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. 

 

 

AFFINITY SPACES

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.

 The Pilipinx Affinity Group within the APIDA affinity group

The Pilipinx Affinity Group within the APIDA affinity group

 

Alright, everyone. Let's talk about affinity spaces.

I could write pages about why affinity spaces are so helpful, affirming and necessary to folks who live, work and learn in isolation of other people of color.

And, unfortunately, I can also write pages about people who keep affinity groups from happening at our schools -- and, all too often, those folks are the very ones who we need to support affinity groups moving forward. 

I have had the great fortune of working in spaces in which affinity groups are valued and supported. And, I am well aware of the dynamics that exist that keep affinity groups from even starting -- those actions of distractions are often held in place by folks who insist that affinity groups are "racist, segregating and against the very movement of diversity." 

As a critical race scholar-practitioner, it is obvious to me that folks who fight against affinity spaces often do so because of their own fragility -- their fragility of fear, their fragility of leadership, and their fragility in seeing historically marginalized people gain access to the every day privileges that are embedded in the lives of those in power. People of color, LGBTQ folks, children from single parent families, and even single parents themselves have long benefitted from affinity groups -- so I pose this question to those who are operating under an umbrella of fear, "What are you afraid of?" 

RADICAL SIDE NOTE: I offer a more radical perspective to that "what are you afraid of?" question. As we know, back when the Civil Rights Movement was gaining momentum, there were intentional political actions that used Asian Americans to divide the movement: the creation of the model minority myth. The MMM was a tool to distance Asian Americans from other people of color, thereby dividing and distorting who would benefit from political access. Whenever I hear that people are against affinity spaces, my critical race side is activated big time. After all, we have a long history in this country of breaking up networks of people of color as a way to decrease power. So.. you know.. I see you. 

According to the National Association of Independent Schools, “PoCC hosts affinity group sessions to provide an opportunity for sharing and exploring your life and experiences within safe and supportive spaces defined by membership in a specific racial or ethnic identity group. Led by a team of trained facilitators, affinity group participants celebrate identities, share successes and challenges, and engage freely.”

I am tempted to not even indulge those who are super anti-affinity groups, but it seems utterly important (to some) that I provide evidence of what an affinity group is NOT:

  • It is NOT a gathering of people who spend their time talking about you -- believe me, we’d much rather talk about ourselves when we are together

  • It is NOT a group of people plotting against YOUR racial group. We pretty much plot how much we love our ethnic food and whether we think there were better choices than Blake Shelton for “Sexiest Man Alive.”

  • It is NOT a group of people who, forever and ever, will only stay huddled together for as long as we all shall live (though, that would actually sound kinda cute). We DO know how to interact and play nice with other types of folks, too. We do it all the time.

My first PoCC, I went to the Asian and Asian American Affinity Group. And, by god, it felt like I was at a huge family wedding. There were Asian Americans everywhere! There were so many of us that we then decided to get into ethnic identity groups just so that we could see who was around. And, there were some hella Pinxys in that room! I mean, there were about 30 Pilipinxs in our circle! Honestly, prior to PoCC I had never met another Pilipix educator (elementary/middle) so this was incredible for me! I instantly felt less alone and that I had a whole bunch of family to contact if I needed them.

That’s what affinity groups do.

I’m grateful for my Asian and Asian American Affinity group at PoCC. Thank you for letting me know that I belong.

Peace and love,

Liza T.

ROSES, THORNS AND BUDS

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.


Welcome to Day 1! 
 

Wow! What a way to start the day. I was able to make it to a number of sessions (including my own!) and wanted to offer a few highlights for participants:

  1. Did you make it to the opening session? If not, you missed brilliance. Props to the SLDC team for their incredible "fairy tale" connections to our current political climate. And, much gratitude to keynote speaker Kimberle Crenshaw who, reminded us, that intersectionality is NOT just a term we can be throwing around. And, we must be so careful to understand the ways in which intersectionality was to intended to center the experiences of Black women; and how, in many ways we have changed, co-opted and watered down intersectionality. There is a call to action -- go back and re-center the experiences of Black women. Now. 
  2. I was able to do 35 minutes of a session on "Asians Behaving Critically" with a packed room of educators! Thanks to all those who came out and joined us. We talked about ways in which we have come up short in our own teaching and learning about Asian Americans, and created an A-B-C action item for our own capacity building. Our essential question: How can Asian American students understand activism if we, ourselves, do not know who Asian American activists are?
  3. Affinity Groups - I hope you went to yours! For some, affinity group space can feel intimidating -- walking into a room of people you don't know. If you went, I hope you felt loved. If you are wondering if you should go, YES. You should. 

In our affinity group, the terms "roses, thorns and buds" was offered:

  • (Roses) What is something you have experienced at the conference that was positive?
  • (Thorns) What is something that you hope improves?
  • (Buds) What is something that you are hopeful for?

My rose: A great morning session with a packed room of educators!

My thorns: 1) the lack of gender inclusive restrooms that are publicly advertised; and 2) the lack of acknowledgement of the land which was first of indigenous and First Peoples and the Tongva community

My bud: Continuing to be in a vibrant community of people of color!

Hope you're having a great conference!

Peace, 

Liza T. 

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PS: Shout out to my good friend, Tamara Clark (Friends Academy, NY) and my partner Jorge Vega in this photo!

THIS IS WHY IT MATTERS

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.


This is a love letter to all the folks who are wondering why I need to go to PoCC.

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Dear colleagues,

Yes, I'm headed to PoCC for a few days. Yes, this means we had to find someone to cover my classes or take my recess duty. It means I couldn't go to the faculty meeting. 

And, yes, I felt your frustrated look when you asked me where I was going. I said, "I'm going to the People of Color Conference." You smiled. Said you were happy for me. But, I saw that little tiny curl of your lip -- the one that, when it turned up slightly at the corner, almost made an inaudible sound. The sound of "urgh."

