Right now, international school systems are being scrutinized on how they advertise themselves as sites of racial diversity, tolerance, and acceptance. Then, the actual work that needs to get done to address the racism that exists on their campuses is left unchecked. At the same time, teachers and international school parents feel powerless in the face of the immensity of the work ahead.
This week, it’s my pleasure to welcome Jasmine Cochran
to share how her experiences as a Black teacher in the international school system inspired her to push for change.
When some of Jasmine’s students demonstrated racist ideologies, she didn’t scold them, silence them, or go to their parents. Jasmine did the opposite and opened her door to pupils for confidential, consequence-free conversations. She encouraged students to tell her everything they thought and felt about Black people. Then, Jasmine worked backwards to see how they got there to understand how we change it going forward.
Now, with the support of her principal, school parents, and fellow international school colleagues, Jasmine is implementing anti-racism strategies inside her classroom and across the institution. By altering the system from within, Jasmine teaches youth to think differently so they grow into adults and confidently pass truth onto our future generations.
What You’ll Learn in this Episode:
- How the first download sets the pace for future beliefs
- The false hope of expecting less racism at a new location
- Normalizing the societal contributions of every background
- Honoring our differences while noticing our similarities
- Why a teacher’s skin color can (in)validate information
Listen to the Full Episode
Is there something that means a lot to you that you’ve neglected over the last few months? (I see you nodding.) Jasmine shows us what can happen when FRESH ENERGY collides with FRESH ACTION. We’re kicking off the FRESH Challenge today, so this is your LAST CALL to join us right here
! It’s fun, free, and 100% online, so let’s bring you back to what matters most in your life.
Featured on the Show:
We’re delighted by our nomination to the global Top 25 Expat Podcasts
Full Episode Transcript: Download Transcript
Hello. It is 06:30 am in New York 12:30 pm in Johannesburg and 5:30 pm in Bangkok. Welcome to the Expat Happy Hour. This is Sundae Schneider-Bean from www.sundaebean.com
. I am a solution-orientated coach and intercultural strategist for individuals and organizations. I am on a mission to help you adapt and succeed when living abroad and get you through any life transition.
And just a heads up, if you are listening to this, the week of June 29th, 2020, you are just in time for the Fresh Challenge. The Fresh Challenge is designed specifically to have you create fresh energy and action in your life, for what means the most to you.
So we get started by looking at ways to disrupt for fresh energy, interrupt our self-talk for fresh thoughts, fight for a cause by using our voice for fresh action, how to love on your people for fresh connection and fresh focus. Friday, we’re going to focus on what’s most important for a fresh impact.
So all of that is about getting you out of stuck and doing things in a new way so that you can make an impact. So join us there. It’s not too late. Go ahead to the show notes and check out the Fresh Challenge.
Sundae: Ijeoma Oluo said, “The beauty of anti-racism is that you don’t have to pretend to be free of racism to be an anti-racist. Anti-racism is the commitment to fight racism wherever you find it, including in yourself, and that’s the only way forward.” Her message along with so many other anti-racist educators right now are inviting us all to start with ourselves because what we’re seeing in the USA right now is not isolated. It is ubiquitous. It’s a sign of global Injustices everywhere.
So this episode of Expat Happy Hour is going to invite us to look at one sphere of influence that we have, if we are in the global mobility community and many people, not all. But many people in the global mobility community have at one point in their lives had their children in the international school system, or are friends with people who do.
I know how overwhelming it can feel when you feel like you’re the one that has to single-handedly dismantle racism and you don’t know where to begin and you feel overwhelmed. But when we look at the globally mobility community, we can start with international schools and who better to talk about that, but someone who is in the heart of an international school every day.
For this episode, I’ve invited Jasmine Cochran to come on as someone who is in the system. She is a Mississippi native, a wife, a mother, currently teaching in China. She’s working to implement anti-racism in her classroom and the school and if that isn’t enough, raised two women to carry the torch of truth and justice. In her spare time, she veganizes her favorite Southern meals. I love that Jasmine. Welcome to Expat Happy Hour.
Jasmine: Thank you. Thanks so much for having me Sundae.
Sundae: So I’m really excited to dive in here today. So we’re looking at you know, as mothers of children who are international schooled. So many people in my community have their kids or have had their kids in international schools. I’m really really excited to have your inside view as an educator, what we can do in our sphere of influence.
