That one time I yelled…and “humiliated” a student…

Once upon a time I had a former colleague that was caught having sexual relations with a student.

https://www.journalnow.com/news/local/i-am-feeling-pain-in-my-life-teacher-pleads-guilty/article_0230a832-0bcb-52c7-a311-980782ac84c1.amp.html

She persuaded his mom to allow her to tutor him. He was behind in his academics. She served two years.

I have watched many of my Black boys fall behind. I saw this with my own son. I remember sending emails in the past and even this year asking for advice and teachers ignore.

Most of my Black boys have always been behind academically. One of the infamous responses is because they feel as if they are invisible.

Over the last few weeks I read journals and graded assignments and I noticed something… I noticed that certain students have very high gpa’s … I noticed that the work that produced is not of quality. I noticed one student plagiarize. They copied a document and placed it in their google document (google lets you see it all) and he wrote out his summary using the thesaurus.

His grades were changed along with every other child. I wondered … how different this student really was from those black and brown students that I have taught in the past… OH…. they have parents who will fight and complain and possible intimidate teachers…. I don’t know…or administrators…

But what I have noticed after reading through papers for over 15 years is the educational gap is not going to change because the system is jacked… we have grade conscious students and parents who just think their kids are the smartest things ever…🙄

We don’t give those students a chance. And then we have parents who have been at a loss and can’t do anything to help their child because their child is already deemed as… well a failure….

I shared yesterday and I’ll share again, after working in several states and another country in the field of education, this thing called life sets our students up… for

F A I L U R E

And then we have…. those educators who know change is needed … and are extremely scared to be true to their culture…

I have been to prisons. I have sent my son to the juvenile detention center with his dad. I have been in courtrooms where young black boys were not guilty, but because their word was against someone who was deemed superior (maybe the hairstyles….probably skin color).

I also remember jury duty where I was one of three blacks. Oh!!!! I will never forget the convo… the jury was hung because myself and another woman (Black Woman) were unafraid to stand up for that young boy.

I recall the Black Male who was ready to get home to his family, and didn’t want to miss anymore time from his high profile job whisper to us to just say guilty… really….

Oh I will never forget the comments. I actually remember them reference his tone and how scary it was. I recall how he was a “bully” to the white Woman how supposedly attacked. They never listened to his side until he took the stand. And as a law student at that time, I know his attorney probably begged him not to take the stand, but his story was believable to me.

It was a cultural thing. His voice was firm. He had never had any other charges. He was young and his life was about to be over because of ….that young white girl and the fact that the black man wanted to go home to his family and didn’t want to stay any longer….

We stayed in that room for three days… I did not budge… and I would not go back to change my mind.

I remember picking up coffee one day. As soon as I walked out of the 7-Eleven, a Black unkept male asked if he could have it. Without hesitation I gave it to him.

A few blocks later, I picked up a coffee from Dunkin Donuts. The difference was, I had to pay for that coffee. The first was free because of the promotion.

A few days later I was heading home. A man approached me. He kept saying he knew me and while I was almost a little apprehensive about him walking with me at night in a pretty dim area, I kept walking and talking to him.

A few blocks into the walk, he said… “I GOT IT!!! You gave me the coffee that day.”

He shared that he had just gotten out of prison. He shared his story of what happened earlier. He was headed to an interview and had not eaten, was nervous, and had just got out of prison. I saw him once more and I asked how it was going and he told me a story of how I reminded him of a past individual he once knew.

It was very cold on this day. I was actually freezing. But I stood and listened. Eventually we walked towards a store because he noticed I was cold…freezing.

I forgot about this story until a moment… he said a black woman from high school made a huge impact on him. She wasn’t his teacher (because he said he never had a black teacher ) but she broke him down. She told him he needed to listen because the streets would get him… and they did get him… and he said if only he would have listened. He had no true black male mentors. He was about 50 years old. He said even now many of the black males he knows don’t help….

He said they pretend, but they don’t really “give a damn about the brothers..”

I can’t speak on behalf of all Black men, because I don’t know them all, but those men in my immediate circle are those that help… and uplift… and are never afraid to speak up…

We all have power to help each other..

And we all have our own ways to do so…

One of the many Black motivational speakers that come to mind is Eric Thomas… I remember watching one where he yelled at a student…

https://youtu.be/1tGOF8PAglI

Will you be the one to motivate and give honest feedback or the one that will allow a student to fall behind…

Yes…

“I’m picking on you!” And last night I hugged several of those boys I picked on last year… and they are graduating… and they all told me they needed those 20 minute lectures…. their parents (check out the one ☝️ below… she calls me to “fuss” at “our baby”. She gives me permission and the others all have parents that have sat in meetings with me fussing..

it’s part of my culture…#TheOneThatCares

If you are a parent or a teacher and have never passionately shared your thoughts with a child to help push them….🤔 I would love to know your “secret.”

#ThisThingCalledLife

Music speaks to our soul…Meet Mr. Robinson

“Where words fail, music speaks.”

There are many reasons why this quote resonates with many. Music drives our lives. Music brings people together in all instances. I don’t think we can live without music.

One of my all time favorite concerts was JayZ and Kanye. They were extremely late that night, but I don’t even think anyone cared because the concert was just great! We waited and waited for them though. The DJ was so good though, so we just danced and “turned up” for the DJ.

The audience was full of so many people. It was packed.

Kanye and Jay came out. They had no background dancers. There was only the two of them and their microphones on the stage. They did have a backdrop with a few multimedia effects, but that’s it. It was the two of them and the energy was on HIGH!

