TheBlackManCan: Dr. Reynolds, you have served time in jobs that position you as a servant leader. What point in your life did you realize that you wanted to serve others?
DRR: I don’t think I ever made a conscious decision to serve others. My life’s experiences positioned me as a champion for the underdog. I’m keenly sensitive to those in need. I see myself as strong. I have overcome many obstacles throughout my life. Every step of the way, I have had the assistance of others, those who helped me directly, those who took the time to write their narratives and share their wisdom, those who have come before me. People have invested in me, loved me, empowered me at critical developmental instances in my life. With my sense of agency, I often feel it my obligation to use what resources, skills, talents I have in meeting the needs of others, in assisting folks. I service the underrepresented, the underserved, the dispossessed, the wretched of the earth because I see me in them. We are all interdependent. I believe in the collective. I just happen to relate more with those who have been counted out.
I can point to a few moments in my life that left the indelible impression, the calling to serve. In kindergarten, my brother and I were the only Black kids in the school we attended. The first day ended abruptly with an altercation. At the first recess, a boy called me a nigger. I responded, as I was instructed by my parents, with a beat down. My mother was called. After listening to the principal detail my brutish acts, my mother asked what punishment the boy would receive for calling me a nigger. The principal who was suspending me, said that the boy was the victim; after all, he was pretty mangled. My mother’s response set the trajectory of my life. She told the principal that I would not be suspended. She also told the principal that she could expect this response, physical violence, every time my humanity was attacked. “Rema will have to fight to protect and defend her humanity because you won’t.” The principal and I were both stunned. My mother took me to McDonald’s (a RARE treat) and let me relax in her waterbed for the rest of the afternoon watching cable (another rare treat).
There were two lessons I took from that experience; 1) protect human dignity at all costs, and 2) heal yourself and others after engaging in battle. I have remembered those lessons and carried them with me in my work.
The second defining moment came after reading Malcolm X’s autobiography. Enough said.
Being that my work is my passion and my passion is my life, within my career, regardless of the title I held, I have naturally served others.
TheBlackManCan: As a professor at Azusa Pacific University, you are teaching aspiring counselors and school psychologists. What are a few keys to success that you provide to your students?
DRR: I provide to aspiring educators a guiding principle of love. Love is a radical concept. True love is best expressed through Rogers’ notion of unconditional positive regard for others. Real love, agape love, sees school counselors and school psychologists patterned after Christ, a social justice rider who always protected, always trusted, always hoped, always persevered. In my classes we undertake an examination of sociocultural implications present within schools grounded with an integration of scripture that direct us to act as advocates for our most vulnerable students and families.
Jesus Christ provides an example of what social justice should look like. Students who are not Christians learn from Christ’s example. His love for those who were struggling resonates with those interested in acting as change agents. Schools are microcosms of society, and society is reproduced within these institutions. Change the institution, and change the world. I believe this quite literally and work hard to impart this belief to students who engage me in class.
TheBlackManCan: You received the prestigious and very competitive University of California Office of the President’s Postdoctoral Fellowship. How did it feel to receive such an award and what was the focus of your study?
DRR: I was honored to receive the award because it served to lend credence to my work that is sometimes not recognized as relevant given that we live in a post-racial society and my research centralizes race and racism as core elements in the structure and function of schools.
My study focuses on parent involvement and engagement and the experiences Black middle class parents have in public secondary schools. Increasing numbers of Black families are finding their way to more affluent neighborhoods with seemingly successful schools yet, an analysis of educational outcomes for Black middle class students reveals that their academic performance still warrants a look into their parent-school relationships. With this objective, my research seeks to derive answers to the following questions; 1) what do Black middle class parents articulate as their experiences with school officials, and 2) according to these parents, how does race influence these experiences?
The questions I raise in my study have responses to be garnered from the experiences of Black middle class parents that can serve to further inform the knowledge and research base regarding this specific and unique group. Ultimately, how can Black middle class parents and school officials work together to ensure the actualization of academic potential for Black all middle class students?
TheBlackManCan: How can we do a better job or preparing culturally competent educators, administrators and professionals in other fields?
DRR: This is a difficult question because culture is so multi-faceted, ever changing, and contextually complex that competence is elusive sometimes. More importantly, I think cultural competence is hard gained, as it requires a candid, open, honest self-examination of biases and prejudices. Most people are not comfortable confronting their own bigoted thoughts and actions, especially those centered in race. Since we avoid conflict, even self-conflict, that is necessary for change, our cultural competence growth is stunted if allowed to develop at all.
