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A Writer’s Notebook

Be You. Take a Chance.

Don’t worry about failures, worry about the chances you miss when you don’t even try.

— Jack Canfield.

I woke up today and decided to write a blog. I grabbed a cup of coffee and I jumped two feet into the world of blogging. What joy there is to be able to write my personal thoughts and feelings for others to read and have. Stop. Just writing that sentence puts a pit of fear in my stomach that wraps around me like a vice. It grabs hold of me, squeezes, and makes me dizzy. For me there is a real deep fear for doing something so vulnerable. Truth be told, I’ve been thinking of starting a blog for years. I’ve written many blogs. And they are all saved on my computer for my eyes only. One of my earliest entries is from 2012. What’s stopping me from pushing the publish button? Fear. Fear of being vulnerable. Fear of failure. Fear of what happens next. I don’t even know what “next” means, but I am afraid of it. It’s debilitating. It’s debilitating in the sense that it holds me back from being complete. From doing things I want to do. From things that could lead to great happiness. From things that I was meant to do. Blogging is just one example of the many things I have said no to and should have said yes to.

If you knew me or spent any time with me, you would probably say none of this is true. You would see someone that is all hands-on deck in every aspect of teaching. My head spins thinking of all the incredible tentacles of teaching that I am involved, and I love every second of it. In other words, this fear I live with doesn’t ruin my life. It isn’t a fear that keeps me from being an outgoing, talk to or help anyone, presenter of professional development kind of person. It lives in a small corner of my mind and it holds me back from being complete. It’s a nagging voice that says, “I’m not good enough,” or “Really? Are you sure you’re capable of that?” Those words stop me from being vulnerable, trying things outside my comfort zone, and from leading a more purpose driven life. This fear is annoying and very real for me. My body goes into panic mode. The only way to shut it down, is to shut it down. To say no.

Writing a blog there is immense vulnerability for me. Sharing my personal experiences and speaking from my heart is fragile. Writing opens a part of me that I have hidden very well my entire life. It gives others a look into my life, my thoughts, and my feelings. You may be asking why then? If I feel all these things, then why write a blog? Great questions! I wish I knew, but I’m being tugged to do so. It keeps coming back again and again. This little voice that says write a blog is at war with the voice that says absolutely not. Welcome to my mind.:) So today, with the help of some really amazing friends, I tell the voice in my head, I am enough, and I capable of doing this. I am louder than this voice that screams, “Don’t do it!”

About the Writer’s Notebook Blog

I want this blog to serve two purposes. One for myself and the second for readers. For me, it’s my writer’s notebook, a place to capture all the swirling ideas and thoughts in my mind, organize them, and give them meaning. For others, I hope it encourages you to begin to write too, and hopefully some of my posts will resonant with you and help you along the way.

So, here goes nothing. Here’s to not missing my chance to live the life I was intended to. Here’s to being louder and stronger than fear.

My Family’s Journey to Anti-Racism

Written by Kellie Bahri

This work is the product of searching for a way to help my family in their journey in social justice, antiracism, their role in racism, and how to stay woke to become lifelong change makers. Through conversations with my adult children and their friends, I have been moved to hear of their activism through protesting, watching documentaries, reading, and filling their social media pages with support of Black Lives Matter. Their yearning for more information and understanding fills me with hope that change in America will happen as this younger generation sees truth and actively fights against racism. I also feared their actions were a part of a trend and it would fade away. I wanted to provide them with something that would guide them in this work long term. The work that is needed to create equity, justice, and fairness is going to take years of hard work, and we need to prepare ourselves to be actively involved for the long haul. So, where do we begin? Ourselves first.

To be an activist for anti-racism, we must know ourselves to understand our own identity, our part in social justice, and where we fit into it. Every conversation with my family was filled with questions. Who am I? What is our role in racism and social justice? How can I make a difference? How have I unknowingly contributed to racism?  So, thus began my family’s work. 

It goes beyond knowing ourselves and moves solidly into consistent and ongoing action. This is the reason why I created ITEA. It is a guide to help us in our journey and to ensure that our understanding and action in social justice will not be a trending activity, but a life long work of constant action.

