Finding Refuge in Non-White Spaces
Last weekend marked TAF’s Martinez Fellowship Program’s 10th year anniversary holding their annual summer retreat at IslandWood in Brainbridge, WA. The retreat serves as a personal and professional refresher and reminder of why our Fellows who are teachers of color, chose to become an educator and why they remain in the field despite mounting challenges.
Tymmony Keegan, TAF Martinez Fellow and Dimmitt Middle School teacher weighs in on Kelsey Blackwell’s article in The Arrow, “Why People of Color Need Spaces Without White People” following the retreat.
Here are her words:
“[The article is] a powerful and super accurate read. It’s especially resonant coming off of the annual Martinez Fellowship retreat weekend. [People of color] PoC only spaces have been critical to my survival in a profession dominated by white people. I specifically chose the school I did for many reasons, one of which is a commitment to hiring an increasing number of qualified educators who look like our students, another of which is that it’s in my neighborhood, which is rich with PoCs, and another of which is because while the staff is still majority white, most of my day is spent with PoC.
It’s validating, it’s healing, and very special to be surrounded by black and brown people all day. It makes the need for code-switching less frequent and allows me to be my whole authentic self more often than not, an experience I’ve seldom been afforded as a working professional.
I think some white folks have a hard time acknowledging the need for and validity of these spaces because there’s a fear that we’re all just sitting around talking about how much we hate white people and the things white people do. But the beauty of a PoC space comes from inattention to white people. Our focus and the lens through which dialogue occurs is that of a PoC. We get to acknowledge that yes, we share a common experience of oppression, but I think more importantly we also begin to introspect in a way that allows us to share in and celebrate our microcultures and the diversity of our experiences.
For some PoCs, it’s is in these PoC only spaces that we finally emerge as ourselves and experience who we truly are at our cores.”
The Martinez Fellowship Program and our emerging Educators of Color Network strives to create safe communities where teachers don’t have to feel validated, because they already are. And, it’s not about being divisive at all. It’s about what we’re hearing from our teachers of color over and over again, the stories they tell about how alone they feel no matter how inclusive their school environment attempts to be.
We recognize the dual role many teachers and education leaders of color play within the school system. Trust us, it’s more than creating lesson plans and connecting with students and families. The responsibilities, whether implicitly given or not remain that many teachers represent and advocate for their ethnic communities, and sometimes just want a place to rest among one another.
TAF is providing tools and resources for teachers of color to combat early burnout, where most of our teachers serve in Title 1 schools. They’re understanding approaches to talk about equity within education so that others will actually listen rather than label them angry and misunderstood.
But, this past weekend, IslandWood served as a break and a communion among friends. We’re happy to provide such an open space for Fellows to express their true needs without feeling judged and are looking forward to providing these types of spaces and services to many more Fellows in the future.