It seems that the only way to do a better job preparing culturally competent educators would be to start the conversation in every other field, in every corner, nook, and cranny of our society and sustain it. Until folks are comfortable talking about differences, we will not be able to accept them as they occur organically among us.
Then, institutions of higher learning must be committed to the study of culture and do the hard work of reflection with those preparing to work with diverse people, particularly children. Sociocultural implications in education is often considered an optional or supplemental topic of study even in Teacher Education Programs claiming to be committed to social justice! This practice is unacceptable and negligent even as we consider the fact that this country will look vastly different racially and culturally in a few short years.
The stakes are high. If we continue to willfully ignore all of the isms we’re plagued with and subscribe to, we will inevitably perpetuate them—even unwittingly. This perpetuation, again, contributes to the reproduction of societal ills. Educational malpractice will continue to occur for our most vulnerable children; poor students of color.
TheBlackManCan: What is the Critical Race Studies in Education Association? What should racial justice look like within America’s schools today?
DRR: I am proud of the work I did with the Leadership Team to comprise the Mission and Vision of this organization:
The Critical Race Studies in Education Association is a collective of scholar activists committed to the larger project of racial justice in schools within the P-20 spectrum.
- We are an interdisciplinary consortium of experts who recognize global implications of race and education for minoritized people.
- Through scholarship we identify and expose inequities for the ultimate eradication of white supremacy.
- We counter and combat systemic and structural racism with scholarship and praxis.
- We recognize the multiple locations of oppression and the myriad manifestations and effects of their intersections.
- We co-construct liberating knowledge that facilitates collective agency to transform schools and communities.
CRSEA is committed to realizing racial justice in schools. Racial justice in schools, to me, begins first with the recognition of race as a mitigating factor in determining student outcomes. Next, racial justice would see educators creating equity, not equality, in schools. We’ve been victims of botched attempts at equality. Equality has not served minoritized students and their families well. Racial justice considers the needs of diverse groups and seeks to meet those unique needs as opposed to giving everyone the same treatment, same services, same resources, etc.
Seemingly hackneyed catch phrases like, “level the playing field” are actually relevant and should seriously be considered when thinking of policy and practice. Culturally relevant pedagogy, culturally responsive instruction, and culturally competent educators could serve to actualize such trite terms for students in need of equitable schooling conditions.
We suffered a heavy loss when we integrated. We fought for equality and inclusion when the core concern, our primary demand should have been equity.
TheBlackManCan: When people say we live in a post racial and color-blind world, what is your response?
DRR: The lie is sweet, but a lie nonetheless.
I understand. People want to get past race. They want to think that we’ve arrived to a space of enlightenment and acceptance. Enlightenment cannot come from denial which, in this case, is rooted in fear.
When people say that they don’t see race, they are attempting to deny the feelings they have around race; they are masking for themselves and they think for others their biases and bigotry. I’m not fooled.
Everyone sees phenotype. They acknowledge color in all sorts of ways; some ways are detrimental to themselves and others. A cleansing truth telling must occur if we want to discontinue destructive ways of dealing with race. People need to tell the truth to themselves first.
We all have biases and prejudices. All of us do. Know thyself. First, folks need to really grapple with the ugliness harbored in the deep and shallow recesses of their hearts and minds and do the work of self-examination before we can even begin to move toward reconciliation of what is and what ought to be concerning race relations.
What most troubles me is when people of color, particularly Black folks with sincerity shake their heads and say that they don’t see color. Fatha! I just want to lose it in a real way. Yet I understand that too. The pain and shame of racial injustice is taxing. Indeed, we know that the stress of racism takes years off ones’ life. I think the denial of race and racism is more lethal. I’ll come to Black folks in a minute.
I also think that this declaration of a post-racial society is an attempt to waylay any retaliation that folks think may be exacted by President Obama upon white America. It’s a Jedi mind trick at play. Hold up. I know it’s kind of a radical notion, but bear with me.
When I was in Ethiopia during the US presidential elections, my white colleagues who also travelled to teach there were fielding questions of President Obama. Everyone recognized and adhered to an unspoken protocol–appear racially unbiased and Christian when talking about Obama because the Ethiopians openly favor him, and Rema will challenge you to defend your McCain choice. They never openly opposed or supported Obama. They lauded his position on change and conceded that there were not many reasons to vote for McCain. They were astutely cagey and elusive in their speech. Yet, I remained hopeful. At least they were not blatantly declaring their allegiance to McCain, saying instead, that they were undecided, they didn’t know yet for whom they would vote. My hope was that after our conversation, sanity and scruples would overcome and subdue them and they would have no choice but to do the right thing, vote for Obama. Sally spit on my hope with her hot words, “That’s why we can’t trust Obama.” I can’t give the full context of her statement, just know that we were talking about white supremacy and its effects on Michael Jackson. Long story.