As I write this I must admit my apprehension, as I am still learning and doing my best. I know I will stumble along the way and I may not get everything right. In full transparency, it pains me to recall a time that I thought I was being helpful. I was at a store and I stepped in to “fix” an issue that I saw happening with a white clerk and Black patron. I was met with the words, “I don’t need a white savior.” Those words ripped through me. I thought I was being helpful. I remember walking out embarrassed, but I also knew I was never asked to intervene and truth be told, she was handling it just fine herself.  I also realized I had a lot to learn and still do. There have been many moments that I wish I could thank her for helping me see my error and helping me grow. I know there are more mistakes in my future but to fear mistakes is to consent to racism. My hope is that through my example, my children will also be brave and continue to learn and be active social justice change makers. 

    The ITEA model moves from INQUIRY to TRUTH to EMPATHY to ACTION with the ultimate goal of being life time activists for Social Justice. The four areas of ITEA can be worked on simultaneously. For example, as my family continues to work on INQUIRY learning about ourselves through the lens of racism, we are also researching TRUTH that we have our eyes shut to. I highly recommend you begin with Inquiry, then you can move to any of the other areas that best fits your journey. When my family sets out on hikes, we have many starting points to choose from for our journey; I like to think of ITEA as a pathway with many entry points to our social justice journey.

INQUIRY 

    Once your heart is aligned in seeing systemic racism as a huge issue and that severe changes are needed, we must come to understand the truth of our part in it. Many may be saying, “I’m not racist, I have friends of color and of all races.” This may be very true, but we all have a part in this. My family and I felt these same things. Through listening and a lot of reflection we began to learn what being white in America really means and that without conscious effort we are a part of systemic racism. 

    We saw more clearly the injustices and how being white afforded us privileges that Black and Brown people do not receive. I remember being a part of a Culturally Responsive Teaching (CRT) session several years ago. We were asked to stand up in a line and given a small handheld mirror to hold. One by one we went down the line verbally saying what we thought about when we woke up in the morning. We held up our mirrors and the first person said something to the effect of, “I hope the coffee machine is working..I need to make my kids their lunches?” Then it was my turn. “I am so late! I hope there isn’t any traffic. I have a staff meeting today,” I rattled on. We all were kind of giggling as we spoke. I mean everyone could relate to waking up late and hurrying to work. Then the man standing next to me held up his mirror and the laughing stopped. “I pray for the safety of my children today. I pray they are not treated unfairly because of their skin color. I pray that I will make it to work today without being pulled over for no reason other than my skin color.” 

    You see, he woke up seeing his skin color and knew the ramifications that it brought him. Every morning he saw it. I did not. I did not see my skin color. I didn’t see white. I saw nothing. This is White Privilege. Without conscious thought, I am a part of systemic racism. I benefit from unearned privileges based on my skin color. I am allowed to move through the day without seeing my whiteness. This is just one example of what being white affords me. There are 100s of other benefits I receive on a daily basis. If you are white and have been born in America, you have grown up in a country that honors you. This is not true for people of color. I do not bring this up for anyone to feel guilty about being white or for the privileges that are attached to it. 

Guilt seems to be a natural step in learning and understanding more about racism. My family experienced this. We were filled with guilt and wanted a way to apologize and make it right. What does that even mean? How does one apologize? Does apologizing bring change? Who do you apologize to? 

Again laden with questions and becoming stagnant in our journey, we had to place guilt on a shelf because we knew there was A LOT of work that needs to be done. We needed to learn and understand how we can use our unearned privileges to change systems. 

My family knows that we have a lot of work in this area. We know that the more we understand our own identity and what white race is, the more we will see the injustices that are embedded into every part of our society and entangled into every system of America. Our eyes are opened. We are fueled to learn more and be a part of making change happen. 

Here are a few books I have read that may help you get started on inquiry: 

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism

Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do

Understanding White Privilege: Creating Pathways to Authentic Relationships Across Race

So You Want to Talk About Race

NOTE: I have linked these titles to (link to good reads OR to Black-owned businesses)  Amazon for you to peruse. PLEASE PURCHASE THEM FROM BLACK-OWNED INDEPENDENT BOOKSTORES 

TRUTH

An area that caught my family by surprise was how much we didn’t know about the history of slavery and how it has grown into systemic racism in America today. The more we read, the more we went back to inquiry and dug deeper. Where does truth come from? How do we decipher truth from untruths? And at what point do we all begin to speak the truth of history? 

