IMPORTANT VS PRIORITY

“Is diversity important to you?”

“Of course it is! Diversity AND inclusion and equity are important to our organization. In fact, it’s in our mission. It’s part of our work here.”

“Great. But where is it in your priorities?”

“Oh, it’s definitely a priority!”

“Right. But WHERE is it in your priorities? Top priority? Above all else? Second? Third?… somewhere in there?”

“Well, Liza, we have a lot of competing priorities. It’s a priority, though.”

Friends, this conversation is so common in my work. Schools and organizations often contact me for strategic guidance about how to move diversity and inclusion forward. They believe it is important to them and to their work. However, the question about priority is something different. If we are going to make meaningful change - in any part of our life or our organizations - we have to begin thinking about prioritizing.

For the past few years (okay, decades), my health has been important. Some months (okay, weeks), it’s been a priority. I do things like track my food and calories. I commit to exercise programs. I join Facebook support groups. I post sweaty-selfies. You know the routine - and maybe you’ve even done the same.

This summer, I decided to make my health a priority. I decided that I needed to change structures — make real change in structures — to demonstrate this was a priority. If I was going to talk with schools and organizations about what priorities looked like, I needed to do this myself, too.

When we make something — my health, in this case — a top priority, it means that other things must shift and change in their priority order. Committing to making something a priority requires this change. I decided that, because my health is a priority, that I was going to put this into my schedule. And, that prioritization has impacted other areas. For example, because I made my health a priority, I created this workout/health time from 8:30am-11:00am. That meant I was not scheduling any clients during those hours. That meant I was not answering work emails or doing work related activities. That meant I was not grocery shopping or running errands or cleaning the house. That meant I was not doing laundry or tidying the rooms or …yes .. even going back to bed (sorry not sorry - the benefits of working from home). Those all have impacts.

I used to open up my schedule to clients from 8:30-11am. Now, that’s not available. That’s 10+ hours a week I have removed from my public booking calendar. This was a very difficult decision for me because I pride myself on being very accessible to my clients. Removing those time blocks meant that people had to wait longer to meet with me. As of today, October 4th, clients can’t even get on the public calendar for FOUR WEEKS (but they all know they can reach me in other ways, so I’m not totally cut off from the world!). I feel lots of guilt related to that. I feel guilty for not being accessible. From the business/client services aspect, that’s not a good look to have people wait FOUR WEEKS to speak to you. In some cases, I’ve lost business because new inquiries want me right away/immediately.

But, prioritizing my health meant that I had to take risks in other areas. Losing potential clients means losing money. Losing money means not providing for my family in particular ways. Not providing for my family in particular ways triggers feelings of guilt for me. Prioritizing my health came with consequences. And, if it mattered, I needed to do this.

Prioritizing my health means that I use that 8:30am-11:00am to go for a walk; to meditate; to go to physical therapy; to stretch; to prepare meals; to work with my coach; or to read more about how to improve my health. That time block is reserved for things to help my body get stronger; to help my mind heal from past trauma; and to focus on the ways in which I show up in this world. In order to prioritize my health, I needed to be holistic about my health — my health is physical, emotional, spiritual and psychological.

I actually needed to shift and change structures around me. Some things — time on my public calendar — needed to be de-prioritized. It needed to move down the list of priorities.

I think what schools and organizations struggle with is the belief that prioritizing means adding on all the time. I hear this from teachers and employees all the time: “What MORE are they going to add to my plate? When are they going to take something OFF of my plate? This place just keeps adding and adding and adding and adding.” We’ve heard from teachers that this additive factor (without removing or de-prioritizing something else) leads to frustration, burnout, agitation, and feeling devalued. In my research on workplace sense of belonging and satisfaction, these are all negatives and lead to a disruptive work culture.

Prioritizing does not mean adding on; it requires you to reconfigure what you do.

What does it mean to make diversity, equity, and inclusion a priority? It means having to change structures of how we do things. It means having to privilege the purpose and outcomes of diversity, equity and inclusion over other goals that exist. It means taking risks and addressing challenges that come with diversity, equity, and inclusion and not have them compete with other goals. Prioritizing means that it is your focus, and you figure out how other goals work around it. If your organization is prioritizing hiring for a more racially diverse employee base, then you need to change real structures that have prioritized other things. For example, if you have prioritized a “short and speedy hiring process because everyone is so busy and hiring is just a small part of our jobs”, then you need to re-prioritize the acts of building relationships with racially diverse organizations, recruitment firms, and areas where racially diverse people go to find jobs. You need to re-prioritize the work of folks so that they can spend more time being thoughtful, intentional, and actionable about their recruitment. You need to create structures to spend more time with racially diverse people and build relationships so that your school or organization is responding to their needs. If you are prioritizing developing the skills needed to reduce bias in your organization, then you cannot just have a 60-minute professional development day and be done. If it is a priority, then you create real structural space, schedules, and timing for this to occur. Yes, that means not doing things the way you typically do them. If it is a priority, then you must re-prioritize.

Too often, schools and organizations believe they can — and must — do it all. And, when organizations make DE&I work important but not a priority, then that work typically falls away. As a working mom, wife, educator, speaker, and business owner, I know all too well that when lots of items come onto my plate, my health is the first thing to fall away. I have spent years prioritizing the needs of others above my own health. And, slowly, over decades, I have seen what that has done. I began to feel frustrated emotionally and physically; I began to feel resentful; I began to doubt my own worth; I began to question whether I was happy or whether I was just used to coming in last.

I got used to the feelings of not being a priority.

For the past few months, I have prioritized my health and myself and, yes, I still do feel some guilt. The mean-girl voice in my head asks me “Am I worth this?” or “What makes me so special that I get go for walks in the morning?” or “Aren’t there more productive things you could be doing right now?” or “How selfish of you to go to karate four times a week — doesn’t your family need you at home?” That recording plays on a loop in my head.

I’m still getting used to making myself a priority. It’s not easy, and I fight lots of internal demons around it. But, each week that passes, I feel a little bit stronger. I cry a little bit less. I feel a little less guilty.

What risks and challenges do you face when you choose to prioritize whatever it is you need?

How true are those risks?

What limiting beliefs have you told yourself that keep you from prioritizing?

What is 1 thing you can do today to address that limiting belief?

I’m not doing this perfectly at all. But, each day, I decide that this is more than just important.

Peace and love,

Liza

Beyond "WHO IS" and into "I AM"

Having worked in schools my entire career, I always look forward to one particular event that seems to be common practice in the elementary and middle grades: the biography project. I distinctly remember my own when I was a child. I was in the 7th grade and researched a military dictator in an African country (I can’t even bear to write this leader’s name). Here’s the thing: I remember almost every single line of my 2 minute speech. I can actually recite this to you 31 years later.

But, here’s my question: Why the f*ck did I research this person? He is horrible. Atrocious. Did terrible things to his people. But, guess what - my report had nothing to do with that.

As an adult, looking back upon that report, I had absolutely no context for who this dictator was. I had no idea what words like “kleptocracy” or “nepotism” meant. And, certainly, there wasn’t a single adult who took the time to really digest with me all of the ways in which this leader engaged in violence and murder. No, all I remember was that “he was a leader” of “this particularly country” and that I had to do a 2-minute report.

Now, as an adult, I can’t imagine assigning this dictator without diving into lots of contexts with students. As a teacher today, I would have talked in great detail about violence, crimes, and the dangers of leaders. I would never be so neutral. I would have made it clear that even a single person with power can do terrible things. And, I would encourage my students to also know that a single person with power can also do great things.

Though my own biography project was a failed experiment, today, I love being an audience member, sitting in the too-tiny chairs of a 2nd grade classroom with half my rear-end hanging off of the edge of the chair, and bearing witness to the joy and the nerves of young people with their props, their fake mustaches, and their index cards in hand.

As I worked closely with elementary school teachers who wanted to lean further into diversity, equity, and inclusion, we knew the Biography Project was a great place to start. For some teachers, they started by adding more people of color into the current list of choices. My friend Caren (*pseudonym) took it a step further: “This time around, for the Biography Project, I didn’t offer any historical figures who were White. No. They learn about White people all the time. Everywhere. In every single class. For this one project, this one moment in their learning, they were going to learn about a person of color.” Caren was terrified of the pushback she’d get from parents and families. Together, we played through scenarios of white fragility, white anger, and even prepared for some white rage. We prepared her comments ranging from “Um, Ms. Caron? Yeah, why can’t my child research George Washington or Helen Keller?” to “Wait, so you are going to push your liberal agenda on my 2nd grader??” We role played it all.

A few times, Caron almost backed out. “I know it’s important, Liza, but I just don’t think I’m strong enough to stand up to parents who don’t think this is important.”

The big day came for Caron to send out the biography project directions. She waited. And waited. And waited. Not a single parent pushed back (at least not publicly). The next day rolled around and her students began choosing their person to research.

That was the greatest Biography Project Day ever. That day, I got to hear presentations of about 14 people of color. Then, I went to the next classroom and heard 14 more — some of the same, but some new ones.

While I have been watching other people’s children do their biography projects over the years, I was so excited when it was my turn. My child was finally getting to do the Biography Project! Oh, you know I was excited!

I eagerly waited for my child to get off of the bus and asked him, “Okay! So, who did you choose? Who are you going to research?”

He replied, “Well. I’m kind of sad about this, Mom.”

I thought, “Maybe someone picked the person he wanted and he had to choose someone different.”

“Son, why are you sad?”

He replied, “Well, my teacher said that we should pick from the Who Is? series. And, well, I just didn’t see any about Filipinos. I really want to research someone who looks like me or who comes from my heritage.” (note: My children are also Puerto Rican, and there are only two books about Puerto Ricans — Roberto Clemente and Justice Sonia Sotomayor). To date, there are 163 books in the Who Is? series.

But, here’s where the teacher mis-stepped without even realizing it: “You should use the Who Is? series because if they are important, then they are probably in that series.” That, my friends, is what stuck with my child. That statement, which seems probably so innocent, is what he remembered about that day.

ouch.

I mean, she wasn’t wrong. It’s just that she also wasn’t right.

So, my Puerto Rican/Filipino son came home with the disappointing belief that “If there isn’t a Who Is? book, then they must not be important.” He said to me, “So, Mom, does that mean that Filipinos and Puerto Ricans … does it mean that we aren’t important?”

I’m dying inside.

We had a conversation about publishers and the types of decisions that get made in board rooms. We had a conversation about ignorance and limited viewpoints. We had a conversation about how expensive it was to make books and that sometimes they pick the most popular people. We had a conversation about how to have agency and to find out our own information.

So we did just that.

My son and I came home and immediately Google’d “Filipino Activists” and learned about Larry Itliong, an activist for farmworker’s rights who worked in solidarity with Cesar Chavez (a name that more people know). Thankfully, there is a big movement in the West Coast to amplify the work of Filipinos and their role in activism. I’m forever grateful for Dr. Dawn Bohulano Mabalon, Gayle Romasanta, and Andre Sibayan for their book Journey to Justice: The Life of Larry Itliong.

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Together, my son and I did indeed journey to justice. We learned about the ways in which Filipinos organized and fought for their rights and the rights of others. We talked about risk, courage, and challenges. We talked about standing up for what you believe in, even if it means risking your job. We even hopped onto YouTube to look for clips of Larry Itliong so that he really understood that Larry Itliong was a real person, and not just a character in a story.

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“Mom, I feel really proud to be Filipino like Larry Itliong. I feel like being Filipino and being an activist is also who I am.”

I’m alive inside.

Windows and mirrors, y’all. Windows and mirrors. What opportunities exist for our students to see the world through another person’s lens? What opportunities exist for our students to see themselves represented?

So, what can we do as classroom teachers, educators and parents?

  • Think beyond what is available. It is true, as educators we are often limited by what is published. And, given our grade levels, we are often even more constrained by age appropriate content and reading level.