So just a backstory for those who are listening, Jasmine and I came in contact through, actually through contacts. I knew someone, who knew someone, and that’s how we ended up coming together on Expat Happy Hour today. You briefly shared part of your journey with me and sort of a wake-up call that hit you when you were in China before we dive into that, I want to just hear a little bit about you. How did you get to teaching in China as an educator?
Jasmine: So my husband and I before we got married and at the beginning of our marriage actually, we just celebrated our 14th anniversary. So wow 14 years ago by fast. It seems like it just has not been that long, but we used to say that we wanted to live abroad, we wanted to live overseas, and both of us were athletes at university, and so we didn’t get a chance to do any study abroad programs or anything like that. So we were like, you know, what we’re going to do this one day.
A couple of years go by, and then a couple more years go by, island it’s not happening, so one day after work, I said to him. “Hey, are we really going to live abroad one day or are we just talking?” And he said, “Well, you know, you’re the one who doesn’t want to be far away from your family” and I went “okay check your email tonight”, I sent him some links and we started to just put some feelers out and talk to some friends who are living overseas and we had a friend who had moved to China the year prior who said, “Hey, I know these people at a school, they’re looking for teachers.”
The next week we had an interview, the week after that we had a contract and that was in May I believe, and then on August the 3rd, we were on the plane. We sold everything, got rid of all of our stuff, packed up our babies, packed up some of our stuff, and headed to China so that’s how we got here.
Sundae: Wow, so that was a whirlwind. I love that. I love that you didn’t give up on that dream. That’s amazing. So when you got there, you said that something happened that was really quite traumatic. What happened when you started teaching?
Jasmine: Well, you know what, first we were at a school not far from Korea and I had a student one day, I walked into class and I had a student who started to make fun of my skin, started to talk about how dark I was, started to make fun of my hair and I just took a few moments to set the record straight.
I was just telling him, “Listen, this is how skin works, this is how skin tone works, but I don’t care how you feel about my skin. I love my culture very much and the fact that you are here and you are bold enough to make fun of me, tells me that you’re the one who’s lacking information and not me. But if this happens again, you’re going to leave my classroom.”
I never had any more problems out of him and my experience at that school after that, was that I didn’t have any issues with racism after that, but then we moved from there and we moved to South China, and it was ironic because everybody was saying, “Oh there are more black people in South China and people are more accepting of black people in South China.” And it was when I got here that I mean, wow!
Last year I was teaching the autobiography of Frederick Douglass and I have a very strong conviction to not teach black history starting at slavery because what that does, is it sits this foundation for people. It’s nothing that anybody does on purpose, it’s just what happens when the first thing you hear about somebody is, you know, if that’s the first download that you get, then it sets the pace for how you will continue to believe about a person or a group of people.
You know, how you’re talking to a friend and they say, “Oh, there’s this guy, you know, he’s going to be at dinner, but I don’t like him very much.” Now, you’ve not met the guy but you go into the thing expecting not to like him very much, and now he has to prove that he’s likable, and it’s like that just because of how the human brain works, right?
So when you introduce an entire race of people and you say, “Okay, so these people were slaves,” what has happened is subconsciously, you have created this foundation for a whole people that is set and inferiority, that is set in weakness and the like. So I don’t teach black history starting at slavery. It’s not fair and it’s inaccurate. So what I did was I started at Mansa Musa and the Mali Empire and we took one or two weeks of pre-teaching Frederick Douglass’ autobiography, to give my students an idea of what Black people were doing before slavery.
Yeah, we went through all that, and then we studied the slave narrative of Frederick Douglass and I had no idea what was going to unfold, but it got real ugly, real quick. A student starts to tell me that I was bias because I was Black therefore, I was unqualified to teach them about Black History and they would not believe what I had to say until a White teacher confirmed that what I had to say was true.
I had a student write me a letter, and really ask me, “Who do Black people think that they are, they were slaves. How could they demand any freedom or any rights if they want it, they better fight for it.” The things were just unbelievable and it was consistent, it wasn’t just like a one-time thing. It wasn’t even most of the students, it was really just about 8 or 10 students who were saying things like this, doing things like this, but they were very bold, and then a bunch of other students who were silent.
So I felt quite alone, oftentimes in the classroom, and very much traumatized, and it was just ironic to me how you know, the very things that I had heard in Mississippi, I was now hearing in China from students. I mean, I was just like “What is happening? What is this? Is there some kind of like racist handbook that goes around the globe?”
