To Stir the Conscience

What do you think about when it is silent?

I started my teaching career at a Quaker school in Long Island, NY. I had made the transition from working in higher education; had moved from Connecticut to New York; and was getting ready to marry my sweetheart. New job, new place, new friends, new life. 

Though those were major transitions, for sure, I was not prepared for a different transition. I was not ready for silence. 

As a Quaker school in a wealthy, suburban community, we did our best to uphold values of simplicity and honesty; humility and service; and kindness in the light of each other. While we sometimes fell short of those ideals, one thing we did well was silence. Every week, our community came together and gathered in the Meeting House. 

In my own upbringing, I was raised Catholic and actively practicing. I was used to the singing, prayers, recitations and even, what we joyfully refer to as, Catholic aerobics — the up-down-sit-stand-kneel-stand routine that occurs in a 60-minute Mass. 

But, Meeting for Worship was different. Meeting for Worship meant we walked into a downloadwooden shelter, walked into the space in silence, and sat. We just sat. At first, I was so uncomfortable. I kept looking around at others. I kept twiddling my thumbs. My eyes darted back and forth from row to row and seat to seat. I kept looking at my watch and wondering how much longer I had to sit on this uncomfortable, rickety, wooden bench. Only 2 minutes had passed since the last time I looked. I felt awkward when members of the Facing Bench, a small group of elders or community leaders, were sitting across from the rest of the gathering. I didn’t know whether to look at them, past them, away from them, or down at the floor. 

I remember the day that Meeting for Worship changed for me. I was feeling particularly unsettled and just wanted to go home, curl up on my couch and watch television. I filed in silently with the rest of the school. I sat on the bench. And, I took in a deep breath. I began to feel a wave of warmth come over me. I felt my heart racing. And, I took in another deep breath. Then, I felt my body settle into the silence. In that moment, a deep sense of peace came over me. My mind was open; my heart was filling listening to the words of community members who were moved to speak; and I felt my body lighten as my own tensions eased away.

I spent four years in the practice of attending Meeting for Worship. After I left Friends Academy, I continued some of the practices I had learned. I started each meeting with a moment of silence. I taught my students to end each workshop in silent reflection, speaking when so moved. 

But, time slips away and my life returned to the busy day-to-day world. Before I knew it, nearly 12 years had passed since I worked at a Quaker school.

Speed Dialogue Activity


Last night, I had the privilege of delivering the keynote address to the Quaker Youth Leadership Conference. And, after I gave my address and facilitated an activity, I could leave the conference and begin the long drive home. As I began to pack up my computer and grab my jacket, the conference organizers announced that it was time for Meeting for Worship. And, I felt that same sense of deep peace — just at the mention of the phase Meeting for Worship — and sat down.

For the next 40 minutes, I allowed my mind to settle. I gave myself over to silence. I listened to the words of community members who were moved to speak. And, I felt my body lighten as my own tensions eased away. 

I reflected on the theme of the conference: (In)Equity, Past, Present and Future. I reflected on my own activism, my collective roll in this world. I reflected on my own stereotypes, biases, and powerful messages that I received about (M)yself and about (O)thers. 

And, in that silence, I began to think about what stirred my conscience. I began to think about the power behind my own words and ideas. I began to think about the power behind the systems I am a part of and the ways I treat others. 

What stirred my conscience is that silence is not the absence of noise; it is the presence of peace. 

A wonderful friend and student from FA

A wonderful friend and student from FA

Peace and Park, 

Ms. Talusan

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Talking about Water Justice

Flint water before and afterMy family and I have a 75-minute ride into work each day. While it is certainly not ideal in terms of waking up early each day, it does mean that we get quality time.

And, in this quality time, there is quite a bit of negotiating: negotiating which radio station we listen to; negotiating who gets the warm pink blanket and who gets the equally warm (and equally functioning) maroon blanket; who gets the blueberry cereal bar and who gets the strawberry cereal bar. Basically, there is a whole lot of talk.

Sometimes that “talk” comes in the form of our morning NPR news. Sometimes that “talk” comes from the children arguing. Sometimes that “talk” comes from me.