  • Find opportunities to expand the cannon. Do you work in a PreK-8 or PreK-12 school? What opportunities are available for partnering with students in upper grades who could assist in creating age-appropriate content? Align these projects with their Humanities or History classes and work collaboratively across grades to increase the number of biographies available to young students.

  • Create your “wish list” of books for your classroom and tap into your Parent Council or your local identity-based organizations. Start with good lists like We Need Diverse Books, or (given that it’s API Month) check out this list of YA books by Asian American authors. Connect with identity based organizations like local chapters of fraternities and/or sororities, professional organizations, and educational organizations who are often looking for service opportunities for their members.

  • Read, read, read, and read. Every summer I make my list of 12 books to read. I try to do a book a week during the summer months. Most summers, I focus intentionally on identity backgrounds or experiences. One summer, I only read books by Black authors. Another summer, only books with Asian and Asian American authors. One summer, it was more broadly "authors of color”. I can only connect my students to racially diverse content if I, myself, am versed in this content as well.

  • Think about the people you know, and then find their contemporary in another cultural background. So, we grew up knowing about Helen Keller, right? As a family deeply connected to a community who has benefitted from her life and work, I love Helen Keller. AND, Go look up disabilities rights advocates of color. Here is a great resource for you: https://fakequity.com/2018/03/08/disability-rights-so-white-disability-and-racial-justice/

  • Don’t box in choices. Yes, the Who Is? series is great. It’s easy. It’s age appropriate. It works really well for our young people. And, there are other resources. Maybe some students want to put the work in and find other books. Maybe some students want to go to their local library and look up other influential people. Give them choices.

  • Use social networks for advice, information, or suggestions. There are lots of great message boards, Facebook groups, or places to post (hello, Twitter!) for suggestions. If you are focusing on windows and mirrors for your students, ask the network for suggestions. Crowdsource!

The Biography Project can be a fun, interactive learning experience for our young people. But, what happens when we only provide opportunities to learn about white people and limit their opportunities to learn about people from racially diverse backgrounds?

What happens when we shift from who is to I am?

Peace and love,
Liza

This blog post is part of the #31DaysIBPOC Blog Challenge, a month-long movement to feature the voices of indigenous and teachers of color as writers and scholars. Please CLICK HERE to read yesterday’s blog post by Aeriale Johnson (and be sure to check out the link at the end of each post to catch up on the rest of the blog circle).

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ADDRESSING (RACIST) INCIDENTS IN THE CLASSROOM

Let me start with this: I love teachers and school leaders. I do this work each and every day in schools because I believe in their impact on the individual, national, and global level. Teachers, in this country in particular, do some of the hardest damn work and, in many cases, are deeply internally driven (because we know it isn’t “for the money and the summers off”, am I right?) to show up every day for one the greatest responsibilities in this world: educating the mind, body, and spirits of young people.

I’m writing this post because I care about you/them. I’m writing this because I know that, in addition to teaching your subject, you are also tasked with making sure people are safe, that they aren’t hurting each other, and that young people feel whole each and every day. You’re also tasked with confronting some of life and society’s greatest challenges (in no particular order): poverty, hunger, violence, children’s basic needs, active shooter drills, a child who comes into school with a bruises, hormones, friendships-enemies-friendships, sexuality, sexual activity, social media, … the list goes on. And, you don’t get a pay bump for any of those — you are driven to connect with other humans, to provide, to inspire, to teach, and to love — and for many, the reward is knowing you are doing something every single day that makes this world better, even when it doesn’t always feel that way.

Truthfully, I wasn’t the greatest teacher in my early years (I’m confident I got much better as time went on and as I benefitted from helpful feedback). I think back to my very first year teaching 6th grade at a well-resourced independent school. While I wish I was awesome, truth is, even if I wasn’t the best teacher in the world, those students were going to be successful because they had many other people supporting them, helping them navigate this world, and connecting them to the opportunities only few can dream about. Many (not all) came from families where advanced education was a given, and that career success was going to come as a result of hard work as well as a safety net of love and resources. And, thanks to LinkedIn and Facebook, many of the students I taught those three years turned out just fine - they became Vice Presidents of global banks, professors, business owners and entrepreneurs, Broadway actors, successful musicians, teachers and school administrators, outstanding parents and caregivers, and more.

Though I may not have been skilled, in those early years, around classroom management, I did walk in with one particular skill that many others on the faculty did not have: I knew how to have difficult conversations about identity. My more formal training in leadership, facilitation, race, and racial identity meant that I knew how to stop a class, address issues of bias or racialized comments, get curious about the comment’s origins, and scaffold learning around these topics. I wasn’t afraid to lean into these conversations, unlike many colleagues who got uncomfortable, “shushed” the commenter, and moved on. I knew how to do this. It was a learned skill, not just a passion project.

As I travel across the country in workshops with teachers and school leaders, I meet so many adults who know that racialized, racist, or identity-based comments are damaging to a classroom climate. They know that these comments deteriorate trust in the classroom and in them, as adults. They know that these comments are hurtful to children who are there to do their jobs, too: to learn. They do know this. They can clearly spot when a comment is offensive. They can clearly spot when a student has said something that has hurt others. They do have that “tingling feeling” when they, themselves, have said something in a lesson or lecture that didn’t land quite right or triggered that “oohh, no s/he didn’t!” response.

They know when it’s happened.

They do not always know what to do next.

In my workshops, we spend a lot of time on case studies. But, rather than speed off to “how does this all end, “ I work with teachers and school leaders to process, examine, and understand their own experiences with conflict, risk, speaking out, and what they know about issues of identity. After all, if you are conflict averse (perhaps you grew up in a home where conflict was a negative experience, or if you had witnessed conflict=bad), you are less likely to confront an issue in your classroom that might bring up these same feelings. Maybe those feelings are rooted in gender. Maybe those feelings are rooted in race. Maybe those feelings are rooted in “Oh, I’ve tried to address conflict, but it didn’t go well, so I never really felt confident enough to do it again.” Those are questions for you to figure out.

In the meantime, here are some of the steps I encourage teachers and school leaders to take when faced with an incident that has aspects of identity baked into it:

  1. TAKE A TIME OUT/TAKE A BREATH …. BUT DEFINITELY RESPOND. You, out of all the people in that room, are role modeling what to do. Young people are watching you to see what is expected of them. Huge responsibility, right? I know. It really is. And, let’s be honest, it’s a moment that our graduate or teacher preparation programs didn’t cover. So, it makes perfect sense if you feel unprepared.

    • Helpful phrases: “Okay, let’s pause right here for a second, let’s talk about that word you just used”;

    • “That’s an interesting use of language you chose just now. Why did you choose that word?”;

    • “Hey! I heard that. C’mon everyone. We’re better than this, right? We are not the class where that word is okay in here.”

    • I’m not saying you need to dive into a whole TED talk about what’s going on, but students need to know that you know what’s up. Students need to know in the moment that what they said was offensive; and students who are on the receiving end of it need to know that you care.

  2. YOU DON’T HAVE TO KNOW ALL THE DETAILS TO KNOW IT’S OFFENSIVE. Listen, I don’t know everything there is to know about everything. I just don’t. And, too often as teachers and school leaders, we don’t take the same advice that we give to our students each and every day — “You will likely make mistakes today. And, that’s part of the learning process.” Teachers, I believe you know enough about what is racist, racialized, or just plain icky. You do. Because, my gosh, whether it’s in a critical race theory class, a sociocultural-foundations in education class, or learning about what the hell Gucci did with their turtleneck sweaters via Instagram, you are surrounded by tons of learning moments. But, sometimes we feel uncomfortable when students know we don’t know something. I’m asking you to role model what it means to make mistakes. I’m asking you to role model that it’s okay to not know it all, but it isn’t okay to ignore learning.

    • Helpful phrases: “I don’t know exactly where blackface comes from, but I do know that it isn’t right”;

    • “I’m not sure why that term is offensive, but (child in the class) says it is hurtful to them, so, we aren’t going to use that word. "

    • “(Child), thanks for letting us know about this. I’m going to read more about it after class, though.”

  3. STOP DISMISSING THE CONCERNS OF CHILDREN. Okay, this one’s personal. When I hear of racist or racialized incidents in my children’s classrooms, I have two immediate questions: “How are you feeling as a result of this?” and “So, what did the adult in the room do?” Honestly, I don’t put a whole lot of responsibility on their peers/children because I know far too much about our educational system and the curriculum that is taught in this country (aka not one that affirms learning about Black, Brown, and Indigenous people). I do, however, know that adults have a different responsibility in this situation. Imagine my emotions when I find out that children express concern in their classrooms — and I mean, directly, not “round about” — and to learn that the adult in the room was dismissive. What do I mean by dismissive? How about “Oh, xxxx, you’re making way to big a deal of this” or my latest favorite, “Oh, c’mon, it was the 1980s” (when subjected to a film that had absolutely no connection to the academic lesson, day or outcome, and is known for being a totally racist and rapey movie that even the star of that film has problems with)” or “No, (other student) isn’t trying to be racist.” In these incidents, this young person advocated for themselves, was explicit about their discomfort, and was dismissed by the adult in the room.

    • Helpful phrases: "I hear your concern, (student). What would be a helpful next step for us right now?”; (note: as a way to give agency to the student, not to be responsible for the education of the class)

    • “Thank you for letting us know, (student). This conversation is clearly not appropriate. And it doesn’t align with our classroom environment.”;

    • “Thanks, (student). Honestly, I don’t know enough about this topic, but clearly I need to learn more”;

    • “(Student making offensive comments), not okay, seriously. That term is really offensive. We have to move on to our lesson for the day, but we will be coming back to this topic.”

  4. PARTNER WITH PARENTS AND CAREGIVERS. I have been super lucky when I was a teacher to have principals who proactively dealt with potential issues. I have been on administrative teams where we have spent time crafting emails, responses, and notifications for parents/caregivers to be aware of things of concern. Having worked in K-12 schools closely, I know that there truly is no extra time to squeeze out in a day. And, hopefully, proactive communication doesn’t need to happen often when racialized or inappropriate incidents occur. A few times in my children’s experiences, they have come home to tell me of a very troubling incident in a classroom where a teacher was present. And, then I waited… waited.. waited …for even a quick note from a teacher or school leader. Silence. Nothing. I want teachers and leaders to know some things about that silence — while that silence is usually a result of “we are putting out lots of other types of fires” or “we are understaffed and underresourced and just trying to breathe”, your silence can also signal acceptance. There have been a few incidents — racial — at the schools that have been grossly unacceptable. Like, grossly. And, in all of those cases, I have been the one to reach out to the schools. I have certainly received school wide voicemails about graffiti, but have yet to receive an email from a teacher about an incident in the classroom.

    • Helpful phrases (teachers, feel free to copy this for your template):

    • “Dear families, today in our ____ class, we had an incident that I want you to be aware of in case you want to continue this conversation with your child when they get home from school. Today, students (e.g., viewed a movie that had inappropriate language/nudity/racial stereotypes; engaged in conversation in which there were racist phrases used; had a discussion about identity that may have been difficult and hurtful to students in their class). While education is meant to be challenging and to include issues of social identity, experiences, and beliefs, I also know that some conversations can create a sense of mistrust and worry. I have checked in with the students in class to see how they are doing individually and overall; however, I thought it would be important for you to have this information as well in case there were additional conversations you wanted to have with your student. If you would like to reach out to me, please do so. As a dedicated teacher, I am committed to making sure that each one of my students feels supported in my class and at our school. Thank you, xxxx.”

  5. ENGAGE IN YOUR LEARNING/BUILD YOUR NETWORK. Between teaching all day, faculty meetings, parent/caregiver emails, discipline hearings, IEP meetings, follow up conferences with tutors or specialists, and, by gosh, having things in your personal life also need attention, it is no wonder that teachers and school leaders are exhausted. Teachers and school leaders are tasked with doing more and more and more and more each year. So, what would it mean to partner with an organization or a trainer or a facilitator to help you through this learning, particularly around addressing race or identity in your classrooms?

    • Build your network of other teachers who are running on the same schedule and who also need to build skill.