Sally, a newcomer to the already established group of teachers, boldly proclaimed what most Black Americans knew all along though no one would co-sign our suspicions—white America is afraid of Barrack Obama. White America is afraid of revenge.
Paranoid white folks think that Obama is going to get them back for all of the atrocities exacted against Blacks—unfair judicial practices, inequitable schooling, a dehumanizing portrayal in the media to further spur the fear, and a consistently demoralizing economic system based on bias and prejudice that sees Blacks as less worthy of credit, adequate housing, and good paying jobs(we can debate whether they have anything to fear thus far another time).
I guess, logically, they should be afraid. It is human nature, when engaged in a win-lose conflict situation, for the losers to want to win, to want to compete with and beat their opponents. Black people have been the losers in varying degrees in the racial conflict America has been embroiled in since importing its first slave. This country has been struggling to establish dignity and respect for some time. White America won’t allow it. Dignity and respect comes after admitting to and rectifying the wrongs of the past. White America is not prepared to own its indecent history. “Get over it Black America,” is what they continue to both implicitly and directly convey over and over in their policies and practices and speech. Yet, they’re not over it. Really. They are still ever mindful of prior bad acts that have their effects still today in American society. White America is cognizant of the condition of Black America and the relationship the past has to the present. As much as they try to deny it, they know the ugly truth and biting sting of racism. And they’re afraid.
Afraid that Mr. Obama will try to right the wrongs of the past and eradicate the injustice of today. Even more afraid that he will subject them to the very maltreatment that has been doled out in heaping spoonfuls for Blacks to swallow on a daily basis. Oh they’re scared alright. Sally let the proverbial cat out of the proverbial bag. Frightened.
So the strategy to quell any hard feelings, declare a victory. Racism no longer exists folks. Dr. Martin Luther the King’s dream has been realized. President Obama was measured by the content of his character, not his color. If only….
Yet, if White America would look outside themselves for a moment, redirect their egocentric gaze and really examine the practices of Black people, they would see that they really do not have anything to fear. Black folks are harmless in this matter. A glimpse into history and current conditions reassure us that Black citizens are not retaliatory in nature. We’re a peaceful people when it comes to whites. We really do just want to get along. We have hope for harmony: a wish for peace with the white world. Blacks are so willing to forgive and forget to a fault. We continue to experience the same mistreatment because of our audacity to hope for a better relationship with White America. We’ll even blame ourselves for the deplorable conditions we find ourselves in instead of the systemic structures erected and maintained by White America to keep us subjugated, dependent, and oftentimes defenseless. We make every attempt to garner and maintain the healthy relationships we have with white friends and co-workers—often for our survival. We don’t want to instigate bad relations with White America. We want to live in tranquility with whites. Revenge is furthest from our minds. A post-racial society is the goal.
Unless we all are ready to cop to the past, take responsibility for present wrongs, acknowledge and denounce racism and white supremacy, all isms will remain woven into the fabric of our society.
If this colorblind, post-racial rhetoric continues to go unchallenged, I am afraid not.
TheBlackManCan: How has white supremacy and white privilege affected white as well as black people?
DRR: These are loaded questions. Dissertation worthy questions. Sheesh. Where to start?
Let me go back to Michael Jackson and Sally. Those of us who had been in Ethiopia the week prior greeted the newcomers over dinner. As I mentioned earlier, Sally was a newcomer. We all chatted pleasantly about the weather, about our curriculum, about our summers thus far when the conversation turned to Michael Jackson who was still alive at the time (I’m still hurt by the loss humanity suffered through his death, by the way). We were talking about worshipping false gods and idols when I recalled the time my grandmother, who was a Jehovah’s Witness, made me take down all of my posters of Michael Jackson declaring, “He is not your God!” We all chuckled and then considered the man for a moment. Sally (nor I, for that matter) just could not understand why he would mutilate himself as he has. I agreed that his transformation was tragic. Michael was beautiful as a Black man, gorgeous as a Puerto Rican, when he took on Asian coloring, his features started to become distorted, as a clear man, his face was veritably falling apart.
