It’s Not My First Call with This Councilwoman and I’m Positive It Won’t Be the Last

This member of Nashville’s Metro Council does not run from a controversial subject or hesitate to challenge her opposition, or even vote according to our preconceived notions. I’ve received two calls in as many years from Councilwoman Tanaka Vercher challenging my social media posts.  The topic of the second call, just this morning, is concerned with a late-filed memorializing resolution introduced by Councilman-at-Large Bob Mendes in response to the events in Charlottesville, VA over the past weekend.

You see, Bob Mendes, a White male, is the author of an effort to stand against white supremacy and attempt to separate Nashville from the nation’s most recent display of racism (as he explains in this blog post). Tanaka Vercher, a Black female, voted against (and ultimately, delayed) the effort and naturally, I was thrown for a gigantic loop and tweeted as much. 

No Email Dialogue for This Elected Official

In this morning’s call, the Navy veteran acknowledged my tweets and proceeded to calmly (and confidently) explain her opposition to the small, but optically vital gesture toward denouncing hate. Vercher offered many reasons for slowing down the resolution, but the one that resonated with me is the attempt to put lipstick on a pig (my words).

I wrote a blog post two days ago expressing my anger, not at Charlottesville, but the response to Charlottesville. American citizens expressing utter shock at the sight of tiki torches carried by a uniformed gang wearing white polos, khaki pants, and red MAGA hats. But, for many, Charlottesville is just another day in the land of perpetual and institutional racism. What has shaken me to my core is the cosmetic efforts to detach and decry the physical representation of the more nefarious and clandestine racism many of us deal with daily. 

After our phone conversation, the councilwoman unwittingly forced me to reflect on my own feelings (which surprisingly aligns with her thinking) and question the intent and expectation of the resolution. Councilwoman Vercher’s quote in the Tennessean, “This is too serious of a matter to not have actionable legislation and what was proposed tonight doesn’t address the racial disparities that we have in the city.”

But It’s a Resolution, Councilwoman. Right?

In our conversation, Vercher listed ways Black and Brown Nashvillians are constantly discriminated against, noting specifically “our schools, unsafe working conditions for certain populations, and the paltry percentage of minority contracts awarded by local government (2.88%).” Further, “we are responsible for establishing the narrative within our communities and these issues were here long before Charlottesville.

Honestly, I don’t know what I would have done in Councilwoman Vercher’s position. What does one do with the responsibility of an entire city while trying to navigate personal feelings about a system setup to work against you? Is she obligated to support feel-good efforts that seek to give our city a pass when you know the real work lies outside the resolution and within our workplaces, churches, and social networks?

It wasn’t fair for me to judge her actions without first pausing to think that she, too, might be struggling with our current state of affairs. Whether we like it or not, she voted her conscious over political expediency. How easy could it have been to reject a resolution rejecting white supremacy? 

So while the halting of the resolution doesn’t help those looking for ways to respond to the tiki torches, it does force each of us to look beyond Charlottesville and take an assessment of our own back yard. 

And with that, I’ll have a cup of tea and wait for the next call from the distinguished councilwoman from southeast Nashville.

tea

Why I’m Not Joining You in Protest of Charlottesville

I probably read hundreds of angry, tear-filled tweets denouncing the physical manifestation of white supremacy in Charlottesville. My timeline was filled with Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Jesus. Women and men, mostly white, in sheer disbelief that 2017 looks like bygone centuries, a time only experienced through history books. Lady Gaga, the “woke” millennial superstar lighting the Twitter-path with #ThisIsNotUs and her followers falling in line.

These are the things currently informing my space. The space built long before the organized domestic terrorist protest at the University of Virginia. Decades before the homegrown terrorist rammed his car through a parade of civil-seekers killing Heather Heyer. Years before Jocques Clemmons (Nashville), Eric Brown, Philando Castille, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Trayvon…

This crazy space that occupies America’s view of white and wrong through a monochromatic lens. Where a peaceful, non-threatening stand (or knee) for one’s rights leads to dire and sometimes fatal consequences. This funky space contains the knowledge that for some a traffic stop is a mild inconvenience while others must deploy life-saving respectability tactics even before the officer’s advance toward the car.

This sorrowful space also includes acts of discrimination against one’s social standing. The haves versus the have nots. Private education over public education. Zip codes. We suffer from both racial and economic supremacy.

Because in my eyes Charlottesville is more about the rest of us than the wilting madmen.

So, I’m not with you in this.

Because nothing is enough and everything is too much.

I don’t want your sympathy, your best Brainyquote, or well-worded passage highlighted from some highfalutin book that’s really intended to represent your intellectual prowess.