    • No time to read a text book on culturally responsive teaching right now? Okay, so grab a young adult fiction book by responsible writers (preferably ones who hold the identities of their main characters) and get a glimpse into the issues (my favorites? Jason Reynolds, Benjamin Alire Saenz, Angie Thomas, Sandhya Menon).

    • Regularly check out teaching resources like Teaching Tolerance or Facing History

    • Ask questions. Ask questions. Ask questions.

Teachers, I love you. I really do. I know that what I’m asking of you is both another component of your work and such an integral part of your work. If children aren’t feeling secure in your ability to advocate for them, to stand up for what is right, and to address issues that can hurt and harm them, then they simply don’t learn as well. We need to continue to create conditions where our students come into our classrooms feeling whole, are challenged by what we teach and what we facilitate, and leave feeling whole.

I was in a powerful workshop where a parent of color held up a piece of paper. They then tore it into pieces - first in half, then in quarters, then in smaller and smaller pieces. “This,” the parent said, “is what happens when my child is at school and experiences racist and racialized incidents.” The parent then grabbed tape and began taping the pieces back together. “And, this, this is what I have to do when they come home.”

How can we change this narrative? What would this mean if this were true every single day? What would need to happen for us, as educators, to believe this is true?

Let’s build skill. Get curious. And work to keep our children whole.

Peace and love,

Liza

THE COST OF THE WORK

One very common question I get when fielding an inquiry from a school, organization, or company about the cost of a training or workshop is, “Why does this cost so much?”

I think it’s a really honest question. After all, people of color, and those who do this work, have often been expected to DO this work because they LOVE this work. And, that’s all. “Well, if you love something, why should you get paid for it?” Hmmm… pretty sure Tom Brady loves football. Shall we not pay him? (side bar: yo, why does Tom Brady get paid so much?? See what I did there?).

But, I get it. I really do. Diversity, equity, and inclusion work IS, in fact, a work of love. It’s work of the heart. And, the work is very personal. Artists often talk about this same experience — they often encounter people who believe that artists should be giving away their art for free or, at least, for ‘not that much.’ (side bar #2: then stop calling artists “poor and starving” if you keep NOT paying them!).

Diversity practitioners, at some point in their career, often come to this big question: Should I be charging money for the work that I do?

Or, stated differently, many diversity practitioners often think “I shouldn’t be charging money for this work because it’s life-work.”

My answer: Do what you want. If you don’t want to charge for your work, then don’t.

My other answer: This is work. It’s like real, actual work that people have trained (ideally) and prepared for and should, like every other profession, also be paid.

So what are you paying for when a trainer, educator, facilitator, or professional comes to do this work at your school or organization?

TIME. Unless you have hired someone who opens up the same exact presentation (like, the exact exact), then you are paying for their prep time to research your school, organization, or company. You might be surprised to find out how much time we spend on your websites - reading your strategic plans, your mission and vision statements, your quantitative data on numbers of people, etc. We also spend a whole lot of time research what you don’t say on your website but what others might say about you. We spend time researching news articles, newsletters, and information on your top leaders. We spend hours and hours learning about your place so that we can meet the needs of your place. That labor is often invisible to you because, when we arrive, the presentation feels so customized. Well, how do you think we made it feel that way? We researched!

EMOTIONAL LABOR. Oftentimes, schools, organizations, and companies bring in outside trainers because there is something that keep the internal people from being able to do this work. That “something” usually falls in one of these (and other) areas: 1) a culture of nice where no one wants to challenge each other but there is unspoken conflict; 2) a commitment to the work but not a clear pathway forward; 3) a leader who is standing in the way even when grassroots groundswell has occurred; 4) leadership who wants to lead but there is a fear around the culture of change; 5) there isn’t diversity (of whatever kind) to help inform a meaningful process.

Because of these areas, outside trainers often have to take on the emotional labor of the organization. In addition to “time and tasks,” the outside person also has to take on people’s fear, anger and hostility. When I work closely with organizations that are trying to get proximate to racial equity, for example, I have to absorb a lot of the white fragility of individuals. I have to take on the anger and resentment of others. I have to take on the smirks and the stares and the belligerence of members of your community. I have to take on being challenged academically, theoretically, and physically (yes, sometimes physically).

As dysfunctional as this is, sometimes the outside person has to take on the hostility of your community so that your community can move forward in this work.

What cost would you assign to that?

EXPERTISE AND EXPERIENCE. With over 22 years of experience in facilitation and, in particular, race work, there isn’t much left unseen for me. I’ve seen it, been in it, been a target of it, and lived through more than I care to share in this blog. For some facilitators, the cost includes that level of experience in the facilitation. At this point in my career, I have built up the tools, responses, and skills necessary to face just about any situation. Earlier in my career, I didn’t have as many tools nor as much practical experience. When you hear that facilitators and professionals have different fees, it could be because of what they are offering you in terms of skills, situations, and experience.

Now, let me be clear — PLEASE give people new to this field a chance. They, too, need experience and skill building. And, because you don’t get good at this work by just reading a book (side bar #3: please read all the books you can about this work. It actually does have theoretical and academic frameworks to it!), people do need experience. I often, often, often recommend new(er) folks when the situations and conditions are helpful for them to grow and learn.

NAME RECOGNITION AND DEMAND. Yes, there is something to say about name recognition and demand. Some facilitators are booked months in advance. Some can only take a few workshops at a time. People approach their fees in different ways. If a facilitator can only do 3 workshops in a month — and still has bills to pay and a mortgage — the workshops might be at a higher fee or price point than if a facilitator doesn’t have the same demands on their time. While some facilitators have a fixed fee (I do not), others can be more flexible depending on time of year, time of day, how many things they have booked that month or that week, etc. If you are working with a facilitator who has a flexible fee, ask if there are times where their fee might be slightly less than usual.

THE WORK IS WORK. Finally, for many facilitators, this is work. You get paid for your work (usually in the form of a salary) and many facilitators rely on their workshops to get paid. If you have the privilege of a salary, remember that you get a reliable deposit into your bank account every week or biweekly or monthly. That’s not how independent facilitators get paid — we get paid based on our workshops (and the swiftness of your business offices!). We do work, just like you do work.

I hope this provides some insight into what goes into the work of a facilitator, trainer, and educator in this work. This, of course, is just my experience and shouldn’t be broadly applied. Each facilitator has their own foundation, reasoning, and approach here, so don’t let me catch you sayin’, “Well, L-i-z-a said that…” Uh uh. No. Don’t do that. #keepitreal

h/t to AW who posted this on a facebook group :)

h/t to AW who posted this on a facebook group :)


Peace and love,
Liza

WHEN IT'S NOT ABOUT YOU: STEPPING ON THE HOSE

I am so inspired by the many diversity and equity practitioners who continue to do this important work, even when faced with the very real health implications. I see you. I love you.

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For the past 21 years, I have held administrative roles in education. I’ve worked my way up from being a graduate student in residence life and student activities; a mid-level manager in student affairs; a head advisor and program coordinator; assistant dean; associate director; and director. I’ve spent countless nights woken up by the sound of the on-call pager – now cell phone – and have gone on my fair share of emergency responses to the hospital. I’ve worked in divisions where we’ve had to respond to student tragedy, community lock downs, and fear of active shooters.

 I’ve seen and experienced just about everything in this field.

During my 21 years as a practitioner, I have also gone through the ups-and-downs of my personal life: a cancer diagnosis of my oldest child when she was just a toddler; multiple surgeries to reduce my risk of genetic cancer; and the unexpected challenges that come along with raising young children – broken bones, teeth knocked out from a playground fall, and navigating issues of gender and identity.

 I mention all of these because I feel the need to lay the foundation of my own mental and emotional “toughness.” And, maybe that’s part of the problem.

For most of my career, I have focused intensely on issues of justice and equity – two areas that have required me to invest fully as a professional and as a human being in this world. In both my professional and personal life, I have chosen to live in this constant tension of seeking to contribute to a better, more just world, and the powerful forces that keep fairness and equity just out of reach. I often tell folks that, “to do this work, one must work diligently every single day towards an outcome that we may never actually see fully realized.” That means, I don’t have confidence that I will live long enough to see the end of racism, but every day I show up with the confidence that I will.  

Does this sound familiar to you?

 Are you a practitioner or scholar or just an all-around decent human who does this, too?

 Well, on July 1st of this year, I walked away from my 21-year career in education. And, this becomes all too salient when I am at conferences meeting up with folks who knew me in this role. Many have known that I started my own independent facilitation, training, strategic consulting company. And, I certainly have been public about how amazing and empowering it has been.

 I’ve also begun to be more open about why.

 Existing literature has explored the public health impact of racism (Williams, Neighbors & Jackson, 2003), citing that “discrimination is associated with multiple indicators of poorer physical and, especially, mental health status”. But, little published research has explored the impact of racism on those who are charged with leading this work: diversity directors, practitioners, and scholars. While some work has been done exploring racial battle fatigue (Smith, Allen & Danley, 2007) compassion fatigue (Figley, 2013) and, more recently, Social Justice Battle Fatigue (Furr, 2018), little has been spoken or written about a particular aspect of this work: the impact of white fragility (DiAngelo, 2011) and power.

 When I tell folks I walked away from formal diversity work, many believe it’s because the work is so hard or that the issues are so heavy that it wears on the soul.

That’s simply not the case for me.

I love that hardship. I love that heaviness.

Those are why I chose the field. Similar to firefighters who run towards danger, I feel a deep sense of responsibility and, yes, some excitement, about getting close to those flames, looking for those who need assistance, pulling out survivors, and dousing the flames.

It’s never been the fire.

It’s always been about the people who are stepping on the water hose while the house burns down.

 It’s always been about the people who step on the hose and then tell you “it’s because you’re putting out the fire too fast.”  

“If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.” - -Zora Neale Hurston

I’m no stranger to the fire.

But it’s time we start talking about the real implications of the hose-steppers.

Despite a robust and successful career in this work, there was a brief span of time in which I had been in close proximity to racial trauma. And, that racial trauma was something I had never anticipated. So, when the warning signs of that trauma began to show up, I didn’t even see them:

  • I was a guest speaker in a class of middle school students. When suddenly, I felt the room spin. I felt the blood leave my body. I felt like my skin was on fire even though I was freezing cold. In those split seconds – seconds which I wasn’t sure if they were my last -- all I could think of was “Please don’t let these babies see me die here in this class. That would be terrible for them.”

  • I had started that year with an extended episode of vertigo – something I had never known or experienced in my life. It was debilitating. Medications only put me to sleep.

 In both cases, I went to the doctor, to specialists, and in the case of my near fainting, I wore a heart monitor for weeks. That heart monitor send signals and readings directly to an emergency response team who, if they indicated any signs, would send another team to rescue me. I went through extensive testing for my head, ears, and balance.

 In both of these cases, there were no actual physical abnormalities to be found. No faulty structures. No blockages. No causes that the medical teams could identify. Those conversations started with “I have good news and bad news. The good news is that we didn’t find anything wrong. The bad news is that we didn’t find anything wrong.”

 “How’s your stress levels?” they asked. “Oh, it’s fine,” I replied. “The usual.”

Truth is, I was exhausted all the time. But, it was around the time of Nov 2016 and the work had taken on a new emotional toll. I figured it was just that I was spending most of my sleeping-dreaming time processing the onslaught of a daily news cycle. So, when my doctor asked if I was sleeping well, I told her, “No. But, I don’t think I have for months.” She sent me in for a sleep study. I wore a sleep monitor for a few nights, and it revealed that I had, a number of times, stopped breathing during my nights. “You know, you could die from that, right?” said the technician.

I brushed it off.

  • A few months later, I had to have two molars pulled. Like, two friggin’ teeth pulled. Even with a mouthguard that I’ve been wearing for years, I had broken my teeth down so much that the oral surgeon said removal was the only real option here. Now, a year later, I’ve been walking around with a gaping space in the back of my mouth and with the ability to only chew on one side.