You were polite. You told me that now is a perfect time to go to California because "it's so sunny" and "you'll get to eat tons of great food." I smiled back and said, "Yes, I know. I'm looking forward to it."

But, as I walked away, I wanted to say other things -- things beyond my polite smile.

I wanted to tell you that I wasn't going on vacation. I wanted to tell you that I may never see that sunshine because I'll be inside of the convention center attending sessions from 8:00am until about 10:00pm, learning about how to make our schools more safe. I'll be learning about how to better support Black and Brown children. I'll be meeting other teachers, scholars, practitioners and facilitators who will help me grow as a teacher. And that great food? If I'm lucky, they'll have something just good enough for me to eat at a kiosk. Because, I plan on using my lunch breaks to talk with other Black and Brown folks from all over this great country. 

I am not going on vacation. 

I'm going to be taking notes -- fast and furious -- about teaching strategies. I'll be going through the bookstore to find books where the main character looks just like the one Black boy in my classroom. And, while it'll be extra special for that one child, I know that all of the children in my class will benefit from the book I bring back. And, yes, when I get back, because I love you, you can borrow them, too. You've said you wanted to "do more diversity stuff" in your classes right? Well, I'll come back with great resources for you, too. 

You know why I'm also going? Well, nothing sums it up better than what happened to me at the airport on my way to PoCC. I was in the long security line, waiting patiently and smiling at everyone who walked by as we zigged and zagged with our roller luggage and our headphones. I was next in the security line and I had my driver's license and ticket ready for the TSA agent to see. Someone tapped me on the shoulder.

"You can go. Aren't you with them?" the person behind me motioned. He was being kind, I'm sure. Friendly, even. He thought maybe I didn't see the group of people in front of me get called by the TSA agent who simply shouted "Next!" from a few feet away. 

"Oh," I answered somewhat bewildered. Then, I looked at the people in front of me. "Oh. I'm not with them," I answered. 

I wanted to say so much more. I wanted to ask, "Do you think I'm with them because we are all Asian?" But, I didn't have to really ask. 

Instead, I smiled. Held my ticket and ID a bit tighter. And, I waited for the next TSA agent. 

My colleagues, you might not realize that this happens more often than not. You might not realize what it feels like to constantly stand out and to be seen as "just another one of those people." And, because I know you're good people, I'm sure you'll tell me how this was a microaggression. You'll tell me how shocked you are. You'll tell me that you're "so sorry this happened to me." And, I believe you. Completely. But, I wonder if you believe me that this happens every single day. At school. At the coffee shop. At the grocery store. And, even on the way to a conference.

It's not shocking to me, anymore. 

I've been to a few PoCC's, and one of the most striking experiences happens within the first few minutes. In those first few minutes, I am surrounded by a sea of Black and Brown faces -- all different shades, shapes, ethnicities and languages. It's easy for someone to assume that I'm with the "other 2 Asian folks." But, in a room of thousands of people of color, the great irony is that I actually get to be an individual.

I get to be seen for me. 

I'm asking you to believe, in this love letter, that being seen for who I am is not a common experience. 

For my colleagues who still don't understand, these are the three days -- just three days -- when I feel understood. When I get to feel like family in a room full of strangers. I get to cheer and react in the middle of a keynote address (yes, all this thanks to my father-in-law who taught me to shout out at church and to respond with a hearty "Amen!") and not be "shushed" or looked at like I'm being rude. 

For my colleagues, this is where I get to dive deep into the needs of my community of color. This is where I get to cry about the injustice of society and not have to worry about your own guilt or your own inaction. This is where I get to be fragile and not worry about taking care of your fragility at the same time. This is where I get to be held, tightly, for my humanity. 

This is more than a vacation.

This is healing.

And, this is why I write this with love. I, and many of my colleagues of color, love working in independent schools. We choose to work in places that are predominantly and historically White. We choose to teach students who do not share the same cultural and ethnic backgrounds as we do, every day. We hope that they are learning from us, about us, and with us. And, we hope that, by being professionals of color in your department, in your division and in your school (our school), that you are learning, too. We often choose to sign the contract and work in the place where we are the only Black/Brown person in the hallway, in the building, and in the school. 

This is my love letter to you. It's my love letter to express why this matters. Why going to PoCC matters so much to my craft, my skills, and my action. 

I am grateful for your well-wishes as I travel. I look forward to bringing back a suitcase of knowledge and love for us all.  

Peace, 
Liza T. 

GETTING THE MOST OUT OF POCC 2017

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.


Well, it's here -- it's POCC WEEK! Yes!! 

On social media, friends have been counting down the months, then weeks and now days until PoCC! It's a week of learning, connecting, growing, and feeling like you are surrounded by family. 

PoCC can also be really overwhelming - I mean, have you seen the 100 page program guide yet??

If you are new to PoCC, here are some helpful tips for getting the most out of your conference experience. See you in Anaheim!

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WHAT TO PACK (in addition to your usual things)

  • Most people are wearing clothes somewhere on the spectrum of "work casual" while at PoCC. But, don't forget to also pack some more casual wear. If you are hanging out or going out to a casual dinner with friends or attending a social, you might want other clothing to change into. This is tough if you're trying to fit everything into a carry on luggage (we know all about those luggage fees!). But, it does help to have something to change into after conference hours. 
  • It's always too cold (or, nice and cold!) in convention centers. Bring layers!
  • If you can, leave room in your luggage for any books you pick up at the NAIS Bookstore!
  • Pick comfortable shoes. There's a lot of walking at the convention center!
  • Snacks -- sometimes those lunch lines are long, and if you get hangry like me, snacks really help to carry you through until the lines go down! Know that coffee lines rival any theme park lines, so be prepared to wait in line for coffee or find a way to get your caffeine fix early. 

