A few years ago, I facilitated a discussion group about the America to Me docu-series, and in preparation for our first meeting, the group’s homework was to read Langston Hughes’ Let America Be America Again and answer the following question: What is America (actually, the United States to honor that there are several countries in the Americas) to you? Take a moment to read the poem.
Here’s my response:
That’s a tough question. When I consider whether or not there’s another country in this world where I’d rather live, at this time there isn’t. I haven’t traveled much, and my family, friends, and life are all here. And at the same time – in this skin, with this hair, with this history, these experiences – it never quite feels like home to me. But I stay hopeful, even though I wonder if my husband, my son, my daughter or I will, one day, become a casualty of ignorance and hate (more than parts of us already are).
I work diligently for equity and justice because I believe that progress is possible – so I read, research, and write about race, culture, belonging, and ways to transform our instructional practices, I facilitate professional development and conference sessions with educators across the country. I love that I get to spend my time working on something so important. I am constantly in search of others who are looking for the same thing, although sometimes the hateful underbelly of this country takes my breath away, as does the silence of those who watch and say how awful racial harm is, but remain silent and do little to nothing to change things. This is the exact opposite of what we say to children when we encourage them to be upstanders and not bystanders. What are we modeling for them?
I engaged in a crossing-over activity last year as part of my experience with the Boston Educators for Equity, and became very aware of parts of my identity where I experience privilege that I hadn’t previously considered. I have my home, my family, my work, my degrees, my experiences, my resources, my birth certificate, my social security card, my license, my car, my life, access to clean water . . . and it’s a shadow of freedom/privilege that I wouldn’t necessarily have anywhere else. But at any moment, I could be Sandra Bland. My husband could be Philando Castile. My son could be Trayvon Martin. My daughter could be Renisha McBride. And some people who don’t look like me would cry, send thoughts and prayers, maybe protest, and write posts on social media about the tragedy of our senseless loss . . . and then go about their days. Shake my life like an Etch-a-Sketch drawing that was never really here. But the people who look like me? They’d wonder if they, one day would just be another Afrika Afeni Mills.
It doesn’t have to be this way. We can change what we’re willing to change. This month, as we focus on racial healing, I invite you to honestly reflect on and answer the following questions:
- When it comes to race, what is the United States to you? What role do you play in creating and sustaining a healthy nation? Consider writing your own poem after reflecting on Langston Hughes’ poem.
- How do you respond to racial harm? If you deny that it’s real, why do you think that is? If you find yourself blaming the one who is harmed, where does that inclination come from? If you remain silent, what is behind your silence?
- What are your thoughts about racially segregated spaces in the United States? Think of the spaces as physical (i.e., schools, neighborhoods, places of worship) and organizational (i.e., political bodies, leaders). What role do you play in maintaining the status quo, or contributing to change?
Speak Up at School: How to Respond to Everyday Prejudice, Bias, and Stereotypes | Learning for Justice (NOTE: This resource is helpful beyond school communities)
Afrika Afeni Mills is an author, an Education Consultant, and Adjunct Instructor. In addition to authoring Open Windows, Open Minds: Developing Antiracist, Pro-Human Students (Corwin, June 2022), she works with colleagues, teachers, coaches, and administrators to develop and sustain student-centered learning experiences that are diverse, inclusive, and equitable. Afrika has been featured on podcasts, blogs, delivered keynote addresses, and facilitated sessions at conferences across the United States. She will also be publishing a book with Corwin Press in 2022.
Afrika believes that all educators can be motivated, engaged, dynamic practitioners and leaders when provided with the support needed to create student-centered, antibias, antiracist, pro-human, culturally responsive learning environments that inspire wonder and creativity and nurture authentic diversity, belonging, equity, and inclusion.
Learn more about and from Afrika at links below.
Instagram: Open Windows, Open Minds
LinkedIn: Afrika Afeni Mills