We have all been told the story of 1492. Columbus sailed the ocean blue. He found America! Wrong. He did not find America. It had already been inhabited by Indigenous people. In fact, by the time European adventurers arrived in the 15th century A.D., scholars estimate that more than 50 million people were already living in the Americas (History Channel, 2019). 

Columbus, along with every other explorer pillaged new lands, brought diseases from their homelands, ran the indigenous people further and further out, killed them, and did other unmentionable things. This is the definition of colonialism. 

“Why are we told that Columbus found America, mom? I always thought he was some kind of hero,” asked my son. Shame on me for not setting that story right in my own home.

Let’s move onto slavery. In some textbooks, African enslavement is actually taught from the perspective that they were “workers” who wanted to come to America to work. Unbelievable! African Queens and Kings and doctors and engineers and families were forced here to work our lands to build America. Slave owning men justified their known actions by stripping African men, women, and children down to words such as property and savages who needed to be saved by white man’s religion (Reynolds & Kendi, 2020). 

The twisted truths that are taught have been passed down generationally, taught in schools, and have created a whitewashed America. Through our searching for truth, it honestly led us to more questions and wonderings. A question that my young children began to ask was if all white people were bad during this time. This hit me hard. I began to search my heart and purpose for this work in helping my children. Was I helping them to see the whole truth? 

The truth that yes there were some very good white abolitionists who worked endlessly to end slavery. In researching, we got to know the works of Elizabeth Margret Chandler, Lucretia Mott, Sarah Grimke, Angelina Grimke, Benjamin Lay, Anthony Benezet, Benjamin Rush, Moses Brown, and of course the famous work on William Llyod Garrison. 

    Something happens when the truth is seen. Our perception of our reality shifts, our view becomes multifaceted, but it can also lead to confusion and more inquiry. We discovered that without asking questions and researching, how easily we can be gaslighted by hearing only one side of a history. We also learned the truth made us uncomfortable. The truth of the past, leads us to the truth of the present. 

One thing is for certain, my family no longer views history the same. We stand and honor the men, women, and children who lived through the horrifying reality of slavery, those that fought to create equaility and justice, and the heroes that stand to change racist policies. We not only stand as an ally but a co-conspirator BESIDE those who continue to be harmed because of our history of systemic injustice.

A few books to read to gain truth of history not told in the history books:

Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave

(Lies my teacher told me is another fab book btw)

EMPATHY

Empathy fuels passion for change. It is what builds compassion for someone else’s story. It creates unity for us to stand side by side with one another. It is what is needed for impact to make a difference. Psychiatrist and researcher Helen Riess, author of the book,The Empathy Effect, states, the ability to connect emphatically with others—to feel with them, to care about their well-being, and to act with compassion—is critical to our lives, helping us to get along, work more effectively, and thrive as a society. (Riess, 2018) This doesn’t mean you will think or feel the same as someone else. It’s being able to see other’s struggle or pain. So why is it that we can gain empathy, but seem unable to sustain it for the long term movement in ending systemic racism? Helen Riess adds,  “It’s hard to watch someone who is suffering. We may feel their pain or absorb their sorrow; we may worry that we won’t know what to do or say. Those uncomfortable moments might make us turn away from their distress—to preserve our own well-being or to carry on with our lives” (Helen Riess, 2018). I believe this to be true. We will absolutely feel uncomfortable and we may not always know what to say, but remaining silent adds to the very thing we want to change. So, what can we do? How do we move from empathy to impact? How do we push through the uncomfortableness? How can each of us be a changemaker?  

My family knew that our eyes and voices were something we each could use. To use our voices to speak out when we see, hear, or feel injustice happening. We need to use our voices to call people into the work of social justice, by creating a safe space for continued conversation, learning together, and to walk in love. We also understand in doing so, we might get it wrong, but this is how we will learn and grow. 

ACTION

Action will be different for everyone. We all have our place in the world that gives us a platform to speak the truth and make changes. I have witnessed so many amazing activists and abolitionists over the last several months. It feels good to see so many strong people standing up for equal rights. As one of my children said, “There is no right or wrong in how you take action, as long as we do our part to make changes.”  So, we began to look at how we could move our empathy into action.

    If you are an educator, then fighting for equity and ensuring all children are accepted, and that their learning needs are being met based on their style, not yours, is a great start. 

If you are a student, lead by example. Treat everyone the way you would like to be treated and stand up to racism and bullying.  If you are a parent, encourage your children to ask questions, and empower them to see the world from a different lense to embrace differences around them and to use their voices for humanity. 