At one point they performed their old individual songs and Jay was pulling songs from his first album…Reasonable Doubt… man.. I remember that… and everyone… I mean everyone was rapping with him! Every song lyric! Every single person (like everyone…). Young and old….just a melting pot of people. People that were my parents age, younger than I was… people that I would have never even thought to be a fan …. they brought people from all walks of life together with their music. They spoke to the souls of everyone… (SN: I have a joke… why do shoemakers go to Heaven? Because they have good soles….😳🤪… pretty great place to stick that! Lol)

At the end of the concert they performed from their Watch the Throne albums. They ended the concert by performing the song Nig**as In Paris. Lighters were up! Hands were up! Adrenaline was running… the energy was wild!

Most describe Donte Robinson as extraordinary... he has the skills to bring people together through music and as I think about that concert and the struggles that the OLD Kanye (note that I’m only referencing the OLD Kanye that we all liked a lot) has endured, it makes me recall my fondest memories of Donte. He has drive that most cannot and will never have. His perseverance has been noticed by all.

His friend, sorority sister, colleague Reshonda says,

“Donte has been the big brother I never had. He greatly values loyalty and family, blood or not, and I greatly respect him for that.”

One of his former band mates/

students Jayla shares a story about him,

He was like a big brother I never had. I remember when I was at the blowout in 2008. I was a shy lonely Maryland girl with a flute. He noticed I didn’t have one and he gave me his. I was so happy because he didn’t do that for the other high schoolers plus he didn’t know me. Since then he’s always been there for me and inspired me to be one of the best flute players in the band. I was always trying to do the same music like him because I wanted to be just as talented if not better 😆.”

According to another former student Julian, “Faithful, determined, man of God, and selfless” comes to mind for him.

One of his former classmates recalls his ability to be personable with people. Charles says, “He knew everyone’s name,” which is pretty impressive. But what was even more impressive to me was he knew something about everyone. I don’t think there is a person that marched under him when he worked in all capacities: including being a drum major and being on staff for the best band in the land… The Blue and Gold Marching Machine, that he did not know.

His energy and optimism for life is contagious just like that concert. While working with him, I had the opportunity to hold numerous conversations with him about life and growth, and he taught me directly and indirectly.

He is a family man, a musician who brings people together with great music, and an overall personable guy.

Let’s take a moment to learn about this great guy Donte R!

How do you describe yourself?

I like to think of myself as an optimistic man who is both introvert and extrovert. I work hard to please both myself and others. I am a mentor, a friend, a brother, father and son. I am goal oriented and push others to not only be that way but be successful at their goals. I understand that although failure happens it should never be an option. I love life and everything about it. I am a product of both abuse and love. I am a product of a choice to be better than my upbringing.

What do you do to promote positivity amongst your race? Do you think it’s necessary? Racism doesn’t exist, right? (I’m being extremely sarcastic here).

I am a firm believer in mentoring, so I speak positivity into the lives of those younger than me daily. I do my best to understand the youth of today by developing a relationship where the can come confide in me without judgement. I find that many of our kids really just need somebody to listen them talk about there situations. I practice support in my friends and those who I mentored while still working at A&T, support is also another factor that many of the younger generation is missing. I believe it necessary, our youth is suffering so much from social media and what the media portrays to the world. I would be doing the world, my students and my friends an injustice if I didn’t feed into their lives the way my mentors fed into mine. Racism does exist…sad to say, I worry often about our young people of color because this world has shown that it does not care for them. That is why work so hard to stay in touch with those I mentored in Greensboro.

What do you do for a living? How did get into this field?

I am a music teacher, I actually thought about going into the field of engineering or computer technology but my love for music was rekindled when I met my mentor and teacher Dr. Kenneth Ruff. From that moment I worked to become the best music professional/educator that I could be.

Are their challenges as a black man in this field?

Unfortunately there are challenges in the field of education, but I do not feel that it is because of my race. Yes, racism does exist and yes it does exist in our schools but I think it comes more from learned behavior at home. As a black man in the field of education I am a hot commodity, meaning they are looking for positive black men to be a representative in the school system.

What are challenges that you have had as a black professional man?

I haven’t had to many major challenges as a black man in my profession. But that one that I often deal with is trying to get my students to understand that they are the future and because our society is slowly but surely failing them that they have to work my diligently in order to be successful.

What or who inspires you?

I am a music teacher, I actually thought about going into the field of engineering or computer technology but my love for music was rekindled when I met my mentor and teacher Dr. Kenneth Ruff. From that moment I worked to become the best music professional/educator that I could be.

Inspiration for me comes in many forms, from my friends/family to my students. I am inspired by their day to day struggle, by their ability to fail and bounce back to try it again. I look at my family like Todgi and Alex who stepped out on a limb and started their own business and have been successful and I apply what they have done in my everyday life. I see individuals like Dr. Ruff who came into a program and worked to change it and think about how I try and fail and want to give up…and think to myself who am I to not put more effort into my life.

Any advice for young men who are facing challenges being black and trying to move up?

What are your thoughts regarding mentoring?

I am a firm believer in mentoring, so I speak positivity into the lives of those younger than me daily. I do my best to understand the youth of today by developing a relationship where the can come confide in me without judgement. I find that many of our kids really just need somebody to listen them talk about there situations. I practice support in my friends and those who I mentored while still working at A&T, support is also another factor that many of the younger generation is missing. I believe it necessary, our youth is suffering so much from social media and what the media portrays to the world. I would be doing the world, my students and my friends an injustice if I didn’t feed into their lives the way my mentors fed into mine.

Racism does exist…sad to say, I worry often about our young people of color because this world has shown that it does not care for them. That is why work so hard to stay in touch with those I mentored in Greensboro.

Any last words for our readers?

