Supporting Diversity in Class
I have been asked to sit on a panel for Stanford University and the California World Language Project this Thursday, July 16th to share my experiences relating to advocacy, leadership, and self-care with teachers all across California. I have spent some time preparing for the panel, and I decided that I’d like to share some of my thoughts and experiences advocating for marginalized people (myself included), inside and outside of the classroom, and the role that self-care plays in this process.
I want to start by saying that it is truly an honor to have the opportunity to serve as a voice for people who may not have the power, position, privilege or ability to be heard during this crucial time in America. It’s interesting to me that in order for this conversation of race and privilege to become a global conversation, and in order for the black community and other marginalized communities to gain allyship on this level, we’ve had to eye-witness events so egregiously horrific. While on one hand this is hard to stomach, on the other hand,
these current events have presented us with a unique opportunity to use this moment to create more visibility and awareness, and to REALLY support one another in creating new systems and structures that will pillar the growth and success of ALL people, not only in America, but worldwide.
The reality is that many teachers and advocates today ARE people of color, and it’s not only important, but it’s also necessary to take care of ourselves and to create time not only for self care, but also for self growth! I know that for me, I’ve had to work harder than some of my counterparts to prove my knowledge and competence. I am judged every day for being a gay mexican from a “miserable” area with little money, big hair, a little bit of swag, and an unconventional approach. Not only am I brown, but I also don’t look, dress, or act like a scholar or a teacher. And how could I? More importantly, why would I?!
I have been playing catch up my entire life and it’s a lot of work! I read SO many books, I listen to podcasts, I watch videos and webinars on the topics of business, innovation, money, self-esteem, growth mindset, organization --all of the things that were not woven into my culture. So for me, this is the most important form of self care because when we talk about progress, when we talk about sustainability, when we talk about influence and reach and leaving our mark --none of that is possible if the people growing up in the rougher parts of America and/or in the lower socio-cultural-economic levels aren’t given the opportunities, or SEEKING the opportunities, to grow beyond the cages that we’ve made for them. So I am constantly seeking knowledge and growth, and I’m constantly working to prove the world wrong.
...when we talk about progress, when we talk about sustainability, when we talk about influence and reach and leaving our mark --none of that is possible if the people growing up in the rougher parts of America and/or in the lower socio-cultural-economic levels aren’t given the opportunities, or SEEKING the opportunities, to grow beyond the cages that we’ve made for them.
Advocacy has been a huge part of my everyday work, even before this global conversation. And while we have been duped as a society into feeling like black and brown students may not need the constant advocacy in their daily lives, there’s still a shameless ignorance that’s pretty generally accepted when it comes to people with disabilities or “special needs”. Of course, there’s an added layer of adversity when we move into the lower socio cultural economic levels, which are heavily black and latino. We have become so used to keeping people with disabilities separate, ESPECIALLY if they can’t learn to be “NORMAL” --so my daily “to-do” is to shake things up a bit! To challenge the status quo, show the world that “different” is beautiful, to change the way that people perceive those who may not look the same, communicate in the same way, or hold the same privilege.
I have to take a more active approach to advocacy because, while so many other groups in the history of America have been able to organize movements and speak out for change with little outside help to start with, this is not always possible for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Our movement has always required the support of allies. Don’t get me wrong, people with disabilities are HIGHLY capable individuals, but their abilities are different. Because of this, WE, the allies, need to be the voice to speak out when they cannot speak, the scribes, the advisors, creative partners, teachers, and mentors. We need to be the legs to march when the wheelchairs meet the staircase. And, most of all, we need to be the friends to love them when the rest of the world pushes them aside.
I really do believe that this needs to become part of OUR work as a collective. I’m talking about the standing up, the speaking out, noticing and addressing prejudice, inequality, and marginalization in our daily work.
We need to acknowledge once and for all that this system is NOT broken. It’s been built and designed to work exactly the way that it does.
And the higher up you go, the more beneficial it is to keep it the same. But WE are on the frontlines! WE are the leaders. WE are the ones who hold the most powerful positions of all because WE are changing lives.
We need to create a space that is designed and built for every age, race, gender, preference, color, size, shape, and ability PLUS!
I challenge anyone who’s reading this, including myself, to participate in this type of hands-on, active advocacy, not only for people with disabilities but for any and ALL students who have been marginalized.
Just because they may be able to talk does not mean that they know how to speak out for change. Just because they are defiant does not mean they are brave. Just because they can smile does not mean that they are “okay”. And just because they can pass your class does not mean that they don’t need extra support and guidance.
It’s hard to live in this world if you are not the ideal.
Tolerance is not the same as acceptance, and acceptance is not the same as Inclusion. It’s not the same as love.
I hope that we can all fight for this generation and future generations to experience a world where every person will feel included regardless of their differences, and a system that was built to lift them up, not to keep them down.
I will ALWAYS remember the teachers and staff who held me up and gave me a voice before I had anything to offer in return: Rebecca Valdovinos, Dottie Wood, Cathy Meyer, Diane Oren, Michelle Marta, Karina Benskin, Kathy Doering, just to name a few --and let me tell you --it changed the WORLD for me!
WE have the power to change the WORLD! YOU have the opportunity to make a conscious decision to LEAD! I sincerely hope that you’ll take it.