Still on the Journey Blog

Still on the Journey: Blog #5 Leaders Rising Up 02/20/18

Qahira, Hadiyah and I just finished our first Facilitation of the four day Seminar we call the "Anti-Bias Leadership Seminar". We had 10 participants for the live in Seminar which we held at the Menucha Retreat Center on the Columbia River Gorge. This group of ten Early Childhood Teachers, Administrators and Trainers worked, laughed and cried together and I think we can say with certainty that we all deepened our experience with and the meaning of anti-bias / anti-oppression in our work and lives. We also sang, danced, wrote poetry and acted in Theatre of the Oppressed skits. We watched movies, told and heard one another's in-depth identity stories. For me, it was a profoundly moving experience to have this precious time and this group of people all dedicated to making the world a safer and more just place for ALL children. Each participant developed and headed back home with an Action Plan they are committed to implementing in the setting they have chosen. We will touch base again with the Group in two "virtual" follow up sessions. One of the dreams that emerged was that we might eventually build a cadre of "anti-bias coaches" who could be called upon to give on site technical/professional development assistance to early childhood programs around the Region. In these troubling times, it can be hard to find places and moments where hope overcomes despair. Hope definitely won at this Seminar. I was reminded over and over again that the work of nurturing, teaching and caring for young children and their families can and should be the foundation for justice. We can remind society that the existence of bias and oppression in all of its forms hurts children and prevents us all from claiming our full and authentic humanity. We can model what it means to invite every child to be fully who they are and to honor all of who they are and want to be in the world. Children teach us everyday what it means to bring authenticity, joy and curiosity with us as we learn about similarities and differences. It is work that fills the spirit as children bring us laughter, and lessons about life and liberation every day. Children will lead us. We just have to start running to keep up with them.


[This Seminar is hosted by the Threads of Justice Collective and we hope to offer two or three similar Seminars each year. If you are reading this Blog and would like to know more, please use the contact info on our website to let us know. We are also looking for other locations to hold the Seminar so please share if you have ideas about that as well.]

Still on the Journey Blog #4: Honoring Cesar Chavez 3/31/17

“Once social change begins it cannot be reversed. You cannot un-educate the person that has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore.”

Cesar Chavez

Today is Cesar Chavez’s birthday. He would have been 90 years old today. I wonder how he would be feeling about and resisting current events. I think the quote of his words above give us a glimmer. The legacy of Cesar Chavez and the farmworkers movement lives with us today as an ongoing model of determination and solidarity. Some schools and communities have a holiday to commemorate Cesar Chavez day. I hope children everywhere will be hearing the stories of the farmworkers movement and learning about the efforts of workers, laborers, every day people to claim their right to work safely and with dignity. I also hope that as educators, parents, community organizers and activists, we can begin or continue to build conversations and coalitions that bring to bear the connection and ties between farm workers, coal miners, restaurant workers, child care workers, immigrants present and past. I hope we can identify and gain consensus on the concept that workers everywhere can overcome the divisions and isolation and recognize the commonalities and similarities in our struggles….there is a shared tradition of resistance. There is a shared experience of sweat and toil and determination to survive. There is a shared conviction of the right to safe work conditions and a fair, living wage.

In my Head Start classroom, many years ago, we had the dramatic play area set up with two areas: a machine shop and a child care center. Some kids worked in the machine shop and others worked in the child care center. One day, I observed this scenario: Tory put on one of the hard hats and went into our machine shop and began turning the handle on a huge vise-grip. Kai, who had been putting “babies” to sleep in the child care area, came into the machine shop and approached Tory, saying, “I know you are working here but your baby is crying and you need to come now.” Tory yelled, “but I am working now!” Kai, responded, “I am working too AND YOUR BABY NEEDS YOU!”

Questions for consideration:

· How do we value the importance of all kinds of work?

· How do we see our shared struggle to: get our work done, value each person’s job, care for the children of workers, and keep everyone safe?

When we are better able to hear and see and connect the struggles of all people, and to act against the marginalization and isolation so prevalent in this society, we will be more able to see the path forward as a united people who can read, who feel pride and who are not afraid anymore. Thank you Cesar Chavez.

Still on the Journey 2/28/17

Blog #3: What does it mean to be an ally?

It seems to me that this is a timely question. We did a session at our recent ECE Social Justice Conference about ally ship with a focus on race and racism. We asked: what are the helpful and non-helpful things that white allies do? From the lists we generated, these are a few that really resonate with me today, particularly as important reminders for us white people striving to be effective allies in the fight against racism:

Do not speak for people of color or other groups targeted by oppression unless you are a member of that group.

Some of us white people get stuck on the idea that we are responding to oppression on behalf of people of color….. “I am doing this for them.” In fact, racism is a white people’s illness. It is something we are born into whether we like it or not. When we speak up against oppressive acts based on skin color discrimination, we are participating in the process of taking responsibility for the collective acts of our own people. Use I statements and own your part in addressing racism wherever you find it.

Speak up because it matters to you and you are modeling that.

This follows along with the use of I statements. Speak up by stating that this is important to you…it matters that some people are treated unfairly, hated and discriminated against because of the color of their skin. It matters because the existence of racism diminishes our potential for caring and peaceful communities.

Speak up because you want to interrupt the status quo.

If the institutions and way of doing things in our society remains grounded in maintaining white dominance, none of us can claim our full humanity. When more of us are willing to disrupt the status quo and examine how this inequitable and false system insolates us all from our true authentic being, we can be freed to experiment with what the human community could be.

Do not expect “credit” for doing your part.