Sundae: Obviously, and studied from a very early age.
Jasmine: Yeah, but it just goes to show, one, how far-reaching these ideals are. They don’t stop at borders, they cross borders. I mean that was just a few of the things that students said to me and not just you know against Black people, but White men save civilization, White men save the world, if it wasn’t for White men, we wouldn’t be where we are today, you know things like this and I was flabbergasted.
Sundae: It just makes me think about how there might even be, tell me where I’m wrong, there might even be like a hope that when you move abroad, you could have a respite from some of the racism that you experienced. I learned this from Ntando Cele in one of our last episodes. She said she left South Africa and there was hope that in Europe she wouldn’t experience the same level of racism and then when she got to Holland, she realized that absolutely wasn’t the case.
Jasmine: That’s right, especially when you’re from the South because you know, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, that was where the slave ships docked, you know, and those are the places where the Civil Rights Movement was the loudest, and so when you are from Mississippi, you know racism the same way you know black-eyed peas and cornbread. It’s just normal, it’s so woven into the fabric of where you’re from.
So I thought to myself, there’s no racism like Mississippi racism. So if you can do it there, then you can go anywhere, and then I got here and then it was a lot of the same things I heard at home. It was that the handful of very outspoken students who they didn’t really lit up. I mean some of the stuff was just so ironic.
There was one student who says he loves hip-hop music and you know, he’s always learning these rap songs and Kendrick Lamar is his favorite. And then we did the slave narrative and he went and told another teacher that he thought it was inappropriate that I was teaching these units.
Sundae: Didn’t you just want to pack your bags and leave?
Jasmine: Not for good. I did want to go home for the summer, I was itching to go home for the summer and be around my people, but I knew that wasn’t going to be the end of it for me because I have been on this anti-racism kick since I was about six years old. Soon as I found out what racism was, I knew that there was work to be done.
Since these students kept saying, “We don’t believe what you have to say until a White teacher can corroborate it.” I went and spoke to the principal who’s a White man, and I told him what was going on and I said I want to have a panel of White teachers from the school to sit in front of these kids.
I’m not going to say a word. I’m going to take up their questions and let the White teachers answer their questions. “Would you like to come?” And he said yes, I will be there. It was really awesome because the teachers rallied around me and every last one of them that I asked, they showed up. It wasn’t just White teachers. I had a friend from Singapore, she was involved. I had a Black man. I wanted to get some different perspective, so I had a Mexican-American, but the panel was 80% white.
Some of these people were from the North, some of them were from the South, from the West, but it was amazing how everybody came together and they just rallied around me. I mean it, it made me feel, I didn’t know that so many people cared and so that gave me a lot of hope that heartened me, tremendously, to know that I worked in a school full of people who were also very passionate about anti-racism. Which has definitely led us to where we are today. There’s been a lot of changes in the past year now.
Sundae: You’ve shared a few stories with me offline, but tell us now, what changes have you noticed in the students since you started implementing a different approach with them?
Jasmine: So since that happened, now that was at the end of the school year, that was the last unit that we did before school was out, and then I promised myself we would never again do the Black History unit last again ever. If it went wrong, I did not want the year to end that way.
I know in my syllabus, I make it a point to teach authors and artists from everywhere, from all over the place because what we need to do is to normalize successes of everyone. When you’re sitting in a classroom as a kid, you go in class and they teach you about Thomas Edison and they teach you about Thomas Jefferson and they teach you about all these accomplishments.
Then you see that all these people are White, and then they say, “Then there were slaves, and then there was Martin Luther King, and then there was Barack Obama,” depending on how young or old you are. Of course, I didn’t get that when I was in school, but you know the students get that now. So what it does is it makes it look like the standard of achievement is White people and that every once in a while other people achieve something, because that’s how often you talk about it, just every once in a while.
Sundae: Right, like that one guy made peanut butter.
Jasmine: Yes, exactly that, exactly that. Yeah, and you know, we have Black History Month, which I think is important. I am excited to see the day that we don’t need Black History Month because American History will include all of that organically. So that is what my classroom looks like and other teachers were doing the same thing.
We were saying, “Okay, who can we teach, what supplementary text can we use for this piece?” And more people started to make sure that we were teaching more than just what is called The Canon. Which, if you look at The Canon (because I’m a literature teacher, literature and language) you look at The Canon and it is not diverse at all, and who sat around and created that canon? I don’t know if you’ve ever seen that there’s a meme that was floating around a few years ago, and there’s a bunch of them. Like “30 things you need to do by the time you’re 30,” and, “20 things you should have accomplished by time you’re 20,” and all that.
