By Rashaad Thomas
Teaching can be isolating for educators — and especially so for Black educators. Not only does it often feel like you’re on your own trying to figure out how to reach your students, but you also have to deal with a lack of resources and support, as well as racism from your colleagues and school district. And then there’s the reality that even the police are getting involved with banning Black books from K-12 classrooms. It’s no wonder then that a recent survey of Black educators found that nearly half say they plan to leave the profession.
What can help stem the tide of Black teachers joining the Great Resignation — and what can we do to ensure the folks who choose to stay feel supported and empowered to advocate for themselves, their students, families, and communities?
According to EduColor, an inclusive collective founded in 2014 by people of color, with people of color, and for people of color, connecting with educators who are going through similar situations and learning how to support each other and mobilize is the answer.
Indeed, EduColor supports and mobilizes advocates nationwide addressing educational equity, education, and justice. That’s why on July 21, 2022, the third annual EduColor Summit will provide a virtual space for education advocates, teachers, researchers, and community stakeholders to meet virtually to discuss community building, technology, and education policy, as well as share knowledge about equity, pedagogy, and agency.
To find out more, Word In Black spoke with José Vilson, EduColor’s New York City-based executive director and co-founder. He is a veteran educator — he spent 15 years in the classroom — best-selling author and activist who received his bachelor’s degree in computer science from Syracuse University and his master’s degree in mathematics education from the City College of New York. Vilson’s currently earning his doctorate degree in sociology and education at Teachers College, Columbia University. But his elementary and secondary experiences with education took place in a setting most Black students, parents, and caregivers are familiar with: public schools.
Word In Black: When did you know communities of color needed an organization like EduColor?
José Vilson: I wanted to be a teacher because I felt like having more teachers like me with experience in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects to go directly into teaching STEM-related fields could decrease the dropout rate for our children. It would help Black kids who don’t often get to see folks who make it that far out and come back to the community.
Secondly, EduColor evolved because several movements, including the Back Lives Matter Movement, came to the fore, but education had a more conservative approach. EduColor was needed because most organizations were not having a conversation about racial justice and social justice with urgency. Now.
EduColor isn’t based solely on diversity, equity, and inclusion. We ask, “How do we get all these different people who see justice needs to be done now and put them together so we can build something different?”
WIB: What is the EduColor Summit’s mission?
JV: The EduColor Summit strives to unite educators of color and stakeholders interested in the intersections of race, justice, and education. This is our third summit. We hope to spark stakeholders’ conversations, often ignored, about policy, pedagogy, and agency.
This year’s theme is “We Pour Into Us.” We intend to have people discuss not just self-care from a capitalist-informed perspective seeking a quick fix. We will explore how we care for one another, facing the current state of education while remaining hopeful and thoughtful when engaging each other.
WIB: How does the EduColor Summit build sustainable bridges between educators, students, and the community?
JV: Black teachers are likelier to teach Black students because spaces with predominantly Black children hire Black teachers more. They’re likelier to understand the vernacular and customs and be a community member, or adapt quickly to that community.
So a Black teacher from New Orleans coming to teach in Harlem likely will understand Blackness that white teachers may not necessarily gravitate towards because they’re white.
Black teacher expectations are higher, and their caring and sense of urgency are also higher. I believe someone who sees themselves as a Black teacher trying to do right by their community — and with a justice orientation — is really important for our children’s education.
We continue to ask, “How do we improve the stress-inducing and oppressive schooling and generate thoughtful work as educators, students, and people of the community?
WIB: What is EduColor — or the EduColor Summit — doing to address the recruitment and retention of educators of color?
JV: We must rethink school operations. We have limited resources, incentives, and a limited ability for autonomy and professional growth. We can’t keep people in a space where they don’t feel like they belong. We envision schooling that showcases our kid’s gifts and talents.
Everybody is gifted. We must find ways for adults to demonstrate detected by and elevate the so everybody gets a chance to show what they’re about
We need to find ways adults can demonstrate, detect, and elevate everybody’s gifts to give students a chance to showcase their gifts and talents.
WIB: What can participants expect while attending the EduColor Summit?
JV: There are spaces for teachers to come together for five-minute speed meetings. The summit is a shared experience with a platform that allows us to engage in sidebar conversations while presenters are on a virtual stage.
It’s a one-day event, so hopefully, we can give those who attend a shot of hope, and in return, they cast hope and inspiration 50 minutes at a time.
WIB: How can people get involved?
JV: You can go to our website for free resources. We understand freedom is not free. It is the reason we create experiences that are low-cost for everybody.
We have 100 folks coming to the summit — hoping to get more Thursday. We’re still building. We thank everybody who wants to tap into this movement.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.