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How has race or intersectionality impacted your life?

I strongly identify as Black, female, creative. My pronouns are typically she, we, ours. And, so, in describing myself in this way, I realize that history has played a very huge role in how I think about myself, my community, and my responsibility to that community. I grew up just outside New York City, and I was one of the serious beneficiaries of the Civil Rights Movement, being born in 1970. I grew up in a community that was well established in their Blackness. It has shaped everything about how I think about myself, navigate the world, and it's been a gift, I think, to have had that experience.

I got a degree in chemistry, and I started a PhD program in chemistry right out of undergraduate. But, when I got there, I realized, oh my goodness, I don't really like this. All of a sudden, moving from an HBCU, where excellence was just walking all around, and then going into a graduate program where I was the only Black student … immediately, all of the sociology I had learned growing up came flooding back to me and shook me at my core. It was suddenly activated. I could just imagine what it would have been like to be “the only one.” I was reminded of the Little Rock Nine, Claudette Colvin. It was very difficult, so I ended up leaving that PhD program.

I teach sociology because I’ve lived it.

But I discovered that I really enjoyed teaching! I had to do a mandatory teaching assistantship at Spelman College and my first year, and it was amazing. It took ten years, and a whole lot of other professional education, to begin to understand the impact of race on students and their learning, and the infrastructural barriers to their participation in STEM, which caused me to go back to get a PhD—this time not in chemistry, but instead in urban education. More specifically, on self efficacy, beliefs, self concept, and its development in children in urban schools, especially in science teaching. Studying all of that allowed me to reconcile my own previous hurts, and it helped me comprehend the structural elements of my failure in that environment so much earlier. Now, I teach chemistry with compassion and empathy. I teach sociology because I’ve lived it.

Why is talking about race in the subject(s) you teach necessary?

In science, there are a whole lot of hegemonic forces at play, people believing that knowledge is determined, pre-determined.

In science, there are a whole lot of hegemonic forces at play, people believing that knowledge is determined, pre-determined, without understanding that there are pathways to knowledge that are grounded by the individuals constructing that knowledge. The valuation of information, the way it is published, broadcast, these are traditionally seen as “scientific evidence.” Well, hmm, if certain voices have been rendered silent, or certain narratives have been erased, because they weren't understood, the knowledge itself is incomplete! And so racial literacy that attends to the language, observations, and emotions that come with the racialized contexts of the science we teach in schools is crucial.

Racial literacy that attends to the language, observations, and emotions that come with the racialized contexts of the science we teach in schools is crucial.

For my racial literacy course, one of my breakthroughs was developing a framework to talk about how we access racial literacy: courage, kinship, joy. So, first, courage. Find the courage, if you are from the dominant culture, to disrupt racist practice. If you’re within the oppressed or the dominated group, find your courage to push against the racist practices. And if you're somewhere in between—because, you know, in many ways we think of binaries only—if you’re neither one or the other, but you're like me, then you have to find the courage to stand and take a very clear position on issues of race.

Then, kinship. Connect with other people. If you're always surrounded by the same type of people, and those people are like you, when do you get different perspectives? And then, if you find ways to put yourself with other people, how do you go deeper than the superficial aggregation? How do you actually grapple together?

And then, third, the joy factor. Enjoy people, find ways to solve problems together, and enjoy people. Find ways to thrive in spite of difficulty. Don’t yuck other peoples’ yum.

What was it like teaching this lesson or unit plan?

There's so much problematic material that gets passed along because no one ever revisits it with an equity lens.

In “Make Room for Daddy,” I wanted to spend time with the Moynihan report in a way that hadn't been addressed when talking about the legacy of Lyndon Johnson; it influences so many of the narratives about what it means to be a family. There's so much problematic material that gets passed along because no one ever revisits it with an equity lens. And so that's really what I wanted people to do and get from this lesson. Go back, and re-examine, this time with an equity lens.

“Squad Goals” is one of my favorites. One part of it was addressing how we currently use a framework that looks at specific infrastructural elements of racial domination and progress that neglects health. I wanted to actually talk about health—physical health and spiritual wellness—as key parts of race. So, looking at the data, at least three or four stories from Tell Me Who You Are, we see voices and stories about people whose health and or wellness, their able-bodiedness, is a part of this story about who they are, racially.

Another part about “Squad Goals” was getting into how to be respectful and intentional about language. For example, I hear so many people using the word “tribe” in a racist way. They say, “find your tribe.” But, you cannot say “find your tribe” without honoring what Indigenous culture and Indigenous knowledge is. And so I'm like, no, you can find your “squad” or “team,” but your “tribe,” that's disrespectful. So we also got into how to shift language depending on context.

Lastly, in “Squad Goals,” we talked about finding allies, finding co-conspirators. The road to racial justice needs teams working together. The partnership that the two student authors of TMWYA have amassed is powerful. For the authors to lead a team of other people, work together, travel together, is powerful. You know, Martin Luther King, Jr., he was not by himself. Teamwork is essential. Whenever I see those TMWYA authors, I'm like, damn, ugh, that's dope, you know? It drives my joy. It drives so much of it. I wanted my students to take something away from that.

What was it like creating a racial literacy course at your school?

The racial literacy course we started was the convergence of several streams of thought from several different stakeholders. Ten years ago, a group of mostly educators of color—a Spanish, technology, history, art, and a science educator—came together and were like, you know, the way we do school is just really bizarre. We wanted transformative education. We wanted a new class. The time was not right, though, to reimagine the curriculum in that way. We did five or ten presentations to the administration, but it didn’t go anywhere. We were put on pause.