So this one was a “100 books you should read if you’re a serious reader,” so I read the list, I mean, I’m sorry. I consider myself a serious reader. I read the list out of a hundred books, I had read six or seven, two or three of them I hated and I’m going, “How is Maya Angelou not on this list? How is this even possible? How is James Baldwin not on this list?” And I’m looking at the list and it’s all White people and the thing is if you consider yourself a “serious reader,” you have to read all this stuff. Most of it is like old Victorian, so I don’t care, but I’m going ”I don’t see Malcolm X’s autobiography on this list.” So we’ve gotta do the work to change all this.
Sundae: I’m going to jump in there for a second. I think there’s something important for our listeners that we can take beyond the international school system. So you’re talking about normalizing the success of everyone. And if I’m thinking about anybody who has an online business, or a business that does social media you can look at: “Who am I sharing, whose successes am I sharing, and whose literature?”
I think about my marketing strategies, all of my sales and marketing strategies have come from White women. So what does that mean? What is going on in that, that might be inviting some people and not others. I don’t know. I’m discovering that as I go, now that I’m more cognizant of that, but what does that mean?
So if anybody who has her own business or is responsible, even for social media, when are you highlighting not just struggles of people of color, but how about just regular everyday life? I just saw something today where there’s an initiative where a Black father is showing other Black fathers living totally normal lives, changing diapers and feeding their kids. To normalize that this is what Black fathers actually look like.
Jasmine: Yeah and Father’s Day just passed and my dad is tremendous. All right, he’s an awesome man. My dad was the first Black president of the school board in our town growing up. My dad just recently retired from NASA, he fought in Vietnam, he’s been there every single day. That man – I was talking to him the other day and he told me, “You’re doing good work, I’m proud of you.” And still, that gives me butterflies. My dad is amazing and not just that, I’ve always seen Black men be dads. Not just somebody’s name on the birth certificate, but actually being dads.
You know how on social media you have that one person who only pops up to fight, so I have two of those, and this one lady popped up and she was just running off at the mouth one day. Then she decided that she was going to send me a private message and it was just really silly, the whole thing was, but she kept switching topics. “And another thing and another thing.” Type of things and she said, “And Black kids need their dads around.” and I said, “Why are you even talking to me about that? Because we’re from the same hometown.”
“What about all the White kids in our community whose dads aren’t around and what about all the Black dads who are around that you won’t talk about. What about that? What about these kids who keep shooting up schools, they’re like 95% – 98% White kids, where are their dads? Why are you talking to me about this? It’s just a red herring. I’m gonna keep from talking about what you’re talking about and I’m just going to pretend like I can’t understand you and I’m going to be distracted by these other things that have nothing to do with the conversation.” So those people are all around.
Sundae: They’ve been brainwashed by our history, by our media, and what I’m hearing you say is let’s knock that off, let’s change by normalizing the success of everyone from a wide variety of backgrounds so that we normalize who’s making contributions to society. So you did that, you and your team did that. What else did you do?
Jasmine: Yes, we’ve been doing that at the school, and one thing that I noticed that is just the key to any relationship is proximity. I think it’s so important to have diversity on a staff because one student, while all this was happening, she came to me one day she had tears in her eyes, and she said to me: “Listen, here’s what my parents believe about Black people: they think the Black people are less intelligent, they think that Black people have smaller brains, they think that Black people are just less than we are. So I’m sitting here in your class and I learned so much in your class and I love it and I’m confused.”
Then she starts to cry, she said, “I don’t know what to believe anymore.” I just took her in my arms, gave her a big hug, and I said, “Okay, so forget about what your parents believe, you’ve been sitting in this classroom with me for almost a year, can I read?” She said, “Yeah.” And then I said, “Do you consider me intelligent?” She said, “Of course.” I said, “Okay then.” Period. That’s the end of it. “You don’t have to believe what they say.” And she said, “Well I even, I talked to their friends and their friends told me that I wasn’t old enough to understand yet and that the school was brainwashing me, but when I got older I would understand.”
So then I was talking to the principal again, because we talked a lot, and I told him about that and he said, “Well, you know what, they haven’t withdrawn her from the school yet so they must not have that much of a problem.” And I said, “You know, that’s right, and as long as she’s here, they knew that they signed her up for an international school.”
