California Educator

August/September 2020

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former Compton teachers, who gave me "the look" when they found out where I was teaching and who my principal was, told me to talk to a guy named [for- mer UTLA President AJ] Duffy, if I wanted help changing that school. I sought him out, and that encounter changed my life. He became a mentor. I know he was a controversial figure — he could be super brash. We worked together and got rid of that bully prin- cipal. He passed away last year, but he believed I could become president, and in his eyes I could be a great one. His advice to me was: "Give 'em hell!" But after that first meeting I became more active, moving from assisting our site chapter chair to being a chapter chair, then serving at just about every role and layer at UTLA. What does it mean to you to be a woman of color and longtime activist leading UTLA at this time? UTLA is 50 years old. Our profession is 70 percent women, yet we've only had three women presidents and none for three decades. So to be a woman and a woman of color is important, but I don't collect titles, and it's not the lens I see my role primarily through. The work speaks for itself. But it is important, and when I stop and think about it, it makes it all that much more meaningful — especially when I think of my father, who is no longer here to see what I've become. He always told me, " You can reach for the stars, and you'll catch them all." So when I get racist email or hateful posts on social media, I don't let it stop me. It lets me know I must be doing some- thing right. What do you hope to accomplish? I want UTLA to look at issues through more of a racial and social justice lens. Just look at what is happening in our country and in the world now. The uprisings against police brutality are exposing what has always been there. COVID-19 is exposing the harsh inequi- ties for working-class people, and even more so for Black and brown people. We need to have courageous, difficult conversations, and we need to build and strengthen relationships with our communities that aren't purely trans- actional. We need to listen, even when what people are saying is difficult. What can educators do? White educators can play a big role, especially in talking to other white edu- cators. We have to look at policies and practices and update them to reflect reality. COVID has been horrible, but it has given us a forced opportunity to address some of the inequities built into our education system. We all have a role to play. My UTLA colleague and CTA Board member Erika Jones and I have a "Black Lives Matter in Schools" workshop we've done across the nation. We have to all look at our own internal biases, and then do what it takes to end the school-to-prison pipeline that impacts so many students of color. Teacher prep programs need to better address these issues, and ethnic studies need to be a part of every new teacher 's back- ground. The unions need to take the lead on all this. Talk about UTLA's recent push to defund or disband school police. Students Deserve have been the real leaders calling for defunding. UTLA was proud to help them with this latest effort. I want us to continue to work with students and community groups. We need to listen to our students and stop criminalizing behavior when we have much better ways to address the roots of those behaviors. And even if we can't solve them right away, we can still listen and acknowledge the lack of a meal or the home or homelessness situation that may be behind why a student just isn't with it today. Is any of your family involved in your work? [Laughs.] Oh, they're involved all right! My mom and 9-year-old son Giovanni come to every NEA RA. Gio's first was when he was 7 or 8 months old. He's been with me at rallies, during the strike — he leads chants! On one of his school field trips he was walking down the street with his class chanting, "We are the union, the mighty, mighty union!" Are you active in other social justice causes? I'm interested in anything that will help make the world better for marginalized kids. If you fix things for them, you fix things for others. A change is going to come if we continue the work of listen- ing and seeing the absolute humanity in our students, and then do whatever it takes to lift them up and protect them. I was fortunate enough to meet the late Congressman John Lewis, who just passed. He advised us to get into "good trouble — get in the way — continue getting in the way." I take those words very seriously. I have to. "I'm interested in anything that will help make the world better for marginalized kids. If you fix things for them, you fix things for others." CTA's Work Toward Anti-racism CTA's Human Rights Department, Service Center Equity Teams and Racial Equity Affairs Com- mittee have launched a webinar series, " Tuesday Takeovers for Racial and Social Justice." Topics include "How To Be an Anti-racist Educator" (Cecily Myart-Cruz was a panelist) and "Talking About Color." All are welcome; go to to view recorded webinars and find out more. 14 Spotlight

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