So I am sitting here listening to Nipsey Hussle as I write. I always listen to Nipsey Hussle when I write, but that’s not the point of this blog. Well, at least not at the moment. Early this morning, I had a coffee and convo with a friend while discussing what’s next for me and TwistED Teaching after the release of REAL LOVE: Strategies for Reaching Students When They See No Way Out. During this conversation, I shared with her where TwistED Teaching came from and how I started my consultant work blogging (if that’s what you want to call it). She asked what happened to my blog and, like my blog, I had nothing left to say…so I stopped (well before I even got started).
Two things people always find shocking about me is that I hate writing and I hate public speaking. Yeah, I know…I wrote a whole book and I’ll never shy away from presenting or chatting on a live stream or podcast but when I think about writing or talking in a public manner, anxiety fills my body and literally cripples anything that led me to believe that someone would actually care about what I have to say. No matter what was on my heart or mind, I would not let it out because…for what? So, I stopped blogging and started putting my heart, soul, and passion back into my journal, idea book, and sticky notes (yeah, I’m that sticky note teacher). To be honest, I don’t know where I got the courage to write REAL LOVE. All I can think about is “BUT GOD!” God knew I had a story to tell and he lit a fire in me to write because other than that, I wouldn’t have done it. Where does this fear come from though?
Growing up in South Central, Los Angeles, and being educated in the LAUSD, I did not see many representations of Black women from the hood writing or speaking on a public level. We had stories and stuff to say but no spaces to share those stories or, at least spaces that I knew existed. Hip Hop was there and there were women like YoYo and Rage who were rapping about what it was like growing up in South Central but I wouldn’t understand how they were using their platform to share their truth until later in life and, to be honest, I did not know about great women like Angela Davis, until I attended a Historically Black College (shout out to GramFam). The message that was sent to me, through schooling, was black women from the hood are not writers, speakers, and we don’t have anything to say that other people would listen to and be inspired by. In REAL LOVE, I talked about the confidence that came from participating in Lion’s Club speech contest, and, if you’ve read REAL LOVE, you’re probably wondering how I got to that point. Her name is Sister Souljah. Like many young girls growing up in the early 2000s, I got my hands on a copy of The Coldest Winter Ever and it was life-changing. When I thought Black women from the hood were not writers and nobody wants to hear about what’s happening in the hood. Sister Souljah proved that to be wrong and she had me hooked. She had me inspired. She helped me see and understand black women and the ways they were sharing their stories in a whole new way. In her work, I saw me. I saw what I could do. I saw mattering in my words and stories. My school–as a collective organization–did not show this to me. Sister Souljah showed me that my body, my culture, my identity, my hood, and my voice mattered when the education system said otherwise. To be honest, she made me want to talk my “ish,” but that was still hard when I was made to feel like I had nothing important to say.
The Coldest Winter Ever took me on this journey to find voices that looked like mine and those whose stories sounded like mine. A Rose That Grew From Concrete. Tupac. Life-changing. #RepresentationMatters. I hated writing but I often used poetry to share my heart. When a teacher used Tupac to teach poetry, like TCWE, it meant something to me. Every kid growing up in L.A. knew who Tupac the rapper was but to see him as a poet…#representationmatters. To see his work being compared to Shakespeare. #representationmatters. To hear him sharing what it was like growing up in the hood #representationmatters. Dear Momma…that That was MY story. Sister Souljah’s stories matter. Tupac stories matter. My stories matter. Black students in the hood…their stories matter!
I know this blog probably jumps all over the place, but so what *insert shrug*. I’m tired of being silenced and crippled by all the formalities. My job is not to write a perfect blog or use all the academic language out there. I need to share my voice because it matters and my students need to see someone like them doing things that our society shows them they can’t do or are not supposed to do. Showing our students people who look like them and come from physical and wider communities, similar to their own, doing things they’ve been explicitly or implicitly excluded from is a must if we are going to change their experiences with schooling in urban spaces. Students need to see positive representations of themselves in all aspects of our schools because it is empowering and communicates to them all that they can do in life. If we want to change the experiences they have with learning…change what they are learning! It’s that simple. Many students do not perform at their fullest potential because we have sent a message to them that has stifled and crippled them. Why would I write if what I have to say is not going to be valued? Why would I want to do math if I have never seen anyone who looks like me or come from my hood to use math in a way you are trying to teach me? Why would science matter if what you are using to teach me sends a message that I am not a scientist? “Naw, that ain’t for me.” “People like me don’t do that.” “We don’t do that where I come from.” Our students don’t say that because that’s what they believe…they say that because that’s what we’ve shown them. That has to change.
When I write or do anything that is outside of my comfort zone, I listen to Nipsey Hussle. His hood was my hood–literally. The streets I grew up on were the streets he once hanged and banged on. Nipsey The Great he will always be. His lyrics are my truth and listening to his work takes me back to 105th street. His hustle and stories took him to top the Billboard charts, attending the Grammy’s, changing schools, and opening businesses that would give back to his community. His stories are raw, real, and a truth that some are uncomfortable hearing. But, I need to hear them. When I feel like my voice does not matter or no one cares about what I have to say, that all changes and confidence comes from the voice of someone who knows what it’s like to feel crippled and silenced by the environment that surrounds them. His #representationmatters. So, I am going to write and share my truth because my voice and stories need to be shared and heard. Because I know the power of representation, I want my students to see me doing what others have excluded them from being because their #representationmatters.
Alexes M. Terry
Alexes M. Terry is a wife, mom, educator, and lead consultant at TwistED Teaching Educational Consulting Company. She is the author of REAL LOVE: Strategies for Reaching Students When They See No Way and lives each day to transform the educational experiences of students in urban schools.
Alexes’ book–REAL LOVE--uses her personal story and professional experiences to provide educators with engaging, relevant, and practical strategies on how to educate, connect with, and transforms the lives of students, in urban schools, who see no way out of the conditions that surround them. You can purchase REAL LOVE at bit.ly/realloveedu