The thing that changed what she believed, and I’m glad that she was wrestling with that, is because she sits there ( last year she did) with me every day and that’s the thing. I’ve had so many people throughout my life say, “Before I met you I had these beliefs about Black people, and then I spent time with you and now I realize that stuff isn’t true.”
A lot of this doesn’t change because you read something and it is a theory, it changes through relationships. So what we have to have is people who are willing to open doors for people who don’t look like them and expose the people around them to diversity. I was listening to this guy the other day, he was giving a speech and he was saying, “If you come here, this is the only opportunity you will get.” This is a religious group. “This is the only opportunity you will get to be around somebody who doesn’t look like you.” And I thought to myself that’s quite lazy because if you live in a city, you have a million opportunities to be around somebody who doesn’t look like you.
The way that we route this out is with truth and relationship. If you are willing to do the work, I mean Black people are not going to bite you, we’re not out to get you, contrary to popular belief. I know that the world has been told that we’re dangerous.
When my students and I would talk about -I don’t know if you know the book by Elie Wiesel Night. It’s about the Holocaust and Elie Weisel has experience with the Holocaust. He and his family were at Auschwitz and we were talking about that and we did the eight stages of genocide and when we do that, I have the class talk about stereotypes.
So I start off with them, I say, “What are some stereotypes that people have about Chinese kids?” And some of it, you know, they crack jokes and they’re all laughing and it’s funny, and so then I say, “Well, what about this group of people?” And I get them all warmed up. And then I say, “So what are some stereotypes about Black people?” And the room goes silent.
I say to them: “Now, two things I want you to know. One, whatever you say, we’re just talking about what you’ve heard, I am not going to count that against you. I’m not going to think that this is what you believe. Two, you can’t say anything that I’ve never heard, so you might as well just say it.”
I really do pride myself on making my classroom a safe space and students feel that. They’ve told me as much. So they really do open up, and the first thing that they say is “Well, Black people are dangerous.” And I understand that this is what people believe.
It doesn’t matter where I am in the world. Whenever I walk by, or my husband who is 6’4/6’5, we walk by, people grab their purses, people grab their husbands, people jump into the corner, people just think that we’re dangerous. So the way that you do away with that is to be around Black people so that you can see that Black people aren’t dangerous.
These things are crazy, but they’ve been implemented strategically, these beliefs, you know, they’ve been strategically implemented to keep us all divided, which is silly but it’s happened and it has worked. Generation after generation, after generation. I don’t know if you’ve read Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, I believe that’s her name. She’s from Iran and it is a graphic novel, it’s actually the first graphic novel I’ve ever read.
It is tremendous, but she has this quote where she says, “I am from Iran and you are from America and we are very much alike and so are our governments.” She’s saying, we have no reason to believe what we believe about each other other than what we’ve been told to believe. Once you get to know people and you see we ain’t that different. We had a big meal, don’t remember, but I cooked a big meal and a friend of mine came from India and I had made a dish and he tasted it and he said, “Oh, this tastes just like our dish in India.” And I was like, “We ain’t that different man.”
We’re really not, and so just being around people who don’t look like you, who are not like you, who aren’t where you’re from and recognizing those differences, instead of trying to do the “I don’t see color thing” because I think that’s foolishness. You do see it, you do, period. I’ve never understood that and honoring the differences in us, that’s how you do that. It takes a long time.
Sundae: Because I’m a nerdy Intercultural, we talk about dialectics. So it’s like we’re similar and we’re different at the same time. So how can we find connections or similarity and how can we, like you said, honor our differences because those differences make the difference. They do make a difference.
Jasmine: And I can say, Sundae, let me tell you, I love being Black. I do, and I can’t say that enough. I take great pride in my heritage, in my ethnicity, in my background. And so when somebody looks at me and they say to me, “I don’t see color,” what you’re saying to me is: “I’m not willing to honor who you are because it makes me feel comfortable.” but it’s so ironic because they go “Okay, my child, make sure you play with the Black kids so that they know we don’t see color.” It doesn’t make any sense. You see what I’m saying?
Sundae: We’re all just fumbling on this right? So we’ve spoken a little about going into a school system and being, I don’t even like to use the word advocate anymore. I used to use the word advocate, but now the more I’m learning that being an advocate isn’t enough.
