“If you put a white guy in charge, he will FUCK it up,” she said assertively.
Full disclosure… I am a white guy, and that comment was directed at me.
It wasn’t out of the blue. I had been insisting for a few months, to members of this particular equity team, that if we want to reach our most difficult clients, white men, you needed a white man to present the information to them.
I became very motivated. I wanted to prove this person wrong. I transferred to a school that was predominantly inhabited by students of color, and better yet, teachers that were melanin deficient. I wiggled my way into the position of chair of the equity and inclusion team. I assembled a good team. First year, we just got it rolling a little. Most of my team left the school (not because of me, I swear!). I assembled a new team. Me, another white dude, a white woman, and three black women. I was the, mostly, undisputed leader. I set the agenda for meetings. I set the agenda for Professional Development (PD). And most importantly, I begged for and received 6 different slots during the school year, to do PD. My team and I facilitated these PDs.
Wait, wait! Back up! My first year… with the first team, I became aware of an issue. Wait, back up some more. Our new principal instituted a teacher driven “teacher of the month” program. A teacher was selected for the first month, then that teacher would select the next one, etc.…
Ok, back to the end of my first year, with my first team, we are doing an equity discussion. It seemed to go well. I asked my friend JB, who sat at a table that happened to have only black staff, how it went. He said it was amazing, but had I noticed that the “teacher of the month” award had only gone to white staff. I had not noticed. He was right. He said that the black staff had noticed. I was thinking that black staff was at or below 20%, and that with only 8 awards, it wasn’t too crazy, statistically, that a black staff member had not won. I suggested we watch it over the next few months. He agreed.
Four months went by. Four more white teachers won, including a brand-new to the school teacher, and someone who had already won the year before. JB was hot. He suggested we do a PD. I thought it was a good idea. Personal, local, and immediate; it fit the bill perfectly. I assembled my team to share my ideas and my plan to have a courageous conversation on race, using the protocol we had trained the staff with. It started out decent, me presenting my plan. Most people were uncomfortable, but willing to try something. Then one of the black women spoke out forcefully, but respectfully, that this was not a good idea and that it would be divisive. I argued that it needed to be addressed, and that it needed to be addressed soon. No one disagreed with the fact that it needed to be addressed, but the team did not want to handle it at this point. (It was November, and I was planning a December PD.) The three black women insisted that it was not the time. I begged that it was the perfect time. When the dust settled, it was 4 to 1, in favor of waiting. I acquiesced. I knew it needed to be done. I could have over ridden them… I had done it in the past, on smaller issues. But, I didn’t have the courage to go against three black women on an issue regarding race.
Three more months go by. Three more white teachers win… It is now time! It has to be time, right! March, it will be. I don’t care what the team wants. Before that happens, JB brings it up, full staff, passionately. I was hoping he would wait… we had been in dialogue. I wasn’t ready. The staff wasn’t ready. He finishes. Crickets… He is now talked about constantly. I plan to address it at other PDs… to honor him, to support him… every time I try, it comes out dumb, or I chicken out.
Have I told you about JB? Big, bald-headed, bearded black guy… former Marine… and a total teddy bear. He was arguably the most popular teacher in school. He connected with our kids in a way I only dream of…He had his faults, but he would to anything, for anyone, anytime. And a little passionate truth, at a faculty meeting, turned a lot of white folks against him. I guess black folk can’t get angry… I guess black folk can’t speak their truth.
Fast forward to this year: Did you notice I said “was” above? JB is not at our school anymore. He left. I have confirmed that he left, in large part, due to the afore mentioned events. One of the nicest guys I know, felt so uncomfortable, that he left the place he loved.
I fucked it up. She was right. She is always right.
I miss my friend. I will do better.