I’m not interested in your safe platitudes, stale calls for kumbaya, and short-sighted disavowing of one supremacy while reaping the benefits of another.

I’m not with you.

Because this is us. This is America. I can’t—with your lack of acceptance, ignoring the generational cries of black mamas, condemning slavery yet slow to recognize its transformation into mass incarceration, coddling the public school system for personal benefit even as it perpetuates a cycle of poverty for black and brown children.

Recognize your dissonance. It’s easy to stand against injustice through memes. Ask yourself a few questions:

  • Who is in your circle?
  • Who do you invite into your home?
  • Who do you invite to your place of worship?
  • What’s the complexion of your staff?
  • Do you desire to socialize only with those that match your ideology, money, and education?

Charlottesville is us. Always has been and will be for the foreseeable future. And because too many acknowledge problems only when blasted in the face with tiki torches and others remain quiet to protect or further one’s own station, it’s best I go solo on this one.

Don’t mind me I’m just a blogger in a weird, painful, bitter space. I’ll try to do better, I promise. See meme below.

This is me trying to do better

 

Guest Blog: White People, Time to Get Louder

In my most recent post You Wanna Fight About Education? Meet Me Outside…  For Coffee, I wrote of olive branches and efforts to achieve peace over coffee. I wrote that our children deserve our best efforts.

Published just a few hours before the Charlottesville devastation, I’ve since had little to say. Since invaded by images of fearful white men wielding fiery torches that match their ire for anyone not fearful white men and the women who cover them. My anger is too raw to share –immature and, possibly, irrational. No invitations to coffee are in motion at the present time. I need a moment. 

Incidentally, I’m grateful for friends like Erika Sanzi who recognize their own privilege and uses it to inform privileged others while spreading love to those in her world personally affected by the effects of a racist America. 


White America, Time to Get Louder

by Erika Sanzi

There is a special kind of cognitive dissonance when on the very day I head away for a few long awaited days on a lake in Maine, Charlottesville, Virginia is under siege by white supremacists and anti-Semitic people, mostly men, who have us all wondering how this can be happening in 2017.

Except it isn’t all of us who are wondering. It’s those of us who haven’t been the victims of discrimination because of the color of our skin who are most surprised. Black and brown folks have been telling us forever that they see and feel racism all the time. And while we may have believed them, we didn’t have to see it. Or feel the pain of it. Or explain it to our children as a way of protecting them from harm.

You see, I can quite literally take a vacation from racism because I’m a white mom of three who lives in a suburb and drives a minivan. I get polite warnings when I have a tail light out or make an illegal left hand turn. I reach into the glove compartment or under my seat while the police approach my car and to this day, no one has ever escalated or screamed or pointed a gun in my face. I get profiled as someone who isn’t a threat. Or dangerous.

I did nothing to deserve that profile.

I can’t think of a more quintessential example of privilege than being able to take a vacation from the hate that is on on the march in Charlottesville this weekend. And the truth is, I don’t want to stop thinking about it. In fact, I want to make more people think about it. The images coming out of Virginia are a huge wake up call to all of us who haven’t raised our voices enough, as white Americans, to condemn and fight against the hate that others who look like us feel emboldened to spew in the public square and on television in 2017. The hatred that would drive someone to drive a car, full speed, into a crowd of people (photo below). We are so quick to rail against ISIS without a second thought so how is this any different? ISIS plows vehicles into crowds of people too. ISIS hates Christians and these white supremacists in Virginia hate Jews. And Blacks.

Yet there is a silence this weekend that is deafening from those who have been so loud after other forms of protests and acts of terror. Those who couldn’t stop talking about Colin Kaepernick taking a knee during the national anthem now seem to have nothing to say. How can that be?

I don’t pretend to know the answers but I do know that white America must be a much louder, braver, and stronger force in standing up to the hate and racism that has always existed and is now bubbling up into public view where we can’t pretend we don’t see it.

Let’s not avert our eyes. Let’s not try to explain it away. Let’s have the courage to call it what it is even when the moment is an uncomfortable one. Let’s come together to put pressure on our lawmakers to actually take action that will begin to chip away at the systems and institutions that continue to discriminate against our fellow Americans.

And then let’s imagine how lonely and betrayed we’d feel it were us and our families who were under attack and nobody – not even our friends – showed up to stand beside us and fight back.

We’ve got to be better. Let’s start now.

And let’s say a prayer for Charlottesville too.

You Wanna Fight About Education? Meet Me Outside… For Coffee

I was one of those people. You know, the obnoxious, self-righteous tweeter who tries her darnedest to pack a power punch of snark in 140 characters or less. Chasing the high that comes from that little blue circle with a number in a center. The bigger the number the greater the validation, amirite?