PLANNING SESSIONS

  • Definitely go through the program guide ahead of time. This gives you a sense of what kinds of sessions are out there. Pick a few for each time slot. There isn't much time in between sessions, and it's better to talk and network after an event that burying yourself in the program guide trying to figure out where you're going to go next. Use your time wisely!
  • PoCC is a great place to take a deep dive into your areas of interest. Go for it! AND, choose at least 1 session a day that is completely outside of your own discipline or role. Doing so means that you are getting exposure to other aspects of education or other aspects of identity. 

MAJOR SPEAKERS

  • Go to them. 
  • It's pretty crowded in the major speakers session (see bullet point just above). Honestly, every seat is a good seat because NAIS and the convention team does a great job of creating visibility with the use of screens. It's not as intimate, sure, but you'll feel just as engaged. 
  • If you can't get to major speakers, definitely hit up the PoCC Live Stream.

SOCIAL MEDIA

  • Yes! Tweet! Follow backchannels at #NAISPoCC. People do live tweet during sessions. Give the presenters a bump and tag them in your posts. Share your learning!

MAKING NEW FRIENDS/FAMILY

  • PoCC is definitely a place of love and kindness. And, for some of us, it may be the only four days when you are surrounded by so many people of color (or, heck, it may be a time when you are not the only one!). Exchange information. Hand out or ask for business cards. Talk to folks. There are also some great online communities built around PoCC as well. 
  • Go to the affinity groups. Some of us may not have ever experienced an affinity group; some of us rely on them heavily. If you are unsure, go to the first one where we do lots of "get to know you" activities. It's powerful. But, don't just write them off. I swear, affinity group is where I find so much strength that carries me through the year! 

I look forward to seeing you and meeting you at PoCC! 

Peace and power, 

Liza T.

ALL PACKED FOR POCC

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.


I boarded the plane on an early Wednesday morning in 2016. And, nearly everyone on there was a friend.

I was headed to the People of Color Conference, and amidst sleepy eyes and mile wide yawns, people were buzzing with excitement about their journey. After all, we were headed to a place where we knew we belonged. 

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Each year, the National Association of Independent Schools hosts the People of Color Conference. The mission of the conference is “to provide a safe space for leadership and professional development and networking for people of color and allies of all backgrounds in independent schools” (www.nais.org).

The 2017 conference will be my third year at the People of Color Conference. Though I have been to a number of conferences in my professional career that center around issues of multiculturalism, the PoCC is the only conference I have that is fully about the experiences, voices and expertise of People of Color. I have found my spiritual and academic independent school home here at PoCC and where the sessions are provocative, push my own thinking and learning, and lets me speak my voice.

The People of Color Conference, for me, indeed serves as a sanctuary where I can be fully myself: an Asian American, Pinxy, daughter of immigrants, womyn of color who is unapologetically proud to be me. My identities, in some spaces outside of PoCC, often have to be “toned down” or made more palatable for others. Not at PoCC.

At PoCC, I get to be myself.

I get to be in community of other people of color who, too, are tired of making themselves smaller, invisible and palatable for others. I am surrounded by people who wait an entire year for PoCC just to be heard and to be in the majority. I am in the presence of brilliance at PoCC.

So, what does PoCC do for people of color? It provides us a space to be brilliant - in all of our identities.

What does PoCC do for people who are white? It provides you an opportunity to see how incredible we can be and are when our voices are centered.

Enjoy PoCC everyone! See you in Anaheim!

Peace and love,

Liza T.

FAMILY PRACTICES DURING THE LONG WEEKEND (aka Thanksgiving)

Thanksgiving time has always been a time for my family. More specifically, it's my Mom's birthday. And, just a few years ago, it became my nephew's birthday, too. 

Each year, my Mom, the forever brilliant home cook, has made a thanksgiving meal that will kick your ass. She makes the best turkey, the best mashed potatoes, the best ... well, the best everything. And, because we can't have a family gathering JUST eating American food, my mom always makes a point to add pancit, lumpia, chicken adobo, and Filipino fruit salad. 

Once I married into a Puerto Rican household, thanksgiving then added rice and beans and pork chops.

When my sister married her Southern husband, other food began to show up on the table: macaroni and cheese, collard greens, sweet potato, and yams (Alonso will get mad if I type in "yam-mallow" -- see what I did there?).

Growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, I was given really problematic messages about Thanksgiving. I read books about how the friendly Pilgrims and Indians all gathered together for a delicious and collaborative meal. I was given art projects like, "Bring in a brown paper bag so that we can cut it into a vest and decorate it like Native Americans did...." I remember making an Indian headdress as a table center piece one year. 

And, now in 2017, I hesitate to say that things have gotten better. 

Things have not.

One need only to be reminded of the protests at Standing Rock or, better yet, the decisions to even route the pipeline through Standing Rock (i.e., racism). 

And, during Native Heritage Month, it is certainly not lost that we "celebrate" the murders of Native Americans while we fall asleep after eating a pound of turkey breast and watch football (some with Native imagery as mascots).

I am ashamed to say that I had to learn to be inclusive of Native Americans. And, this practice is only recent.  I started attending a conference on higher education (ASHE) seven years ago, and this was the first time --  yes, the first time -- that I had witnessed non-Native people paying honor and respect to Native communities. Professor D-L Stewart, who was chairing the pre-conference at the time, made it zir commitment to make good on the call to "Indigenize ASHE", a call put forth by Native and Indigenous scholars to center the experiences of Native and Indigenous communities. Over the years, I began to understand what this meant. Ze started every session naming and honoring the tribal communities who lived on and with the land before all of the fancy hotels and conference rooms were there. Ze invited, included and centered Native scholars who began our conference and who presented scholarly and practical sessions on the experiences of Native and Indigenous communities. 

That was my first introduction to what it meant -- and the great efforts it took -- to center Native voices. 

Over the years, I have committed to reminding myself and others of Native communities. As I returned to my 7th conference, I followed the lead of Dr. Stewart and began each of my sessions naming the tribal communities of the land. And, I acknowledged the ways in which Native communities continue to be underserved and oppressed in our current policies and programs. 

