Out of their Hole.

I went home to my home town last week. A place I spent 18 years of my life, I lived in the same house, on the same street all those years; and my mom still lives in that house on that street. At the end of my road and across the street sits a little white church with a sign out front that reads “God Save America Again.” Now that sign may seem annoying, ignorant even but nothing too out of the ordinary in Small Town America until you know one little thing about the people that enter that church every week. . . those people are known White Supremacists. They had their hey day in the 70’s and have been rather quite since but they are still there at the end of my street in my little hometown.

Now this has become a fun fact I share with people when they ask about my childhood. .. “Oh I lived in a small town, the only really note able thing about it is the white supremacist church.”  People will gasp and ask me how I handled that growing up… you know being a black woman and all.

But the funny thing is that I didn’t handle it, I didn’t have to handle it. They stayed down there on their end of the street and I felt as safe as any child could running around the town until all hours of the night. They never bothered me, there were no confrontations they simply stayed in their little church, probably hating my existence.But you know from inside their space I couldn’t have cared less about what went on inside their heads. Because as long as they stayed inside, some part of me knew that they understood the inappropriateness of what they were feeling. They knew they would be met with such resistance in this time in in America that they idea of coming “out” as what they truly were wouldn’t even cross their minds.

Flash Forward to today— 2017—- Small Town America—-

You would think we would have made progress right? Maybe that little white church has been closed up for the last year, maybe the people all scattered around the country, or with any luck made a friend of a different race and realized it was all just a lie.

Think again my friend, here we are in 2017 and for the first time in my life I felt unsafe in my hometown. The people in the little white church still ignored my presence, but someone else some stranger who has never met me and wouldn’t be able to pick me out of a line up felt they had the right to scream

WHITE POWER

At me out of the window of their car as I walked into Hobby Lobby. 

Wait, let me back up just a minute, yes you read that right. 2017, a northern state, a girl and her friends are walking into Hobby lobby to buy wedding supplies and out of no where a grown-ass man yells

WHITE POWER 

out of his window.

It was like my whole perception of my home town came crashing down like the ideals of democracy around me, this place that had always been safe and protective was now foreign and angry. Angry at me because what? I was born with black skin, because the sun doesn’t turn me an angry shade of red, because my hair reaches for the stars while yours falls flat, or angry because a black man in power did something the white men before or after him could not. .. turned so many aspects of the country around.

But there I was furious and hyperventilating in the hobby lobby parking lot, and as much as my friends wanted to help to tell me “anger and fear is what they want.”  or “Don’t let them get to you.”

They truly had no idea how that moment felt; eating away at my insides as I contemplated the true meaning of that statement; White Power . 

And over and over again  I came back to the same thing: 

These people have always existed, there hasn’t been a magical time in the last 40 years when there were no white supremacists in America, they have been stewing and hiding for 40 years waiting for their opportunity to come out of the shadows. Waiting for someone to validate their feelings again, that look all these dark skinned humans whom we have oppressed for hundreds of years have someone done us wrong feeling.

However over the last 40 years they saw the world do the exact opposite they saw a black man become president and the world embrace him they saw his wife become beloved and they had to continue to hide in their holes, angrily sipping on Bud Light and ranting about “if the confederacy had won” But something has shifted; they began to climb their way out of their holes, see the sun and once again think that they deserve so much more than I do simply because of the color of my skin. They were given the chance to once again be validated enough in their feelings that those nasty words; White Power aren’t just uttered in their Klandestine (yes the K is intentional) meeting but rather they have seen the power and they are welcomed back into the fold. 

And this is what truly made me the most sick about that sad, angry man who yelled at me that day. Not that he felt that way, because I am obviously not going to be the person to change his mind. But that he felt strong enough, that enough people would support him and that I was little enough so far below him that he could once again yell it in the streets.Because when these people are strong enough to climb out of their holes, when there are enough people in power that support them that tell them they will fix all their problems by “building a wall” that assure them the wrong doings they perceived against the White Man are legitimate then the real question is

Did the last 40 years even happen, or should I start looking for the colored drinking fountain.

I did not come to play with you hoes. . I cam to slay Bitch.

I am obsessed with this song. . .

I am obsessed with the beat

I am obsessed with the eery sound as the beat drops in the video

I am obsessed with the way Bey’s hair flows out of this car. . .

I am obsessed with the funeral procession standing outside of the house. .

I am obsessed with the way that this song has inspired such controversy in such a short time

I am obsessed with the way that it is so “Unapologetically Black”

I am obsessed with the way my Facebook Feed is so full of the Queen Bey. . .

