Education for Liberation

Six years ago I was a Criminal Justice major at UW-Milwaukee. In need of an elective course, I signed up for Intro to Africology, which focused on the Black reality in the United States. That first week of classes I realized two things: 1) that I was going to change my major to Africology and 2) that I had been miseducated during my K-12 schooling. My son, who was just a few months old at that time, was always on my mind but we did not have to grapple with our own school experiences quite yet. It was necessary, though, for me to provide him with a solid and affirming foundation of Blackness through books and conversations before he started school

Over the years, I’ve talked with and read about Black parents and caregivers experiences in schools. I interviewed Black parents for research purposes and have had meaningful conversations about education with my friends who were raising young Black people – the challenges they faced in schools and how they advocated for their young people in those spaces, the hopes they had for their education and how they supported their young people in their learning.

Another prominent source of information about Black families’ experiences in schools came from news articles and status updates from Facebook friends. The various ways that schools were ignoring, mistreating and perpetuating violence against Black students and their families was something I could read about weekly. “I wish a teacher would …” is one thing that came to mind knowing that there’d be problems if those things were to happen to my child.

When I moved our family to Madison to further my graduate studies I had first-hand experiences as a Black mother with a Black son in the educational system. My son’s school had laptops for every student, smart boards in every class, full staff in the building, school library full of books.

But what was missing in this school? Blackness. While there were a small handful of Black students in the building, that representation in educators, books and other learning materials were low, if present at all. This disregard for and misrepresentation of Blackness of course is not limited to this school. There's a whole history of education being used as a tool of oppression against Black people. As a Black parent I pushed administrators and educators to center Black students and to adopt more revolutionary teaching practices to uplift Black families. Some of the things I’ve said were implemented (but not really) and at times staff would ignore me because they felt “attacked.”

Why must we show up in spaces but leave our Blackness and experiences behind us? I continually think how we as Black people deserve better – in schools and everywhere else in life. As a part of Ubuntu, I’m in a beloved community with Black women who collectively push for schools, organizations and departments to carry a lens that is focused on dignity, equity, and liberation. And I do this work with Black families in mind.

In Solidarity,


Rachel JohnsonComment