When that “talk” becomes my turn, I always bring up current events.

Lately, on my mind and in my heart are the tragic and absolutely horrifying events coming out of Flint, Michigan.

“Son,” I begin, “Tell me what you did this morning.”

“I woke up, ate breakfast, washed my face, brushed my teeth and washed my hands.”

“Good. So, did you think that your water was clean (it was, son, by the way)?”

“Yes.”

“Girls,” my girls are older than my son, “Do you pretty much trust that the water we use to brush our teeth, to drink, to wash our dishes, to make our coffee, and to make your hot chocolate is safe? Like, our city has done things to make sure that the water is safe?”

“Uh, yea,” they respond as if that was the weirdest question I could have ever asked.

perfect.

I then told them about what was happening in Flint, Michigan. I told them about the population of Flint, the demographics of people who live there, and what we reasonably expect from our government. I told them about the water crisis, the outpour of support from people providing bottled water shelters, and then the requirement for people to show ID.

My oldest child said, “Wait, I get that you have to show ID because, well, they want to know you are actually from Flint. But, what if you don’t have an ID? Like, if you don’t have the money to get an ID or if you aren’t able to get an ID.”

“Yup,” I respond.

I told them about the people who had come together to provide water for those who did not have identification, for fundraisers that are raising money to buy water, and…

“and…” said my 9-year old, “That’s great, but don’t bottled water companies already make lots of money? Can’t those companies help out and donate the water?”

She beat me to it.

“Yup,” I respond.

For the next half-hour, my children began to identify ways in which the system/System was not working. They talked about the structural problems and the human problems that this caused. We talked about race, class, and how years of lead poisoning can impact lives of children.

As we pulled into our school parking lot, I realized that my children learned more about race, class, education, structural inequality, and structural racism in those 30 minutes than they might in a full day of formal schooling.

How can we, as teachers, educators and parents engage more deeply in these dialogues? What can you do to help young people learn about the world around them? How might we work in solidarity with those in Flint, Michigan?

These views that follow are my own and do not represent any organization to which I am affiliated:

  • If you are looking to financially participate, a scholar who I admire greatly, has begun a GoFundMe initiative. I firmly trust her.
  • On the flip-side, filmmaker and activist, Michael Moore, has asked for, not money but a revolt. Check out his piece here.

Whichever path you take, just do something.

Peace and love,

Liza

 

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My Weighty Goals

Yes, it’s just after January 1st. Yes, I have embarked on another list of resolutions rebellions. I have to admit. There is a bit of a public vs private message here. On my blogs and in my status updates, I write about body acceptance and loving oneself. In my mind – not written down – I promise myself that this is the year I’ll lose weight. Just a little. Okay, a lot.

It’s the struggle, I believe, of being a body-positive feminist and being the product of a system that has, since I was born, told me I needed to be slim, thin, and attractive.

I started dieting when I was six years old. I don’t remember who told me, but someone said to me that I had a big butt. I remember that person pointing out a picture of me where my butt curved out from my back.

I was six.

It didn’t end there.

For as far back as I can remember, I have tried to be thin.

Now, as a practitioner in an elementary/middle school. I can admit this here – there were times when I told my mother I was too sick to go to school. She would leave for work with my dad. When I knew they were gone, I changed into workout clothing and spent the next three hours exercising. Jane Fonda and Gilad were my babysitters for those next few hours.

I skipped school — learning, engagement — so that I could be thin.

I was twelve.

I had battled negative thoughts about my body up until the time I was pregnant with my first child. That was the turning point. I saw the power of my body as being more than just a shell. It had become a miracle. It had made life. It was capable of more than just leg lifts and pushups.

But, I became pregnant when I was twenty-seven years old. I had spent 21 of those years believing my body was not enough. I spent 21 of those years believing that my body was something to constantly change — a goal for which to strive.

And, here again, in January 2016, I started to think about all the ways I wanted to get healthy change my body.