I have seen everything from comparisons to the KKK to praise for the all reigning Queen Bey,

And all I have to say to them is YASSS QUEEN!

I wish someone was there to tell me that they like My baby hair with Baby hair and Afro’s, so then maybe I wouldn’t have been slicking my edges down just to hide my kinks

I am obsessed with how I feel so Proud to be Black when I listen to it, people say it is such a Black song, it puts Beyonce’s blackness in your face and guess what, there is nothing wrong with that, no one should be asked to apologize for that!

And let’s just look at Blue . .. that girl Slay’s!

Slay Bey, Slay girl!

That Ghetto School. . .

“I am not sending my baby back to that ghetto school.”

Says the black mom of the two black sons whose first names literally start with Mister and Sir, followed by regular old first names, no hyphens, no spaces, just Mister(Capitol Letter) name, all one word. Ravene Simone would say that she would not hire those boys simply based on their names. This Mom in her gorgeous red wig with her 3rd baby daddy sitting next to her, she tells me she “don’t want to send her babies back to the ghetto school 6 blocks up the road.

And when she says ghetto she means, Black

This whole conversation came up because her son will soon be exiting out of my intensive needs special education classroom which will result in a possible return to home or neighborhood school. This Mom would rather keep her son in a classroom that is academically holding him back and socially labeling him, ‘different’ then send him back to the other school, that is literally 5 minutes away.

Now lets be clear, I am NOT knocking this mom, she is looking out for those babies, when her son qualified for my class two years ago his siblings were grandfathered into our school so they could all stay together. Our school with the high performing test scores, the funding, the 30% free and reduced lunch, and the white students. Her sons get all of the privilege that comes along with that.

I am NOT knocking this Mom, I am knocking the system where the majority of the minority or low income students at my school are MY students, the ones who get placed there by the district for my programing, the students whose test scores don’t affect the school anyway. I am knocking the system that makes this mom tell her kids that school where all the kids go that look like them isn’t good enough. I am knocking the system that make this students brothers teacher want to push them back to their home school, because he is the problem child in her class.

In the 1960’s this school, in this neighborhood where I work was the center of a desegregation case in front of the Supreme Court. Bussing went in place, riots were had, an overwhelming number of the White students in the district were moved to suburban schools. In 1996 the bussing decree ended and students went back to attending their neighborhood schools, but the white students did not return. The majority race in my district is no longer Caucasian, but you wouldn’t know that in certain schools, the 30% are highly concentrated, in schools like mine.

So now over 40 years after the Supreme Court ordered that we all “get along” and at least go to school together, what has changed?

Well if you ask that Mom to tell you about that ghetto school down the road, you will learn. . . Not Much

Kelsi Rae

When God Moves you

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We have this time at House Church where we all go around the circle and share what God is doing in your life at the moment. I have always resisted this piece of the time together, why does it have to be what God is doing in my life, when did my free will and decision making go out the window and I become a puppet, this is not the kind of God I believed in.

I always wondered if maybe God had just never asked or pushed me to do anything is maybe I was resistant to this piece of time because God had thrown me aside long ago, before I had even come to know him and decided I wasn’t worth talking to, just let her make her own decisions, she values her free will so much let her see where that gets her. I found myself envying the people who could come with this profound things that God was calling them to do, and even the non-profound ones, the everyday ordinary askings of God, because that meant that they were feeling something that I was not in on. I did not have the key to this piece of God. Or maybe I had been fooling myself for the last year and a half maybe this faith that I had concocted was just a facade and this is why I had never heard from God, because I truly didn’t believe in him

So when this time came on Wednesday I thought for a minute and I felt something! I mean I really felt that there was something I should share.

In the last month or so I have had the feeling, aching, gnawing feeling that I need to stand up, I need to inject myself into the conversation about Race and compassion.  I cannot stand in neutral and not disturb people so that I don’t make waves.

But now how do I do this? What way can I demonstrate grace and love in this journey.

And then something amazing happened. after I shared the way that God was moving in my life, two other people in my house church shared the revelation that they have been feeling this same calling each with variations rooted in their own lives but with this same racial base this same love of many cultures and the desire to spread this and get involved in the changes occurring in our city. There have been twice as many gang related killings in the Near North East corner of Denver in the last 5 months than all of 2014, we discussed the boxing in syndrome that is happening in this corner of Denver pushing groups together as “white ladies with strollers” take over more and more of the historically Black neighborhood.