No. It’s exhausting and worse you end up emotionally bloody without reward or solution. At my core, I do not like conflict. But I detest what I perceive to be injustices, particularly as it relates to education, upon those who can’t or don’t know how to fight for themselves. Real talk, I can’t think of one knock down, drag out Twitter battle that led to a positive outcome.

Unless you think getting blocked and unfollowed is a positive outcome. This seems to happen only after I’ve defended myself. It’s troubling to think that an adult believes they can say whatever they want to me and I not respond. For instance, just this past weekend, a precious Rhode Island ELL teacher (I tagged her because I’m still a little petty), who often trolls my tweets, called me ignorant among other things and when I asked about her obsession with me she blocked me. 

 

girlbye
Still a little petty. And I like to channel Beyonce’ whenever possible.

 

I’ve also been disconnected from many former Nashville friends who don’t like or buy into my “choice” advocacy. Some think I’m bought by Ed Reformers while others think I have an ax to grind because of a certain school board member. Go ahead and question my motives, just don’t mess with the babies or their families.

And therein lies my Twitter transformation. I’m out here for mamas, daddies, and grandparents who are doing what they do for their children. What’s insane is that most of the people I’m targeting are not even on Twitter. Talk about an exercise in futility!

Olive Branch

While I’m not looking to restore social media frenemies on the whole, I am looking at one such former Twitter-ship with local blogger Thomas Weber, author of Dad Gone Wild. During last year’s school board elections, the two of us went head-to-head leading to our Twitter break-up. However, in the months since, Weber has experienced a bit of a transformation of his own.

I say pivotal because the election was quickly framed as being the defenders of public education vs. the privateers. People quickly fell into one camp or the other with defenders making the argument that nothing worse could befall our school district than to be taken over by private interests, while the privateers made the argument that the status quo had to go. Much to my chagrin, I must admit that I quickly grabbed a uniform and joined a team. And for that, I owe an apology to Jane Grimes-Meneely, Miranda Christy, Jackson Miller, and Thom Druffel.”

It takes a big person to publicly admit wrongs, extend an apology, and announce an ideological shift, of sorts — all this following a highly publicized battle where he played a significant role.

Cooler Heads…

But in recent months, I’ve detected a mutual respect for each other’s platform to inform our respective target audiences. He has not been shy about referring to my blog (usually with disclaimer “we don’t always agree, but”) and I have zero problems with what he publishes these days. Weber admits he is kinder to the choice crowd in Nashville even as he remains relentlessly loyal to traditional public schools. I get it, I love MNPS, too, but I’ve curtailed that devotion for the sake of the kids.

Still, it appears that Thomas and I have more in common than that on which we disagree. So, maybe it’s time swallow our pride, erase the lines in the dirt, and lift our Twitter blocks. Or maybe just have coffee?

Our children deserve better than what we’ve given them. They deserve adults who fight poverty, underperforming schools, racism, and classism. Not adults who fight each other.

Looking Back at Nashville’s First Week of School With a Tear and Smile

Getting 88,000 children back into the swing of the things seems like an impossible task. I’ve been in the belly of the beast as Central Office staffers work feverishly throughout the summer in preparation for THE DAY.

But it’s the principals, the superheroes and sheroes working throughout the summer readying the building, preparing class assignments, hiring staff, working on time management, wrangling with the budget, practicing for THE DAY, and the list goes on. They make it look easy.

Unfortunately, no school district of this size could possibly experience a perfect launch. In addition to minor hiccups, there were also events completely out of the district’s control, unimaginable losses. Thankfully, we know how to Nashville! Our community is good like that.

Hats off to schools leaders, teachers, staff, families and the stars of the show – the students!

A special shout to Mayor Megan Barry who after having lost her own child, spent her first day back to work loving on other’s children. Little wonder why the school week ended as strong as it began.

REMINDERS:

Congratulations and here’s to an excellent year!

 

More #BacktoSchool reading:

The Night Before School and All Through the House

Back to School Nashville: Parents Got 99 Problems…The Type of School Ain’t One

Trying to Stay Woke 

Back to School Nashville: Mia Howard and the Power of Problem Solving

A Lack Of Self-Care Got Me Fired From My First Teaching Job

Trying to Stay Woke in a World Where Decisions Are Made and Reversed in Blink of An Eye

In the book Blink by Malcolm Gladwell, the author offers an ocean of research to support the notion that our best decisions can actually be made within the blink of an eye. That our very first thought or feeling, usually fleeting, is, in fact, the best and most appropriate response.

But, more often than not, we overthink the thing, whatever it is. We Google, consult with our friends, call upon experts, all the while doubting ourselves by researching it to death only to arrive at the same conclusion as that very first thought.

