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I recently participated in a virtual space with members of 8 Black Hands, an education podcast I have had the privilege of listening to for the past year. I have learned so much from the wisdom Christopher Stewart, Sharif El-Mekki, Raymond Ankrum, and Dr. Charles Cole III share. I am continually challenged and edified by their views, perspectives, and advocations for all things education and all things Black.

In this particular session, Dr. Charles Cole III, Founder, and Executive Director at Energy Convertors made some incredible points about education as a system, student agency, parent/teacher relationships, Black History as it pertains to Black teachers, and the power and impact Black teachers have.

No longer “just” blaming the system

On the 8 Black Hands Podcast, Dr. Cole spoke about the problems he has with people continually blaming “systemic issues” for the woes of the state of education. He described the label “systemic” as “faceless” and “nebulous”: a term that often leads to a lack of accountability. This thought led me to something I hear often: “Claim it. Name it. Deal with it.” If Black children are not being served in the “system” of education as it has been designed for the last 200 years, then name the obvious fact that education was not designed to serve Black children. 

Yes, there are “systemic” issues, but it is not something we can always just accept as the end all, be all. It is not just an issue that is “beyond us”: something that is so extensive that we can not do something about it. No matter how small we think our impact might be, as teachers, we must put forth a gallant effort to impact students’ lives. We have power, we have a voice, and we have agency. As we embrace our own agency, it is also important to show our students that they also have agency in this fight.

The importance of student agency

Dr. Cole emphasized the importance of making sure that “students have agency over their own education.” We need to encourage students to not only understand the power their voices have but provide spaces for those voices to be cultivated and amplified. In the wake of Reps. Justin Jones and Justin Pearson’s expulsions from the Tennessee House of Representatives, we need to make sure students have the agency to “find ways to reimagine the system of education as a whole.” This includes providing spaces and opportunities for students to demonstrate advocacy. Whether advocating for gun control or speaking up in a classroom, we have to make sure our students understand that their voices matter. As we also empower students, let us also empower parents to understand the important role they play in the education of their children.

Parent/teacher relationships can shift the trajectory

Through the 8 Black Hands Podcast, Dr. Cole spoke about the “partnership parents should build with teachers”. As both a parent and an educator, I cannot underestimate the importance of the family-teacher relationship. Its significance is demonstrated in the roles I play in both of these complex spaces. As a parent, I literally have seen a 180-degree shift in my son’s learning, his development both educationally and socially, and his genuine love for school based not only on having an incredible paraprofessional but due to the incredible new teacher he has had this year as well. 

Dr. Cole also touches on how “schools are not the only vestibule of education.” He challenged me to analyze the role I, as a parent, play in the education of my own child. I cannot rely on the educational system to teach my child. Learning not only begins at home but is reinforced at home. As an educator, I strive to set the tone early in the year as far as establishing a rapport and relationship with parents to foster both a communicative and collaborative relationship.

As a Black parent, this is even more important. Educators watch schools and districts fight to remove the truths of Black History from the curriculum and ban books, we have to take ownership is teaching the truth to our children. Black parents have to make sure their children know the true history of our ancestors. In the same way, Black teachers need to also lean on and learn from our history.

How dare we lose hope

Dr. Cole also spoke about the “hope” Black teachers need to have as we strive to continue the impact we can have in the classroom, but the hope we can have to impact the system of education as a whole. He reminded us of the generations before us that faced unimaginable challenges. He reminded us that while we are still in a tremendous fight, our fight is indeed easier thanks to those who came before us. He reminded us that we cannot dishonor the struggle of our ancestors by giving up and allowing the current “fear of the browning of America” due to book bans and curriculum limits to influence the ways in which we teach.

Dr. Cole encouraged anyone working with our youth to “be so good at what you teach that you can weave in things you want to” into your curriculum. He asked us to “understand the odds against you and put them in a historical context”. While we cannot deny the trauma that often comes with being a Black educator, we also cannot deny the strength that can come out of this daily struggle. Courage in the face of adversity hits differently when it is applied to all things Black. These facts in no way stifle the impact and power teachers still hold.

The impact and power of teachers

Dr. Cole rang the battle cry and asked us to look at current “civil unrest” in America as “battle song hymns”. The metaphor of our current conflicts in education as a “hymn” was a beautiful irony meant to further challenge us to see adversity as a catalyst for us to impact change. “[Teachers] are in a position of power” and we need to embrace this impact. “Know your power, passion, and purpose, and let that be the light that guides you on your heroic journey to inspire, influence, and leave a lasting impact on this generation.” It is easy to be stifled by the “distractions” that seem to be attacking education, but if we plan on staying in this career, we must never allow those distractions to get in the way of our purpose.

A challenge to all educators

Dr. Cole’s wise words on the system of education, the importance of student, parent and teacher agency, Black History, and the power and impact teachers have has indeed inspired more than a few epiphanic selah moments in this veteran Black teacher. I can only hope to be in more spaces where I can glean wisdom from all of the members of 8 Black Hands in my efforts to be a lifelong learner.

Reflection on 8 Black Hands Podcast: Dr. Charles Cole III Speaks on All Things Education

Michele Lamons-Raiford is a hearing American Sign Language (ASL) and English teacher at Pinole Valley...

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