We are just weeks away from our long weekend break, and folks are already looking forward to the rest. I recently sent out a reminder of what it means when we wish each other a "Happy Thanksgiving." You are welcome to include this in any of your communication, if you'd like, or simply adopt some of these practices in your own home and with your families. 

Friends, I am calling on you to center the experiences of Indigenous communities and people of this land, every day, but particularly during this long weekend in November. 

Peace, 

Liza

****

As we feel the rush towards the Thanksgiving break (which includes lots of great projects), it's important to remember that not all people think of Thanksgiving in the same celebratory way. For indigenous communities, Thanksgiving is not a celebration but a stark reminder of the violence perpetuated on Native and Indigenous people in the interest of White colonialism. 

Last year, this powerful video of three Indigenous girls was released as a reminder. While possibly too mature for our younger audience, this is a great video for adults as we remember the impact of this time of year. 

Here are ways in which we can honor, remember and respect Indigenous and Native peoples during this time:

  • When "giving thanks" at your meal, include mention and respect of Native People and Indigenous communities. For example, give thanks for family, friends, and good health as we also remember how those were taken away from Native and Indigenous communities who continue to be underserved in our national and local policies and programs today. 
  • Participate in the National Day of Mourning March in Plymouth on November 23 at noon. If you do not identify as Native or Indigenous, please read the information very carefully. This is an event that centers the voices, experiences, and community of Native and Indigenous people. If you attend as an ally, it is an expectation that you are there in support of Native people and will respect the directions of Native people. You'll read about how to engage as an ally and what must occur for Native voices to be centered on that day. 
  • Choose a book to read during the week with your family, and make sure you check out the list of approved books here

While many of us might be wishing each other "Happy Thanksgiving" in the upcoming weeks, please remember that this is a national day of mourning for many Native and Indigenous communities who, by all counts, did not welcome settlers and White colonials to their land.

 

 

DISRUPTING OUR EARLIEST MESSAGES ABOUT SEX

I'm sorry if this will surprise you: sexual assault and harassment have been so much a part of my life. I'm not surprised anymore when I read about it. Angry? Yes. Filled with rage? Yes. Fighting the instinct to hurt the person who hurt me or my friends or my family? Yes. 


Surprised? No.

How can we be surprised? Our world, nation, and very fabric of everything I know has been permissive of power and violence. I can turn on a movie or television that features any time period and watch/read/hear a story about sexual violence and harassment. We have glorified it. Made iconic prints, statues and ideals about it (e.g., the "sailor kissing a woman" here).

My sister, Grace Talusan, often writes about her own experiences with violence (particularly in her upcoming book The Body Papers due out in Summer 2018 - yes, that was a plug, go buy it!). My cousin Roslyn Talusan writes openly about her experiences. And, in different, maybe less subtle ways, I have written about my own. 

It pains me to think that one of the reasons why I wanted to my two daughters to earn their black belts is so they could defend-and-attack if they were ever in a situation in which they were being harassed. While some people cringe at the judo grappling where the girls are on the ground, someone is laying on top of them, and they have to redistribute body weight in order to escape an attacker, I secretly love watching them get out of situations. And, then quickly, I get mad that they would ever have to fight anyone off of them to begin with. 

As my son continues to grow up, he has heard from a very, very, very early age that he must respect the mind, body, and soul of other people. In our home, because he interacts primarily with his sisters, we emphasize how he may never disrespect the mind, body and soul of a girl or woman (aka me and his sisters). He, and the girls, has heard "No means no" and "the absence of yes is a no" as part of his vocabulary. He, too, takes karate, and he is learning about boundaries, respect, and using his words way before he uses his hands.

In our home, we are careful never to send messages to our daughters about how their clothing is perceived or how their body movements should be interpreted. We are teaching them to be proud of their identities and their fluidity. We have given them language to talk about, share, question, and affirm who they are. And, yes, we have even said, "Okay, so if you're going to wear that, people who are not as aware of respecting others might say stupid things to you. That's not your fault. So, what might you do, how might you respond, what do you need for yourself, what do those people need to know?" We never say, "Don't wear that because you'll be asking for it."

None of this is easy, trust me. It's so much easier for me to fall back to the messages I received as a child -- that my clothing, somehow, mattered. That if my shirt was to low cut or my skirt was too short that I was "asking for trouble" or that I wasn't "being decent." And, these weren't messages by my parents. These were messages by teachers, media, movies, friends, parents of friends, and others. And, truthfully, the lack of messages about how my body is my own was equally as loud as those that told me how to be, dress, walk or think.

So, now that I work with younger children, what do we do? How do we start this conversation earlier? 

Well, as adults, we have to first recognize our own problematic assumptions that we were raised with about sex, consent, our bodies, and respect for others. We will have a difficult time teaching our own children about these issues unless we spend a lot of time thinking, wondering and being curious about what we learned. Find some time to ask yourself these questions. Better yet, as you are reading this post, stop and journal as you read each question. Or, if you happen to be reading this while sitting next to someone, ask if they wouldn't mind dialoguing with you about it (you know, figure out your audience....):

  • What were my first or earliest messages about my body? Were these messages positive, negative, or absent from my upbringing?
  • What were my first or earliest messages about sex? Were these messages positive, negative or absent from my upbringing?
  • What were my first or earliest messages about consent? Were these messages positive, negative or absent from my upbringing?
  • What were my first or earliest messages about how people dressed? About drinking? About dating? 
  • What were my first or earliest messages about my ownership over my own body? What were my first or earliest messages about saying "no" or saying "yes"?

We have to take the time to think about our own thoughts and behaviors. How did our beliefs get shaped?

Then, how do those early messages shape my beliefs about my own child(ren) or young people in my life?

  • Looking back, what messages do you wish you were given, when you were growing up, about the topics above?
  • What messages were you given that are rooted in sexism, victimhood, or power? 
  • How do we disrupt those messages as parents/guardians or caring adults?