  •  I have always had excellent blood pressure numbers. Yet, in these two years, my numbers skyrocketed. I tried everything to bring them down. They just wouldn’t budge.

 Fast forward to July 2018, my first time not working in a school or educational organization. I was worried, scared, and anxious about not having community or the stability of a steady paycheck. I was angry that my walking away meant that “they won” and that racism and this good fight had beaten me. I was terrified that walking away meant that I didn’t have worth or that I no longer had the prestige associated with being a part of a place. I was scared that walking away took me off of the career ladder.

Worried. Anxious. Scared.

Yet, despite these very powerful feelings, something interesting happened.

 My blood pressure went down. My sleep patterns became deeper and more relaxed. The episodes of vertigo have disappeared. My heart is steady and calm. And, for the first time in a few years, I am joyous. Actually joyous.

 (My two back teeth haven’t miraculously grown back, though. You can’t win them all, folks. You can’t win them all!)

Now, I’m a researcher, so I definitely dove into thinking about variables at play. I still do diversity related work – at an even deeper level than before. I still travel, uphold a rigorous speaking and training schedule, and now have the added stress of building my own business.

 Like I wrote, it’s never been about the fire.


So, what is it about the folks who are stepping on the hose?

Practitioners, I write this to you as a love letter. As a caution. As a wake-up call. As encouragement to really examine what you are willing to give up for the place, the person, the boss, the team that won’t get off the hose even as they cheer you on for showing up to the fire.

What are you willing to give for the team that blames hose-stepping on “the other person on the hose” or for the institution that says “You’re putting out the fire too fast” or that, in many cases, says “You started the fire.”

And, the most essential question: “Are you willing to die for this place?”

 If you ask me, “Liza, are you willing to die for this fight?” My answer is “yes.” Many who came before me have, in fact, died for the very rights I get to hold today. They fought for communities that I care about so deeply – communities in which my own family and family members belong. I love the fight. The fight loves me back.

I am no longer, however, willing to die for the folks stepping on the hose.

I am no longer willing to die for the fire hydrant that never had water. I am no longer willing to die at the hands of those who were just fine with a burning building.

Some of you may be reading this and seeing yourself in this story. I know that it’s not as easy to say, “Just leave.” There are demons and gremlins to address in that leaving. Address those demons. Name them. Own them. And, then, please, interrupt them.

Whenever I tell people about my experience, I start with, “I left because I was going to die.” And, every single time, to every person I have told, they respond with, “Yeah, I know. Because my friend so-and-so died from this, too. Heart attack. They always said this would kill them.”


I’m not willing to do that anymore.

And, I hope you are not either.

This world needs your light.

 Peace and love,
Liza

References

DiAngelo, R. (2011). White fragility. The International Journal of Critical Pedagogy3(3).

Figley, C. R. (2013). Compassion fatigue: Coping with secondary traumatic stress disorder in those who treat the traumatized. Routledge.

Furr, S. (2018) "Wellness Interventions for Social Justice Fatigue Among Student Affairs Professionals" (2018). Dissertations. 2803. 
https://ecommons.luc.edu/luc_diss/2803

Smith, W. A., Allen, W. R., & Danley, L. L. (2007). “Assume the position... you fit the description” psychosocial experiences and racial battle fatigue among African American male college students. American Behavioral Scientist51(4), 551-578.

Williams, D. R., Neighbors, H. W., & Jackson, J. S. (2003). Racial/ethnic discrimination and health: findings from community studies. American journal of public health93(2), 200-208.

WHAT TO DO: A LOVE LETTER IN THREE PARTS

Stay tuned to Liza’s blog over the next few days as she writes live from the People of Color Conference (National Association of Independent Schools) in Nashville, TN!

Dear my chosen family,

I love you.

This work is hard, and the past three days at NAIS PoCC proves just how difficult this work can be. We have been able to come together; wipe away tears of joy and tears of frustration; and meet people who we now call chosen family.

But, this experience -- the experience of centering Blackness and Brownness; the experience of being in the majority; the experience of being able to pack away our concerns with white fragility and speak our truth; and the experience of being seen as beautiful and brilliant — is about to come to a slow end. I know, that sounds friggin’ depressing. Guess what? It’s not that it’s depressing, it’s that we know exactly what is on the other side of PoCC.

So, here it is: A Love Letter in Three Parts.

Part I: Love Letter to Black and Brown Brilliance

Part II: A Love Letter to White People (re-blogged from last year’s big hit “Re-Entry”)

Part III: What Black, Brown, and White Folks can Do Immediately


PART I: LOVE LETTER TO BLACK AND BROWN BRILLIANCE

These past few days, I know that you have experienced sessions, speakers, and people who have affirmed you. From the opening marching band, to the shout outs of “who we are”, to our call to action to end childhood poverty, to asking the right questions, and to the visible presence of leaders of color, you contributed to this community of brilliance. You were gifted with scholarship of people of color. You were in receivership of stories of color. You were a part of building a narrative of color.

When my children were younger, we developed a bed time routine of asking each other, “What do you love about being Brown?” (my children are multiracial Pilipinx and Puerto Rican). They could always answer however they wanted, but these ones came up most often: “I love that I’m smart. I love that my people are strong. I love that my skin is beautiful.” They are a bit more grown now, but every once in a while, I ask them real quick, “Hey! Hey! What do you love about being Brown?” It actually fills me that their answers are so quick and, sometimes, they are bored by it. But, their boredom, to me, signals that this knowledge of their Browness is routine. It is not new to them. They know that their Brownness is important. It is a part of who they are. It is what makes them a part of a community.

To the Black and Brown family here at PoCC. You are smart. You come from a people who are strong. And, your skin - and you - are beautiful. All the damn time. Even when they try to tell you that you are not.


PART II: A LOVE LETTER TO WHITE PEOPLE

First, here is a love letter you can share with white folks who did not come to PoCC — you know, the white folks who are going to ask you how “vacation” was or “whether you sat by the pool or actually went to sessions.” Yeah, drop this oldie but goodie to them from 2017.


To white folks who were at PoCC 2018: You have a job to do. You have to a) reflect on your experience. (I recommend the “head space, heart space, gut space” questions from this post here); b) isolate all of the recommendations that people gave you at the end of their sessions; and c) go Google a whole bunch of information (so that you don’t ask people of color to explain it to you).

I mean this part with all the love in my heart: You took up space here. Now, be accountable for it.

Another helpful way for you to build your action plan is to think about the “Stop, Start, Change’ model.

1) What did I hear/learn at PoCC that I know I need to STOP doing?

2) What did I hear/learn at PoCC that I know I need to START doing?

3) What did I hear/learn at PoCC that I know I need to CHANGE how I do it?

Here are some of the most common ones I have heard at PoCC by people of color for white folks:

“I need/want white people to stop…

  • being silent when they clearly see, hear, or witness power and oppression being enacted

  • crying whenever something difficult comes up. Or, if you’re going to cry, then at least acknowledge you are having an emotional response with no expectation to be taken care of.

  • making me teach them things that I had to learn the hard way. Google it. It’s there.

  • coming to me and telling me every single thing they are doing related to diversity. It’s like they want me to congratulate them for just doing the things that honor my everyday life and my experience.

  • just hiring white people all the time; you do know there are talented people of color, right?

  • taking up so much space. stop taking credit for our work. stop being silent when others give you credit that you don’t deserve.

  • reinforcing a Black/White binary. If you are going to diversify your books, curriculum, programs, then include Latinx, Asian, Native, and Multiracial people, too (to be clear, this doesn’t mean to reduce the number of Black authors, books or programs — but it does mean reducing the number of white ones).

Get how this work? Yes, make your list. Check it twice. Because I’m gonna find out if you’re naughty or nice.


PART III: WHAT BLACK, BROWN, AND WHITE FOLKS CAN DO IMMEDIATELY

There are very few spaces where we can talk so openly about the role of whiteness and the perceived supremacy of whiteness. I’m guessing your experience at PoCC was unique in this way. Well, let’s make this not so unique in your professional development:

  1. Immediately find other opportunities to engage in dialogue that short cuts white fragility and speaks directly to the roles of whiteness and perceived supremacy of whiteness. If you still have PD funds, check out the White Privilege Conference or Courageous Conversations on Race or the National Conference on Race and Ethnicity. These are not “education specific conferences” but, guess what, racism isn’t unique to education. If you don’t have PD funds, figure out 2 things you are going to do to enhance your learning in spaces that directly name whiteness. You can always check out my Events page which lists opportunities at no-or-low cost.

  2. Get strategic. Whether it’s your own classroom, division, department, school, and especially your personal home life, begin drafting your strategic plan. What are your goals? How will you get there? How will you know that you have achieved those goals? What are the barriers to those goals? What are the springboards/opportunities to get proximate to those goals? Write them down. You can even co-opt formats like, “Commit 30” or the “Pomodoro technique” where instead of writing for 15 minutes a day, you commit to furthering your education about DE&I for 15 minutes a day. But, be darn intentional about your plan. Write that down and then evaluate how you did each week.

  3. Surround yourself with critical voices. I love podcasts because I can listen to them, rewind them, and even “talk back” to them. Who’s on my heavy rotation? 1) Teaching White White; 2) Codeswitch; 3) Speak Out with Tim Wise; 4) Teaching Tolerance’s Teaching Hard History. The more you normalize critical voices, the less scary they will be to hear and to be. Find examples of people who speak out in your community, and learn from them. Sometimes they are in places you don’t expect. Want to know my absolute favorite right now? Hasan Minhaj’s Patriot Act on Netflix (it shows up on YouTube eventually). Each week, he takes on a new topic for 20 minutes. Brilliant. Watch that every week.

  4. Perfect your elevator speech. This takes work, for real. When people ask, “Why do you do this work?” or “Why is this work important?” don’t fumble. Be clear for yourself and others. Figure this out and carry it with you.

  5. Practice talking about race. Go through a conversation or a class and isolate your race. Like, start every sentence by naming your race. Mine would be, “As an Asian American woman …..” Practice naming that. Practice saying that. Make it so frequent that it becomes habit. Make it so frequent that you feel naked when you don’t say it (you know what I mean…!).

  6. Identify your strategy for self-care. If you’ve heard me speak at PoCC this week, you know that I don’t believe that “a massage and some scented candles” is adequate self-care. We need real, concrete pathways for staying in this work without it killing us. I’ve said it before, “If you die doing this work, you have not died for the cause. You have died because white supremacy never intended for you to be successful.” Not today, white supremacy! Not today! I will not let white supremacy win by killing me.


    So, what’s your real strategy? For me, it was getting a coach. Not a therapist (okay, I mean, I have one of those, too!). But, a real leadership coach who knew how to help me navigate the challenges of loving a work that could kill me, if I wasn’t intentional. As part of my practice, I am a Certified Professional Coach (i.e. training, practicum hours, exams, and hands-on requirements). And, my niche is working with leaders who are engaged in diversity, equity, and inclusion work in their professional and personal lives. If you are interested in learning more about this, visit my coaching page here.


I am so grateful for the time we have had together here at PoCC. I know it’ll be 361 days before I am in the presence of this many Black and Brown people. That’s a long damn time, you know. But, we got this. And, when I see you again next year, you know I’m going to ask, “So, what was your strategy this year for #makingthingsbetter?

Thank you for reading! Thank you for stopping me in the hallways to say hello or to connect! Thank you for being engaged, fully, at PoCC!

(Now, don’t let me catch you falling back into your old routines — “once you know, you can’t un-know…!”)

Peace, love, and I wish you traveling safety,

Liza

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#NAISPoCC: GUIDED REFLECTION QUESTIONS

Stay tuned to Liza’s blog over the next few days as she writes live from the People of Color Conference (National Association of Independent Schools) in Nashville, TN!

It’s the end of Day 1 at The People of Color Conference!

I was in the elevator at the end of Day 1 and noticed that the person riding with me had on a PoCC badge. So, you know me, I was all up in their business. #ElevatorSpeech4Real

“I see it’s your first year at PoCC. So, how are you doing?”

