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Validating the Humanity of Our Black Students

When teachers practice Black Resistance by affirming and celebrating the identities of their Black students, they not only validate their humanity but also nurture and cultivate their students' genius.

Jacqueline.B. Morrisey, EL Education’s Associate Director of Partnership Development

Each year, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) selects a Black History Month theme. ASALH is regarded as an authority on the topic of Black History and the source for themes for the month for many educational and public institutions. This year’s theme is “Black Resistance.”

Black Resistance is the collective and individual struggle of Black people of the diaspora against anti-Black racism. Specifically, in the United States, this resistance was born out of the lasting legacy of the transatlantic slave trade. Although chattel slavery has ended in the US, Black people still experience violence, systematic disenfranchisement, and exclusion from health care, education, and economic, political, and social life. At its core, Black Resistance is about the fight for justice, equity, inclusion, and freedom in all its varied forms. Read more about Black Resistance on ASALH’s web page.

This month, we’re talking to EL Education students and educators about what Black Resistance means to them and how it plays a role in education. We spoke to Jacqueline.B. Morrisey, EL Education’s Associate Director of Partnership Development about her Black Resistance journey, particularly regarding education, teaching, and learning. Here’s what she had to say:

What can happen for Black students when their teachers affirm and celebrate their identities, and why is it important?

I once had a student named Anthony, who was a prolific poet. Anthony loved showcasing his mastery of knowledge and skills through lyrical formats, like spoken word and rap.

Every time I observed one of Anthony’s performances, I gave him a standing ovation. I was always awed by the amount of content knowledge he gleaned from my teaching and the depth of understanding he possessed and could synthesize into a new–authentically Anthony–format.

When teachers practice Black Resistance by affirming and celebrating the identities of their Black students, they not only validate their humanity but also nurture and cultivate their students’ genius. This affirmation can provide the reinforcement students need to resist social pressures to de-center or de-emphasize their Blackness.

It’s important for all students to feel a Sense of Belonging.

For many Black students, though, who’ve been on the receiving end of discriminatory practices, oppressive acts, and blatant injustices, having their identity affirmed and celebrated is crucial to their success. It can become the difference between students being 100% dialed into learning or being physically present in the classroom yet actively disengaged.

Affirming and celebrating student identities was a common practice for me as an educator.

To be quite honest, engaging in this practice was mutually beneficial; opening the door for students to authentically engage in the learning environment in the way that best supported them led to better relationships, increased engagement, and higher quality student work.

By affirming who my students were, I was also vicariously affirming my own identity as a Black woman. Watching Black students like Anthony thrive while authentically engaging in their learning environment like this filled my bucket in ways that only a fellow Black teacher could understand.

However, my work with Anthony (and others like him with similar identities) was not all sunshine and roses.

While Anthony was gifted in many areas, I must confess that he struggled significantly with reading comprehension. Notice that I didn’t begin that sentence with his deficit but rather what was inherently praiseworthy about him. As teachers, when we approach our work with students from a strengths perspective rather than a deficit-based lens, we not only set our students up for success, but we inherently position them to thrive!

Because I celebrated and affirmed Anthony not simply as a learner but as a Black learner, he remained actively engaged in his learning. Anthony went on to experience tremendous academic gains during the year he spent in my classroom.

When that academic year ended, so did Anthony’s K-12 education. He graduated that year, and next to his dad, there was just one other adult with whom he wanted to share his special day.

Can you guess who?

I’ll give you a hint; it was the teacher who didn’t try to remediate him or mold him into something he wasn’t or assimilate him deeper into the threads of White dominant culture. It was the teacher who celebrated and affirmed his authentic identity as a young Black male. It was the teacher who saw the creative genius seated in front of her–a hungry soul and an eager mind, ready to learn and gain knowledge.

I’m honored to say that the teacher was me, and I pray and work daily to ensure that she is the educator I will always be.

Disclaimer: EL Education is proud to host diverse voices and offer a platform for dialogue on topics impacting educators and students. Views of guest bloggers are their own and may differ from the views of EL Education.

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    Jacqueline B. Morrisey