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Creating Counter-Narratives: How Black Teacher-Leaders Create a Space to Exhale

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Guest post by Stephanie M. Curenton, PhD, co-author of Don't Look Away: Embracing Anti-Bias Classrooms, and special education teacher, Linda Mindaye, about how creating counter-narratives has empowered them, as Black teacher-leaders, to create a space to exhale in the wake of widespread civil unrest after the killing of George Floyd.

 

Exhausted. Afraid. Angry. These were all feelings that consumed us the week of George Floyd’s heinous murder at the hands of a government official. As if the recent murders of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery were not enough, as if the way in which COVID-19 was decimating the Black community was not enough—no, that was not enough. Even George Floyd’s death was not enough, because within fewer than three weeks, Rayshard Brooks was also murdered by police. The appetite of this beast that is American Racism is never sated.

Our brethren were murdered by the police. The police. Those publicly funded government officials who have been granted discretion to use deadly force whenever they deem it necessary, even when no one is threatened or even when police themselves trespass and invade, as in the case with Breonna. They can kill at will, often without consequence. And in the case with Ahmaud, they allowed local citizens to act on their behalf. Yes, it was all so exhausting—we felt suffocated.

It wasn’t just the murders that were suffocating. It was also the stories being spun about the protests. The news media was preoccupied with the sensationalism of the looting and rioting that happened at night—often long after the peaceful protests were over for the day. The news was weaving a tale of Blacks as being violent and belligerent, as if to add fodder to those who justify the denigration of our humanity and who deem it warranted to discard our Black bodies whenever necessary to main the status quo.

Our heads were spinning from these news stories that dripped with racism and oozed anti-Blackness. We were choking on the lies—centuries’ worth of lies—that had been told about Black people, lies that were still being told even though people were able to watch the video clips with their own eyes. The pain and the rage were so big that we could not swallow them.

Yet, within a few days of George Floyd’s death, Stephanie had to be ready to face her Master’s students, most of whom were elementary, middle, or high school teachers and school leaders during the day while taking classes at night. How could she pull herself together enough to face them and their questions? The majority of the students were White and would be seeking to learn how they could be allies in the Black Lives Matter movement. How could she begin to prepare them to do the work to win this long battle that we have been fighting in America for so long? How could she encourage them to believe that, together, we could change the story?  

One of Stephanie’s students, Linda Mindaye, a fellow Black woman, emailed to share that she was also feeling exhausted, afraid, and angry. She explained that after she taught her high school students and helped them emotionally navigate the crisis, she had nothing left in the evenings for our class. It was only through writing her poetry that she could re-narrate us as Black people and garner a sense of strength that would allow her to breathe. She is using her poetry to reclaim our story and depict our Blackness as resilient, steadfast, and divine. 

 

Blackness ALWAYS Been Kin To Magic 

©Linda Mindaye, Boston MA

 

This world has a way of making us

Disappear into nothing but

Punch lines

Or

Hashtags

Or

Gravestones

Something to be made examples of

As how not to be

 

For every time, we’ve had to defend an insecurity

To an unforgiving world

There is one more star in the sky

That earned her shine

The light we set our dreams on

 

For every time, we’ve had to swallow an identity “othered”

Because being alive matters

The moon wears a new crater

 

How magical we must be to have

the moon as

our ally

And the stars on

our front line

We live in constellations 

Here is to us.

Writing our own stories

in our own voices

with our own hands

standing on our own two feet

 

©2020 Linda Mindaye. All rights reserved. Used with permission. 

 

Creating counter-narratives allows us to see ourselves and reclaim our identity, and Linda retells the story of our Blackness in a way that empowers us to breathe. She depicts Blackness as both earthly and spiritual, boundless and unlimited. Black people’s ability to create community and sustain our joy against a Beast that has been built to destroy us makes us magical. Our collective Blackness is magical, and we disavow any stories that narrate us as anything less.

Counter-narrating is the power to create and retell our own stories. It is powerful—the power to speak, to promote healing, and to transgress the silence, the dehumanization, and the racism. Our stories allow us to speak against the injustices and retell the rich heritage of resistance, tenacity, and grit pulsing through our Black veins quickened by our eternal spirit that soars above and within the constellations. 

We live through our stories because they enable us to wipe away the countless tears, to stand firm, and to continue the fight. In our quiet times, our periods of rest and solitude, when we confront our vulnerable emotions and recognize the depths of our wounds, our stories provide us with the solace to restore not only our humanity but also our spirits. 

May the light that is within us continue to flow through our bodies as we exhale.

 

 


About the Authors

 

Stephanie Curenton, PhD, co-author of Gryphon House book Don’t Look Away: Embracing Anti-Bias Classrooms, is a tenured associate professor in the Wheelock College of Education and Human Development at Boston University. She is director of the Ecology of School Readiness Lab.

Linda Mindaye, special education teacher at Boston Collegiate Charter School, is an experienced social researcher with a demonstrated history of working in the primary and secondary education industry. She earned her bachelor’s degree at Clark University.

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