One of the earliest messages I had about sex was that we never talked about sex. Whenever we, growing up, watched television with my parents, they fast forwarded or turned the channel until they predicted the scene would be over (yes, this was pre-Netflix and DVR!). While I'm sure their intent was to protect our fragile eyes from seeing this -- or, more likely, to protect their embarrassment -- what happened is that we learned not to talk about sex or ask questions.

Now, whenever my family is watching television and there is a sex scene or "sexy-ish" scene, we simply say, "So, do you have questions about what they are doing?" Yes, I blush the entire time. Or, when they close their eyes because of a kissing scene, we simply say, "Kissing is a normal thing between people who love or care about or are attracted to each other. Kissing isn't a bad thing." We, in our house, try to normalize talking about sex so that our kids learn that talking about it is important -- imperative -- to a healthy relationship. Now that our oldest is 14, I bought a subscription to Teen Vogue which, over the past year, has been a particularly woke publication! There are some sexual topics in there, and I've said, "I know they answer questions in this magazine, but I'd love to talk about it or answer any questions you might have." 

It certainly doesn't hurt that both my husband and I have taught Growth Education (he specifically teaches the year-long class on sex, bodies, contraception, and protection!). We have language to talk about this with young people. But, that doesn't mean we don't get embarrassed or blush when it comes to our own children. Believe me, we do! 

I realize simply talking about sex and relationships isn't going to cure our world's deeply problematic culture of sexual violence. I'm no fool. 

And, I also realize that we can't sit back and do nothing. 

Parents/guardians/caring adults, please don't wait until your child's college orientation program for them to be exposed to dialogues about sex. Let them know that talking about or asking questions about sex and consent and behavior is imperative to healthy relationships. 

The #MeToo campaign was a platform for letting others know how pervasive sexual assault and harassment is in our own circles. Now, it's time to talk about what we are going to do next.

Peace and love, 

Liza

 

 

 

SPINNING

Dedicated to those who experience the world in disbelief.

******

Spinning. Spinning.

When I opened my eyes

when I closed them

When I breathed.

When my 8-year old came in to kiss me on the forehead. 

I am annoyed by his act of love that shakes the bed like a tidal wave.

I just needed the world to stop

Spinning.

The sunlight streamed into my room but I shuddered at it's anger. It's violence.

It was morning, after all.

Mourning.

I crawled on my belly, crying, crying that I just need it 

To Stop. 

"Try this," well meaning friends wrote to me.

"This worked for me," they said.

I tried.

I felt worse. 

I wanted to stay in this bed - hide from a world that assaulted me from every angle.

To envelop myself in the warmth of the place where dreams happen, where soft kisses are exchanged, where the heat of husband's body can be felt from the other side of the bed.

Familiar. I know he is there.

Spin in.

Spin in the cycles of life and death and violence and terror and

Lone wolves in sheep's clothing.

In the soft, White, curls

Spun in

To fabric that I'm told keeps me warm on a cold day

That is good for me. That is innocent.

But I feel cold.

Cold stares, cold shoulders, cold reception when I scream that I just need the world to 

Stop

Spinning.

I feebly pick up the phone and take action.  "Helpme," I cry to the doctor's receptionist. "I can't make it stop."

"The first available appointment we have is in three weeks."

"What should I do in the meantime?" I beg. My eyes closed. My hand to my head.

I feel myself falling forward.

They say, "Call your other doctor" but all I hear is 

"You're not our problem today."

And, so I lay back in bed. The blanket feeling less familiar. 

The bed cold.

My body helpless, victim to my surroundings.

Spinning. 

Spinning stories. Spinning news. Spinning the blame. 

We don't need to fix guns, they say, we need to fix hotel security.

I pull the blanket up over my eyes, tugging, tugging,

stuck at the edge of the bed. 

Wondering who's problem this will be tomorrow.

 

 

 

CELEBRATE LIFE'S LITTLE WINS

It's August 17th which, in our house, we call "Diagnosis Day."

Back on August 17, 2005, our daughter was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive pediatric eye cancer: retinoblastoma. It's now 2017 and she is a 12 year survivor of retinoblastoma, and we honor this day as the one that changed our lives. Today, we honor Diagnosis Day; tomorrow, we celebrate "Survivor Day" (caaaake and ice cream!).

Given all that is going on in our world, it's easy to get caught up in all the sadness and heartbreak and anger. Believe us, we felt that so explicitly on the day our child was diagnosed with cancer. Today, Diagnosis Day, especially, gives me hope. We never thought anything would be better on the other side. We never thought we would get through it. We never imagined a day when we would stop crying.

Today, it's a nice reminder that we all go through wicked and evil times. And, with community and support and facing the fear, there is some good that happens at the end.

Twelve years ago, Jorge wrote this email to friends and family (this was before Facebook and Twitter and all that jazz). We thank God every day for Joli and her team of doctors. And, we thank God for all of you who supported our family during those rough times.

While the email, and her announcement of cancer, was sad, I'm grateful to read it on a day like today. It gives me hope. It gives me courage. It gives me faith that things will fall on the good side of humanity. 

Happy Diagnosis Day, Joli!

WRITTEN ON AUGUST 19, 2005 (two days after diagnosis) BY JORGE:

Hi, Friends!

So, in the last 48 hours a lot has happened in our little family.

My daughter's decided to become the world's smallest and cutest pirate... complete with eye patch. :)

We have spoken to or emailed many of you personally, but for those who may not know the whole story, here's what happened...

On Wednesday we took Joli in for what we thought was going to be a routine visit to the doctor. My father-in-law, who's an ophthalmologist, had noticed that Joli's right occasionally would "wander". He said it was pretty normal for kids her age to experience that, but he recommended that we go see a pediatric ophthalmologist and learn how to correct it as early as possible. So, Wednesday morning we went to the doctor believing that, at worst, Joli might have a lazy eye. No big deal.