Sort of taking a stance as we started at the top of the podcast about an anti-racism posture, of looking at a commitment to fight these things, and you’re doing that in your school. You talked about it and it felt traumatizing in the beginning, you must be exhausted because you’re not only just being a mom and living abroad and teaching full time. You’re also doing all of that emotional labor on top of it. How do you take care of yourself?
Jasmine: Well, I wake up every morning at about 4:00/4:45 AM and I go work out and on the days that I don’t work out I absolutely feel it. Working out is just as mental and emotional as it is physical and I’ve been an athlete my entire life, and so that is a huge deal for me.
I meditate and that’s also very helpful. I am always going, my brain is always going, even in my dreams. I woke up the other day and I was like “Okay, write this down, this thing for the website.” It’s crazy. I’m always going and meditation is important because it is that time that I look forward to.
Where I don’t have to be going, and it really is one of the very few spaces in my life where there are no expectations, that is probably my favorite thing about it. There are no expectations here. There is nobody watching here. There is nothing here, if I have a million thoughts in my head, nobody’s going to strike me down.
If I have a meditation session of 30 minutes and I can just focus on my breathing, great. There is no judgment there in that space. We went to India this year. I remember, I was in this gifted class and we studied India and the Taj Mahal and I’d always wanted to see it. I was probably 9 or 10 and I saw it, I saw it in January. It was mind-blowing and we left the Taj Mahal, we went to this place where this family makes Persian rugs and we bought a rug, a small one, like a meditation rug and the guy said, “When you sit on this rug and you can feel the energy whenever you’re meditating.”
So we decided to buy one and it’s just another way that I just feel so connected, you know, we are so fortunate to be able to travel around and we meet all these incredible people and just see what life is doing through all these people. We met this family and they were amazing. where we bought this rug and so whenever I go there I just remember that guy.
We were watching a man make a Persian rug, I don’t know if you’ve ever seen it but it is done one piece of yarn at a time. It is incredible and the guy had the pattern memorized. I couldn’t believe it. So while he was making the rug, the guy who was hosting us, he said to us: “You see all these individual pieces of yarn and you see how they come together and they’re really close to each other. And in the end, you have something beautiful and it lasts forever and it Persian rugs are a picture of unity, and that’s what the world needs right now.” I think about that wherever I go. I’m like choking up.
Sundae: I know, I’m trying to swallow.
Jasmine: It was just one of the most beautiful moments.
Sundae: Yep. This is our chance.
Jasmine: It really is. We are all so connected, we all want the same things, we all want love, we all want safety, we all want to be able to put our gifts into the world and see a return on those things. We all want peace, we all want good food, we all want good experiences. We’re not that different, but the things about us that are different, let’s celebrate those things. Let’s pull them all together.
Anyway, you asked me “How do I stay grounded?” This is how. Things like that, you know, keeping my mind on things like that, or I really am surrounded by just amazing people. My husband is incredible, extremely supportive right now like we’re reading a book together, you know, things like that. “Let’s read this book together, let’s discuss it.” He’s awesome. These two baby girls too. I’m raising these babies, they keep me focused.
Sundae: They say that community resilience is built-in community. So it sounds like you doing all the right things to take care of yourself, and the reason I ask is for those of our listeners who are feeling fatigued to hear from someone who is there doing it every day, how you can stay strong and stay centered.
So with the last few minutes of our time, I wouldn’t mind just focusing on what you shared with me. You’ve already seen in one year dramatic shifts in your students. Do you mind sharing just a short story on evidence of what you’re doing at the school that is working?
Jasmine: Yeah, so a bunch of us said we’re going to teach these pieces, these ticks from these people. We’re going to talk about this more, we’re going to normalize this, we’re going to normalize the world conversation in our classroom. A couple weeks ago, this student came up to me and he said, “Miss Cochran,” he was real serious. I said, “Yeah.” He said, “Did you hear about Ahmaud Arbery?” I went “What?” I was taken aback. He said, “Ahmaud Arbery, the guy who was jogging and he got shot.” I said, “Of course I heard about him, you know about Ahmaud Arbery?” He went “Yeah, and it’s terrible.” And that blew my mind because the year before that, just the year before that, the conversation was so different.
When this kid walked into the classroom and said this, it turned into 30 minutes of us talking about systemic racism and the prison industrial complex and George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, how her murderers have not been indicted or anything, how sexism plays into that, and you know, all kinds of stuff. We’ve had all these conversations. Beyond that panel that we had in my classroom last year, where those teachers were just incredible, we had another panel and it was me, another Black American woman, and an Asian American woman and we were talking about what these kids can expect when they leave China and they are no longer the majority and now they’re the minority in the United States.
