And So We Shone

“It seems like, well, y’all hire a lot of white teachers but there aren’t a lot of black ones.”

Her eyes stop alternating between the floor and window and lifted to meet mine. We were closing our time in a restorative circle and listening to students share ways we could support them moving forward.

As teachers of literacy, we are fierce advocates of students being able to find themselves on our shelves, but do we advocate as fiercely for our students to be able to find themselves at the front of our classrooms? In addition to this, are we honoring the expertise of those teachers of color who already occupy our classrooms?

After I got back to my office, my mind immediately thought of one of my favorite teachers. So, for my day of #31DaysIBPOC, I want to say thank you to Ms. Paula Rayford, my first black teacher.


Dear Ms. Rayford,


From the moment

We walked into your classroom

Eyes bright with innocence

And the space filled with promise

You made one thing clear:


We were yours. All of us.


But on another level, some of us felt more like yours —

In you we could see mothers, aunts, and grandmothers.

With you, we could feel the love that cared for and raised generations

Eye-to-eye with you

We could see ourselves.


Ten-year-old boys

With the energy of a thousand.

You never suppressed Black Boy Joy.

You found a way to harness it

So that we could light the way for those who would come after us.


And so we shone.

In honors programs where there were so few of us

We shone.

As we watched others try to harness the energy coming from us

With lassos woven from acronyms:

A.D.H.D. and  S.L.D.

We shone.


Because you taught us

When you try to put a 100 watt bulb

In a lamp that can only handle 40

Don’t blame the bulb.


Instead of teaching us to code switch

You taught us how to switch the code.

So, I’m writing you to simply say thank you.


When I wake up at 4:00

To drive bus 186

I think of you and how you worked two jobs

But never clocked out on loving us

And it pushes me to be better for my students.


You are a major reason why I do what I do.

Love you always,



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



Beyond Our Shelves

Take out a sheet of paper and something to write with. I’m serious. I’ll wait on you. Got it? Good. Let’s go.

Write down the names of the 5 people who are closest to you, not including children or your partner/spouse. Now, take a moment to reflect on the race, gender, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status of those five people. In what ways are they similar to you? In what ways are they different from you?

Each of us is naturally drawn to and forms relationships with those who we share commonalities with but limiting our social circles to those who are like us helps to create an echo chamber. This echo chamber is often reinforced by the media we consume — a chamber that can, if we are not vigilant, allow our biases to operate unchecked. When Chimamanda Adiche says, “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. . .” I immediately wonder how many of us have incomplete stories about the world we live in because of who we spend our time with—more importantly who we DON’T spend our time with.

Then, as an literacy educator, I immediately think about the implications for our classrooms. More and more, I am seeing educators take a critical lens to their libraries and the messages about our world and those who live in it that are challenged or reinforced there. But I feel like we are stopping short, and in some instances missing the point all together.

You can have a variety of races, abilities, gender identities, etc. represented on your shelves and still be racist, prejudiced, or homophobic in your practice and the way in which you live your life. If we stop at the presence of diverse (read my thoughts on that word here) literature on our shelves, we have missed the point. I fear that some of us have approached acquiring literature that accurately represents individuals from marginalized groups, like going out and looking for insert marginalized group friends. See, if you walk up and ask me to be your black friend, you aren’t going to like my response. For some reason, though, we do not see dropping a book with individuals from marginalized groups into our classroom libraries and doing nothing else with it in the same way.

Lean in, if you have accurate representation in your library, but not in your curriculum and life, you may be reducing texts to your insert marginalized group friends.

We have to move beyond our shelves and into our kitchens, examining whose feet rest beneath our tables. We have to move beyond our shelves and into our places of worship, dismantling the truth that 11:00 on Sunday is still the most segregated hour in America—and merely a reflection of all of the other hours in many of our lives. We must move beyond our shelves and into our lives, because if our shelves are diverse but our lives are not, we are living a lie.


Copyright ImagineLit 2015