As the MindCatcher team designed our inaugural Collective Support: Fellowship for Education Leaders of Color, we knew that leaders of color were operating learning environments under extreme conditions, namely due to a relentless global pandemic and increased awareness of racial inequity. We knew that despite these conditions they still had to attend to the business of educating young people. So they would not be pouring into their staffs and young people from empty cups, they would need more tools. We also knew that they would need to begin with themselves, their leadership, their wellness in order to create the conditions for learning that allow young people to thrive even in the midst of so much pain.
What Does It Mean to Be Well?
In education, we can fall into the trap of trying to apply simple solutions to intersectional, complex problems, such as racial inequity in academic outcomes. Likewise we would treat the need for emotional wellness as we would curing the common cold. Once we’ve consumed the requisite amount of chicken soup for our soul, we will have cured our emotional ails and may resume our normal activities, free of disease. However this approach to attaining the requisite fuel to fulfill our commitments to educating young people overlooks the fact that the challenges that young people face are not static. Neither is racial inequity. Therefore our approaches to educating young people, particularly those of color, need to evolve accordingly. Our approach to our wellness, which arguably provides us the fuel to create the fruitful conditions for learning, must similarly be responsive to the daily challenges we face. We don’t arrive at wellness; we work towards it, every day.
For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. ~Audre Lorde
So I’m Not Crazy aka The Value of Affinity Spaces
Leaders of color frequently face invalidation of their ideas for learning. The myriad forms of this invalidation tends to be central to the underlying stress and anxiety that many leaders of color experience. One member of our inaugural Collective Support cohort shared: “Most of the time I am fighting people thinking that I should be a warden. What I get out of our conversations is listening to how other people who look like me share how they think deeply... about how learning happens and what kind of environment learning happens in. I was really about to quit education.” The affinity space created room for unguarded dialogue amongst people who had some degree of shared experience, though the fellows were from New York and San Franciscio and included both public and after school leaders. The lived experience of participants was not interrogated, but was another piece of evidence collected to understand a challenging problem of practice the fellow faced. This validation served as another source of healing, another means of filling their cup so they may continue the hard work of preparing our youth for their future. As leaders of color begin to grapple with preparing their teams and families to return to in-person learning, they will need spaces of healing more than ever.
Learn more about MindCatcher’s Collective Support.
Nakeyshia Kendall Williams is the Founder and CEO of MindCatcher.