I think this is what God looks like, finding ways to make multiple people have that same gut wrenching feeling that they a new direction in their life. This is how God makes his presence known, maybe it isn’t this supernatural voice that lets you know that you are supposed to do this and not do that you are supposed to make whatever it is a part of your life in a real way.And then giving you a sign, something that pushes that deeper, like the shared feeling with others in a common place. That movement of an entire House Church towards social justice.

There is no reason that the three of us, from vary different ages, walks of life, and ethnicities to all be pushed towards this calling in Denver Colorado, in this one room on a Wednesday night, but we are, we are all feeling this ache to help the rest of the world, to bring other people into this space and that must be God.

This is what happens when God moves you, it is not a loud speaker but a whisper.

❤ Kelsi Rae

An Open Letter to the Bad Kids. . .

This goes out to the student who sat down today and with a straight face told me, ” I am a bad kid.” When I asked why he thought that he told me that is what the assistant principle said. This comes after the assumption that this student took his Ipad home, because there was a picture of his mother on it, when in fact he was just smart enough to figure out how to Google his mothers name. Something the administration couldn’t figure out, when this fact was pointed out to them they refused to apologize to him, 10 year olds don’t deserve apologizes do they?

This goes out to you. . . because someone has to tell you

I want you to know that you are smart, and funny, and most likely way to witty and creative for people to handle. That you are an outlier not because you are bad but because they can’t hold you down, you do not assimilate to the classroom culture and you shouldn’t let that discourage you. Keep it up.

I want you to know that you can do the work in your classroom, that sometimes you just want to demonstrate the little power that you have in anyway that you can, While this may seem like a show of strength to you, by not doing your work you are only hurting yourself. Demonstrate your strength with your knowledge.

You need to know that compared to most of your suburban, educated, mostly white teachers you are a foreign entity. The stories you tell about the life you have to live outside of school probably astounds them. No matter how many classes you take on being culturally responsive, when you watch a 10 year old take care of his little brother and sister day after day, walk them to class, make sure that they get picked up. When you hear the stories about the 6 extra people living in your apartment it is hard to handle, and some people handle it better than others. Some people see your potential your grit, and resiliency that you show just for showing up at school each day and producing some work. Some people see how these skills will make you more marketable in the work force, some people will hone these skills with you and teach you how to regulate all of the many emotions coursing through your brain at anytime.

But some people will see a problem to be fixed, they will see a situation that must be diminished and overcome. They will see you as a deficit already, at 10 years old they will wash away all of your potential. And because of that they will write you off, they will call you a bad kid and keep a running record of your grievances in their mind. They will let your get away with not doing the work, not because they care about your situation, but because they think that is all you can do.

Accept this challenge! Rise to this occasion, to prove them wrong!

When those few teachers yell at you and sit you down one on one and make you do the work. When those teachers allow you to sit in their rooms for hours on end when you have been removed from another classroom. When you think that teacher couldn’t be any harder on you, just know it is out of love.

These are the teachers that know what you can do, they yell at you because it isn’t acceptable for you to not do the work they won’t accept anything less than the best from you, because to allow the circumstances outside of school to affect would be doing all of your amazing qualities a disservice. They are yelling and not taking your shit because they love you.

They know just when to give a little to not push to hard, but to still get the most work done.

My worst fear is that you will adopt that label of a “bad kid” as the truth. As I have already seen you doing as an amazing 10 year old. There is absolutely nothing inherently bad about you, sometimes you make bad choices, but someone has to teach you why they are bad, the choices you make are not you!

I want you to know that SI SE PUEDE! No matter what anyone, even yourself tells you. You can do this. You can overcome a system that was never designed to benefit you. but at its core, at the root of it was designed to keep you out of it. This system is yours, you are the future.

And the only thing Bad about you is how Bad Ass, you are going to make this world when you show everyone what you are made of.

❤ Kelsi Rae

The insights of my children.

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I have no children, or I have anywhere from 32-100 on any given day, just depending on your definition of “your child” If your definition falls in the you conceived this child and gave birth to them, or even adopted them into your family and you feed and cloth them on a daily basis, then I have a whopping 0 children. But if you define your children based on the number of children you nurture, care for, find yourself staying up all night thinking and praying for, hoping more for their future than for the grade they get on some standardize test, if your children are defined by the amount of love you hold for them and how much potential influence you have over their life, than I have upwards of 35 children or more. I happen to define my children based on the latter.