At the conference, we heard from people of color that it seems like white people tend to want to get “credit” for our ally work or our contributions to the anti-racism effort. I sometimes refer to this as our competition to be “the good white person”. We want other people to know we are different from those white people who associate with bigotry and hate rhetoric. We want our name on the program credit line or acknowledgements.

Practice humility.

This is probably the single most important ally practice or behavior. Humility means we listen more than we talk. It means we really hear the stories of people targeted by oppression and do not rush to our own defense and denial. Humility means we sit with and live with the discomfort of knowing there is not a quick fix for eliminating oppression. Humility means we do our part, day after day, for the long haul, not for others, not for credit, but with others, and because it matters.

Be a Provocateur

“Be the person who speaks up. Be the person who asks questions. Be the person who will tell the truth about hard topics. Be the person who raises their hand and says, “can we talk about this some more?” Be a provocateur, provoke change, provoke hope, provoke justice. In addressing an unfairness, an act of discrimination, stereotyping or oppression, you have staked your claim in a form of resistance.”

[an excerpt from my book: “Anti-bias education in the early childhood classroom: hand in hand, step by step.” Routledge Press]


Still on the Journey 1/25/2017

Blog #2: 15th year of Freedom Camp : hate mail arrives and hope rises above it all

Last week, we held our annual Freedom Camp. An educational event that has happened for the past 15 years on the Dr. King Holiday to teach children about the music and the foot soldiers of the Civil Rights Movement and to inspire kids to take action as freedom fighters today. In spite of the remaining snow and ice, we had a great turnout. Children and adult volunteers spent the day engaged in singing, marching, learning, and making friends. And, for the first time, the Oregonian sent a journalist who spent almost all day with us. I think there is a link to her article on this web site. It was a front page article and when it was posted online, the hate mail came rolling in. I read some of it. It was a little discouraging to hear, but did not even come close to matching the highlights of our day at Freedom Camp…..

All through the day we were asking and talking about the question: “What gives us hope? What helps us keep on struggling? “ One of our youngest freedom fighters, a 5 year old, played the role of Ruby Bridges, the six year old who integrated an elementary school in New Orleans all by herself, in a skit. There was a scene where Ruby’s teacher asked her why she was talking to herself all the time and our little Ruby responded in a big, strong voice: “I’m not talking, I’m praying.” Prayer gives us hope.

One group of our teenagers wrote their own spoken word poetry and presented the piece called, “IT MATTERS”….they called out and described things that matter to them: the election, human rights, discrimination, feminism, and racism. They ended with: “It all matters and you should be aware of the world around you.” Poetry gives us hope.

Near the close of our day, we played on the big screen an excerpt from Michelle Obama’s last speech to the nation where she promises young people that there is a place for them in this country and that she will never stop fighting for them. Courage gives us hope.

On a more personal note, my oldest granddaughter, Sydney, shadowed me at Freedom Camp for a school assignment. All day, it made my heart swell to have my own legacy following me around in this important work. And then, another granddaughter, Sequoia, gave me a Dr. King holiday card that said, “I love Freedom Camp”. Family gives us hope….our own families and this family of resistance.

The last thing we do at Freedom Camp, before we eat birthday cake and then go home, is form a huge circle that goes around the whole fellowship hall, hold hands and sing “We Shall Overcome”. That Circle gets bigger every year….and there is a smaller, but also growing circle of people who have come forward to help continue Freedom Camp every year….HOPE RISES, AND WITH IT, WE RISE, AND WE RESIST.

January 2017

Blog #1 Radical Chorus 12/15/2017 Katie Kissinger

This is my first time blogging and I feel a bit lost about it. I am approaching this like a journal entry that may be of interest to others.

Last weekend I went to a “skill share” workshop about what it means to create a “radical chorus”. For me, either of those two expressions – singing or radical – are enough to pull me in. But the combination of the two was irresistible.

At the workshop, the speaker suggested some elements that make a chorus radical. This is my take on a few of the elements shared:

· People are singing for community rather than performance. In a radical chorus, the focus is on singing with rather than singing for.

· We sing to build solidarity with liberation of people from all oppressed groups.

· We hold an inclusive belief that everyone can sing and everyone has a right to sing.

· We are discerning about holding people accountable for behaviors that silence or overtly tries to dominate the group.

I come from a family that sings around the campfire, sings in the church choir, sings our grace at meals, sings for people’s birthdays and sings in the car on road trips. One time driving with my young children in the car, we were singing so loud and boisterously that I missed our turn off the freeway and it took us an hour to get back where we were supposed to be going. I sang at church camp and at girl scout camp and it was always my favorite part of the experience. But when I joined the Movement, in the late 1960’s, it was the Freedom Songs, the Protest Songs, and the overwhelming sense of being a member of a community of resistance, through song, that hooked me into what qualifies, I think as the ultimate radical chorus. It is a chorus that holds people together in the palm of resistance and the possibility of change

Back to the Radical Chorus workshop. When we finally got to the part of the afternoon when we all got to sing together, it was as powerful as I had hoped for. The sound of maybe 200 people singing together in an auditorium with great acoustics was magical. Those harmonies, that connection, the joy of solidarity helped bolster a crowd that has despaired deeply about recent political events and needed inspiration for facing what lies ahead. I think we got it.

In my book, “Anti-Bias Education in the Early Childhood Classroom : hand in hand, step by step” the last chapter is about sustaining hope. One of the strategies that I propose for that is singing together.

Not singing as a performance, but singing for solace, for courage, for solidarity.

Dancing for democracy

Singing for survival

That’s the way we change the world

One step at a time

Working for our liberty

Mine and yours entwined

That’s the way we change the world

One step at a time