If you are a CEO, continue to ensure you have a diversified staff; assuming that it is already. 

If you are a Hollywood producer, for the love of God change the narrative and start making the roles equitable. 

According to author Kira Schacht (2020),  “…as Hollywood features more black characters and casts more black actors, it has also emphasized other stereotypes. To this day, black men are often portrayed as scary or angry and black women as loudmouthed and sassy. If a movie features one token black character, it’s likely to be the black best friend. And, if people die in a movie, the black character is still likely to go first. Even with awareness of racial stereotypes rising, Hollywood persists with these tropes.” 

It’s time to change the narrative and stop the continuation of damaging falsehoods. These ideals are what perpetuate dangerous biases that place Black lives in danger every day.

It is time to change our narratives.

As our family began to ask deeper questions about how to change systemic racism we realized that we were not using our democratic rights and our white privilege. 

“We the People.” 

We the people can call our Representatives, Senators, government leaders, and School Board Members. 

We realized how much we didn’t know and how much we needed to become more aware of laws that are in place and those being put in place that continue to perpetuate systemic racism. We need to pay close attention to laws around criminal justice, education, economics, health, environment and politics. We all need to make calls and VOTE. We can make change happen when we work together. I hope you and your family will join my family in our journey to social justice. 

Find your district leaders: 

Find your Representative/Senator

References

(www.dw.com), D. W. (n.d.). What Hollywood movies do to perpetuate racial stereotypes: DW: 21.02.2019. Retrieved from https://www.dw.com/en/hollywood-movies-stereotypes-prejudice-data-analysis/a-47561660

History.com Editors. (2009, December 04). Native American Cultures. Retrieved from https://www.history.com/topics/native-american-history/native-american-cultures

History.com Editors. (2009, December 04). Native American Cultures. Retrieved from https://www.history.com/topics/native-american-history/native-american-cultures

Reynolds, J., & Kendi, I. X. (2020). Stamped: Racism, antiracism, and you. Little, Brown and Company.

Riess, H. (2018). Empathy Effect: Seven Neuroscience-Based Keys for Transforming the Way We Live, Love, Work, and Connect Across Differences. Sounds True, Incorporated.

A Teaching Lesson From Professor

This is Professor. He is our family’s beloved black lab that seems to always know exactly what each family member needs. I have learned about unconditional love, instant forgiveness, and many other life lessons from Professor. Here’s what I learned about leading my students from this beautiful dog. 


Professor is a terrible walker. Flat out the worst walker, but he absolutely loves walks. I am usually met at the door by him with his leash in his mouth. I must admit as cute as this is, I have to talk myself into this grueling task each night. We start each walk the same: leash being attached, Professor giddy and jumping, then off the porch we fly! We start out the first few yards in full sprint and it all goes downhill from there. He stops every few seconds to sniff something. He is 100 lbs, so when he stops, I stop. Any attempt on pulling him is futile and I become frustrated as he dictates my walking agenda. I want to lead him with purpose….We are on a walk, so let’s walk! He usually responds in a few ways to my leading (pulling) him: 1. He will refuse and sit there. 2. He will tug back on the leash and continue his own agenda while ignoring mine. And 3. The worst, he will take off running with me scrambling behind him. “Why did I even come on this walk?” would run through my head each night until I started listening to his needs and gave up my reign of control. 

Why was I on a mission to have him walk so quickly and orderly around the neighborhood? It wasn’t because I needed more steps. I had already walked my 10,000 steps and 5 flights each day teaching. It was because I believed “good dog walkers” walked their dog with orderly purpose. If I wasn’t waking him like everyone else, then I was a bad dog walker, right? Both Professor and I were miserable. Yes, he was excited each night to go, but by the end of our walks, we both were spent and needed time away from each other. 

I began to listen to my sweet dog and decided to give him the lead. I would be there to guide him away from the trash cans at the end of driveways, look both ways for him at the corners, and keep him from chasing every squirrel up the tree. Most importantly though, I would let him take me places he felt important. He now sniffs his way around the neighborhood, with me in tow. It may not look like the other dog walkers, but Professor and I both are now enjoying his adventures.