Keep your head up and pushing forward. The world will not cater to you, so work hard and live life!

My Biggest Accomplishment was being terminated…after I resigned about two months ago…

I submitted my resignation a few months ago. I was told that it would not be accepted. The comment that was made (I’m paraphrasing now ) is if you leave what will happen when you experience [racism] elsewhere. I made every attempt to resolve the issue; including trying to get mediation…..but There is a story I will share later about that.

I received a letter of termination today and the irony was I was heading to see my students from last year graduate. I couldn’t even get mad or upset. When I read the letter of termination, I knew immediately who submitted and what student I “humiliated” and “bullied.” His mom asked me to continue lecturing him because he was failing all of his classes. She told me he came home talking about how much he needed me to fuss at him and surprising how much he liked me…. but I guess that wasn’t taken into account 🤷🏽‍♀️. My soror stood there with me as his mom said these things. My son stood there. His mom said other things…

I actually had my son read the entire letter aloud for me because I was trying to make it to my babies graduation. I shook my head and I realized that when I asked God to open up a new door for me, this was what he was doing. I hated teaching this year. It was a combination of everything, but the biggest was….. another story..

I kept replaying that day I the students mom…. it was a few months ago when I met a sorority sister at Panera Bread. That day I ran into the young man who I “fussed at (while “distressing” one of my students) mother. She said she wanted to meet me because her son came home and told her about me. She said I need help with him and told me to keep fussing at him. She shared how many F’s he had and shared other personal things. My son was ironically standing right there along with my sorority sister to hear.

But …..

Today one of my babies from last year who was probably the headache for the entire school hugged me and while standing beside his mom, my son took a picture and heard him and his mom tell me “thank you.” He said you saved my life. Another one ran over to me and said the same thing. Then I stood and another said YO!! Ms. V you made it!! His mom looked at me and said you know he still has the card that you gave him by his bed. It was from the letters I wrote to all of the football team.

One of the football players came over and said, remember that time you fussed at us for about …(can’t share it all lol)… you are the reason why I just graduated!

One of the moms texted me not long ago ago and said the same thing that mom in Panera told me… (she is ok with me taking pictures of the text..) I realize a lot with that!

And while I was terminated for doing what I’ve always done and what parents always “love” me for, but I realize that it’s not always going to be appreciated…

As a teacher, many walk on eggshells because they are so focused on catering to…. (hush ki..)

As they, you, and others watch videos of teachers you also have to be “open-minded” about what has happened. I remember one of my law colleagues sharing how we are quick to jump to conclusions and during a trial they made a person whose passion looked as if it was bad and they didn’t know the entire story.

She also mentioned during this trial that so many teachers are held to a standard that parents don’t even hold themselves up to. I know as a parent I fuss at my Black son because I don’t want him to be like that student whose accused of rape or that student whose parents have thrown their hands up and don’t know what to do with them.

But after we both read the termination, we digested it, we realized that there was no ill-intent and he reminded me of what the young students mom told me to do for her son, I let go. And once I let go, I got the best surprise ever! I got to see my babies from last year!! OMG!!! I got to see them!! They hugged me! They told me how my fussing and yelling helped them and even their parents told me they appreciated it…

I marched in the band on the collegiate level and I recall my band director “cussing us out.” We are professionals and pretty often laugh about his antics. I was in the military for four years and I remember my drill sergeants… I was always pushing with my battle for laughing… they yelled and screamed and cussed …

My first terminal degree (JD) I remember my law professors ranting and even making some stand up … embarrassing us. I sat beside a young girl who would shake in class. I rubbed her leg and told her to calm down. She was scared and nervous … life didn’t prepare her for such real life… and she dropped out.

Today’s lesson for me was reflect, but be true to myself. I write an inmate, I volunteer with our youth, and I’ve been applauded for what I was let go for….

#ThisThingCalledLife…be true to you!!

#IGandBlogFamous🤪

A letter to one of my many sons…

As educators we take on so many things. We learn how to multi task; grading papers, sending emails, disciplining that student that is on their cell phone 📲 (🙄🤔),hugging that student that you notice is having a bad, while making mental notes to contact parents, review that email that came through, and of course remembering to eat lunch.

I’ve been fortunate most of my career. One day I walked into class on my birthday to have balloons and other presents waiting for me. Another time I walked in to dinner. My students knew I was also in school, so they took it upon themselves to have dinner for all of us that night. Recently I attended an event and a young lady gestured for me to come near and shared I was her college professor some years ago. We hugged and she shared other sweet comments. I have been blessed.

I also have those students that become part of my family. They call me. They FaceTime me. They share a lot. As Anthony (my son says) they don’t hold back anything. We have special bonds.

These are the young people that inspire me. I have witnessed their struggles. I have listened to their happy moments. I have watched many cross the stage. I have been the recommender for many grad programs and employment opportunities.

I know that they will follow their hearts. They will push themselves. They will be there for my own son. Oftentimes we don’t know the impact we make on people, or the impact they might have on you!

Mr. Julian is one of those that Anthony considers his brother. We have adopted him into our family and words cannot express how proud I am of him. He strives high. He remains focused. He excels even when things becomes difficult. And he does it all with a smile and his two thumbs up (👍🏾 👍🏾)! From the first time I met him his freshmen year until post graduation, his spirit, his friendly demeanor, and his earnest pursuit to be his best has been observed.

I’m privy to receiving notifications of his successes and this is instrumental because my own 16 year old has him and so many others as his mentor. Although #ThisThingCalledLife happens and we do fall short sometimes and experience hardships, what is most important is recognizing the need to keep walking your journey. We often focus too much on the negative and fail to teach our young people that life happens…. even when it means using that “motherly” tone to remind them to remain humble, focused, and centered.

