Thursday, August 6, 2020

on dying for my profession

today, i woke up to a couple of pieces written about why teachers should essentially suck it up and go back to work.  it hurts my soul each time i remember that my profession has not only been intentionally decimated and defunded for the past two decades by government, but astonished at the 180 degree turnaround from us being heroes in the spring for literally flipping education around in a weekend and creating online programs for students, while we sheltered in place due to global pandemic.

police brutality reared its ugly head again (always) at the end of the school year, and we pivoted to teach about it, talk about it and help teach our white friends and family members about why their silence has not been okay for generations.  now is the time to wrench white supremacy from its throne, and burn it down. now is the time to deconstruct the systems that have long divided and segregated quality of life in this country as intricately connected to the color of one's skin.  but it has BEEN time, and white folks are just now listening.  we mourned with our students as we talked about George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Armaud Arbery, and Sean Reed. we embedded these discussions into our summer school curriculum and built our arguments about looting, terrorism and Black Lives Matter.  we refused to let the conversations die after the media coverage stopped.

i found out a few weeks ago that my husband knew Amadou Diallo and lived near him in the Bronx before he was shot 41 times by the NYPD in 1999. i recalled the protests that I attended afterward, holding our wallets in the air and demanding the officers be fired and charged.  I was enraged, and had never met Mr. Diallo.  Mulay helped his community grieve and family recover in the aftermath.  it has been so difficult to not be able to be in the streets this time, so i find myself asking myself, what is my role in this movement now?  i am talking with my students and my own kids all the time, discussing the pandemic, the protests, colonialism, racism, and mass incarceration.  when my daughter wants to "play police", we stop and talk about why not.  i donate and lift up the voices of Detroit Will Breathe and BYP100's Detroit chapter and have made my work my activism through restorative justice, but direct action is something i'm missing.  i'm tired of talking.

tonight, i listened to my colleagues and administration hold a "town hall" about re-opening, in which they assured our community that we will be safe in buildings.  i know that this is not the case.
the data we're seeing from southern states reopening is enough to tell me that we cannot do this safely.  students will get sick.  staff will get sick.  i love my students, i love my school, but i will not die for my job.  i will not send my kids to school to get sick, or carry the virus to their friends, or their teacher.  i will not bring it home to my husband and family.

there are so many complicated factors here -- but the articles i read today focused on teachers being essential employees, glorified daycare, and that like other essential workers, we just need to be quiet and hurry up in our dying. it reminds me of Langston Hughes' stark poem "Kids Who Die".  when we decided that Sandy Hook was not enough to legislate gun control, we told ourselves that our children don't really matter. as soon as we know that Black people were dying of coronavirus, we pressed on with "reopening our country", affirming that black lives don't matter to white Americans.  the higher impact of COVID on black communities is due to a racist healthcare system that created the pre-existing conditions with hazardous living environments and food deserts -- racism has so many insidious angles, from high-fructose corn syrup and cheap foods to schools reopening and exposing students to a deadly virus.  it is not random that these two pandemics are intertwined, and COVID has exposed all of the fictions of US prosperity.

i wrote a letter to our school board, sent a letter to my representatives and emailed the governor.  i am supporting the protest from afar tomorrow because i'm still teaching and can't be in Lansing, but more than ever, i'm wanting to be out in the streets, speaking up about how i would do anything to be back in a classroom with my students, but it is not safe. their lives matter, and their education matters. i will not sit quietly and let my students and their families, already ravaged by this disease, become the trial run for failed safety protocols that endanger people.

there is much more to talk about, and figure out.  how schools have become what keeps our society running, the safety net for all of our failings, but we have been defunded and demonized in media and by politicians, who should hold the teaching of the next generation in the highest regard.  how i get paid less now than i did in my first year of teaching, and this is year 13.  how i'm up at 2am planning and working on my next virtual classroom, even though i'm exhausted and need a three month instead of one week break between now and our next school year.  how companies should be paying folks a living wage and childcare should be free or affordable, and parents should get paid to stay home with their children this year.

let me be clear: i have lost enough this year.  i will not lose my life, or the lives of my children, my students, my colleagues. we must service our highest need students safely, from home and services that our community needs and we will.  educators always figure out how, with no budget.  we need to fund this work, and care for our children and our beloved community (John Lewis voice) and be innovative and creative in building community while apart.


list of the embedded links, just in case you missed them:
I'm a Nurse In NY.  Teachers should do their jobs, just like I did - The Atlantic, Aug 4, 2020
Detroit Will Breathe - Facebook Page
BYP 100 - Detroit Chapter
Michigan Teachers Rally at Capitol - Lansing State Journal, Aug 6, 2020
Teachers and their Unions Have Been Anything but Heroes - NY Post, Aug 5, 2020
"Kids Who Die" by Langston Hughes, video by Color for Change, read by Danny Glover, 2015
Lauren Fardig-Diop - Letter to YCS School Board, Aug 3, 2020
Schools Aren't Opening. We Have to Pay Parents to Stay Home... Medium, Shayla R Griffin, July 30

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