Author: Alecia Brooks

Thanks to All Who Attended the West Wind Open House

Thanks to All Who Attended the West Wind Open House

The West Wind Open House was a success! We enjoyed catching up with long-time friends, colleagues, family, and connecting with new faces. We especially appreciate the Dream Divas who rocked Eastdale Plaza!

If you’re less familiar with the Dream Divas, this is a team of young ladies, ages 4-23, who are sponsored by the Dream Center and perform at venues around Iowa. One of the larger performances from this year happened in January when the girls performed at the 17th Annual I’ll Make Me a World conference in Des Moines, IA. Each year, I’ll Make Me a World celebrates African-American arts, culture, and contributions. The Dream Divas were part of a cohort of dance teams that highlighted the performance arts. Continue reading “Thanks to All Who Attended the West Wind Open House”

West Wind Open House March 2nd, Join Us!

West Wind Open House March 2nd, Join Us!

The annual Open House for West Wind Education Policy Inc. is March 2nd from 4-6 p.m. We look forward to your visit and are excited to announce the Dream Divas dance team, sponsored by the Dream Center, will entertain with a short performance around 5 o’clock. Come enjoy light refreshments, great conversation with friends and colleagues, and hear about some of our new work, including our collaboration in the Creative Corridor Center for Equity (C3E).

Our office is on the second floor of Eastdale Plaza, 1700 S. First Ave. We hope to see you Monday! Don’t forget to send your RSVP to westwind@westwinded.com.

Kind regards from the staff of West Wind Education Policy Inc.,

Circe, Alecia, Bonnie, Kathy, Mandi, Sally, and Tina

West Wind Open House

West Wind Open House (Postponed)

West Wind Open House (Postponed)

Due to the winter storm, we postponed our annual Open House, which had been scheduled for February 2. We’ll post the new date at this website and send an announcement via email.

We look forward to sharing with you some of our new work, including our collaboration in the Creative Corridor Center for Equity (C3E). We’re plugging away at our first initiative, titled the Black and Brown Educator Recruitment and Retention (BBERR) project. BBERR is an impressive program that attracts and retains talent of color from Iowa and across the nation to schools in Waterloo and the creative corridor. In addition to the Center for Equity, we’ve also launched a new program around Competency Based Education, headed by staff memeber Mandi Bozarth. She’ll work with leaders in Iowa and the Midwest to develop and disseminate resources about competency-based learning. These are certainly exciting developments, and we look forward to sharing the latest news of our work with you. Continue reading “West Wind Open House (Postponed)”

On Teaching Ferguson Part One

On Teaching Ferguson Part One

Recently, a University of Iowa grad student invited me to speak at a panel titled Teaching Ferguson: Race, Riots and Critical Reflections for Classroom Teachers. The invitation was timely, as I’d just read an editorial from Michelle Alexander, an author and criminal justice reform advocate. Michelle describes challenges she encountered as she told her 10-year-old son about Ferguson. Several questions popped when I finished the editorial. How can adults best facilitate a conversation about Ferguson and related topics with youth, some of who are too young to grasp the dimensions of this issue? And for those who can grasp the gist of Ferguson, what can educators do to accurately convey the subject in a manner that is respectful and values differences of opinion? Another event required my attendance, so I was unable to appear at the panel. This blog captures my talking points. Continue reading “On Teaching Ferguson Part One”

On Teaching Ferguson Part Two

On Teaching Ferguson Part Two

I spoke with a community member who said an altercation between students occurred after they had a charged discussion about the Darren Wilson grand jury outcome. Although a small part of me supports keeping Ferguson out of classrooms, reality is many students already reacted to what has unfolded since the death of Mike Brown. Leading facilitated conversations with students is practical, as this gives students a way to decompress and even be forward-looking. This is not a lightweight task.  Part one of this blog exemplifies what can go wrong when controversial subjects are arbitrarily introduced to classrooms. This blog, On Teaching Ferguson Part Two, highlights what contributes to leading a bold but successful dialogue around this sensitive topic. In addition to these tips, I encourage teachers to become familiar with the basics of facilitating race-related conversations and how to maintain a healthy atmosphere during the course this dialogue (such as periodically checking the emotional temperature classroom, see tip number 8). Continue reading “On Teaching Ferguson Part Two”

Do We Understand How Hard It Was to Get Michael Brown to Graduate?

Do We Understand How Hard It Was to Get Michael Brown to Graduate?

Mike Brown GraduationLesley McSpadden, the mother of Michael Brown, emphatically questioned if we understand the amount of effort required just to see Michael graduate. Unfortunately, the answer to her question would become buried underneath a wealth of information that followed her son’s death and a charged debated about Michael’s character.

At the center of this discussion is whether Michael contributed to his death. The conversation is hard to comprehend because it not only questions if Michael Brown could have prevented the manner in which he was gunned down, but it primes another misguided question: Can behavior modifications in general stop oppressive practices? This line of thinking is problematic because the agents of change are those who experience discrimination, not powerful systems and key players that have a genuine ability to decrease and even stop discrimination.