Life is filled with good people who are motivated just for selfish reasons, but it’s also filled with good people who understand passing it forward. Julian is the person that gives selflessly. Im truly blessed to have so many like him in my corner. As a young 20-something year old male, he along with others who are graduating, promoting positivity, volunteering directly and indirectly should be highlighted!

There has always been limited positive minority males in our media and those that are are educated are looked upon as an anomaly. Let’s embrace those that are being accepted to grad programs, following their pursuit of happiness, while making every effort to give back!

Kudos to my young son!

❤️

He shares a bit of his story to encourage other young men to “fight that good fight.”

Dear Ms. Davis,

For the last the couple of years I was not motivated. I graduated and I felt as if I was just waking up and going to work without a plan.

After I graduated, I didn’t have a plan and had no idea what I wanted to do. I had no jobs lined up for me. Luckily, I found a job within about a month at warehouse that paid decent where I’ve been ever since I was working there.

My grandmother, who was the cornerstone of the family passed away a little over four years ago. Her passing really hit home for me. I wasn’t comfortable telling people how I felt at the time. So instead, I started drinking to suppress my feelings.

I was not focused on school after she passed so my grades were pretty bad that semester. When the semester ended, you asked me to come speak with you (Kiera Vargas). I still remember that conversation. In a nut shell, you told me to get shit together. To this day, I don’t remember having a more impactful conversation with anyone else because the conversation was about more than just than school.

So when I am going through hard times or get frustrated about life, I say “Fight the good fight” to myself to remind myself to refocus, remain as level headed as possible, and push through.

Well, my short goal is to complete grad school and find a career utilizing the knowledge I gained. A long term goal of mine is to start a program that involves assisting the youth with depression. I vision having them come and work on cars. Studies have shown that in recent years, the number of youth dealing with symptoms of depression between the ages of 10-18, and even college students, has increased. This idea came to me a little while back when I was thinking about what I wanted to do that would involve youth and young adults dealing with depression.

I’ve been a car person for just about my whole life and stated working on them in college when my parts on my car needed to be replaced. Since I didn’t have the money to take it to the shop, I would go a salvage yard or a pull-a-part and replace the parts myself or with the help of a friend. Once I got comfortable working on my own car, I would work on other students cars to bring in a little extra money

The ability to help others and to do something I enjoyed doing has always been satisfying. So I was thinking to myself one day, why not do what I enjoy and do something that good help the youth in my community.

Dear Julian,

I am proud of you. I have been so amazed at how tough you are. I look forward to hearing about your milestones; whether good or bad. You are learning important things about life.

When you share such, you inspire Anthony. You give me hope. You inspire him. And you talk yourself though those tough situations.

As you begin this new journey at Hampton University, I want you to remember just how smart, and how extraordinary you are to so many around you!

You know I love Oprah and a quote from her that I believe will resonate for you is:

You can see yourself as a wave in the ocean or you can see yourself as the ocean.”

Keep pushing, smiling, and understanding that life happens, but you are always in control! And yes, I will always be here to “encourage you with the use of my fine words” because we all need those reminders!

One of your favorite cheerleaders!!!

Ms. K❤️

Summer Read …. to Gain Exposure …and a MUCH better read than Huck Finn…

The Sport of the Gods by Paul Laurence Dunbar

Recently a millionaire…I mean billionaire, Robert F. Smith stated that he would pay the student loans for all of Morehouse 2019 graduates. Whoa!!! And I mean Whoa!!

I can attest to being beyond happy for them! I can also attest to being one of those who secretly wishes that my guest speaker would have done the same thing…..Bill Cosby….And yes…. I still watch the Cosby Show very often. I actually watched the episode last night when Sandra was sick and the grandmothers went to pick up the twins to help her… oh I love that show! It was because of Bill and Claire that allowed me to know that as a Black female I can do whatever I want to…. and it was because of the spin off A Different World that I saw what an HBCU was.

And besides, how can I condemn a man… I mean yup he did wrong but we are still…. (oh hush Ki… we are making America Great again…🤦🏾‍♀️🤦🏾‍♀️) and it’s interesting that so many are quick to do this; particularly folks who still place their grandparents on a pedestal and they were ones to…. (will you be quiet….you just keep going and going and even though it’s your blog, people are going to think you are a darn racist…. just be quiet…) do all sorts of things in the 1900’s… (don’t you know everyone does NOT care about this…only money)…but that’s another convo…

Let’s go back to Mr. Smith… how amazing is that ….

This is pretty big! It’s something that Oprah has been doing for years. She created a school, is currently working on building something in the US, and has paid for many young people to attend college; including those Morehouse men.

This is essential…it’s essential for us to be reminded that we need to give back. It’s essential for us to be reminded of the idea of Dubois. It’s essential for us to also understand the idea of B.T Washington and even my girl Maria Stewart. Once we make it, we uplift others. Once we make it, our task is to give back to ensure others have the same opportunities… heck….better opportunities. It’s unfair for us to turn our eye (our head…) on our brother, remain scared to assist him for fear of losing our jobs, or even lack the confidence to stand up to help those that have an unfair advantage. Dubois shares this, but then he becomes defeated…. tired

and his ideas change…

Recently I re-read another AA classic; The Sport of the Gods. I wasn’t sure why I was reading this book again until I was halfway through the book. I was returning from a trip. I was refueled. I was refueled by like-minded people. I was refueled by the love from family members, and I was refueled by my own means to reflect. If you have not read this book, it’s a much better book than Huck Finn, and it provides a very accurate account of post slavery life for African Americans. I must warn you that the “n” word (I’m still going to sensor that word…) is in their a few times, but not even close to the 214 times that it can be seen in Huck Finn.