The other day, I caught this Melissa Harris-Perry segment where she commits her letter of the week to Oprah Winfrey. We all know that Oprah Winfrey has had a public journey with her weight. Back when she lots tons of weight in the 1990s, I bought her audio cassette and listened to it on repeat while running on the track. So, not only do I know her journey well, it inspired me to want to change my own body.

But, listening to Melissa Harris-Perry changed me today. As Oprah starts her video with “Inside every overweight woman is a woman she knows she can be,” I know what that’s like. I know what it’s like to wonder if the woman on the inside matches the woman on the outside. I know what it’s like to wonder if people perceive body size as an indicator of who you are and what you have done.

As I start my busy travel season, I’m already having thoughts of “What should I wear?” or “Will those people think I’m too fat to be smart?” Will they think to themselves, “She’s the person we paid all this money to come and talk to us?” I’m not joking. I actually think that shit.

But, MHP reminds Oprah that “Oprah, you are already are the woman so many want to be.”

There is nothing Oprah would have done better with a size 25 waist. And, though I have, indeed, gained weight over the past few years, I have also accomplished more in this world than I ever dreamed of attempting.

I know that my contributions to eradicating racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, and inequity in our communities, classrooms, and hearts could be done at any weight and body size.

I know that my research and scholarship and (so close to achieving) earning my doctorate were not dependent on whether I was a size 6 or a size 16. I wrote a badass dissertation, and it wouldn’t have turned out better if I was 50 lbs lighter.

I know that my writing, blogging and consulting that have comforted women, men, children and families who are facing cancer were not affected by my weight gain in the past year.

I know that my continued learning about the lives of others, and working towards allying with people, were not hindered by my size 16 pants or my XL shirt size.

I know that my strength to call out microaggressions both in my life and wherever I go do not diminish when the scale goes up.

I know that my work at the national level providing leadership in communities that I care deeply about are not affected by my dress size.

I also know that the effects of racism can kill me. I know that the stress of working in justice can increase my blood pressure. I know that the time consuming acts of traveling to different schools, flying, driving, and crossing over time zones takes a toll on my body. Because of this, I certainly will not let racism take hold of my health. I will strengthen my body and mind in order to fight the daily fight that I have been called to do.

But, my weight? Nah. I have already achieved more weighty goals in my life than I ever imagined that I  — a single person — was capable of doing.

My weighty goals — those of love, compassion, justice, humanity, intelligence, education — those are driven not by my waist, but my belief that there isn’t time to waste.

Peace, love and achieving who we are meant to be,

Liza

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I have, indeed, turned 40.

Lordy lordy, I have turned 40.

Okay, I turned 40 a few months ago, but I’m starting to feel 40. And, I’m not happy.

For years, I was convinced that I was absolutely looking somewhere in the, oh, I don’t know, age 30-35 range.

But, for the past few months, whenever I flash my signature smile, I see these tiny little creases under my eyes. Yes, I ran out to buy some of the most wildly expensive eye cream (I mean, c’mon, eye cream is like such a sign that you’re getting older) and still, those little lines keep staring back at me.

When I was 39 years old, I could run a few miles and feel that oh-I-love-working-out soreness for the rest of the day. Now, at age 40, when I work out, I feel like I need to sleep it off. For real. Today, for example, my family asked if I wanted to watch the 2+ hour movie, The Martian. I said, “hell no. I want to go to bed by 11pm!” My son, he’s 6, said, “But, Mom, it’s only 6:30pm.”

Silence, boy. Silence. I don’t remember asking you any questions.

My feet hurt at the end of the day. I stretch constantly because I feel my bones shrinking. And, I’m just waiting — just waiting — for that moment of instantaneous happenings when my current contact lens prescription just isn’t cutting it anymore. According to my dad, an eye doctor, it happens just moments after you blow the candles out on your 4-0 cake.

The good news about being 40, though, is that I totally think I rock. Yes, that’s right. I’m much more confident at 40. I’m much more aware of who I am at 40. I’m much more kind at 40.

Except right now. With my achy back. My grumpy disposition. My failing eye sight.

Is it time for bed, yet?

Forty winks,

Liza

 

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Couch Time

P13318481L(cross posted from To Loosen the Mind)

We called it “couch time.”