In response to that observation, stroking her nose, Sally wondered aloud, “Yeah, I know why he would want plastic surgery, to get rid of his harsh features, but why change his skin color?”
Harsh features? What did she mean by that? African features? Black features? Negroid features? What the truck?!
Now, I have been non-violent since 1999. This proclamation that I verbalize often to remind myself of my commitment to peace, saved Sally’s life. My violent past and tendencies all rushed before me. I rubbed my left eye, to get the images of turning the table over and smashing her in the mouth out of it. I cleared my throat of the vile words I had formed in my mind to answer her question. After all, I was here in Ethiopia teaching the country’s leaders how to respond positively to conflict, to reframe conflict as an opportunity to grow, learn, and develop new understanding. I was teaching a non-violent, peacemaking approach to conflict. Though I am a hypocrite at times, for myriad reasons, I did not see this as a safe time to practice hypocrisy. Besides, if I beat her down, I could be thrown into a foreign jail. I did want to return to the US despite its racist ways. I wanted central heating back in my life again. I couldn’t go to prison there. Too cold. I had to refrain from a violent response. I thought about all this before I settled on peace.
I am an educator. I used this opportunity/conflict to educate Sally, to enlighten her and provide a small piece of understanding about Black people living in America. Before I began my lecture, I let her know that the explanation I was going to provide was based on controversial theories. I asked if she still wanted an answer to her question. She said yes. She had a Black friend once in grade school (by the way, she let us know that she was the only one to befriend this girl while everyone else shunned her—such a missionary) and she knew all about our struggles. I warned her one last time, noted her nod and her hand waving her welcome of the information, and proceeded to let her know of the effects of slavery and internalized racism and hatred Black people in America and around the world still suffer today. I was in the middle of delineating just how the slave master expertly established and reified white supremacy by pitting darker skinned slaves against lighter skinned slaves when she interrupted with, “But Michael Jackson wasn’t a slave.”
After physically biting my lip and employing my hands in the task of providing extra emphasis to my points so that they wouldn’t involuntarily reach out and slap Sally in her lips that seemed to taunt me, I patiently continued with further explanation about the far-reaching, long-lasting effects of the most inhumane system of slavery known to humankind. “Oh, I don’t know about that,” retorted Sally in the middle of my well constructed sentence regarding the length of this barbaric human trafficking, “Brazil was pretty bad.” What the hezy?! Why was I being tried like this? Ever so patiently, with tenderness even, I let Sally know that I was against injustice anywhere and that I was not going to compare unjust practices and enter into an oppression Olympics with her. I was simply trying to get her to see why Michael Jackson was socialized, yes racialized to hate his very skin.
“That’s why we can’t trust Obama.”
White supremacy is so slimy, slick, and sinister that most folks cannot even detect its omnipresence. When I was in Hong Kong, I saw its effects when I went into the drugstore and found bleaching cream on the shelf. Bleaching cream is sold worldwide. The universal standard of beauty is situated in white supremacy. People of color suffer all types of psychosis as they strive to become someone they can never be, and white folks, often unwittingly, continue a damaging system of white privilege in which a disproportionate number of their fellow humans are dehumanized.
How are whites affected by white supremacy? Tangibly, physically they undoubtedly reap benefits that come from being supreme. Spiritually they lose.
When we accept white supremacy and fail to challenge its permanence in our lives, people of color lose in every category.
TheBlackManCan: You belong to Sisters of the Academy. Can you tell us more about that organization?
DRR: Sisters of the Academy (SOTA) was formed shortly after the Brothers of the Academy (BOTA) was established.
As Sisters of the Academy, our mission is to create an educational network of Black women in higher education committed to fostering collaborative scholarship and achievement. Through this commitment, members of the organization will impact Black people, schools, and communities.
Every other year, this is the year by the way, SOTA hosts a Research Bootcamp for doctoral students and Junior Faculty. I attended as a doctoral student in ’07 and the Black women who ran the organization blew my mind with their intellect, but they stunned me most with their display of genuine care and concern for my emotional, intellectual, spiritual, and physical wellbeing. To encounter that kind of love from strangers is rare. I purposed to get to know them and after completing my doctorate, I joined the leadership team heading up their community outreach.
The Sisters of the Academy (SOTA) sponsor an annual Book Drive. The Literacy Project aims to provide books to underserved, underrepresented students who often attend under resourced schools. Last year, we collected over 550 books! This year, we hope to provide that same service to families in Leon County Schools in Tallahassee, FL.