The book sheds light on how post slavery options were limited. Many slaves stayed with their old masters and continued being loyal to them. Sadly the slave masters … I mean “friends…” or shall I say their “new age bosses” were not so loyal. In this book, the loyal workers life falls apart when the slave masters (the new age boss) brother lies about money being stolen. He was the only one that could have “supposedly” committed the crime. Although he had his own money saved, he was extremely loyal to his boss, and he was trying to better his family…. but…. BUT….in one split moment he lost it all….

And guess what?? Years later when this slave master was told that he did not do it, he held the proof close to his chest… symbolism at its best. He states “What is that nigger to my brother? What are his sufferings to the honor of my family and name?” ( Dunbar 112) Yeah… I kept the word here otherwise it would not have been clear…🤷🏽‍♀️ but it continues with ….

“It must never be known, I say, if Berry has to rot in jail” (112). And this is quite symbolic to our America now… kind of like the sadness and anger and RAGE I’m sure was felt by many when the woman who Emmett Till “supposedly” whistled at was on her death bed… man… “so they wrote a lie to Frank, and buried the secret in their breasts, and Oakley wore its business form upon his heart” (112). This woman did the same thing until she was on her deathbed. And can you imagine how many do this? How the heck can you sleep at night after seeing what happened to him…. ??? But we condone others and not many even know who Carolyn Donham is…was…WHOA!! And #blacklivesmatter #imAware #1968lastrecordedlynching #1998JamesByrd #N-wordburied #BlackmenMatter #readMoreDiverseBooksThisSummer

…ok….I’m done…

And this is why…it’s important to teach all history and expose the youth. But of course this is scary because many teachers have to be uncomfortable…. and oh no!! I have a story about this later…

What happens if you continue to fail at this? We will still have kids who have so much potential lack the confidence in themselves…. and …. worst case scenarios happen…

So, people like Mr. Smith and of course my friend Oprah (I’m still claiming that we will meet soon for tea) are essential in us helping our youth who otherwise would graduate from college with so much debt they feel as if they are sharecroppers….😳😳😳😳😳😳(I feel that way….🤷🏽‍♀️🤦🏾‍♀️)

Because of his false imprisonment, this fictional character embodies much of those incarcerated men who are still sitting in prison because someone wanted to save their families name and because they could never face apologizing for doing wrong. Of course I didn’t do anything… I’m …(shut up Ki… you know you have a bigger blog audience now….hush it up!!…) I have to say it though…. I didn’t do anything and I have privilege….even in 2019….

And sadly even those within his race who knew he was innocent as that hummingbird (I’ve always wanted to use that phrase…) will save their face too…

So as you grow, regardless of race, creed, color, take time to uplift each other. As you continue to grow, expose yourself and learn about people that do not look like you. And lastly, add this book to your book list and take Huck Finn off…. it’s a much better read… and you don’t even have to skip over the “n-word….”😉

Works Cited

Dubar, Paul Laurence. The Sport of the

Gods. Signer Classics, 2011

Being Selfless, Persistent, and a Social Activist…Meet Dr. T. Morton

Dubois publicized the phrase “the talented tenth” in his 1903 essay. This term fixated on the idea of preparing a tenth of African Americans for leadership within the US. Post slavery options for Africans Americans were limited, and while it was still new to see African Americans as free, Dubois and other northerners pushed for education amongst this group.

If ten percent of African Americans gain education, they would become those leaders to assist the ninety percent with following suit. This plan didn’t fail. As a matter of fact, over 100 years later, ways to modify and merge this concept with new and old ones are continuously being challenged. The goal to uplift is still as much in the souls and hearts of the new age “talented tenth.”

When I think of the numerous proposals that have been created in hopes of uplifting the African American communities, I feel that each activist, each solution thought of, and all followers contributed to making significant changes. We have read about those changes, and some of us continue to study those changes.

The person that I am introducing is a good friend of mine who I deem as clever and wise beyond his years. He is steadfast, he is observant, and his drive is gigantic. Yes… I really did use the adjective gigantic to describe his drive… 😳🧐

Dr. Terrell Morton’s energy and persistence, along with that steadfastness is noticed by those he is around.

I’ve been lucky to have worked with him in many capacities and he constantly impresses me. He is that person that I can see bridging all of those ideas into one to take in “all of those…(🤦🏾‍♀️I remember that convo we had Terrell…)babies” and assist them with not just believing in themselves, but to take moments to mentor and uplift the next.

From being my TA, to having long convos during his masters program, to being my lead counselor for the AISP program, to seeing the effort he put into obtaining a PhD program before he was 30, he is THAT Black male, the intellectual, the social activist, the mentor we need to have around our young Black males. He is THAT person that I can see to assist with impacting and implementing the much needed change to help elevate and advocate for ….US.

I can say so much more about him, but because I want you to focus on his words, I’ll refrain from saying…. (Well …. ok a few more words)

Terrell is a leader who (I’m certain I can speak for everyone that knows him) will be in the forefront to advocate change, while also using his free time to selflessly help others in all ways possible. I honestly don’t even know if he sleeps, but I know so many are appreciative of this characteristic that he has to just give…Selflessly…and all…of…the…time…

From being my terminal degree accountability partner to always being in the corner for someone who needs, Terrell should be applauded…🙏🏾

Thank you Dr. Morton!!

so…. How do you describe yourself?  