In listening to Professor and coming to terms with what he needed from me, I have been able to restructure my teaching style. I began to wonder, “Are my students on my agenda or am I listening to their needs as learners?” Was I giving them their opportunity to “sniff” out the world so learning becomes an adventure? Or am I tugging and pulling them to learn “the way others feel it should be done?” Here’s the thing, just like me meeting my steps for the day and not needing more, I have also learned it’s my students turn to learn, not mine. Giving up control doesn’t mean you lose control. It means that you are there to proactively guide each student on their education journeys. 

Lessons from a sweet pup! 

I must go… Professor is holding his leash for his adventure walk.

No Room for Competition

I vividly remember sitting down with my husband a few years ago with tears running down my face telling him I could no longer be a teacher. I had hit a brick wall and I was miserable. I wanted out. Just thinking back to this time brings tears to my eyes because it was such a real moment for me. We sat together and looked at every possible way to make it work, but our family’s health benefits were impossible to get around. There was no other choice but to go back to teaching in the fall. After crying over my fate (it felt like one), I did what my dad has always taught me to do in times of struggles…I pulled up my bootstraps and faced my problem head on. I stopped crying and began reflecting on why I was so miserable. Here is what I learned and what turned my teaching career from a prison sentence to the greatest job I could ever hope for. 

I started by locating the beginning of my misery and it was apparent it began when high stake evaluations started. Teachers were told that seniority no longer existed in job placements each year, and that we would be ranked on an evaluation system that could only be mastered if you were a robot. Our entire climate changed in one meeting. I felt my colleague’s doors close, and competition start. Out shining each other became the norm, as it was our only hope to securing our jobs. Without consciously doing so I began as well hoarding my ideas and wanting to look better than my dear friends, all in the name of keeping my job. Blowing out each other’s candles became our climate. Jealousy ran deep. We all wanted the spotlight. And when someone else had it, others would cut their hard work down and alienate them. I sadly was there too. This is very hard to admit to all of you. This is not a time in my life that I am proud of.  In reflecting nothing was more apparent to me than knowing my misery was not external, but internal. It was not the evaluation system. It was me. It was my attitude and actions that robbed me of joy and what teaching had once been for me. So began my journey to find myself again. I knew I was in there somewhere and I was determined to find the real me again.

I began by asking myself questions. Why did I choose this profession in the first place?  What were my beliefs about this profession? How could I get back to enjoying it? Every answer went back to one; students and their learning. I began to see my truth and my why. I wasn’t teaching every day for myself; I was there for my students. I was there to create an environment that children felt loved, accepted, to help them grow academically and emotionally to their fullest potential, help them explore their passions and fall in love with learning. I knew for this to happen, students had to not only feel this in my classroom but throughout the school. Thus, came the realization that my attitude and actions were not only robbing me of my happiness, it was robbing my students of what they deserved every day.  A place that felt like home. A place in which all teachers care for all students, not just the kids in their classrooms. A place that they were greeted by name by the entire staff. Sadly, this was not happening, and we all felt it. I couldn’t change anyone else, but knew I had to change immediately. 

My attitude changed from being focused on myself to those that mattered the most. The students we serve. I began my journey of looking at other teachers and opportunities to celebrate them. If they were reaching their students in a way to elevate their learning, then the students and their learning deserved to be celebrated. If students are winning, then we all are winning became my new motto.  I began asking questions, sharing lesson ideas, and looking for others who wanted to collaborate. The transformation from misery to joy began to happen. I felt connected. I felt proud of the work we were doing for all students. I became energized. I began to fall in love with teaching again.

I truly believe that once schools begin to see themselves as a team for ALL students, and All students become the utmost focus, there will be an unstoppable climate where great emotional support and learning happens for all students. Focusing on all students removes the element of competition, because we are all working towards the same purpose. With that said, we need to honor one another as unique individuals. We are all at different stages in our lives and teaching careers. When our focus is on all students, love and supporting our colleagues becomes a natural effect, because when students are winning, we all are winning.   

Looking back at my cry session with my husband, I am grateful that our health insurance was a blockage to me resigning. Through honest reflection and calling myself out when I needed to, allowed me to know without any reservations teaching is my calling. Having all students feel loved, seen as individuals, supported, and encouraged to explore their passions and fall in love with learning is my why. Lighting other’s candles and collaborating for the better of all children is my pathway.

Blowing out someone else’s candle does make your candle shine brighter. We shine brighter when we lift and support one another.