I see these children for 8 hours a day 5 days a week, caring for their social and academic well being, I find myself thinking of them on my nights and weekends, to the point I was at the zoo taking pictures of the snakes, which I hate, because I knew they would motivate one of my children. I see an opportunity to teach them in every moment of my day, even when they are not with me I am thinking of ways to incorporate things into our lessons. I wish that I had more than 8 hours with each of them so that I could learn the intricacies of their personality all of the things that get pushed aside during the academically driven day. And while I am not say that reading, writing, math, science and social studies are not important, they are but I want to truly know all of my children as well. And if that does not qualify my to feel just like 1/4 of a mother to all of my students, than I guess I am in the wrong profession, but I don’t think that is true.

But than something happens everyday my students teach me something, they teach me how to operate some form of technology, they teach me about the ways that social relationships in fourth grade have not changed that much in 15 years and who the stars of the new Five Nights at Freddy’s game is, ( For more on that see this post https://myhairenvy.wordpress.com/2015/02/13/what-can-you-teach-ms-magisano/)  But every once in a while, a student says something that makes me truly stop and think, how are you in fourth grade and why does our world make you so acutely aware of these things at such a young age.

Today was one of those days. One of my few Black boy students was getting into a disagreement with another student who happened to be Mexican, both boys told each other to Shut up and I stepped in to tell them that was not respectful language and we do not treat our classmates that way. The Black student looked me dead in the eye and said, ” I am just getting pay back for what he said to me.” So with this student in is often better to just give it to him straight, without the teacher mumbo jumbo surrounding it.

So I stated, ” Who is going to get in trouble if you get payback, you or him.”

Him: ” We both should get in trouble, but I will get sent to prison and he will go to school.”

** This is where the conversation took a serious turn I was stunned jaw hanging open when this occurred**

He continued to state that he would go to jail, but when he got out he would find the other student and wack him ( I do believe he meant I will hit him, he is not in the 1960’s Italian mob telling me he is going to kill him)

We had an entire conversation around this, how he thought it was more likely he would get sent to prison while the other guy would get away with it. This comes after two separate instances with this student where a student has used racist language with him, he retaliated and he was sent to the principles office while the other student suffered no consequences. At one point the teachers on duty did not even know who the other student was, these racist statements were not seen in any way as a problem that merited a talking to with that child.

So yes this student is probably right, this comes from a student who is growing up in a world where Black Americans make up 30% of the population but they make up 60% of the incarcerated population. According to this article http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/07/18/chart-of-the-week-the-black-white-gap-in-incarceration-rates/

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my student as well as other Black men are 6 times more likely to be incarcerated in their lifetime than white males. Given these statistics are comparing White males and Black Males and no statistics in this particular study comparing Hispanic Americans’ from other work I have done the numbers would fall somewhere in the middle of the two.

But for me the sentiment is the same, why is my 4th grade student aware of these problems with our society, does he even realize he is voicing the concerns of many others much older than he is? probably not.

He probably feels like these things are isolated to this elementary school setting,

He probably has not even started to think outside of these walls that are supposed to be a safe and nurturing space for him, a space where all of his teachers claim him as a child, where they all feel like they are 1/4th of his Mother, and if that was the case these things would bother them as much as they do me, they would all be calling for a change in the system, a change from a system that systematically creates the school to prison pipeline for these students, that funnels them through till they are 18 and they can become a ward to the state, they would be outcrying to the district that has a 60% disproportionality rate of Black males in the emotional disability centers.

But that is not happening, instead I am having a much to mature conversation with my fourth grader, with one of my children who has way to much insight for his own good, trying to get him to see that this is not the way it has to be.

❤ Kelsi Rae

Neutral is not Neutral.

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Neutral, that is a good place to be right? When I am neutral I cannot be held accountable, I am not saying anything one way or another. I firmly believe in nothing.

I can claim neutral for anything right? I am neutral about that girls jeans, I mean they don’t affect my life one way or another, I am neutral about the weather today, I can put on a lite jacket, I am neutral about the presidential debate, I mean my little voice isn’t going to make a difference anyway. I am neutral about the racial gaps in education, I mean I am making the difference in my scope of influence but I cannot change the entire world. . .I am neutral. .  no one can fault me for that right?

WRONG! 

Someone told me recently . . .

Neutral is not Neutral; prior to this explicit statement I had been proud of my many neutral stances.

I had often shied away from an uncomfortable conversation or political stance in order to remain in the neutral group. This group could not be held accountable for the actions of the extremes right? This statement and discussion following truly made me see that a neutral stance does not separate me from the issue. Many times since this began I have found myself leaning into the uncomfortable conversations

I have found myself being the one to bring up the,” That could have sounded racist conversations,’ with friends. I have found myself, blogging about the challenges that are faced in urban schools; digging into how uncomfortable it is, becoming strongly not neutral.