 

Lately, my descriptions for myself have been contextually-specific. What I mean by this is that while the underlying premises are the same, the verbiage used changes. I do not necessarily consider it to be “code-switching,”but more so audience specific. How can I communicate all of the complex, amazing (if I might add) aspects of myself to let other individuals know who I am and what I stand for? So, to answer both your question and my own (seeing as how I pretty much reiterated your question with my own version of it—getting to the complexity of my response, smh) by response is as follows:

To my professional audience, I am a scholar-activists. What that means is that I live a life where I not only write, research, and discuss elements of my professional endeavors, but I live them on a daily basis. Currently, I am a Preparing Future Faculty (PFF) for Faculty Diversity Postdoctoral Fellow. This title simply means that I am in a program “designed” to give me a leg-up on the tenure-track faculty life, and that I do not do the work of more traditional postdoctoral scholars. Traditional postdocs either teach or do research that is assigned to them by their postdoctoral mentors. As a PFF, I am able to conduct my own research, co-design and teach courses, and engage in service as I see fit.

Why did I feel the need to explain that?

Well, that goes along with my activist identity of how I describe myself. In the academy (field of higher education, scholarly research, knowledge production, etc.) there are politics (and perceived and actual power) in names. When you say that you are a Postdoc, despite the accolades that you have amassed to get to this level, you are perceived to be at the bottom of the social hierarchy on university campuses. Postdocs are “expected” to “stay in their lane” and simply do what is asked of them. Those who know me, know that “my lane” is work that advocates, supports, empowers, uplifts, cultivates and engages racial justice, racial progress, and racial liberation. And so, with that being “my lane,” any work; no matter, what the project is that involves these elements; particularly within my loci of control and work environment will be my work and I will be involved to some capacity. These actions that I am describing transcend the traditional “expectations” of a postdoc, and to some degree a junior scholar (Assistant Professor, the next achievable rank in my current trajectory), aligning more with how Full, Endowed Professors carry themselves or Senior-Level Administrators who are tenured.

To my community audience, I am someone who loves and cares for my people! I use the talents God has given me, the knowledge and wisdom I have amassed, and my energy and effort to dismantle oppressive structures, create space and opportunity, and cultivate my people. My “professional” endeavors focus on transforming institutions of higher education; particularly for Black students in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). My “work”also involves my service and support of my home community through the non-profit organization my family started: the Christine Avery Learning Center ( http://cwalearningcenter.com) for youth ages 2 to 16 and their families. It involves the informal mentoring that I do for individuals Ive come into contact with across the United States and throughout my many engagements (e.g., Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc.; Kappa Kappa Psi National Honorary Band Fraternity, Inc.; Volunteering as an Assistant Band Director in Miami, FL and Durham, NC; Working as a Camp Counselor at various institutions).

To those I have dedicate my life to cultivating, empowering, and equipping—my students/mentees, broadly defined—I am someone who is “bout that life” or who can “walk it like I talk it.” I have a genuine, caring, somewhat abrasive demeanor when it comes to engaging with my students/mentees, and I demonstrate my commitment to supporting them and set high expectations for their performance when it comes to enhancing themselves and their overall quality of life.

In short, I describe myself as someone who loves, someone who gives, and someone who works to make a change for the better.

What do you do for a living?  How did get into this field?

 

While I somewhat answered this question earlier, I work in education. As a scholar-activist, it is my job to create new knowledge, cultivate others, and hold myself to the same if not higher standards that I expect of those that I support. I got into this field after having some challenging yet reflective life circumstances. Without sharing my full story (part of it you can find here and here), here is the short and sweet version:

 

In the process of exploring my interest in science, ( receiving a B.S. in Chemistry and pursuing a Ph.D. program for Neuroscience-Neurobiology) I had an identity “crisis” that was complimented with family challenges. This identity crisis involved me questioning, “who am I?” as it aligned with what I was doing professionally, and what mattered most to me. During this reflective moment, I realized that while I was interested in science, my passion was education. These experiences were taking place during a time in which:

1.) My grandmother, a key figure in my life, passed away. She was the first person in our immediate family circle to do so causing a real shift in our family dynamic. This shift, thankfully, was one where we became closer as a family unit.

2.) I had several high school and college friends pass away from health-related conditions that one would “presume” would happen to someone who is much older in life. One of my high school friends was also murdered during this time span. These experiences brought about a whole different perspective for me regarding life and how it should be spent. At the time (and I can sometimes still be) I was very future oriented. I saw (see) my life lasting decades, and felt that I could achieve some of the joys of life much later and that now was a moment to grind, sacrifice, and work. My friends’ passing and murdering taught me that time is not guaranteed, and each moment should be filled with joy. Now to be fair, I am still future-oriented to some degree, but I now take and make more time to enjoy the present. What I mean by this is that I try to make decisions to that fulfill both my immediate and future happenings and circumstances. I try to be there for people in their moments, celebrating and loving them, and I try to make sure that “I close my eyes each night” being at peace with the decisions that I have made for that day or days prior.

3.) My grandfather, another major key figure in my life, became terminally ill and would now require assistance and care. And,

4.) My mother was also diagnosed with Graves Disease, an auto-immune disorder that results in hyperthyroidism, that to this date is only treatable and not curable.

All of these things were taking place while I was over 1000 miles away from home, fresh out of college where life was amazing. I was struggling financially to make ends meet (me buying the industrial jars of peanut butter and having it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner quite frequently). I was also in a professional space where I was quite often the only Black male or the only Black person trying to figure out if what I was doing was fulfilling and sustaining for my immediate and future life.

Among all of these occurrences, I found a way to connect with my passions of music and mentoring. I started volunteering at a local high school as their assistant band director. This experience made me aware of the grotesque inequity that was taking place along with showing me how it was affecting my students’ everyday life. I found a sense of fulfillment while being there to work with and support those students both inside and outside of band. It was then that I realized that I needed to make a switch. Since then, I have been involved in education, and I continue to develop and prosper in this field.  