It wasn’t therapy. It wasn’t a time to sleep or nap. It wasn’t a pity party.

It simply was a time to be.

As the director of multicultural affairs at a predominantly and historically white college, I, daily, had to navigate feelings of hope, dread, anxiety, fear, celebration, fierceness, sadness, compassion, anger, love, defensiveness, offensiveness, push-in, pull-back, humor, excitement and seriousness.

And, as a person of color at a PWI, that can happen in one 60-minute meeting.

Throughout the day, I could cycle through any – and all – of those emotions numerous times.

Those highs and lows, even in just one day, does a number on someone. And, we oftentimes needed to just decompress.

So, years ago, my staff and I initiated “couch time.” We, at any point during our day or week, could get out of our individual offices, go into the middle of the multicultural center, and just sit on the couch. No one would ask you, “Why aren’t you working?” No one would ask you, “Aren’t you supposed to be somewhere?” No one would look at you strangely, question your presence, or make you do anything. And, no one would ask you to explain anything.

We just knew.

We knew, collectively, that, as a person of color at a PWI, you had just come out of battle — a meeting, an interaction, an advising session, or a class — and you needed a time-out.

Sometimes, though, students came into the center and sat on the couches because they needed an escape from the racial battle — the battle of roommates making microaggressive comments about why they “had to speak Spanish when they were on the phone and why couldn’t they just speak English and why are you talking about me in Spanish….”; the battle of classrooms where they were one of a few students of color and the lesson plan for the day was about race and racial issues in the United States and they could “feel the stares of everyone in the class”; the battle of overhearing someone complain that all the students of color were taking up the financial aid that they, themselves, “deserved money more than those Black kids who just got in because they were Black.”

That’s when it got tough.

That’s when our personal-staff couch time became a time to absorb and process the pain and frustrations of our students. After all, we got into this field to help, support, and build up students of color to be leaders, change agents, and activists.

The other day, a colleague of mine who works at a prestigious university that was going through some campus racial issues, emailed to see if I had any articles she could pass along to her faculty about “how to support students, and ourselves, through racial battle fatigue.” I Googled. I Google Scholar’ed. I went through all of my books about critical race theory, racial tensions, and navigating difficult conversations. I thought about all the workshops I had presented nationally about race and racism. But, there wasn’t anything I could pass along about “supporting our students, and ourselves, through racial battle fatigue.”

Why?

Well, because so long as we live in a society that is fearful of talking about race; in which people must prepare to battle rather than prepare to believe; in which some people must bear the burden of absorbing and process, then I’m afraid we won’t find those resources and solutions.

So, how do we create that space?

Well, sadly, I walked away.

I left that multicultural center. I left the couches. I left the students who needed me to absorb and process when I barely had enough room to breathe. Cycling through those emotions every single day led to my own serious weight gain, high blood pressure, stress-related insomnia, depression, and a short-fuse which I only felt safe lighting at home with my family. And, so, by default, my young family suffered from the side effects of my own racial battle fatigue.

This, for me, was the cost of fighting every single day. This, for me, was the cost of racial battle stress. This, for me, was the outcome of a system that didn’t acknowledge or support that people of color experience an environment differently than people who are white.

So, I left.

I’m in a new environment now — still doing strategic, personal and faculty diversity and equity work. But, I’m doing it in a place where my voice matters, where my experience matters, and where my desire and action to shape a better community is not mine alone. I am surrounded by people who not only say they want to “make a difference”, they actually show up with their sleeves rolled up and ready to work.

I no longer have a couch.

Instead, I have two comfy chairs — just enough room to sit and decompress.

But, instead of people needing to recover from battle fatigue, people have come in to get energized, to be a part of a movement, and to ask how they can help. They want to change the system, they want to tweak, they want to rebuild and activate equity. And, they don’t want me to do it alone.

The system is different.

How do we support ourselves through racial battle fatigue? We call attention to the systems that make racial battle fatigue exist. We call attention to the way that racial battle fatigue is an outcome of the well-oiled machine of racism. And, we find ways to not just include those voices and experiences that have been marginalized, we make them central.