There is an enormous need for books in communities like Tallahassee. Studies have shown that access to printed materials is critical for the development of literacy skills. However, almost two thirds of low-income families across the nation have no age-appropriate books available in their homes for their children. The impacts are far-reaching given that the inability to read is linked to poverty, unemployment, and incarceration. Your tax-exempt donation will help to diminish these possibilities for one small elementary school.
Help us in our goal to purchase enough books to provide each child in one school a book to take home. You can make your donations at http://www.sistersoftheacademy.org/support-sota/
Questions or concerns can be directed to Rema Reynolds, Community Outreach Chair, at email@example.com
*If you donate using PayPal, under “Instructions to the Seller”, please indicate that you wish to give to the Book Drive.
Years the bootcamp is not offered, a writing seminar is accessible for women in the academy; students and faculty alike. I attended this as well and my assigned mentor assisted me in writing an article for publication. That same mentor later served on my dissertation committee.
I have forged lifelong relationships and friendships with women I’ve met through SOTA (shout out to newly minted PhD, Nia Cantey). We should all avail ourselves to organizations like SOTA that endeavor to mobilize, energize, and uplift Black folks. Please get involved.
TheBlackManCan: Can you share some words on your scholarly article “An exploration of critical race theory in examination of the Educational Outcomes for Black Males.”
DRR: I wrote this article from my dissertation research. Within my dissertation, I wasn’t able to fully attend to a recurring conversation I had with parents I interviewed. Participants in this study were Black middle class parents who had migrated to middle class neighborhoods touting high-performing schools. I interviewed them to examine the experiences they had in those schools. I wanted to note their perceptions of race and class. Again, in this post-racial society we find ourselves in, folks tend to shy away from candid conversations about race and racism and instead opt to discuss injustice and inequity within a class analysis. I was interested to see if these folks would follow suit.
The short of it is that they discussed class and race and stated that racism primarily served to mitigate the experiences they had in schools with school officials. When they talked about disparate, unfair treatment suffered at the hands of school officials, they always brought up their sons. Black boys have a very different experience in schools than any other group of students. In this article I discuss the observations of parents as they give accounts of low expectations held by educators for their sons, an overemphasis on behavior by educators regarding their sons, and a heavy-handed zero tolerance disciplinary approach exacted by educators against their sons. These parents’ stories should serve to alarm researchers, educators, parents, and students as they are common and the policy and practices described are prevalent across schools, across class.
While there is no documented correlation between parent involvement and educational outcomes, we do know that parent participation in school-related activity is associated with favorable academic and behavior performance in schools. Students with involved parents go to college and finish, have higher math scores, and lower truancy and drop out rates than students whose parents do not participate in school sanctioned activities or monitor student work at home. Involvement, however, looks different for different parent groups. School culture, which is normed on a white middle class paradigm, often runs counter to the norms and values of Black parents. The more knowledge Black parents have of schools and systemic inequities, the better equipped they are to advocate on behalf of their children, particularly their sons.
TheBlackManCan: What words of advice do you have for the youth trying to find their own identity?
DRR: Read. Read. Read.
Read everything. Read widely. Read cross-culturally.
As we continue to derive ourselves from media images of who we ought to be, we will continue to see death and destruction generationally.
If we really want to understand who we are, whose we are, and who we are to become, we must be quiet, still, contemplative, reflective, and analyze our lives in relation to history, to theory, to policy, to practice, and to others. Be transformed by the renewing of the mind. Read.
Engage in discourse with the foolish and the wise, the youngins and the seasoned folk, the rich, the poor. Dialogue with anyone willing to stop and talk. Through relationship, through the connection we make with others on a basic human level, we learn about ourselves. Get to know us. Find out who the collective we is. Manufacture the collective if you have to. Interdependence makes us great; shows us who we are. And through these relationships you find mentors to help guide you through life. Invaluable.
Get a job. Even if you have no wants (parents, rethink this. If your child has no wants, you are messing up), earning your own money feels good, establishes a work ethic, forces you to learn time management, and keeps you off twitter, facebook, and other time suckers that facilitate tomfoolery.
Through leadership roles, character is developed, many valuable life lessons are learned. Seek varied opportunities to lead. The exposure, experience, and relationships will chart the course of your life.
Oh, and turn off the reality shows, and BET; garbage in, garbage out.
Exquisite Women is where we at TheBlackManCan highlight Black Women who are making positive and remarkable contributions to society. Nominate a Black Woman today on the contact page or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, subject line: Exquisite Woman!
 Names have been changed to protect the not-so-innocent, the guilty as it were