor gets a voice, but where was another perspective, say, that of Janelle Bruce? She would have put students front and center. And she would have afflicted the comfortable, which, in my opinion, needs to happen before we can more forward.

Lack of multiple perspectives reinforces bad choices. And calling someone who is every bit your equal "sweetheart" reinforces patriarchal stereotypes of who is to be dominant, who is to be submissive. 

One Howard? At this moment I'm of two minds about that.

*I hear that the young people who were there acquitted themselves admirably. It's too bad they weren't afforded a greater voice.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

The Show Must Go On

"I think the ultimate way that art can be political is that it engenders empathy."
- - Lin-Manuel Miranda

Today is the day for OMHS annual WBAL Radio Concert for Kids. It has been a hard week over at the high school. The school community has been rocked by a student's very public racist and violent threats. Fellow-students who tried to call out his behavior found themselves subjected to lengthy interrogation by school administration. Students feel fearful at school. Parents have worried.

Rehearsals continued. Preparations moved forward. The over-arching goal of helping others thriugh a celebration of the arts continues. The show must go on.

I'm taking the liberty of running last year's post again (with updated information) because I feel very strongly in this cause and these people. Take a few hours of your day to enjoy this concert. Or donate.


Who Gives? We Do

My #tbt offering today (for Throwback Thursday) is reaching way back to Giving Tuesday. I've got an amazing, local, holiday-flavored, budget-friendly way for you to give: the WBAL Concert for Kids. We went last year and were blown away by the student performances. Yes, there are professional guest artists and they are great, but it's the kids that will wow you. 

First, the giving. All monies raised from this concert go to the WBAL Radio Kids Campaign. Their mission:

The WBAL Radio Kids Campaign seeks to promote, foster, encourage, support and sponsor various activities for the general educational, vocational, recreational, civic and social improvement and betterment of young, economically deprived boys and girls in the WBAL Radio listening area, without regard to race, creed, color, or national origin.

I wrote about this concert last year

It is hard to put into words how awe-inspiring this event was. It was absolutely the best in student performance that Howard County has to offer: singing, instrumental playing, and dance. And it was the picture of Rouse's dream for Columbia: racially, ethnically, and economically diverse--all coming together, using their talents, to help others.

If you are looking for something to do with the family this year to fill in for the Symphony of Lights, this is it. I assure you, you will come away with holiday spirits raised and a spring in your step. This year Music Director Philip Hale and his performers have added a special Family Matinée performance at 1:00 pm to the original evening performance at 7:30 pm. If you have younger children, the 1:00 pm show has been tailored to your needs: it's shorter, more compact, and there's even a free do-it-yourself craft for kids! 
Between the Family Matinee and the evening performance you can visit the Holiday Shop. Bring your wallet!

To enhance your experience, our Holiday Shop will be open from 2:00pm until approximately 10:00pm. Hand crafted home decorations, ornaments and gifts will be available throughout the afternoon. Performances by the Oakland Mills Middle School Jazz Band, Oakland Mills High School Orchestra and Choir students will help to "make your 
spirit bright". Pictures with Santa and a do-it-yourself holiday craft will be available for the children. 

Just the facts:

Where--Oakland Mills High School, 9410 Kilimanjaro Rd. 21045
When--Saturday, December 3, at 1:00 and 7:30
Why--To support WBAL Radio Kids Campaign 
Cost--Family Matinée, $10.00, Evening, $15.00.

Want to help the cause but can't attend? For the first time, you can purchase a ticket to "pay it forward" and give the gift of the concert to a member of our community who wouldn't otherwise be able to afford it. You can add some happy faces to that Family Matinée  and help the Kids Campaign. What's not to like? Buy your tickets here.

Keep in mind that everything--time, talents, crafts, are donated. One hundred per cent of the proceeds are donated. Since its inception, the Concert for Kids has donated over $50,000 to the Campaign for Kids. And all of this energy and giving and excellence in performance is coming from the Village of Oakland Mills. 

We have a lot of heart here in Oakland Mills. Won't you join the effort by joining Philip Hale and his students this weekend? Ten or fifteen dollars is a small price to pay for a song in your heart and joy for kids who really, really need it. 

I hope I'll see you there.

Friday, December 2, 2016

The Double Standard

In the recent reactions to local students posting racist language and violent racist threats there is one particular kind of reaction which has troubled me. When people look at the perpetrators and worry that they "might get hurt" or that they are "misunderstood" they are sending a message that they identify with these students, and not with the victims.

It may be as simple as parents looking at kids and saying, "What if my kid did some half-assed thing? How would I want them to be treated?" 