 

What do you do to promote positivity amongst your race?  Do you think it’s necessary?  Racism doesn’t exist, right?  (I’m being extremely sarcastic here). 

 

So, I don’t necessarily see the work that I do or the way that I live my life as promoting positivity among Black people. I more so understand myself to be someone who strives to empower and equip Black people. I would say that positivity—me interpreting it as self-love, self-valuing, self-worth, self-efficacy, and agency—is a key component to the empowerment aspect of my work. I make this distinction because in my professional world; particularly within positive psychology and splinters of the sort, there is a high chance that individuals will engage this work without acknowledging, critiquing, or challenging the structures and power that reside external to the individual that influence and shape the decisions and choices that individual makes to advance their lives.

At lot of positive psychologist tend to focus on the individual and ways by which they can adopt, modify, or change their practices to promote more positivity within their lived experiences. While individual choice and decision-making are key, these things do not happen in isolation or outside of the environmental conditions or cues experienced.

In connecting my response to your second point, it is because racism exists and it is because racism is systemic, institutionalized, and engrained within the very fabric of western philosophies and ideologies embroidered here within the United States (akin to colonialism and colonization more globally speaking) that we cannot separate the actions and experiences of the individual from the context. And, in cultivating and supporting Black people (my race), it is impossible and improbable for me to adequately do so absent of what Critical Race Theorist deem as a “Racial Realistic” perspective.

Having completed my Ph.D. in Education with an emphasis in Learning Science and Psychological Studies and combing it with my M.S in Neuroscience-Neurobiology, I take a critical-developmental-ecological perspective with scholarly and activist endeavors. Essentially, I look at how our identity informs and shapes our experience and choices (which are influenced by our perception of our experiences as they are housed within specific contexts and the challenges and support available), and how it contributes to our in the moment and overall outcomes, while also critically examining (along dimensions of racism, power, and oppression) the ways by which the immediate, surrounding, and larger societal environments impact and influence our identities, perceptions, experiences, and choices. This is a lot easier to explain with a graphic (check out some of my published and soon to be published scholarship). Maybe my scientific example will help unpack it more. In my Neuroscience-Neurobiology studies, I recall one of my professors lecturing on stem cell research. This is not the acronym STEM, but this is looking at the cells that are present during the human development process that generates the body and all of its organs. In this conversation, my professor said that a lot of people doing this work are looking at how you can inject stem cells into a diseased area as a way to revive that area and help it function. These examples were for the brain and thinking about diseases that destroy neurons like Alzheimer’s Disease. The professor continues to say that if you take new, healthy neural stem cells and inject them into an unhealthy environment (because of the glia and the various chemical signals they expose) then those once new and healthy neural stem cells will too become sick and die. It is the environment that kills!

 

And so, I say empowering and equipping because it not only provides my race with the tools, insight, and skills to cope with their immediate circumstances, but it also brings out and sharpens their desire for better, giving them the tools, insight, and skills to harness and use their voice to challenge and change structures of oppression.

 

Are their challenges as a black man in this field?

 

In short, HELL YES! Black men are numerically underrepresented in higher education, unless we are working in service-based jobs. This statement, in no way shape or fashion diminishes or is meant to slight those of us who do these jobs, because truthfully, those jobs are the backbone of higher education. But, those jobs are not given the power or respect they command.

When it comes to the jobs that “command” the respect and power (i.e., tenured or tenure-track faculty, senior-level administrators) there are very few Black men who hold these positions nationally speaking. There are even fewer who take the scholar-activist stance. The scholar-activist stance comes at tremendous costs; especially if it involves racial justice and liberation. Historically and currently, you find more Black women who take on this mantle in higher education. While I have various speculations as to why, I will not go into them.

To be a Black male, and a young Black male at that—young for my title, position, way by which I carry myself—there are enormous challenges that I face on a day to day basis. Some of these challenges, I think, are consistent for Black men in advanced positions (e.g., people with terminal degrees like MD, PhD, JD, DDS, etc.). There have been times in which I have been macro and micro-aggressed within my work environment. Some of these challenges are due to my internal conflicts with how I navigate the academy as a scholar-activist who does research on Black women in STEM. To unpack that sentence, being somewhat aware of the challenges Black women face as a result of me studying undergraduate Black women and reading on Black feminism, Intersectionality, womanism, etc. (somewhat because I am not a Black woman so I will never fully know or understand) I become exposed to the oppression that is unique to Black women. Being in higher education, I have many Black women colleagues and friends who I work with, collaborate with, (you name it) given shared interests, experiences, etc.

Recognizing the privileges that I do receive because of my male cis-hetero-gender identity, there are spaces and opportunities made available to me that are not readily made available to my Black women colleagues and friends who are equally or even more deserving of them. So, as a scholar-activist, being somewhat learned and “bout that life,” the challenge becomes how do I become an advocate and co-conspirator for my Black women colleagues and friends, particularly within a structure the values and rewards individuality? How do I “walk it like I talk it” regarding equity and justice, knowing that the system I work in will come for me for not exceeding their standards based in whiteness (i.e., solo or first-author publications, lead PI on research projects and grants, instructor of record on courses) as a Black male operating within “their” space? In education, we may preach collaboration, but when the doors are closed and the meeting is had, if you do “too much” collaboration or you are not the lead, then your intellectual merit, contributions, and work are all questioned, and “new rules” for evaluating and assessing your abilities come into play.  