The farther I find myself from neutral the more I find myself wanting to engage people in these discussions, find a way to make other educators other people see that none of us our neutral and that we cannot remain neutral if we want all of our students and children to succeed.

Part of this pull has made me realize that if you are neutral you are truly promoting the majority. Your neutrality does not affect the majority but the minority will see if as a strike of offense. If you do not stand up for something then you automatically say that you agree with the status quo.

This hit me with the #BlackLivesMatter campaign. If you sit back and say nothing, the majority does not care that you essentially don’t care about Black lives, because hell. . neither do they.

But those people standing up, fighting for equality for people of all races, they see your neutrality as equally offensive as the active participants against them, If you stand by and watch these people be abused and oppressed you are oppressing them, by not taking a stance. Nothing is neutral, you are not Switzerland, you cannot stay out of the uncomfortable places without making a statement.

If you simply stand by, you are not showing people that you are neutral, you are showing them that you are either not strong enough to take a stand or that you agree with the majority.

So find something that you believe in. . anything really and take a stand!

Push into the discomfort, it will make the world a better place!

❤ Kelsi Rae

Color Blind or Color Brave?

I grew up in a small town, and by small I mean white, and by white I mean, known for its white supremacy church and ideology.

I grew up knowing all of the minority members of my community on one hand, and by that I mean 2. Me and a boy in my grade and we were both the only black children of white single mothers, didn’t exactly scream cultural pride. I grew up trying to mute my association with the Black community, a community I admittedly knew very little about. This was not the fault of my mother, who helped me with all my self driven research projects, into the old negro baseball teams and deciding at age 13 that I was going to go to a historically black college which died as I got into high school and realized all of the historically Black colleges were states away.  She did all of my research with me and appreciated all of my curiosity, but she just did not have any personal knowledge, so I fell farther and farther from my black roots. I was one of 9 out of 1900 black students in my high school, and in college the only black students I knew either played football or basketball, And at this point I was already not comfortable enough around people that “looked like me” to approach any of them.

Now don’t get me wrong, I dated black guys, the majority of guys I dated in college were black, but my real long term relationships have always been with white guys, as is my future husband. I can remember multiple occasions when the different guys I would date told me that they liked, or in some cases disliked the fact that I acted like a white girl. So thats what I became, the white black girl. If anyone even knows what that means? Well I do, I knew exactly what people would mean when they say it, and I internalized it. I became more nervous to enter a room of black people and disappoint them, than to be the only black person in the room.

So now I have entered a grad program that repeatedly tells us about being culturally responsive and we look and look at data and discrimination, and the disporpotionality of minorities in drop out rates, and the school to prison pipeline and suspensions. And now I am here, wanting to be color brace.

So what does this mean to me? I need to embrace the color of my skin I need to be the person that will stand up for what I believe in. I don’t want to hide behind the “i don’t know” response.  I don’t want to live in the “white black girl” stereotype. I have made changes in my life to do these with the people around me, when I am offended by an off hand comment I now call people out on it, I hope to educate people about how things are perceived and not accuse or castrate people.

I need to think about how I am going to represent myself in order to create value in the diversity for my students, and for the people in my community at large. I don’t think being color brave means saying everyone is the same, I think it means, everyone is different, and that is wonderful.

When I think being color brave I can remember being in high school reading Huckleberry Finn, as of course, the only member of the black community in English class, being asked in front of the entire class why does the word Nigger still offend black people? The class continued to tell me that, we needed to just get over it because it doesn’t mean anything and it hasn’t in like 100 years. At the time being a 16 year old girl I curled into myself, I muted the feelings that were coming up until I ran into the hallway, found a corner, and just cried. At the time I could not pinpoint the feeling I did not know what was happening but those assumptions, those kind of conversations should never happen in a classroom.

One person is not the representation of a race, one person is a representation of themselves. So to be Color Brace I will stand up for my students, I will ensure that they don’t have to feel that, at least in my class and that they are prepared to have those conversations when people, I will teach my students to see color, to embrace color and to embrace people. And if that is my contribution to the evolution of society if I can bring students into the world that understand the differences people bring and why we should embrace color and change then I will be happy.

I will create a small piece of society that is not afraid to talk about race, that is not afraid to embrace their identity, If I can make sure that one person does not ever mute their identity like I did, then I will have succeeded, I will be brave!

“The unexamined life is not worth living”-Socrates.  “The examined life is painful.”

❤ Kelsi Rae