Theater Director and Diversity Coordinator
Most people think that the opposite of love is hate. They are wrong. It is oppression.
Can you find me in the photo above? It should not be hard. For most of my formative years, I was one of a handful of black students in the Wickliffe Public School System. I attended Lincoln Elementary School, Wickliffe Junior High School, (before the name change to Middle School), and eventually I graduated from Wickliffe High School, in a class of approximately 350 students. There were many things I loved about attending the Wickliffe Public School System, but something, unbeknownst to me at the time, was missing. In the past few weeks I have scoured my memories trying to find something familiar, something with which to connect. It was a bit of a surprise to me that I would come to realize that I never had a teacher, K-12, that was black and/or brown like me. Every single teacher was white. I also started to recall that on many days, I felt great shame and I often wondered if being born black and/or brown was a curse from God. Please know that I do not make these statements in an attempt to cast a net of blame on anyone. I am just relating my own experiences in an attempt to help anyone that cares to know a little more about my life journey because, of course, that will lead me to being the person I am today.
I can recall two stories that may shine a light on the cause of that shame. In one particular grade school writing assignment, we were instructed to write an essay. The topic of that essay was what we had eaten for dinner the previous night and breakfast that morning. I completed the assignment and the teacher would soon read each essay out loud to the class. I remember hearing very different dinner and breakfast foods being consumed by my classmates. They wrote about pizzas, cheeseburgers, french fries, pop tarts and frosted flakes. When the time came to have my assignment read out loud, the teacher revealed that my family had eaten collard greens, fried chicken and cornbread for dinner and grits the next morning for breakfast. The class erupted into great laughter. I was mortified. I’m sure my memory is a little foggy on the next point, but I seem to recall any lesson dealing with the history of black and/or brown people including images of mostly naked people of color from the continent of Africa. They were adorned with tribal accessories, holding spears, dancing wildly to drum beats and speaking in a particular way. We spent a good deal of time talking about the trans-atlantic slave trade. Those images were unsettling and created a sense of great shame. I also seem to recall that anytime lessons were of people that were not black and/or brown, these people were always doing great things, writing great stories and poems, creating great works of art, starting countries. They were always well dressed and always well spoken.
I now understand that because I was one of those black and/or brown person’s, my feelings of shame were not the only feelings to manifest through these lessons. My other classmates that were not of black and/or brown coloration were being filled with a different sense of being, of higher station. These lessons, while not intended to produce this effect, were well learned. I remember on many occasions being called a “spear-chucker” on the playground during recess. When this was being addressed with the class, we were all told that “sticks and stones may break our bones, but names will never hurt you”. But of course they do.
After graduation, I attended University in Erie, Pennsylvania. I was the first in my family to do so. For four years at Mercyhurst University, D’Angelo Conservatory of Music, I studied the greatest composers that have ever lived. I studied Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Schubert, Verdi, Puccini, Strauss, Ravel, Vaughn Williams and many others. Every composer we studied was white and every professor I had was white. I started studying piano at the age of eight, and that instructor was white. I had two wonderful teachers at the Willoughby School of Fine Arts, (whom I love and adore), they were both white. I have had many jobs outside the world of education and performing arts, and all of those supervisors have been white. All of them. I understand this is mostly because of where I grew up, but what is the long term effect of never seeing something familiar in a position of authority or scholarship? How does one know or think to become a teacher when that role model has never been seen? How does one grow to show empathy, sensitivity, and cultural awareness and understanding when that has never been on display?
Black students who'd had just one black teacher by third grade were 13 percent more likely to enroll in college—and those who'd had two were 32 percent more likely. The findings, led by researchers from Johns Hopkins University and American University, were published in a working paper titled "The Long-Run Impacts of Same-Race Teachers" by the National Bureau of Economic Research. What has been the long term effect of a eurocentric curriculum at the Wickliffe City School system? How does every student find themselves represented, or absent, (invisible) from that curriculum? Does the representation make each student feel encouraged or diminished? What if we taught the truth in our curriculum? We recite, “with liberty and justice for all”. History teaches us that has never been the truth.
I want to tell all of our students, faculty, staff and the families of anyone black and/or brown, anyone that has ever felt marginalized by an invisible cage of oppression. You now have a seat at the table. We see you. We hear you. We believe you and we will do something to make AOA a campus that chooses to include rather than exclude. Dr. Goodman has boldly declared that AOA will be an “anti-racist” campus. If oppression is the antithesis of love, then it will take an act of love to move in an equal and opposite direction from oppression.
This is my story and a small part of my personal journey. If you have a story you would like to share, I would love to hear it. Please let me know. firstname.lastname@example.org
If you’d like to check out the article from The News-Herald on my new Diversity Coordinator position at Andrews Osborne Academy, you can find it HERE.