Well, percolating in another lane, was a group of mostly minority or Black and brown students going to the Minority Student Achievement Network conferences (MSAN). They were realizing, “Ugh, we need, we need to do something about our school!” They went to school daily among the White students in our school, who mostly have no understanding of the damage and harm their participation in propagating racist thought causes. We ended up having several singular incidents of random, racist behavior. It got to a point where a Black student just held up a mirror and amplified all of this in one shot, in an article online. Our school suddenly became international news. Thanks to those MSAN students, and others, the administrator at our school said, okay, now is the time for that class.

We’ve now taught the class five different semesters, and it’s been great. But, not going to lie, there are big challenges. One is how expensive the class is. It needs to be co-taught, and that co-teaching pair needs to have several axes of identity difference. You need two professionals at all times. You also have to get out of the school building, meaning, field trips, because we need to tie in our school context to the larger world context. Field trips are expensive, though. Co-teaching is expensive, too. And, the fact that it’s an elective, and not everyone has to take it, is expensive.

But the even larger challenge is that every time we teach it, we have a brand new set of students. Brand new identities. Every semester, we get a different racial composition of the class. Some years, mostly White students, other years, mostly non-White students. Each year, we, as co-teachers, need to match the dynamic, keep learning ourselves.

We still need way more support, resources, funding, and there’s still work to be done. But, it’s a start. Hey, it’s a start.


Disrupt Texts: FLEX Professional Development

This phrase "Disrupt Texts" (and #DisruptTexts) is the work of the collaborative work of Tricia Ebarvia and Kim Parker with Julia Torres and Lorena German. Their collaborations have produced POWERFUL materials for educators. A collection of content and resources is available online at

Disrupt Texts: FLEX Professional Develop
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Race Studies

TYPE: Lesson (full class) TITLE: #SquadGoals: Friends, Associates & Going Together CONTENT AREA: PE/Self-development

GRADE LEVEL(S): All grades

DESCRIPTION: This unit provides examples of sustainable pathways to friendship that start with clear communication of values. Examples from TMWYA will be paired with other examples of strong associations that strengthen agency of individuals and groups to promote change.

Click below to download a PDF of Joy Barnes-Johnson's full lesson plan.

#SquadGoals_ Friends, Associates & Going
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TYPE: Lesson (full class) TITLE: Make Room for Daddy CONTENT AREA: Social Studies GRADE LEVEL(S): Middle School/High School/Adult

DESCRIPTION: The title of this lesson was taken from a long-standing television show of the 1950s and 1960s which perhaps provided an influence on how people conceptualized the idea of family. Ronnie’s story provides insight on a long-held problem of assumptions. This lesson uses the 1965 Moynihan Report to trace the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow laws to current policing and mass incarceration. This lesson explores the impact of and stereotypes about Black families in particular.

Click below to download a PDF of Joy Barnes-Johnson's full lesson plan.

Make Room for Daddy, Barnes-Johnson
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TYPE: Lesson (full class) TITLE: Courage, Kinship, Joy CONTENT AREA: Health, Counseling/Wellness GRADE LEVEL(S): Middle School/High School/Adult

DESCRIPTION: Developing empathy, learning strategies for mindfulness, persisting in spite of profound challenges, choosing to affirm yourself and others as a way to grow and become better--all of these are exercises that can be cultivated with broadened cultural awareness. This short activity exposes learners to a specific type of bias that is quite complex: just world bias. The currency in this narrative is the freedom that Alok gains from choosing to stay connected to others and choosing joy over pain.

Click below to download a PDF of Joy Barnes-Johnson's full lesson plan.

Courage, Kinship, Joy, Barnes-Johnson
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TYPE: Lesson (full class) TITLE: The STATES of Bb Health in the U.S. CONTENT AREA: Life Science; Health; Bioethics GRADE LEVEL(S): 9th to 12th Grade

DESCRIPTION: Richard Rothstein’s (2017) Color of Law makes powerful connections between zip codes and America’s segregated histories. Wealth and value gaps created by the privileges afforded through land ownership contribute to health and wellness disparities along racial lines. Health and wellness differences in general provide profound evidence (or indices) for the connection between racism and our intimate life--our relationships to self, family and community--as one of many systems that contribute to a long past of systemic racism.

The perspectives of Tyler and Evelyn shed light on epidemiological challenges: the geopolitical, geocultural and geo-social norms of unwellness. Maps, stories and other forms of data will be used to examine and compare the social terrains of these two texts in light of health, wealth and various demographics.

Click below to download a PDF of Joy Barnes-Johnson's full lesson plan.

The STATES of Bb Health in the U.S
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TYPE: Lesson (full class) TITLE: Four Elements of Climate Justice: Food, Land, Air, & Water CONTENT AREA: Environmental Science, Biology, Health GRADE LEVEL(S): Middle School/High School

DESCRIPTION: This series of lessons explores ideas related to climate justice: simple actions and awarenesses that may lead to more responsible use of resources. Students can use activities from the unit to create maps, plan for community gardens or policy statements, and/or monitor their own habits in order to transform them. The lesson is anchored by the analysis of the World Economic Forum Global Risk Report for 2020 which models ways in which data may be used to support arguments. Unique ties of this global perspective to Patience’s story help draw meaning for students during the lesson.

Click below to download a PDF of Joy Barnes-Johnson's full lesson plan.

Four Elements of Climate Justice_ Food,
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