The person’s face summed it all up. “Amazing. Exhausted. Not really sure what happened today. But, I know it was a incredible.”

“Yeah, I get that.”

Elevator door opens.

“See you tomorrow. You got this!” I said as she left.

PoCC can be all of these emotions: overwhelming, outstanding, exhausting, exciting, affirming, alienating. For many of us, it is totally out of our comfort zone to be around so many people of color; and, at the same time, being surrounded by so many people of color also feels like the most important and natural thing ever. These feelings can be confusing and conflicting at times.

For some, it is the first time they are in a group of people where Black and Brownness is centered. Where whiteness is named. Where stating that “we live in a white supremacist society” is as common as “what time is the next session.” It’s the first time where we, as people of color, do not have to play small to make others comfortable. It’s the first time, for some, where your entire self is loved.

At the end of each day, or perhaps the next morning I encourage you to reflect on a few aspects of your experience at PoCC. If you are here with a group, take some time to go around and offer up your reflections. If you are by yourself or prefer to reflect in your own space, be intentional about this experience.

I offer this advice because, pretty soon, you’re going to have to read about this thing called “Re-Entry". And, it’s not easy. Engaging in some of these reflection questions, though, might help you both be in the moment and prepare for what’s to come.

I often think about these experiences in terms of head space, heart space, and gut space:

  1. What did you experience in your head space (your thinking space)? What kind of knowledge, data, information, and/or facts did you learn today? What information or experiences caused you to stop and think?

  2. What did you experience in your heart space (your feeling space)? What emotions did you experience today? What were some moments that impacted you emotionally? What moved you today?

  3. What did you experience in your gut space (your reaction space)? What kind of feelings, experiences, reactions or thoughts surprised you? What were some moments where you felt something “in your gut” — like, you couldn’t quite explain it but it just stuck with you?

Time moves very quickly here at PoCC and this type of reflection does require some intentionality.

Head, heart, gut.

Peace and love,

Liza

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DEAR WHITE FOLKS AT POCC

Stay tuned to Liza’s blog over the next few days as she writes live from the People of Color Conference (National Association of Independent Schools) in Nashville, TN!

Dear White Folks at PoCC,

First, I’m glad you are here. I really am. As an Asian American woman who is nearly always the only person of color in white spaces, I know that it is not my job to dismantle racism. It’s yours. So, I’m glad you’re here. I’m glad you are here learning about race and racism, exploring systemic and personal impact, and connecting with people of color.

But, there are some things I need you to know about being here. Pardon my directness, but it’s PoCC - that’s what we do here. For four days. No BS or tiptoeing or centering white fragility. We keep it real. We keep it on us.

I’m writing this to you to be proactive about some of the harm you might unintentionally cause while at PoCC. I’m writing this because I love my community. I’m writing this because I only get FOUR DAYS where my brownness, my ethnicity, and my unapologetic belief in Black Lives Mattering doesn’t have to be presented in the context of whether or not this will upset you.

So, here we go. Here’s what I’m hoping you consider while you are here:

  • First, if you are already pissed off reading this, please don’t start with, “Wow, I wonder why Liza’s so angry this morning.” Please start with, “What is my own reaction saying about me? How are these words, written by a person of color at a People of Color Conference, pushing up against who I believe myself to be?” You’re at the People of Color Conference - this is going to happen more often than you might be expecting.

  • Know that this is a time for people of color to come together, to fellowship, to exhale, to be centered, to be in a space where we matter, too. Also know that when you are in the room — simply because of your whiteness — people might feel the need to change their behaviors. Simply because of your whiteness. Whiteness has power, even if you don’t want it or identify with it. Know that this happens to us, though.

  • Because your whiteness has power, even at a place like PoCC, be incredibly mindful of how you are taking up space in workshops, meetings, and discussions. What would it mean if you weren’t the first to speak? What would it mean if you heard something in a meeting and then took time to reflect upon it instead of using up the workshop time having someone explain it to you? You are here to learn new things — just don’t always expect people of color to be your teachers.

  • If you are a first timer to PoCC, go to the First Timer Orientation. Here’s what happened this morning: I was thrilled to finally get to PoCC after getting in at nearly 2:00am. And, at breakfast, I overheard some white participants saying, “No, I’m totally not going to that first timer orientation. I mean, what are we actually going to learn.” Okay, that’s a problem, folks. First, you have a lot to learn. Second, I hate that I had to overhear that from white folks. Why are you here if you legit aren’t seeing every single opportunity as a learning opportunity? This isn’t a vacation — and if it is, what does that say about your own commitment to this work. Third, microaggressions can still occur even if not aimed directly at you.

  • We see you. If you are a white person sitting in a session but you are on your computer checking email, you are signaling to others in the room that this isn’t important. Step out. Check your email there. Or, if you find that you are checking email during a session about how people of color feeling, know that you are sending a particular message (even if unintentional).

  • Make eye contact. Say hello. You’ll likely notice that people of color at PoCC walk by and say hello to each other. This isn’t just a polite thing - this is an “I see you” thing. There are times when I’ll walk by white folks (wearing PoCC name badges) who won’t even glance my way or acknowledge we are the only two people in a hallway. Know what? If I wanted that experience, I would have just stayed in my community back home. I come to PoCC to be seen, validated, and be visible. Notice and listen - people of color are greeting each other. Be sure to be a part of that, too. You are also signaling when you don’t do it.

  • This is not Black and Brown people tourism. Again, I’m glad you are here. Please know that there is discourse at PoCC as to whether everyone wants your whiteness here. (upset by that comment? Ask “What is my reaction saying about me?”). It’s not that we don’t want white people to be a part of dismantling racism, it’s that we don’t want to be your spectacles. Like, are you out taking selfies and posting on Instagram because you want folks to see how woke you are? Are you posting about PoCC because you want to signal boost that you are an ally? Or are you here to do the work on yourself? Believe me…. we know the difference.

I write this to you as a love letter, for real. I want you to be successful at PoCC. And, I want my fellow chosen family to be safe and live in their truths this week.

Welcome to PoCC. I’m happy you are here.

Peace and Love,

Liza

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WHAT’S WAITING FOR ME

Stay tuned to Liza’s blog over the next few days as she writes live from the People of Color Conference (National Association of Independent Schools) in Nashville, TN!

On a board of on-time flights, I have to be on the ONLY one that is significantly delayed…

On a board of on-time flights, I have to be on the ONLY one that is significantly delayed…

On social media, no lie, people start counting down to the next People of Color Conference the day after the current People of Color Conference. For about a week, there’s lots of hype about how grateful folks are for being in this space; how much they felt loved and seen; and how they have to get ready to transition back (peep this “ReEntry blog” here from last year if you need to get ready earlier!).

So here we are today, on the eve of the 2018 conference. And, instead of reflection on how powerful the conference is, I find myself already yearning to be in the space already. NOTE: This feeling is amplified, no doubt, by the fact that I’m going on HOUR 7 of sitting in this airport due to multiple flight delays…. While my bottom side is numb from these airport chairs, I’m already scrolling through social media to see my timeline filled with reunion photos and all the emojis about how psyched people are. #FOMO4REAL

Now, if you’ve been to PoCC, you can just read this blog with lots of affirmation and be reminded of what’s in store for you.

If you are new to PoCC or, by chance, don’t or can’t go, you might be wondering what all this talk is of “being seen” and “surrounded by love” and “unapologetically fierce.” This is, then, for you.

I grew up in a white, Irish/Italian, Catholic suburb of Boston. My parents, after working years of midnight shifts and moonlighting, saved up enough money to move our family of 5 from a small apartment in Boston to the “idyllic” suburbs (that’s a blog post for another time). You can also read into some of that coded language, yes? We moved to an (nearly) all white community which had no reflection of our racial identities in our schools, curriculum, teachers, coaches, neighbors, or even strangers. I remember the day our town hired its first Asian male police officer. I was there when they hired their first Asian male guidance counselor in our high school.

Truth is, I’ve spent almost my whole life in and surrounded by whiteness — it has become my “norm.” There is a saying that “You don’t ask a fish to describe water”; well, it was difficult for me to describe my experiences with racial diversity growing up because that water, well, that water was always whiteness.

Going to PoCC, for me, was the first time I realized I was in water. It was the first time I had realized just how much whiteness was in everything, every part, and every nook of my life. At Pocc, I remember experiencing tension between discomfort and total comfort. I remember the first time I went to the airport headed to PoCC and nearly the entire airplane was headed to PoCC. How do I know that? Well, because nearly the entire plane was filled with Black and Brown people. “But Liza, that’s so weird that you noticed that.” Yeah? Well, next time you get on a plane or a bus, I want you to notice race. I had never noticed race before because I was just so used to white and whiteness always being the normal. The water. But, this time, legit. I had never, ever, been on a plane with so many Black and Brown folks. (NOTE 2: There are no Black or Brown folks on this delayed flight. I am bitter.)

But, when it wasn’t — when it wasn’t all white — something different happened. I got curious. I felt strange. I felt both totally invisible and totally seen. I know it’s a difficult concept to imagine, right? Being invisible and being totally seen? Well, if you’ve been in spaces of whiteness for most of your life, you’ll know what that feeling is the second you step into a PoCC space.

As you get ready to experience PoCC, I hope you embrace some of these reflection questions in the context of this invisible/visible feeling. Find a way to debrief with someone - especially if you are at PoCC alone. Typically, I go with a group of colleagues and we spend a bit of time each evening chatting about our experiences. I hope you find these useful for your group:

  • Notice what you are feeling as you enter into spaces where PoCC attendees are in. What do you see? What do you see differently? What do you notice?

  • When you are in the keynote speakers sessions (the big rooms!), what do you hear? What is the energy that you feel? How is the same or different from what you have experienced back home?

  • In what ways do you feel invisible? In what ways do you notice your racial identity no longer being salient? In what ways are you no longer hyper-visible in a room? In a group? In a public space?

  • In what ways do you feel very visible? In what ways do you notice your racial identity being amplified? In what ways are you hyper-visible?

  • What do you wish others would experience? What words would you use to describe your experience?

  • What would people who are not at PoCC not understand about your experience? What makes that important?

And, if you see me wandering around PoCC, stop me and say “hi!” Introduce yourself. Experience what it feels like to be joyously seen!

Peace and love,
Liza

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#PoCC2018: T'was the Night Before PoCC

Stay tuned to Liza’s blog over the next few days as she writes live from the People of Color Conference (National Association of Independent Schools) in Nashville, TN!


T’was the night before PoCC and all through the house

Throwing shoes in my suitcase, a sweater, a blouse

Packing dresses and heels, pants and some shirts

Political street wear, so much shade that it hurts


Awaiting rooms full of people, so Black and so Brown

Never have this affinity in my school or my town

Finally exhale from all that tension and stress

Letting loose at Club PoCC, leaving that dance floor a mess


Surrounded by young people ready to learn

Full of excitement and fierceness, so hot that it burns

In spaces that challenge my mind and my soul

“Too tired to code switch”, it’s taking its toll


Can’t wait to see people who fill up my heart

I’ve never felt so alive, today is a new start

PoCC lasts but only four days

But keep this feeling alive in all the right ways


See you in Nashville, we’ll come together once more

Where this work is focused on joy, not just chore

Let’s come together; turn that “I” into “We”

We are all in this together, here at PoCC.


Peace and love. Travel safely!

Liza


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TO MY TEACHER FRIENDS TEACHING THANKSGIVING

Okay, I survived Halloween.

One thing you might not know about me is that I loathe Halloween. It wasn’t always that way though — I used to love it as a kiddo and as a young adult. Back in the day, I grew up in this amazing neighborhood and, every October 31st, everyone gathered together and trick-or-treated well into the night (well, I mean, “well into the night” was like 8pm…. we were just kids!).