We can all create “couch time.”

Truly, those couch times saved some of my students. Couch time was often the only way i could make it through a day. Couch time was the reason why my students didn’t transfer out, why they chose leadership positions on campus, and why they continue to make changes long after I have left that institution.

Couch time validated how we were feeling, our frustrations, and our belief that we weren’t the “only ones” that saw or heard something racist. Couch time allowed us to not have to defend our position or educate others. Couch time meant that we could rebuild ourselves after we had been on the brink of destruction all before lunch time. Couch time meant that you were seen, that you were visible, and that you belonged somewhere even when the rest of the world was trying to push you out. Couch time meant you could take care of yourself, even if just for a few minutes, so that you could go on getting your job done. Couch time meant you were asking for help, and that, if you wanted it, you would get it.

How do we support ourselves and our students through racial battle fatigue? See them, hear them, give them a space to cycle through all of those emotions without having to justify their purpose, and believe them when they do not have the energy to rebuild.

Make that time for others. Make that time for yourself. Acknowledge that there is a compelling system that creates racial battle fatigue. Find a way to slowly dismantle the machine.

And forgive yourself when you simply can’t do it alone.

Peace and love,
Liza

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Great Books for Children

If you believe the local grocery stores, then Christmas is right around the corner. (for real, can’t we just get through Halloween and Thanksgiving??). And, I’ve become that Auntie/Friend/Tita who insists on buying books for birthdays rather than toys.

One of the benefits of working at a school that has rockstar librarians is that I often get a “Hey, Liza, check out these books” heads-up. These three did not disappoint! I’d actually like to get into the habit of sharing great books that help to raise awareness of community issues that are parent/family/child friendly.  Of course, so proud that our school intentionally thinks about intersectionality and providing books that serve as both windows and mirrors into experiences.

My Three Best Friends and Me, Zulay by Carl Best and Vanessa Brantley-Newton

Really beautiful book about a child who navigates her world using a white cane (the book does not go into detail as to why) that focuses on self-awareness, encouragement, and differentiation. The young girl struggles with feeling singled out, but also clearly enjoys a lifestyle in which her friends, school, and adults support her as she spreads her wings. Definitely a book that sparks great discussions about friendship, safe limits, and expanding boundaries! I also love that the girls, teachers and families in the book represent racial diversity and interaction. I think this is a good pick for grades K-3.

New Shoes by Susan Lynn Meyer and Eric Velasquez

I was so glad that I was tucked away in the corner of the library while reading this book. At first, I thought it was too heavy with the topic of segregation and inequity (the book’s theme hits race, inequality, and socioeconomics pretty hard). I hadn’t seen a children’s book call out racial inequity as forward as this one — key moment: when the little Black girl makes note that the little White girl gets served first all the time. I wanted to put the book down and shy away from its mature content. And, then I turned the page and then the next page. And, I found myself tearing up. It’s a beautiful story of both inequity and coming up with community based problem solving. After I closed the book, I took a deep breath and wiped away my tears of hurt, pain and joy. Such a great book, likely for older ones (grades 2-5) but absolutely a good read for anyone who is interested in introducing their young ones to big topics.

Stella and Her Family by Miriam Schiffer and Holly Clifton-Brown

Compassionately written and lovely! Stella is faced with her class celebration of “Mother’s Day” which doesn’t feel quite right given that she has two Dads. I appreciated how the topic was presented in terms of Stella’s perspective; but I especially loved that there were characters who also had two Moms. And, in the end, the children with two Moms would have to face the same questions on Father’s Day. Rather than simply say, “We just won’t celebrate either”, the families come up with inclusive solutions. Beautifully written and a great gift! I think this works for preK-3 and all others!

Check out these books and think about adding them to your library (or a friend’s library!)

Peace, love, and rockstar librarian friends,

Liza

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Latino Heritage Month

In the United States, September 15 – October 15 marks the month-long celebration of Latino and Hispanic communities, issues, and contributions. While it is important to practice active inclusion all year, we honor this time to pay special attention to the many ways in which Latino and Hispanic communities and individuals have strengthened who we are as a country.