When the doctor looked into Joli's right eye, his reaction was pretty immediate. He let us know that there was a large tumor growing inside of Joli's right eyeball. Yet, Liza and I had no way of knowing. That may seem impossible, but it's true. The doctor said it's quite normal for something so dramatic to go unnoticed because kids bodies are so adaptable. Apparently, as Joli's right eye faded, her left eye with its perfect vision took over.

Liza and I were floored. But, things got even more surreal when the doctor told us that he was certain that Joli's right eye needed to be removed as soon as possible.

She has a very rare type of cancer called "retinoblastoma". It occurs in about 1 in 20,000 kids.

Liza and I, on cue, fell apart. We took a breath and then fell apart again.

And then amazing things started happening... the doctor made a call to Massachusetts Eye and Ear Medical and got a hold of a guy named Dr. Mukai. It turns out that there are only five or six doctors in the entire country who specialize in this type of cancer and one of the best, Dr. Mukai, worked a few blocks away from us. Though he had two surgeries scheduled for that day, he made time, in between surgeries, to meet with us and examine Joli's eyes. He confirmed the previous doctor's diagnosis-- Joli's eye needed to be removed to eliminate the risk of the cancer spreading.

[insert me and Liza falling apart again here]

Dr. Mukai was incredibly sensitive and comforted us with his words and his knowledge. Apparently, in 90% of cases, when there is tumorous material in only ONE eye, if the eye is removed, the child will have a full recovery without the cancer reappearing and without chemotherapy or radiation treatments.

The next day, Liza Joli and I, surrounded by our families and the thoughts and prayers of friends and family all over the country returned to the hospital to have Joli's eye surgically removed.

The operation took a little over five hours and when Dr. Mukai re-emerged, the news was good.

There is no cancer in Joli's left eye and the right eye was successfully removed.

Liza and I fell apart again, but this time it was a good kind of disassembly. :)

When we went down to the recovery room, Joli was groggy and crying. Liza picked her up and she stopped crying immediately, curled up in her lap, and fell asleep. A few minutes later we were able to leave recovery and head up to her room, where the rest of the family was waiting.

And here's another amazing part... as we left recovery, Joli lifted her groggy little headed, looked over at the nurse's station and waved. "Thank you. Thank you. Bye-bye," she said.

My kid ... rocks.

We spent a few hours up in her hospital room, letting the anaesthesia wear off. There was lots of laughing and lots love in the room. Joli talked to everyone, but only wanted to be held by mom and fed juice by dad. ;)

So, we returned home last night. Joli slept in bed with us, occasionally complaining that her patched eye was "itchy", but then quickly falling back to sleep and snoring.

We think the worst is over. We'll be going back to the doctor today for some follow-up and Joli will have an MRI next week to verify that there is no cancer in other parts of the body.

The healing process takes 6-8 weeks and, after it's complete, Joli will be fitted with a prosthetic eye created by one of the best teams in the country. Liza and I have seen tons of pictures of other kids who've been fitted with fake eyes and it's friggin' incredible. You simply can't tell that the eye is fake. It even moves like a normal eye.

So, by the time many of you see Joli next, you won't be able to tell what occurred. :)

Friends, Liza and I want to thank you for your thoughts and your prayers. We were both overwhelmed to learn that so many of you were thinking of us these last few days. I sincerely believe that those thoughts and prayers made a difference. I sincerely believe that you played a part in our daughter's well being and we thank you so much for that.

The last 48 hours sort of stunk like ... , but the next few days are already smelling like roses. :)

Love-- Jorge, Liza and Joli

WHAT IS LEFT TO SAY?

Precursor: The brilliant Dr. Eboni Zamani-Gallaher just posted this article which talks about climate and racialized realities. Because my post doesn't go into the social-political-educational context, read here for Dr. Zamani-Gallaher's piece. 

***********

It's August 14th. 

Two days ago, we all received word that acts of terrorism and violence occurred in Charlottesville, Virginia. 

Yesterday, I received a message from a wonderful and amazing close friend who wrote, "Had to write to tell you that as (my partner) and I were listening in horror and disgust at everything going on in VA yesterday, I immediately thought of you and told (my partner) (we were driving to get kids from camp) "I can't wait to see what Liza posts about this mess". For good or bad, you are my go to for all things racist, anti-Semitic and homophobic. Your wisdom and perspective on such issues is always well informed, thoughtful and so appreciated!"

I thanked him. This note of encouragement helped me breathe easier.

I responded that I didn't really have the bandwidth to craft a response (other than forwarding a news post on social media). And, that I would try to manage something to write in the next day or so.

But, the truth is, friends, What more is there to say? 

Really, what more is there to say?

I'm sad, but not shocked. Angry, but not surprised. Hopeless, but not defeated. 

As I drove home from my family outing, I tried to think about what I would write, but all I could think about was "which post from the past should I just re-blog."

Because, frankly, I've said what I've needed to say. 

Except, this year, I was silenced for it. Not by everyone, but by some.

See, a few months ago I wrote about white supremacy. Which, c'mon, if you've followed my work for a while now, you know that I write about race and racism.

I had attended a conference about education. And, I summed up the things that researchers were presenting. I wrote about how researchers noted that education was built on white supremacy and how, in many existing cases, seeks to uphold white supremacy. 

I came to realize that people are only comfortable talking about white supremacy when it has to do with people with torches marching through the streets. Those folks who may be reading this and who publicly attacked me believe that only what we see in Charlottesville is white supremacy. "It's only white supremacy if it's the kind we can distance ourselves from."

Well, what about the white supremacy of identifying more children of color as needing "discipline?" What about the white supremacy that keeps our schools, organizations, and companies predominantly white? What about the white supremacy of saying "we value diversity" but spend all one's time and effort taking down the people who are doing the work? What about the white supremacy that silences people of color when they use the words "white supremacy?"