I realize the moment when I hated Halloween. It was when I began working in student affairs and a big part of my job was helping peers and the community deepen their awareness of differences. And, every Halloween, some genius (usually drunk on something) would dress up as an offensive racial stereotype: sexy Geisha, a taco (and then run around in a “Mexican” accent), and, my favorite of all, blackface.

Urgh. I f’ing hate Halloween.

Those folks ruined it for me. Because soon enough, for me, Halloween was no longer about candy or community. It was now about me being “that person” who had to tell you about being “that person.” Thanks a lot.

There are so many aspects of my work that I love, particularly when I get to help others work through stereotypes and biases and prejudices. And, around this time of year, I get lots of requests from others who are seeking some help in having difficult conversations with their families, teachers, peers, and friends about stereotypes. The most common? Yup, Halloween for sure. The second most common? Thanksgiving.

I said it: THANKSGIVING.

“Why Thanksgiving, Liza?”

Yes, why Thanksgiving indeed…..

Does this sound familiar:

“Dear families,

As we prepare for our unit on celebrating Thanksgiving, we’d like for you to help your child with a project. Please send your child to school with a paper shopping bag. Throughout the next few weeks, we will be learning about Indians and Pilgrims and how they came together to celebrate the feast of Thanksgiving. We will be talking about joy and kindness and how important is to be nice to each other, just like the Pilgrims and Indians were to each other. For our final celebration, we will have students decorate their paper bags to wear as Indian vests in our annual Pilgrims and Indians parade. We look forward to learning about how important this holiday is as we celebrate coming together and being thankful! From, your child’s teacher”


Look familiar?

Sharing this with permission from a parent who received this last week.. in 2018… from an educated human being…. I cannot make this up…

Sharing this with permission from a parent who received this last week.. in 2018… from an educated human being…. I cannot make this up…


People usually are reaching out to me because they a) can’t believe their teacher sent this home; b) they know history and are well aware that the Pilgrims and Indians (or, ahem, Indigenous People) were not friends - you know, murder and disease and all that; and c) paper bags? seriously?

People also write to me saying that they are worried about coming off as “that person” — that person who is seen as a total buzzkill or that person who is too sensitive.

I get it.
So, what’s your ask?


Well, folks have been asking what they can do. What would an email to the teacher look like? How do I balance wanting to put a deathly end to this activity without a) hurting the teacher’s feelings and b) not coming off as a total jerk.

Yes folks. It’s possible.

So, here you go. My gift to you. I write this from both the lens as a former classroom teacher, as a diversity and inclusion practitioner, and as a parent. Feel free to use this, tweak this, edit it to your own school and community. But, do something. Please don’t stand idly by when you get an assignment like this. It perpetuates very problematic - and historically inaccurate - stereotypes and cements these “first messages” into your child’s experiences. We owe it to our kids to tell them the truth and to not teach them false narratives.

Enjoy!



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Dear Teacher,

First, thank you so much for the communication you’ve been sending home regarding my (child’s) progress and assignments. I appreciate hearing about what is happening in the classroom and updates about the curriculum and learning opportunities.

Recently, you sent home an assignment for (child) to deepen the learning experience about the Pilgrims and Indigenous People of this land. And, I hope you receive this email in the spirit that I am writing it — one of wanting to make sure that all of our children are experiencing validation and sense of belonging in our classrooms and schools.

I have some concern about the request being made for my child to engage in an art project in which they are asked to “dress like an Indian”. As we know, clothing and symbols have such significant meaning in the lives of Native people. And, I’m uncomfortable with the activity of my child — who does not identify as Native American — “dressing like an Indian” in this way. I have deep respect for the culture and traditions of Native people, and this makes me uncomfortable to have my child create clothing in this way out of a paper shopping bag. I believe we can still teach students about the importance of clothing and the significance of symbols without asking them to culturally appropriate (dress like) Native cultures.

I am also very interested in making sure that my child understands the very difficult truth about the relationship between Pilgrims and Native people. When I was growing up, I certainly was taught that these two groups were “kind, friendly, and worked together.” But, as I learned more about this time in history, it is clear that this was not historically accurate. Because I want to do better for my child than was done for me, I am committed to not repeating that same story to them. I believe that our children are smart and can handle knowing that these two groups were not treated equally. When the Pilgrims came, they took the land of Native people, and frankly, would have died without the support of Native people. I have also made it so clear to my own child that in 2018, our country still struggles with providing equal rights for Native Americans. Therefore, I find it challenging to have takeaways that the relationship between Pilgrims and Indigenous people was of love and kindness. I want my child to know that we, in this country, have not be fair and kind to Native people, and that we still see this today.

(Teacher), I appreciate that this email is filled with concern, and I hope you are receiving it in the spirit that I am intending. I believe in the power of education and the absolute crucial role you play in the lives of young people. I also deeply respect you, and that’s why I’m writing this. My child looks up to you as their teacher and, because of that, believes everything that you say, do, teach, and share. And, because of that, I need my child to know the truth about this time in our history.

Our children are strong, resilient and deserve to know about our nation’s history. I’m a believer in hands-on projects and really neat ways to do creative activities as a family - so I’m grateful that you are thinking creatively in this way!

I know you already have so much on your plate between lesson planning, daily work, and even having to read emails from parents like me! I don’t want to just complain without providing some resources or ways to think differently about this project. So, I have provided a few examples here:

  • “Teaching Thanksgiving in a Socially Responsible Way” is a good read and has some links to great activities to use in the classroom: https://www.tolerance.org/magazine/teaching-thanksgiving-in-a-socially-responsible-way

  • “Thanksgiving: Exploring Perspectives” article that provides good perspectives from Native people about Thanksgiving. It also includes lots of discussion questions that are easy to adapt: https://www.morningsidecenter.org/teachable-moment/lessons/thanksgiving-exploring-perspectives

  • A blog post by Dr. Liza Talusan about family activities during the Thanksgiving break. http://www.lizatalusan.com/to-loosen-the-mind/2017/11/14/family-practices-during-the-long-weekend

(Teacher), please know how much I appreciate your communication home, your willingness to go above and beyond as a teacher, and the hard work that you do each and every day. Thank you for reading this, and I welcome a chance to talk in person or over the phone if you have time.

With peace,

Your name



ADDITION:

So, I’m updating here. I want you to know that this did happen to me, too. And, I used a similar approach and it was a lovely learning process.

However, you may need to get a bit dirtier if the message isn’t quite clear. You may need to highlight that it is problematic that we dress up as “Indians” but would never conceive (I think?) of dressing up as other cultures. For example, if I wanted to really drive home a point, I’d include, “So, I see that you don’t want to budge on this issue of our children dressing up as Native Americans. Okay. Well, I’m curious. When we get to Black History Month, what kinds of materials should I prepare? I’m guessing you’ll be sending home an activity where I dress up my child as a slave and paint their skin black and have them sing slave songs during a morning musical presentation? Or, how about Asian Heritage Month? How much tape would you like me to use to pull the corner of their eyes back to get that perfect slant? What sorts of accents should we start practicing now? OH? Oh, we won’t be doing those things because they are offensive? Ah. I see. So, help me understand, again, why you want me to dress up my child as a Native American? Yeah. Thanks.”

I know. I’m an a-hole. But, some folks just won’t get it the first time.


READING AND REFLECTING

In my workshops, participants often walk away with one clear action item: “Get Proximate.”

As Bryan Stevenson (author of Just Mercy and a lawyer who works closely with death row inmates) states, “There is power in proximity. When you get proximate, you learn things you cannot learn from a distance.”

People who participate in my workshops are often seeking the answer to this question: “How do I learn more about diversity and people from diverse backgrounds if my neighborhood, town, state, area, and social circles is glaringly not diverse?” One piece of that puzzle — one helpful tool — that people can implement immediately is to pick up books and start reading. This is only one piece of the larger puzzle, but it certainly is a start.

You can easily search for lists that focus on particular racial/ethnic groups, by racially diverse authors, or by issues. Given that it’s September, my mind is always focused on Latinx heritage, so here’s an example of a great list that includes authors from Latinx backgrounds.

If you are just getting started in all of this, I highly recommend picking up Young Adult fiction/non-fiction. I admit, this was not a category I had previously read. However, working in a PreK-8 school these past few years really opened my eyes up to a whole new space and conversation. I just finished reading the Jason Reynolds series of books. Jason Reynolds’ writing is a great example of how sophisticated, and yet simple and accessible, today’s young adult fiction/non-fiction is.

Other folks like picking up books by authors who, traditionally, have not focused their writing on race but who have courageously entered into that space. One popular one is by Jodi Picoult titled, Small Great Things.

And, coming up in November, I’ll be hosting a book discussion group of Robin Diangelo’s White Fragility. It’s non-fiction and addresses, head on, the issues of whiteness, white supremacy, and white fragility. RSVP is required and it is limited to 25 people. People take different approaches to this type of book — do you dive right into a book this direct OR do you ease into the conversation? I’ve taken both approaches in my own life. So, whatever your approach is, just do it.

Whether you are joining a formal discussion or you just want to process a topic, book, or issue by yourself, here are some helpful questions that I use during-and-after reading a book:

  • What did you notice about yourself and your reactions as you read this book? What parts of the book or situations did you most notice these reactions?

  • Why did you choose this book? What issue were you interested in getting more proximate to?

  • As you read the book, what took place when you had a “that can’t be true” reaction? What took place when you had a “yes, this is all so true” reaction? What would it mean for you to believe that the “can’t be true” is and can, in fact, “be true”?

  • As you read the book, who in your life came to mind in particular examples? Why?

  • What parts of the book felt very proximate to your own experiences? What parts of the book felt distant, separate, and far away from your own experiences?

  • Which characters, if any, in the book did you feel proximate to? Which characters, if any, did you feel furthest from?

  • What are you left wondering after you finished the book? How might you get closer to answering those questions or exploring those curiosities?

  • After reading this book, what you do you realize about yourself? About others? About your upbringing or socialization?

  • What parts of this book will stay with you long after you have read it? What does that mean for you?

I hope you find these reflection questions useful as you continue your journey to learning, planning and doing more to #makethingsbetter in our lives!


Peace and reading,

Liza

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PASSION. PRACTICE. PERSISTENCE.

I was 16 years old when I took my first karate class. 

I had just learned to drive, but my mom insisted on taking my two younger brothers and me to karate classes each week. She'd sit in the small metal chair in the back of the viewing area while we kicked, punched, and yelled our way through class. Over time, my brothers chose ice hockey over the late evening karate practices, but I stayed through, loving the power, strength, and fierceness that came with spin kicks, hammer fists, and flying side kicks. I spent evenings in class - often going to more classes than I needed. I was 16, so Jean Claude Van Damme was all the rage, and I spent hours watching television in a full split, aiming one day to do his amazing (and terrifying!) split between two chairs. I had real goals back then, y'all. Real goals.

I remember being in the zone when I was in karate. I was lightening fast, even winning a "fastest number of kicks in 60 seconds" contest we had in our studio. I joined all of the extra activities that had to do with karate. I even had a warm up jacket - a bright white, half-zip pull over, with an outline of a person in a jump side kick outlined in red, white, and blue. I was killin' it in full karate fashion. 

After a little over a year of studying and believing that, one day, I would grow to be a karate instructor, I earned my green belt, a mark of being about 1/3 of the way through formal black belt training. But, I then went off to college.

Still committed to being both a doctor (back then, a different kind than I am now) AND a full on karate master, I switched karate styles. I started from the bottom and, two years later, made my way up to a green belt. Again, a marker of being about 1/3 of the way. Once I ditched my medical school dreams (did I mention I'd rather be a karate instructor than an oncologist?), I began to take more classes and try more daring activities. In one demonstration on the campus quad (where my now husband had seen me perform for the first time), I did some sort of wild flying jump spin and hammer fisted into a number of wooden boards. A little too eager at that time, I ended up in the emergency room with a wrist the size of a large grapefruit. Didn't hurt - I was too high from the fact that the boards still broke even though I did the move wrong!

As you know, time passes.

Graduation from college. Graduate school. Teaching career. Administration. Marriage. One kid. Cancer. Then another kid. Then another kid. More cancer drama. Doctoral program. Career changes. 