We had a panel for that, and so all of these things have culminated into what we are doing now, which is a Diversity and Inclusion Initiative at the school with the blessing of the principal. I sat down and wrote this all out and this is going to jump off in the fall and I couldn’t be more thrilled about it. So, that’s going to look a lot of different ways, but one thing we’re going to do is just fill the school up with posters of people from all over the place, and so it’ll be a picture of somebody and their accomplishments. So that people can see, “Hey people from everywhere really have contributed to the civilization that we live in today, White men didn’t save the world.”
We’ve all contributed and it’s going to be in the preschool building and in every building, that’s one thing that we’re going to do. People are going to audit their curriculum, audit their syllabi, and see where they can interject information and this is across all subjects right now. There is a group of teachers committee that this being formed and there’s going to be a teacher from every subject to oversee that.
So in math, if you’re talking about math, we’re going to talk about Katherine Johnson and just find ways to just put this information and normalize it, make it just a normal part of the conversation. We have a little podcast at our school, so we are planning to work with that podcast, and interview teachers from all over the place, talk about their struggles, and their successes. We are going to have parent meetings, because we know that a lot of this comes from home and so we are going to work on educating the parents as well. Many other things that we’re doing, but I couldn’t be more excited about it. I mean, this is oh my gosh!
Sundae: I have goosebumps. I love how it’s so integrated. It’s not a separate thing, it’s integrated, and here’s what I’m learning. I’m learning that when you create spaces which celebrate all and invite all, everybody benefits.
Jasmine: That’s right.
Sundae: That’s why I’m learning. I think Trudy LeBron is the one that’s teaching me that right now the most. It’s like “Oh, actually, everybody is elevated when we do this.” Elevated can also mean depth. It doesn’t mean higher in status or hierarchy, it could mean depth of understanding and it makes me want to go back to school again and learn more contemporary ways of seeing the world. I know that you’re extremely busy and things are moving fast. You shared with me that you have a project called History Confronted. Can you tell us briefly about that?
Jasmine: So History Confronted is exactly what we’ve been talking about today. We are going to normalize Black people, Indigenous people, People of Color, normalize our successes and just make people human. We’re going to humanize these people. It should confront it, a movement towards that aim of education being inclusive. Right now the website is being put together. The website is going to be a database where people can go and get information about different figures.
There will be a different topic every week, but it’ll be consistent. So like week one of the month will be literature, week 2 of the month will be stem, week 3 of the month will something else and there will even be a week for hometown heroes. So you just go to the website and you can see who we are highlighting that week. It’ll be two to three different figures from different ethnicities, and when that week is over, all of those people will go into the database. So it’ll all be available on the website and then additionally there will be like PD (professional development) for teachers.
There will be teaching tools for coaches because teams need this, there will be teaching tools for parents (how to have certain conversations with your kids). If you want to have brunch with your friends, then there’ll be teaching tools, all kinds of teaching tools for further reading. It’s going to be a place where people can go and just get the tools that they need to make inclusivity normal in their own life.
It’s a huge undertaking and it really has happened so fast, and so I am just waiting for school to be out so I can dive in headfirst. One more week.
Sundae: So what we’re doing on Expat Happy Hour is directing you to go to the Facebook group History Confronted. I’m also putting a link in the show notes to a very simple form so you can put in your name and email and then you’ll be on the first to know when all of this goes live, giving us permission to contact you either through Expat Happy Hour or through Jasmine directly, so that you know when this is live and they can have access to it.
So if you’re interested in and want to know more go ahead and pop your email and name into that form so that you don’t miss when that goes live and miss out on all the goodness.
Thank you so much for being here today. It’s been amazing.
Jasmine: Thank you. I appreciate it very much.
Sundae: I’ll just share a little bit about what I’m taking away from today’s call is, when we’re feeling overwhelmed by all of the places that we could be or should be active, there’s some calmness that I’m feeling, it’s like do what’s within your sphere and take care of yourself while you’re doing it so you can do this for the long haul and that’s what I’m hoping you, listeners, also take away from today’s episode.
You’ve been listening to Expat Happy Hour with Sundae Bean. Thank you for listening. I’ll leave you with the words of American poet, memoirist, and civil rights activist Maya Angelou, “We are only as blind as we want to be.”
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