My family is multiracial and multiethnic: both of Asian American/Filipino and Latino/Puerto Rican heritage. Therefore, it is important to our family that we continue to honor and appreciate the rich diversity within the Latino and Hispanic communities as well as highlight important contributions of Latinos and Hispanics in the United States. Oftentimes, these contributions are left out of history books, and it becomes increasingly important that we send positive messages — and provide opportunities for critical thinking — to enrich their perspectives.

Below are just a few ideas that you might also include as we focus on Latino and Hispanic communities, issues and contributions in the United States. These are divided up by age group, but each activity provides rich opportunities for dialogue, discussion and engagement.

PreK-2

  • Include books during your reading routine (or begin to establish one if you do not have one) that include issues impacting Latino and/or Hispanic communities or feature characters from Latino and/or Hispanic backgrounds. Some great suggestions that we have loved are Abuela by Arthur Dorros; Grandma’s Chocolate by Mara Price and Lisa Fields. Yes, I admit. We’ve also read and included episodes from Dora and Diego or Maya and Miguel. My children loved those growing up! (Me? I think I’ve seen enough episodes of purple backpack to last me a lifetime).
  • Play music during your commute or when you are home together. Or if you are a teacher, have some music playing in your classroom. One of my favorites can be found on iTunes called “Cumbia Essentials” which is a great mix of different music.
  • Most children at this age are familiar with piñata. Print out sheets for them to decorate their own piñata and share with the class what they made and why.

Grades 3-6

  • Great opportunity to introduce different people from Latino and Hispanic heritage who have made an impact in our lives. You can introduce them by categories (e.g., sports, science, entertainment, law, gender identities, country of origin, contributions) or connect people with the fields you are studying or that correlate to your current curriculum.
  • This list here are Latino and Hispanic Americans who I really think of/look up to, but of course, there are hundreds and hundreds more who others would put on their lists.
    • Dolores Huerta, co-founded the United Farm Workers labor union
    • Justice Sonia Sotomayor, first justice from Hispanic heritage on the U.S. Supreme Court
    • Carlos Santana, musician and pretty much his music has been on rotation in my favorites since I was a teenager
    • Gloria Estefan, musician, I’m a child of the 80s and 90s, so yes, I know all of her music by heart
    • Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Nobel laureate author of Colombian heritage
    • Isabelle Allende, writer, I recently read her book House of Spirits which was a riveting, haunting and beautiful novel
  • Again, lots of great book series that provide biographies of Latino and Hispanic individuals

Grades 6-12

  • PBS.org has a great list of documentaries on their website — short clips that highlight an individual from Latino or Hispanic heritage that are so worth watching! You can find them at http://www.pbs.org/specials/hispanic-heritage-month
  • Great printables and activities can be found here from PBS as well
  • This age group is ready to talk about immigration and the impact of policies on people in the United States. One more advanced opportunity is to ask students about systemic oppression — what are rules that keep people out of opportunities? You can connect that same theme to their lives related to sports, school, clubs, and even “friend groups” of who gets in and who is left out

College +

  • One of my favorite discussion questions always gets at “first messages”. One good one for this month is “What were your first or earliest messages about Latino and/or Hispanic communities? What were your first messages about people who identify as Latino or Hispanic? Where did you get those messages? What did those messages mean?”
  • When I worked with college students, the homework I always gave out was “Go through a whole day – start to finish. Who do you notice or see who might identify as Latino or Hispanic? Where were you going? Where did you see people? Where do you not see people? What does that say about your community? Your commute? Your destination?”
  • Find good opportunities to interrogate stereotypes or existing ideas and ideals

This is just a small list of great ways to engage your family or students! And, remember, we hold this time to highlight and focus on issues impacting people and communities who identify as Latino and/or Hispanic. However, we must integrate and include experiences, issues, and critical thinking about privilege, oppression, systemic racism, and inequity throughout the entire year and throughout our entire education!

What ideas have you implemented?

Peace, love and inclusion,
Liza

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