And, all of those karate memories were a distant past.

In 2012, though, I knew my two older children would really benefit from karate. Our lives were going through major transition at home, and having an activity that would keep the two older children focused would be helpful. So, we enrolled them in karate - the same school I had attended back in 1995. 

Just like my own mother, I sat in the chair in the viewing area and watched as my children discovered the strength within them. I watched them learn self-defense take downs, push their bodies to the edge of possibilities, and see the steel-concentration in their eyes when they tapped into their reserves. Every time, I watched them do a form or learn a new kick, memories came flooding back of my own training. And, I yearned for that experienced again. But, mid-doctoral program, three children, and lots of changes at home put my own needs last.

As I watched the two older children progress, and earn, their black belts, I knew it was time. I knew that if I continued to just sit on the sidelines, I'd find that there was never a "perfect time" for me to start. 

Age 41: advanced yellow belt - just a month before I was sidelined. 

Age 41: advanced yellow belt - just a month before I was sidelined. 

So, at age 41, physically obese, and filled with excitement, I signed up for karate. 

At first, the fire within me carried me through the workouts. But, I wasn't a teenager anymore. I was about 80 lbs heavier since the last time I had put on the white uniform, and soon those workouts reminded me just how out-of-shape I had let myself become. While my heart never wanted to quit, my body always questioned whether or not someone like me -- obese at 41 -- could do this.

And, 8 months later, my body would remind me just how different things were going to be. 

In September 2017, vertigo kicked in. 

I swear, I had never been so miserable in my life (and, remember folks, I've had a mastectomy, oophorectomy, and host of radical surgeries). Vertigo sucks. And, it has stayed with me even a year after the first onset.

When vertigo first showed up as an unwelcome guest in my head, I was completely sidelined for over 2 months. And, in karate, two months can be a whole belt advancement. I sat watching people who had started after me begin to catch up and, eventually, surpass me in belt rank. I felt defeated. I felt angry. I felt like I was destined to never go further than this. I was ready to give up. 

But, I couldn't do it. I couldn't give up. I had wanted this for so long (passion). I had put in time on the floor and outside of class (practice). And, I had my eyes set on achieving what my own children had achieved; for being a role model for others who wanted to be stronger; and proving to myself that I could do this (persistence). 

Two months later, I returned back on the floor, more out of shape than when I had started. I couldn't do sit ups or anything that would cause my head to make sudden movements. I had trouble doing throws (when you literally throw someone - or get thrown! - onto the floor) because the change in position triggered dizziness. And, forget my favorite moves - spinning sidekicks. That was like inviting dizziness over for a freshly brewed cup of coffee.

I'm stubborn, though (really?).

And, one workout, I decided to try sit ups, floor stretches where I was laying down, and spin kicks. 

(insert judge-y size eyes here)

I was dizzy for a week. 

Passion. Practice. Persistence. 

But, I'm back in class again. While I'm now in class modifying lots of the workout -- and, some days, I'm so embarrassed that I'm modifying -- I still show up. I'm not the strongest or the fastest or the most precise one on that floor. Not by a long shot. But, I'm here. And, after 1 1/2 years, I just surpassed the highest rank that I had achieved my other two times around. On August 24, I earned my advanced green belt. 

It may not seem like much, but this milestone means everything to me. 

It means I wanted it (passion). It means I earned enough classes and time on the floor (practice). And it means I didn't give up (persistence)

DIVERSITY, EQUITY, AND INCLUSION. When I travel the country talking about diversity, equity, and inclusion, I often remind people that this work takes passion, practice, and persistence. You have to want to do better (passion). You have to practice doing better, and that practice often means getting it wrong a whole bunch of times. Practice also means not fitting in with others, seeing just how clumsy you are, and being open to getting it all wrong. And, you have to keep going even when you feel like things aren't getting better (persistence).

THANK YOU, PBK! I'm so grateful for the amazing people at Personal Best Karate. For Master Chris Rappold who met me when I was 16 years old and who mentored me along the way. For Masters Dana and Eileen Rappold who built my three children into confident, fierce, and prepared human beings AND who continue to role model and encourage me along my own karate journey. And, for their amazing group of instructors who, despite being young enough to be my own children, never treat me like the old, clumsy lady that I feel like on most days. 

Peace, passion, practice, and persistence, 

Liza

Finally! ADVANCED green belt!

Finally! ADVANCED green belt!

BONUS PHOTO: Middle child (aka "mini me"), age 7, at advanced green belt

BONUS PHOTO: Middle child (aka "mini me"), age 7, at advanced green belt

 

 

 

IT GETS TOUGHER BEFORE IT GETS EASIER

Recently, a friend of mine contacted me because she was getting frustrated about her journey. As a White woman, my friend had committed herself to learning about, engaging in, and being anti-racist. She's read a bunch of books, been more courageous about bringing up race in conversations, and having tough conversations with her children.

"But, I'm getting impatient, Liza. I just don't feel like this is doing much good. I don't see any changes."

She was serious.

And, I smiled. I knew all too well what she was experiencing. 

As someone who has practiced race work for over 23 years (okay, really 43 years), I know how hard this is. Plus, I know that "I'm doing work that I may never seen the outcome of - the dismantling of racism completely." 

But, sometimes I take for granted that I know this is the long game.

My friend, not so much.

"It's so important, Liza. I need to do more, go bigger, make these changes. As a White person, I need this hurt to stop for people of color."

I know, girl, I know. Me too.

While I've gotten comfortable with the deep discomfort of race work, I knew that she was speaking close to home in another area of my life. One that I've worked hard on, every single day, and haven't see many results. One that I have all the knowledge about, know all the right moves, and know why it's happening, and yet still, it's not getting better. 

I'm talking about the fact that I'm obese. Yes, obese. For just about the past 23 years of my life (hold up, wait a minute .... is my obesity correlated with how long I've been doing f'ing race work?!? W.T.F.??!?!), I have been obese.

Now, before I become the subject of Twitter wars and nasty comments, let me be clear. I KNOW BEING WHITE AND BEING OBESE ARE NOT THE SAME THINGS. I'm not drawing parallels because I think they are the same. I AM drawing parallels between our expectations of change, our frustration with the slow pace of change, and the disappointment when things don't go as we know they should. Okay, you may proceed....

So, here it is:

I'm obese. I've been obese for more than half of my life. And, while I don't see myself as obese, particularly -- I have really positive body image, I like my curves and bumps and lumps, and I have people in my life who love me for me -- I do know that it causes damage to my internal organs, my life expectancy, and my overall quality of life. That's NOT to say that all obese people feel this way (#NotAllFatPeople), but it's how I'm feeling. 

As I re-commit myself (again) to improving my health, I experience highs and lows. I read tons of books, blogs, and have multiple apps that remind me when to eat meals, when to drink water, and when to exercise. 

But, one thing really made the difference. 

I had to admit to myself that I was obese. 

I had to actually use the term that, medically, describes me. I had to use a term that was loaded with stereotypes, generalizations, and assumptions - none of which were positive. I had to own this identity, embrace this identity, and face this identity. 

Once I finally admitted to myself that I was obese, I began to forgive myself for all the ways in which my obesity showed up. I don't think my obesity is entirely just choice, to be clear. I had met with a nutritionist about 10 years ago, and she validated that the medical charts that were used didn't tell the whole story. She hooked me up to all of these fancy gadgets and measured ME - my bones, my organs, all the fluids sloshing around in there. And, she told me that my ideal weight was 160 lbs. The chart? The chart said I needed to be closer to 114 lbs. I haven't seen 114 lbs since I was 12 years old. 

So, I needed accurate information.

Similar to my friend, she was on this journey of calling herself White. Calling what she had as White privilege. Calling the vulnerability White Fragility. She had to name those things before she could face them. 

But. if race work has taught me anything, it's that you need to then move past the naming. You need to own and interrupt things that come next. And, those next steps involve the 3P's: Passion, Practice, and Persistence. 

PASSION. Why do you want to dismantle racism? What does this mean for you? Why should you push against something that (if you're White) affords you advantages and privileges? You need something that's motivating you to commit your thoughts, beliefs, attitudes and actions to see this through. But, let me be clear - you can't just have "aw, bless your heart" kind of passion. You need to develop "unacceptable passion" - the kind of passion that gets you in trouble. The kind of passion that irritates you at night, that makes your stomach bubble when you read about injustice, that makes you angry enough to be on fire. That's the kind of passion you need in to move this forward. For years, I didn't have that kind of passion about my obesity (cough, cough,.... maybe that's why I've stayed obese for so long .. cough, cough). Now, I do. It makes me angry, it burns me, and it fires me up. 

PRACTICE. How are you gonna get good at anything if you don't practice it? Yes, that first conversation about race -- or White privilege and fragility -- is probably going to be awful. If you've never done it, why WOULD you be good at it? Unless you are some sort of race-talking prodigy, you probably need some practice. 

And, we know, that when you practice, you're gonna mess up. If you practice skiing, you're going to fall. If you practice cello, you're going to sound less like Yo-Yo Ma and more like nails on a chalkboard for a while. If you practice cooking, you're bound to burn a few things. Right? There's a lot at stake with race talk, yes. So, find people you can practice with (test kitchen) and then go and make some gourmet meal. 

I'm practicing eating different foods, working out at different times, and trying different moves. I suck at them right now. I mean, burpees? Who the f*ck invented burpees?? What kind of sadistic mother f*cker thought, "Let me jump up, land on my g*ddamn hands, kick my legs out with the risk of slamming my face on the ground (true story), pull my legs back in, jump up, AND DO THAT FOR 10 REPS?" Who the....??!?!?!

I can't even.... burpees are rude. 

PERSISTENCE. Remember that time that your practice was terrible? Well, you had two choices, right? You could quit or you could keep trying. Lots of people quit the conversations about race. It gets too hard. It gets too personal. It gets to dangerously close to a part of themselves they don't want to see. That's where the passion comes back in - because, in those moments where you're too scared, you have to believe in the why of what you are doing. Persistence means you don't quit. Even when it gets tough. Even when you mess up. Okay, especially when you mess up. Learn how to apologize. Learn how to listen. Learn how to make it better. 

On my run today, I wanted to try running for 3 minutes straight. The first time, I got to 2 minutes and 30 seconds. I felt like a failure. I felt weak. I felt embarrassed for my dog who looked up and me and said, "Is that all you got? Really?" I'm pretty sure he rolled his eyes at me and when we passed other dogs he whispered, "I'm not with her..."  

Once I caught my breath .... okay, keeping it 100  ...  once I sat down on a bench, watched the ducks dive into the pond, checked Facebook, and texted my sister ... I decided to try it again. This time, I got to 2 minutes and 30 seconds, and I told myself to keep going. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other. Just keep moving. 

And I did. I made it to 3 minutes. And, it felt great. Just kidding --  I felt like I was going to die. BUT I was super proud of myself. #goldstar4me

My weight loss journey is something I'm scared of. One question we coaches always ask clients when they are faced with fear is this: "Think about a time in your life when you had to face a challenge but overcame it. What about you showed up in that example?" For me, it's race work. After years of being ignorant, offensive, and downright harmful, I developed a passion for not doing that anymore. I had to practice again and again and again -- sometimes in the test kitchen, and then out in the main dining room. When I messed up, I had to learn the tools to be humble and humiliated. And, to get back up. Again and again. 

I'm practicing the steps that it takes for me to lose weight. I'm messing up -- so sayeth the scale -- but I believe in this enough to keep going. 

Just like my friend, I'm not there yet. I'm still so many, many, many pounds from being 160 lbs, just like she isn't at her goal of being anti-racist. I'll experience highs and lows, for sure. But, it's time. 

If you are on your own journey to being anti-racist or simply on a journey to #MakeThingsBetter, then you aren't alone. I'm working through lots of challenges right along side you. 

Passion, practice, and persistence. 

It gets tougher before it gets easier.

But, it's worth it.