Feel free to talk about all the white supremacy of seeing hundreds of people with tiki torches marching down the streets. Feel free to talk about all of the white supremacy that you can distance yourself from because, "Oh, God, I'm not one of them!" Feel free to make yourselves feel better that you would never publicly yell out "All Lives Matter." 

Feel free to get mad that I wrote this -- that "I'm making people uncomfortable" or that my job as a diversity expert is to "build community" or that you are uncomfortable because "maybe I'm mad at racism." 

By God. I don't hate white people. I hate white supremacy. I hate this belief and action -- not just perpetrated by people who believe themselves to be white -- that talking about racism is somehow racist. 

I could give you a nice list of all the age appropriate ways you could talk to your children. And, I hope for some of you, this is helpful if you are beginning to talk about race and difference. 

What did we do in our home? We watched the movie Malcolm X (which our children have seen a number of times). We took some time away from media. We listened to the news the next morning in the car. We talked about how they felt about what they were hearing. We answered their questions. We were honest with how we felt. 

We were explicit to remind them that white supremacy is not just marchers with torches in the city square. 

That white supremacy is in the air that we breathe. 

So, I'm not sure what people were hoping from me. Perhaps some words of encouragement. Perhaps some ways to take action. I assure you, I've written about all of those before because this isn't the first time our country and our world has seen acts of violence nor been impacted by them. 

What is left to say, friends? 

For me, calling out that white supremacy has actually silenced me has been important. 

What has it done to you?

RESOURCES

OLD POST cross-posted from an old blog

July 16, 2017

 

During the school year, we find ourselves in close proximity to one another — popping into each other’s classrooms to see an interesting lesson; walking by each other in the hallways to say “hello”; or waiting by the copy machine and discussing the latest news story we’ve heard on our drive into work.

But, during the summer, we find ourselves in this absence of community. And, yet, in times and days like these, community is precisely what we need. During this week, there were times when I was thankful for colleagues who checked in on me and who were interested in discussing violence in our communities. At other times, I was grateful for my morning run when I tuned out the world and simply listened to my heart and my own breath.

As educators, we have the privilege of engaging in dialogue around meaning and purpose. In many ways, we seek the comfort of our classrooms, hallways and offices where we can more easily find community. But, the summer time brings about new challenges — challenges to connecting, to seeking predictability, and to experiencing our comfort.

If you are a parent reading this list of resources, know that we, as teachers, struggle with how to have conversations with our students about the recent tragedies in our world. Children look for predictability. Children look for comforting responses from adults. Children look for cues that they are going to be alright. But, as adults, we have been forced to question these for ourselves. Know this this is difficult. Know that this is a struggle. Know that you are human and will experience conflicting feelings. And, know that these conversations with our children are important.

Over the past few weeks, I have heard from parents who are seeking resources about how to talk to their children about recent events in our country. I have provided resources for parents and caring adults; for children in our lower division ages (ages 4-8); for children in our middle division (ages 9-11); and for children in our upper division (ages 12-14). It is not an exhaustive list; rather, it is a simple list. I wanted to provide you with some activities or questions that you can “do now” rather than overwhelm you with feelings of “when do I have time to do this?” I have provided a few follow up discussion questions to each activity.

But, parents and families and caring adults, this list doesn’t do anything unless you have the conversation. I’m asking you to have these conversations. Note that the list below doesn’t explicitly prompt you to discuss mass shootings or racism in America or protocol for when you encounter law enforcement with your children. But, those are important, too. If you are just wading into these waters, I’m asking you to engage in conversations — early in the lives of children — where we normalize difference. I’m asking you to engage in conversations — early in the lives of children — where we highlight that people are treated differently and that we must work together to create equity (that people have access to resources and opportunities for success). I’m asking you to engage in conversations — early in the lives of children — where we co-create tools for ourselves to include the humanity of others in our own lives. 

Diversity is who we are. Equity is what we strive to provide. Inclusion is how we get there. 

The other day, I dropped off one of my children at a sleepover. I was talking to the host parent about the incidents in our communities, and she simply asked, “So, what do we do? Where do we start?” I looked over her shoulder at the small group of children who were gathered for the sleepover, giddy over the fact that they hadn’t seen each other since June 18th, our last day of school. They were hugging and smiling and making plans for how late they would stay up that night. Looking deeper, they were children from different racial backgrounds; children from different family structures; children of same-sex parents; children of parents from different racial identities; children from different socioeconomic backgrounds; children with different interests and likes; children from different towns and communities; children with different abilities and disabilities. And, they were all going to spend time together.

I’m not implying that simply bringing together diversity helps our world. Just having diverse groups doesn’t change our world. I am saying that these children — early in their lives — have developed close relationships across identities. They see each other as people. They see each other as humans. They see each other as friends. They see each other’s differences and have come together across, not despite of, these differences. They have parents who have invited children to their homes and who have welcomed them for who they are. They have parents who have committed to driving across three or four towns to encourage friendships. They have parents who are proud of their cultures, families, class, and abilities and who have invited these difference into their lives.

I turned to the host parent and said, “This is where we start.” I’m not sure if she saw the tear roll from my eye. In the midst of writing about so much hate and violence, I had forgotten that this, too — this joy of friendship — exists.

Where will you start? What are you willing to do to invite difference into your life? What must you do in order to create a welcoming and inclusive environment in which others want to join you? 

Below are some resources where you can begin. I hope that these resources springboard you into other areas of literature, social media, conversation, dialogue and experience.

I continue to keep all of the families and communities that are affected by tragedy in our hearts. I hope you will engage in conversations with your children, your family, and your loved ones. And, I hope we commit ourselves to building community, compassion, and connection to all.