I’m currently in the space between that brief, initial reaction to a situation and the final decision. The space where I’ve already experienced the first feeling (grrrr!) and in the process of decoding those feels (self-doubt) and checking out others’ reactions (research) to the news. What news you ask?

Schools Are Closed! No, Open. No, Closed.

Metro Nashville Public Schools just announced schools will be closed on August 21, 2017. File_000 (4)Yay, you say? Not so fast, my friends. Last month, the school board decided to keep schools open on August 21, the day of the solar eclipse, known as the Great American Eclipse.

Nashville is the largest American city in the total path of the historic scientific wonder during which the moon covers the sun. And middle Tennesseeans, especially those of us in Nashville, will benefit from the majesty of the rare phenomenon. Yes, we are all agog about the total eclipse of the sun (think Little Shop of Horrors) and school leaders have been preparing to capitalize on this rare learning opportunity.

Unfortunately, we’re having some trouble making and sticking with decisions. The original 2017-18 schools calendar  called for closed schools on August 21. Then, after carefully thinking about children’s safety, the administration believed it best to keep schools open and the school board voted in favor of the recommendation. Today, in an interesting turn of events and after additional careful consideration of children’s safety (wait, what?) the school board has voted to close schools on August 21. Again.

I’m Sorry, What Was That?

dontblinkSo, my Blink moment was disbelief wrapped in anger. I’ve since talked myself down from that initial feeling because how can I justify the anger when I don’t have a child in the system? Yet, I believe our leaders MUST stand by a decision and volleying our families’ lives is insensitive at best and downright disrespectful at worst.

Also, will children in a mostly poor school district be safer at home?

I suspect this is the work of teachers protesting behind the scenes. They certainly have a right to do so. But the babies, though…

Turns out my Blink moment was the right response after all. Our leaders are responsible for 88,000 families who don’t have the resources to navigate a series of ill-advised decisions. Maybe the district should have honored their Blink moment by sticking with the first decision.

As always, stay woke because decisions that affect your lives happen in a blink.

The Night Before the First Day of School and All Through the House

Look, I’ve been in your worn out shoes with the holes in the big toe area. For most Nashville public school families, the countdown to crazy has reached zero and all heck is just about to break loose (at least that was my experience).  I remember so well, two weeks before the start of school I would start preparing the kids (and adults) for the grind, I mean, routine. I would be a wreck! My kids hated me. So did I.

The fourteen days leading up to the first day of school would be a series of mini-nervous breakdowns and I made sure everyone under the sound of my voice felt my pain. To get an idea of my back-to-school induced insanity, I’ll share with you the adventures from the Hawkins household. Ready?

Uniforms – It seemed both kids grew like 6 inches every summer. I could never find the right color khaki (how many shades of khaki are there?) or the coolest non-striped, tiny-logoed polo shirt.

Before and After Care – Why is it so expensive? (The fees rarely changed but somehow I was never prepared)

Summer Reading – Daily screams throughout the house “did you finish your reading list!” and “Oh really? I want proof right now!”

New Teacher(s) – While I’m wreaking havoc at home, I was also stalking the school to get the news about our new teachers. Yes, there was the daily drive-by to see if anything had been posted on the door or if the principal’s car was in the lot (you know, just to say hello).

School Supplies – Man! I was obsessed with getting my hands on that supply list (far worse than the mild preoccupation with finding out the new teacher). I would be on around-the-clock email watch just to get my hands on that list. I love school supplies.

Uniforms – It’s been covered already, I know. But I gotta tell ya, it took the patience of Job to adhere to the myriad of uniform guidelines while trying to make sure the kids (I’m talking middle and high schoolers) felt the clothes were cool enough to walk the school halls. Lots of brawls over this one. I was so over this by the time they reached high school. I had no idea a million more fights awaited me.

Screenshot 2017-08-06 at 7.33.31 PM.png

Planning for the Routine – The older they became, my children did not go to bed when asked nor did they wake at the appointed time. They didn’t plan their uniforms or clean their rooms in preparation for the new school year. Until…

Until — the crazy lady made her annual cameo appearance. This is the point at which my outside voice would become the very loud and sometimes shrill inside voice — no matter the location — home, the car, the department store. Yep, the point when my nerves rested on ten and even the appearance of disrespect got an unreasonable consequence. Crazy.

And all this before the start of school.

Old Mama’s Wisdom

So take the advice from someone who now has the benefit of learning from hindsight. Planning is a must, but if it’s not your forte (and I clearly had some issues) please start the school year strong by communicating with your teacher.

If you do nothing else, let the teacher know your child is loved and supported at home and that you expect the same from school. This communication will mean everything for you, the teacher, and the success of your child.

Most importantly, stay calm. It will work out.

Have a great school year!