Math, 9/11, & Black Lives Matter

June 5, 2020

In transparency, I thought about not writing a blog this week to step back and listen to other voices. 

 

And then I watched Jelani Alladin's video

 

And I checked my privilege and sat down to write.

 

I was a freshman walking into my second week of high school when 9/11 happened. I’ll never forget my friend Zack stopping me in the hall after first period to tell me that the Twin Towers had been hit.

 

By lunch time, it was clear that something was wrong. But this was 2001, mind you. We didn’t have cell phones, we couldn’t check a news app, Facebook didn’t exist, we couldn’t text a friend or a parent, so all we knew was what was being passed around the rumor mill in hushed whispers at the lunch table.

 

I left lunch feeling nervous, wanting my next teacher to say something- ANYTHING- about what was happening so that I could feel moderately safe and taken care of, so that I could breathe, concentrate, and do some productive learning during the rest of the day.  

 

She didn’t. We arrived to math class, and she pretended as if nothing was wrong. She pretended as if it was just another day and said nothing.

 

I felt so upset.

How could she ignore the current crisis?

How could she expect us to worry about parabolas and PEMDAS when we felt endangered and scared?

Why wasn’t she saying anything???

 

As a teacher now myself, I can attempt to understand her behavior. She probably was just as scared, angry, confused, unclear as we all were, and she didn’t know how to handle it. She might have thought that the best way to deal with the situation with her 14 and 15-year-old students would be to protect them by ignoring it and not saying anything potentially upsetting. I understand the rationale behind what she was trying to do.

 

I don’t agree with it.

 

Here we sit in another American moment of crisis. And as a teacher, I have a responsibility. I have a responsibility to say something- ANYTHING- about what is happening. I have to risk being imperfect, saying the wrong thing, saying too much, too little, not having the right words, so that my students can feel safe enough to focus, concentrate, and express their artistry. In fact, I don’t just owe it to my students. I owe it to the world. In times of crisis, the world looks to music, poetry, literature, song, story, visual art, etc. to articulate what is hard to express. If artists don’t feel safe, they cannot express the art we all need to process and heal.

 

So, let me start with saying this: Black lives matter.

 

Black.

Lives.

Matter.

Period.

 

It is well-past time for American society to change to include, support, and build these people up instead of quite literally killing them. The system must change. It must be rebuilt. It is broken, unequal, and unjust.

 

And I'm sorry to anyone who feels like I let them down or treated them unequally or unfairly because of the color of their skin or ethnic identity in the past.

 

I spent four years getting my bachelors degree in American history at The University of Virginia. Ask me what I learned in my deep dive into our country’s past if you want to know why it’s necessary to say “Black lives matter” right now instead of “All lives matter”.

 

I’m going to go one step further than my 9th grade math teacher and not only say something to acknowledge the pain of the present moment, I am going to do something.

 

Because actions speak louder than words.

 

First, I’m going to listen. I’m going to listen to my Black friends, my Black clients, my Black students, my Black colleagues, my Black heros.

 

Then, I’m going to keep donating money. There are many places where you can donate your NYC lunch money or NYC coffee shop fund at the moment. And if you have more resources to share than just small bills, share them!

 

If you want to invest in something that will also give you something tangible in return, support Black owned businesses. I will order take out from Black-owned Brooklyn restaurants. I will buy things from Black owned stores (like these amazing cookies). I will quite literally “put my money where my mouth is”.

 

After that, I’m going to follow the Justice in June program, read this, this, this, and this (more resources here), and implement more anti-racist practices in my studio and life. I will sign petitions. I will show my support of protestors by protesting myself and amplifying their voices/messages when I can’t. I will keep educating myself and asking questions to understand, appreciate, and celebrate our differences.

 

And, I’m going to recognize that the current moment is not about me. It is not about me or my desire to flex my maternal instincts. It is not about my white fragility or guilt. It is not about me bragging about the things I’m doing to help the Black Lives Matter movement (I mention the actions above in an effort to share ideas and spark inspiration for steps others can take). It is not my time, as a white person, to make this about me.

 

This post is not about me, even though I wrote it. This post is about continuing to show up, however imperfectly, and use my small platform to lift others up. I will lean into my Brene Brown inspired value of growth and hope that even when I show up imperfectly, the people who see me can help me get better, be better, do better just like I promise to do for them if and when I can.

 

This post is about honoring my commitment to my clients, friends, colleagues, communities, and the future world I want to see. This post is about the pledge I took when I got my teaching degree- the pledge to lead by holding space, to listen, to acknowledge all parts of humanity, to facilitate growth and change in others by practicing it myself, and to foster understanding by answering questions and getting comfortable with saying “I don’t know, let me get back to you” when I don’t have all of the answers.

 

The best thing we can do as teachers right now is to say something- ANYTHING- to let our students, colleagues, and collaborators know we see them.

 

Follow the MTA: If you see something, say something.

 

Black lives matter. Let's reflect that in the safe spaces we create as we move forward. 

 

 

 

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