But therein lies the problem. It's white parents looking at white kids and empathizing with them. How on earth should African American parents and students feel when they see that?

There is a horrific double standard in our society. When people of color are the transgressors, they are vilified as thugs, naturally criminal, a danger to society. When whites do the same they are described as loners, misunderstood, quiet. We post their graduation photos or mention their swimming medals. Let's be honest, even when people of color are the victims the same process applies: the victim is shamed, blamed, while the most unflattering photographs are selected to be shared. The implication is that, even as victims tbey were probably to blame.

In light of this deeply engrained double standard I was uncomfortable to see many of the same people  whose concerns were more with the perpetrators sharing Dr. Anderson's recent video. 

"I knew there was more to it."
"She just didn't know, poor thing."
"She was just trying to impress her friends."
"It's outrageous how people bullied her."

To be clear, I believe that Dr. Anderson did what he did because of his work as a Christian pastor and his deep commitment to building bridges across racial divides. My concern comes from seeing his video used by some to rationalize racist behavior and ameliorate white discomfort.

We should be uncomfortable. Please forgive me for repeating myself, but I feel the need to restate this:

Every African American student who has to deal with this is hurt. Hate speech, especially hate speech that promotes violence, is not a victimless crime. How on earth do we propose that students get a decent education if they are in an environment that threatens and degrades them? No one can thrive in a state of fear. These students' right to an education is compromised by this.

There are victims here. The first thing we should be doing is identifying with them, and with their parents who fear for their safety and well-being. If we identify with the white face (in blackface) we are deepening the damage that has already been done.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Tut, Tut. It Looks Like Rain

So it seems we have a pattern going. Student uses social media to make violent racist threats. School system responds with what looks like a form letter which uses words like "hurtful" or "unfortunate."

This is crazy. Why does this keep happening? This time a student in Oakland Mills (Oakland Mills? Really?) has used social media, including YouTube, to publish racist views and violent threats. Fellow students have again taken to Twitter to call out this behavior. One wonders if they will be the ones to suffer consequences from the school system for asking the public to look at this.

When someone publishes hate speech and /or violent threats, it causes actual harm to actual people. And when the people authority go to great lengths to avoid calling it what it is, they add to that harm. As I said the last time this came up:

Every African American student who has to deal with this is hurt. Hate speech, especially hate speech that promotes violence, is not a victimless crime. How on earth do we propose that students get a decent education if they are in an environment that threatens and degrades them? No one can thrive in a state of fear. These students' right to an education is compromised by this.

Recently a video has been making the rounds on social media of Dr. David Anderson of Bridgeway Community Church speaking with a young woman who was at the center of another racist social media post. This video has received a lot of praise. Certainly Dr. Anderson is a Christian pastor whose focus would naturally be Christian reconciliation. In addition he is well-known for fostering community conversations about overcoming racial divides. 

I would feel better about his video if he had also given a platform for students harmed by the racist messages. I am uneasy that his focus is solely on the perpetrator. Where is a voice for the victims? 

Sadly I don't really have much more to say on this subject than I did the last time it reared its ugly head. I applaud the students who are shining a light on this behavior. As one said:

I'm sick of hcpss principals copying and pasting from the same template to excuse the racist actions of students.

Making excuses deepens the harm. We shouldn't be asking our kids to bear that extra insult from people they should be able to trust.


Just read this piece by OMHS student Rosa Kirk-Davidoff in he Columbia Flier. Too good to omit. Please read.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Slough of Despond

I had a gloriously restful Thanksgiving with my family. I had time to do crafty things, think of ideas for my classroom, make some tentative Christmas plans. Yesterday the skies were dark and I returned to work and sense of heaviness and doom. No idea why.

I felt tired and disoriented. Perhaps the change in the light has sapped my strength. This is the time of year that usually happens. It catches me by surprise every time.

This year it is worse though. Like fellow-blogger Heather Kirk-Davidoff I am still grieving after the election. She writes:

On November 13th, the Sunday after the election, our usually animated congregation was almost silent as we gathered for worship.  It felt like someone--or something--had died.  People have told me about struggling to get out of bed.  People have called me in tears over all that has happened.

It's a dark time of year. And for some of us the darkness is especially more pronounced right now. Values and rights I care deeply about are on the chopping block. Whole groups of people are dismissed as less valuable. Dreams I had for my daughters' futures are crumbling.

I know some very good people who are energized to rage against the dying of the light. I wish I had that in me right now. But all I've got is just enough to get me through, if that. I'll go to school today and take care of seven little people who trust me to make the world okay for them. We'll practice our song for the December program.

This little light of mine,
I'm going to let it shine.

Rather ironic, you think?