Peace and love, 
Liza

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ON INTERSECTIONALITY: A workshop

It's the end of June and, for many, this time means a new chapter in their life journey. For example, my newsfeed on social media has been filled with "today is my last day!" posts by friends who are starting new jobs on July 1. I, and my partner, are two of those people (wheeee!!)

But, what I also noticed about this group of people is that they were almost all (save a few) people of color in education. Hmm....? Interesting. 

Okay, you may be thinking, "Wait, why is that interesting? I don't get it." Or, perhaps you're thinking, "Dang, Liza. Yes, I know, right?"

Why two responses? Well, I think that has to do with intersectionality. 

intersectionality is a term coined by legal scholar and activist, Kimberle Crenshaw. She describes it as the study of how overlapping or intersecting identities -- particularly minoritized ones -- relate to systems of oppression, dominance, and discrimination. She originally was looking at the ways in which Black women experienced oppression and discrimination due to their ethnicity, economic background, and sexuality. 

So, again, why two responses? 

Well, for some of us who hold identities that are often marginalized or minoritized, we're like, "Yeah, I call that behavior 'Tuesday.' There is nothing special about it. Happens all the time." For those who hold identities that are often privileged, it's not a first-reaction to think about how the statement or scenario is one that highlights oppression. 

One of the greatest gifts I have had in my career has been the opportunity to have these kinds of conversations with people as young as 6 and as old as .. well.. it's not polite to ask ages (okay, 66+). But, one group that I often get asked to speak with is teenagers.

I've had the privilege of working with an incredible group of young girls and women called Girls Rock Boston. For the past two years, I've facilitated workshops on intersectional feminism, in particular. Seriously? Shout out to Girls Rock Boston for even hosting these! YOU ROCK!

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I've been asked to summarize the kinds of things we talk about with this group, and I hope you use this post as a resource to talk with young people of all genders and gender identities about this. The more we understand and embrace an intersectional lens, the more likely we are to be advocates for justice and equity. 

Great videos

Here are some videos that I have found to be particularly helpful when talking about intersectionality with teens. 

  • This one here is from Teaching Tolerance. Nice job, folks! It is easy to understand but also names the privileges and the ways in which intersectionality was designed to explore issues with and within marginalized groups. 
  • I appreciate this one here by Soyheat because it's children describing it to children. I wish they had leaned more into the aspect of intersectionality being about really looking at marginalized identities, but it was a good beginner video. 
  • And, this from Kimberle Crenshaw herself from the NAIS conference. And, again, note that in the description it clarifies that this is about a lens of "overlapping or intersecting social identities—and particularly minority identities—relate to systems and structures of discrimination"
Photo: Kimberle Crenshaw Twitter

Photo: Kimberle Crenshaw Twitter

Okay, so you watched these videos. Are you getting what I'm trying to drive home here? Intersectionality, in many ways, has morphed over time -- probably by well intentioned people -- to simply mean "all these identities." Right? Like, I've been in so many rooms where people are all, "I'm intersectional! See, I have all these different things going on, too!" But, hold up. That's not what we're talking about here. Identity doesn't mean intersectionality. Don't get it? Watch Kimberle Crenshaw here and take a listen. It's only about a minute, so rewind and listen to it again. 

Catch it? She's saying that intersectionality is about the structure that "make certain identities the consequence of and the vehicle for vulnerability." 

Okay, so what do I do in workshops?

I have people talk. For teenagers, I give a brief primer on intersectionality, and then I let them struggle through it a bit. After all, it is in that struggle that real learning happens -- a real reckoning with who we believe ourselves to be. 

Here are questions I typically ask. Play along! How would you answer these if you were in one of my workshops?

  • You have about 60 seconds. Using those 60 seconds, what are all the words that come to mind when I say, "Describe all the parts that make up your identity." I don't structure that question much beyond that - they are 12-16 year olds. Let them think. Let them explore. 
  • Now, taking into consideration that big list you just created, where are the places where you feel you can be all of those identities? Where are all of those identities accepted?
  • Where are the places where you need to hide or dampen those identities? 
  • Our lives are made up of people and structures (and a whole lot of other things). Who can you be all of those parts of yourself with? Who are you with when you have to dampen those parts of yourself? 
  • What do you experience when you can be your fullest self? What do you experience when you have to dampen or hide aspects of yourself?
  • How true is it that people can be their fullest identities when they are with you? How do you know that?
  • How true is it that people have to dampen or hide their fullest identities when they are with you? What would it mean if that were true?
  • In thinking about a place where you can be your fullest self, what rules, behaviors, attitudes or norms exist in that place that let you be your fullest self?
  • In thinking about a place where you have to hide or dampen your fullest self, what rules, behaviors, attitudes or norms exist in that place? 

Now, look over your answers. Use the remainder of this paper to draw those structures that keep you and others from being their fullest selves. Next to those structures, write down 1 thing that society (e.g., our government, laws, places, rules) should be different in order to live your fullest self. Now, write down 1 thing YOU can do to create change or make a difference in attitudes, behaviors or norms of a place.

Okay? Now, what's stopping you? What do you need to move forward? Who do you need to talk to, connect to, get help from in order to make change? 

So, there it is. A Liza Talusan workshop on intersectionality for teens. 

The key is doing this in a way that really privileges developmental processes at this age -- making it real-world focused, self-reflective, and action-oriented. 

Alright. How did you do? 

Interested in learning more about my workshops or bringing me in to facilitate a learning experience for your group or organization? Send me a note and contact me here

Peace and love, 

Liza

REENTRY: A Love Letter

This post is part of a series for the National Association of Independent Schools and the People of Color Conference. Liza will be blogging throughout this week related to the conference.


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It's the day after the People of Color Conference. And, social media, like always, is blowing up:

"It's the day after PoCC and I'm sitting at breakfast and I feel like I'm in the sunken place ... all the people of color are gone."
"Feeling energized after a few days at PoCC, and dreading having to go back to being the only one."
"PoCC is over - now I'll have no one who cares about me like this for another 361 days."

The feelings are real, all. 

It's called "Re-Entry."

This past week, I've been blogging from PoCC as a way to give folks a sense of what's going on here, and for people at home to support friends and colleagues at PoCC.

Consider this a re-entry love letter. 

Dear colleagues,

I'm coming back to work on Monday, ready to teach our students, connect deeper with parents, and share with you all of what I have learned this week. BTW, thanks for covering my classes and duties while I've been away. But you know I wasn't "on vacation" right? Just sayin'. You can read this here first if you need to. 

But, this here is a love letter to you. Being in a loving partnership requires us to advocate for ourselves. Remember all those fights we've had about us not being "mind readers" and just being clear and transparent about what we need? Yeah, I'm cashing that in right now. 

I need you to know that I just spent the past few days breathing easier, pulling my shoulders back and holding my head up high. I need you to know that I sat in rooms filled with beautiful and brilliant Black and Brown folks; in sessions led by Black and Brown folks; and I was in dialogue with Black and Brown folks. You know that saying "A fish doesn't realize it's swimming in water?" Well, this past week, I was the fish, the water, and the glass bowl -- and I was being fed from my head to my soul. 

When I get back, you will likely ask me, "So, how was the People of Color Conference?"

This question is fine. And, I'll likely tell you that it was "incredible, totally affirming, and powerful." It was.

But, I need you to ask a different question after that. I need you to ask, "So, how can I support you or what I can do differently to make sure you feel that way when you are here?" And, you'll ask that because what you'll hear in my voice is that I don't always feel "incredible, affirmed and powerful" when I'm not at PoCC. 

And, while I came home with a renewed sense of myself, I also came back with resources. I carried, in my backpack, a whole bunch of books that focus on the experiences and stories of young Black and Brown children. I might feel shy about saying to you, "and, you should read those too." So, ask me to share those books with you. But, better yet, ask me "What about this book feels important to you?" And, then let me tell you all the ways that i feel heard, represented and visible. 

I know that your curiosity might be a little too much for me on the first day. I might be struggling. I might not be ready to give surface level answers like, "It was great" or "It was awesome." I might need a day or so to process being back. I'll be getting used to seeing faces and skin tones that are shades lighter than my own. I might be adjusting back to being the "only one" in our building, in our hallway, or in our grade. This is tough on my heart. If we find ourselves in conversation -- more than just at the copier machine -- ask me, "What are you experiencing now that are you back at school?" 

Finally, I'm coming back with big questions. I'm coming back with big questions about the experiences of students of color; about our curriculum; our hiring practices; our families of color; our (lack of) affinity groups; the cultural taxation of being a person of color in independent schools; and the ways in which we engage our students. You might feel uncomfortable with my curiosity. You might feel fragile or guilty or worried about making change. 

I'm worried about things never changing. 

Hear me. See me. Be curious with me. 

And, like any good love letter, I want you to know that PoCC renewed my commitment to our shared community. PoCC renewed my commitment towards our growth together. PoCC made me want to be closer to you so that we can do this work as a team.

I need you to help me make a smooth landing.

Peace and love, 

Liza T.

 

 

 

 

LAST DAY TAKEAWAYS

This post is part of a series for the National Association of Independent Schools and the People of Color Conference. Liza will be blogging throughout this week related to the conference.

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It’s the last day of PoCC. And, each year, my heart is both full of love and heavy with sadness.

PoCC is special. It is an opportunity to be among so many people of color who are here for a common cause -- to lift each other up through our shared work in education. I am always so grateful for the opportunity to be in community with others in a way that feels so foreign when I’m home..

Throughout my time at the conference, I catch myself thinking:

  • What would it mean if every professional who worked at the school was actionable in their commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion?
  • What would it be like for me to walk into a room and not worry if I was going to be microaggressed?
  • What would it feel like if I could know that people who worked with me all believed that diversity, equity and inclusion mattered?
  • What could we achieve if everyone at our schools committed to the belief that Black Minds Mattered and that people of color's voices were centered?  

I hope that we do not wait for another PoCC conference to feel good again. It truly takes the effort of lots of folks -- not just the ones returning from this conference -- to change our systems. How do we do this? Here are a few "do now" steps as you leave PoCC:

  1. Write/type the answer to this question: "Now that PoCC is over, what big questions do you still have?" and then create your list of who to talk to, reach out to, or network with to get those answers. Don't lose your momentum - stay activated and motivated for change. 
  2. After you make that list, then identify the areas in which you can influence change, regardless of your positional power. Change up some of the books you have available in your classroom. Change up how you talk, participate, or engage in faculty/staff meetings (for some, that means listening more/talking more/ or making sure that if a person of color says something, they get credit for it!). Partner with your Diversity and Inclusion Office. Talk and listen to people of color. 
  3. Find your people, especially if you are interested in growing in leadership. If those folks aren't at your school, reach out to those folks from other schools and set up a Skype or Hangout date. Be proximate to different communities. 
  4. Contact strangers  - one of my favorite things that happens post-conference is when people reach out to me (which you can do via my "contact Liza" form here!). Look up sessions you couldn't attend, Google the email of that person, and reach out. Also be kind - some of us experience that same racial/cultural taxation of constantly being "the one" to educate others. So, be mindful of time and engagement. 
  5. Get a post-PoCC group together. Before your plane lands, find a common date for you and your colleagues to share out what you've learned at PoCC. Even if you are the only ones in the room, still hold the meeting. This helps others who didn't attend get a sense of what PoCC is about, and it also means you are extending the learning edges for them, too. Include some of your learning in your family newsletter that you send home. 
  6. Start working on your program proposal for PoCC 2018! Before I leave, I have titles and sessions already mapped out. Make sure you submit proposals, team up with folks from other schools, and share opportunities for critical race conversations.
  7. Get working on your reading list. Did you go to a session and realize, "Wow, I know nothing about this topic?" Then, start your reading list. Each year, i focus my reading on authors from different racial/ethnic identities and do a deep dive. It's been one of the best things I have ever done. 

Wishing you safe travels back to your homes, and looking forward to seeing you all next year at PoCC 2018!

Peace and power, 
Liza T.