With peace,

Liza Talusan, Ph.D., Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

For Parents and Caring Adults

  • An article about how to talk to your kids about race
  • An article of by a mother reflecting on the lessons she hopes to teach her sons about #BlackLivesMatter
  • A StoryCorps about a White mother and a Black son (graphic warning included)
  • A NYT article highlighting structural class inequity and health
  • An article about how we inadvertently send negative messages about race to our children
  • An article about why it is important to talk about Whiteness
  • A TED talk from Bryan Stevenson titled “We Need to Talk About an Injustice”
  • A list of ways that well-meaning allies are counterproductive
  • The manuscript on the impact of racial trauma
  • Video of sports announcer Dale Hansen of WFAA TV as part of Hansen Unplugged talking about the tragedy in Dallas

 

For Students in Lower Division

  • A YouTube version of The Sneetches (by Dr. Seuss)
    • How do you think the different characters felt in this video?
    • Have you ever felt left out? What does that feel like?
    • How did the Sneetches change from the beginning to the end?
    • Do you think characters were peacemakers or troublemakers? What would you have done?
    • What things can we do to promote fairness?
    • How can we include everyone?
  • Activity: Crack eggs together for scrambled eggs, cake or meatloaf. Use brown and white eggs and discuss how even though they are different colors on the outside they are the same on the inside.
    • What type of eggs do we tend to buy for our house? Do you think we can try other eggs? What difference would that make? What kind of lesson do you think that would teach us in this house?
    • How might this example of the eggs relate to our friends or classmates or family?
  • Reading Rainbow (Season 1, Episode 24, free with a Prime membership)
    • “A simple misunderstanding almost kept the boys from becoming friends.” What are some examples where this has happened to you?
    • When you met the two girls, one said, “I just got kind of nervous because I was wondering about all the kinds of things in her house.” How do you feel when you meet someone new? What types of cultural things do we have in our house? What are some examples of cultural items you have seen in other houses?

 

For Students in Middle Division

  • A YouTube version of The Sneetches (by Dr. Seuss)
    • How do you think the different characters felt in this video?
    • Have you ever felt left out? What does that feel like?
    • How did the Sneetches change from the beginning to the end?
    • Do you think characters were peacemakers or troublemakers? What would you have done?
    • What things can we do to promote fairness?
    • How can we include everyone?
  • Video featuring children ages 8-11 talking about their reactions to Dr. King’s speech
    • What is your dream for our country?
    • People in our country experience inequality. What are 3 ideas you have for making our country more equal?

 

For Students in Upper Division

  • Video of sports announcer Dale Hansen of WFAA TV as part of Hansen Unplugged talking about the tragedy in Dallas
    • What are your reactions to this?
    • What is something the announcer said that you have heard before? What was something new?
    • What do you have questions about?
  • A video called “Which games are culturally insensitive”
    • Do you play these games? Have you noticed this occurring?
    • What can we do as a family to help you understand stereotypes?
    • What should we do when we encounter racial stereotypes in things that we enjoy, like video games or comic books or movies?
    • What impact do you think this is having on you? What kind of impact is it having on your friends or peers?
  • A series called “Being 12” which has a few areas addressing race
    • As a family, do you think we talk about race? What kinds of things have you learned from our family about race?
    • What do your peers say about race? Are they aware of racism?
    • If there was one thing you would tell your peers about racism, what would it be?
  • Rising Grade VIII students have summer reading assignments that lean into issues of race. We invite you to ask your child about their reading and to engage in conversations that connect their books to our real-world experience.
    • How does the topic of your book relate to what’s happening on our world right now?
    • What types of solutions are offered in your books?
    • What types of challenges to the characters face that are similar to ones we have heard about in the news?

Liza's Summer Reading List

Hi everyone, 

Liza here! 

I had to take a little hiatus from blogging for a while (more on that, sometime) but wanted to share some of the books that I plan on reading this summer. I don't have any book groups going on, but would be happy to chat or discuss or hear your reflections/feedback  about your experiences with these books! 

It's no secret (because I've written about it) that I've spent most of my post-doctoral life catching up on television shows. I've watched The Walking Dead; Breaking Bad; and now I'm on to Grey's Anatomy. I didn't watch these shows at all during my 5 years in school, so, yes, I started on Season 1, Episode 1 for each of these. And, for this, I am proud. It takes a lot to binge watch THAT much television!

But, reading is something I love and never make enough time to do. I have listened to lots of books on Audible, but there is certainly something different about sitting on the front porch and reading a good book. So, here is my line up for the summer:

The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas

Why I'm reading this: People can't stop talking about this book. I wanted to read it because it was important for me to hear the voice of a young, Black, teenage girl growing up in the age of today's violence. I'm about 3/4 of the way through and can see exactly why. It's written honestly and clearly, and I can feel every roller coaster of emotion coming through the pages. If you work with young people, this is particularly an important read. And, if not, read it anyway. 

 

Hunger by Roxanne Gay

Why I'm reading this: I'm super late to Roxanne Gay. I've heard lots of podcasts and interviews and I simply haven't picked up one of her books. Hunger is described a "memoir of her body" and, as a plus sized woman who is comfortable in her body, I need to read this. I have been body-positive for years now, and I know that I'll find lots of affirmation in this book. 

 

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Why I'm reading this: I bought this book on November 10, 2016 after I woke up to the news about the election. I grabbed a book that I knew would remind me of why I am committed to justice and equity. I started this book and had to put it down -- mostly because my own life/work schedule got the best of me. But, I'm picking it back up this summer.

 

Trans* In College by Z Nicolazzo

Why I'm reading this: In all fairness, I read this book in two sittings a few months ago. But, I was reading it to escape my own difficult realities. I need to read it again to better listen to the stories of Dr. Nicolazzo and the participants in this book. I do not identify as transgender, and this book was important to my own knowledge and practice in education as well as to my own growth as a human being. I highly recommend this book.

 

An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz

Why I'm reading this: Sure, I followed along at what was happening at Standing Rock, but my own ignorance contributes to my limited activism. This book seems heavy and incredibly important. So, it's on my list as I keep trying to push my own limits as to what I know, what I believe, and what I can change.