Since Michael’s death, I’ve heard consistently how the black community can and should police their behaviors to appear more worthy of equity. Increase civic engagement. Rid your communities of anti-social behaviors. Don’t sag. Use proper English. Stop killing each other. All of these directions are constructive but limited in scope. Sagging was not a trend during the Civil Rights movement. Blacks did not ride around with blaring music in the 1800s. Rap was not around to degrade black women and men during reconstruction. Yet, blacks during each of these eras experienced some of the same inequities and various forms of covert, overt, unintentional, and institutional racism that exist today. Securing long-lasting equity requires more than a few adjustments from those who experience oppression. This goal requires a seismic shifts so systems don’t privilege some and discount others.

Huffington Post peered into Lesley’s question. Findings show Normandy High School, the school that Michael attended, is wrought with problems commonly found in high-poverty schools. While Michael attended his graduation, many of his peers won’t experience this milestone because the graduation rate for Normandy is 53 percent. Discipline is concerning as well. At least 60 percent of students received 1 in school or out of school suspension–meaning they were out of class and not learning. The zero-tolerance policy implemented in 2012 skyrocketed violence reports and deceptively credited Normandy High School as the most dangerous school in the area. Missouri labeled Normandy School District as failing, yet the state historically appropriates fewest dollars to poor schools.

Student morale can make finishing high school a downright challenge. On the other hand, parents similar to Lesley experience even more difficulty because too many uncontrollable forces exist. This means those who experience persistent inequities can become model citizens or perform with the best of intentions. But discriminatory practices can limit abilities, hope, and the willingness to move forward despite circumstances. A serious look at this issue requires a hard look at systemic practices and ACTION. More—not less—investments into equity are necessary to truly include those who resemble Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Sean Bell, Ranisha McBride, and many others who have and will pay too high of a price for this fixable problem.

Keep Mirrors in Learning Environments and Media

Keep Mirrors in Learning Environments and Media

The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Coldest Winter Ever grew into personal favorites because each uses irony to deliver a memorable life lesson.

Oscar Wilde writes about the dangers of coveting physical beauty, while Sister Souljah illustrates how the intersection of poverty, incarceration, and drugs surfaces throughout inner city neighborhoods. The books share striking differences. Most noticeable are the categorizations. The Picture of Dorian Gray is part of the American literary canon while The Coldest Winter Ever is considered a classic from the urban literature genre.

Urban literature (urban lit or street lit) books are gritty and usually set in poor communities. Critics oppose the genre because they believe tales perpetuate stereotypes of blacks. Meanwhile, supporters say authors are following a cardinal writing rule: Write what you know. A few novelists completed prison stints; others lived in crime ridden communities, while some experienced abuse and other social issues. Woven into novels are tidbits of authors’ unpleasant lives, supporters say.

I agree with critics. Few to none of these books are considered classics, and authors should adopt more responsibility when they dramatize inner city life. At the same time, an excessive amount of the conversation centers on how this genre disservices blacks.

If authors are dramatizing personal experiences, are larger points missed when the conversation only focuses on creativity and rigor?

We know from countless reports that blacks experience disparities in several life shaping areas, including education, healthcare, employment, and criminal justice. Education alone can be a stifling disparity. Research from sociologists like Bruce Western find African Americans are more likely to enter the criminal justice system, earn significantly less money over their lifetimes, and experience healthcare barriers when education lacks. Urban lit dramatizes how these disparities are experienced.

When news reports about inequities fail to generate mass concern, stories found in street lit or depictions similar to pictures from Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama or the casket picture of Emmett Till are dramatic yet necessary reminders of how inequities surface and that the need to eliminate each remains. Urban lit will likely not tip social movement momentum. At the very least, though, these novels can grant voices to the voiceless and remind readers who experience similar situations that they are not alone in the struggle.

This is why a blog by Alexander Nararyan, a Newsweek staff member, is concerning. Nazaryan argues against teaching books by Walter Dean Myers who dramatizes experiences, settings, and characters that relate with many inner city youth. Nazaryan believes the tales are mundane and fail to challenge students. The problem with Nazaryan’s argument takes me back to my first encounters with urban lit. The interaction began when The Coldest Winter Ever and information about it circulated throughout my older group of high school friends, many of whom were African American and not avid readers. Aside from their sudden interest in leisure reading, their overall enthusiasm stuck me. More noteworthy is how they deconstructed the book. They discussed and even debated the plot, characters, outcome, and intended lessons. The gritty plot lines kept them reading, but mirrors arguably prompted interests. My friends related to something in Souljah’s novel. The something may have been a nugget of the book, as large as the plot line, or as significant as the author who is an African American woman from inner city New York.

I’m not suggesting administrators place urban lit books onto reading curricula. Rather, they must consider how race and culture shape academic interests. Books written by authors of color may resonate with students in ways that others simply cannot. Sure, the literary canon is more rigorous, and novels similar to The Picture of Dorian Gray contain timeless lessons. But reading from authors who represent or write about a student’s race or culture—in addition to the literary canon—may provide an equally deep learning experience.

The quest to preserve rigor or the integrity of a genre must explore how certain books represent marginalized voices and shape learning for students of color. Tales about persistent inequities or inner city life may not produce the most complex story lines. Yet, deep engagement may happen once the story is analyzed. Reflections may pull in personal experiences, consider conditions that inspired the tale, arguments, and other critical thinking skills. Every book is not a classic or a challenging read. But if the story relates to a student or readers in way that spurs additional reading or represents underprivileged groups, should we exclude these books from learning environments or mainstream media? What more is excluded once this route is chosen?

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