Now, do not get me wrong.l, because I can acknowledge these challenges and do not mean that I do not have solutions for them; particularly the second challenge that I shared about supporting Black women. While I think that a more “true” (yes, I know this is not the correct way to say it but it is my way of acknowledging that there is no capital T truth but only multiple truths that exisits) answer would come from my fellow Black women colleagues and friends who I collaborate with, I would like to think that how I work with and support them aligns with my scholar-activist stance. It does require more work on my part (again getting into the coping aspects of navigating whiteness embedded within structures) and I am ok with it.

 

What are challenges that you have had as a black professional man?

I think my responses to the first question cover this one as well. If there were anticipated distinctions between the two, it might be telling of my life that my one answers addressed both. In my reflective moment, I guess a question could be raised as to what is my life outside of work? Have a constructed a life where the things that make me, me, are the things that I get paid to do and so there are no differences between life, work, play, etc.? Or, am I so engrossed in my purpose and mission that I have reverted back to my old “future” oriented self and am not doing enough to enjoy the present?  

 

What are ways that you have overcome obstacles that have been in your path?

 

I surround myself with very specific friend groups that help me unpack different aspects of my life. I am a very spiritual person and I seek understanding regarding what God has allowed to be in path and why. I look at my obstacles as stepping stones to what is bigger, better, and greater. And, I am content with knowing that should I come upon a challenge that I do not overcome (not trying to be morbid but that would be THE challenge), that I have lived my life in a way that the work that I have done and do speaks for who I am and what I believe.

 

What is your day to day mantra?

 

Ha! This changes day to day, sometimes hour to hour. It all depends on what I am going through at the moment and what type of words of encouragement I need for the circumstances. Some of my mantras include/ range from Romans 12:2, Philippians 4:9-13, May the work that I have done speak for me, to Young Stunna, “FTON”, Big Sean, “IDFWU” , and Soulja Boy, “Yahh – Yahh.”

 

There are plenty of other songs and sayings that also capture my mantras:

 

“Once a task has begun…” “I am lovable and capable” “If” “See it through” “I’m building this bridge for [them]” “YOU CAN’T STEAL MY JOY!” etc

 

How do you manage everything that you do?

 

This is also worthy of a good Ha! Lol. But, I put everything in calendar. If it is not on my calendar, then it does not exist! I also do to do lists. I know that the jury is out on them, but I get joy in knowing that I can cross something off of the list so I’m not going to let the jury steal my joy.

 

What or who inspires you?

 

Multiple people and things inspire me. I have your more traditional role-models who inspire me. These individuals do so because of how they carry themselves in service to their community. I was about to start a list and decided not to do so. This is because in giving mass recognition or public recognition to a large group, there is always somebody that you do not mention that gets in their feelings. And then mentioning individuals is also a political act because there are many individuals who go unnamed and unrecognized that should be named and recognized. And so, when you do or do not name and recognize some individuals or preference others, you engage in all kinds of social-political negotiations that have all kinds of social-cultural-political consequences.

 

What inspires me, the change that I see I am making and the impact and influence that my work has on the lives of those who have either been placed in my life of whose lives I have been placed in. That growth, progress, development, that I was involved with (directly or indirectly) inspires me. Seeing their outcomes improve and enhance inspires me. It shows that the work does not go in vain.

 

Any advice for young men who are facing challenges being black and trying to move up?  

 

Yes, lots. To get adequate advice, I would say to hit me up. I make time to cultivate and support my people.

 

For more of a broad stroke, I say:

 

1. Know yourself! In knowing yourself, identify what you like, dislike, will tolerate, will not tolerate, etc. Having self-awareness allows you to make in the moment decisions that thoughtful and reflexive.

2. Take a stance! No matter where you lie on the “Blackness spectrum” in America, if you have the visible morphology of Black (e.g., skin tone, hair, bone structure, etc.) at some point in time, you will be treated as Black (e.g., socially, politically, culturally). Society projects identities and experiences onto us that we have to respond to. I know that people say that “perception is not reality” but argue the contrary. Perception is reality in that other people’s perception of you alter and inform the way you carry yourself and respond. Even if you do not necessarily “change” or “adapt” or “code-switch” or “fake,” what people think of you affects your decisions, actions and outcomes. For example, if as a Black male you are perceived as a threat in your environment (FYI even if they don’t say it they are still thinking it) you will be treated as a threat by those that perceive you as one.

This means that there are certain things that you will be given access to and certain things that you will not. There will be opportunities kept from you, there will be coded ways in which people talk to and about you, there will be expectations placed on you, there will be anticipations regarding your response to situations and scenarios. And even if despite this all, you stay “you,” the choices that you are making to stay “you” are still in response to the perceptions that people have put on you. That said, define who “you” are, and decide to be who “you” are, recognizing that no matter who “you” are and what “you” do, they will always be looking at and judging “you”. Let who “you” decide to be, be someone who “you” are comfortable with at all times. If you ever have to second guess who “you” are and how authentic or not “you” are then the only person “you” are fooling is yourself.

3. Find a community of individuals who are part of that area in which you are seeking to advance and connect with, grow with, learn from, and support them. As cliché as the saying goes, it really does take a village. And that is not just to raise a child, but to live life. Without a village, you will surely struggle in ways that are unnecessary.

4. Know that happiness and joy are not destinations but states of being. You cannot find happiness or joy, you have to create it. Now, that being said, you can find healthier environments that contribute to your holistic well-being. You do not and should not remain in a toxic environment looking to create happiness and joy. But, you should not constantly be seeking happiness and joy in your endeavors but rather creating those moments.

 

Any last words for our readers?

Know that my thoughts and responses reflect me, and who I am in this moment, at this time. Ask me these same questions 5 years later, and who knows what my responses will be.