#EduColor: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly

Written on 15 May 2017, 01:00pm under Homegrown

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Integrity. Decency. Solidarity. These are the qualities that brought me to what is now commonly known as the EduColor Movement. Before this group had dozens of invited members, thousands of newsletter subscribers, many thousands of loyal followers on Facebook and Twitter, and millions of impressions on its Twitter hashtag, it was a handful of people who came together on email. Many of us – like myself – worked in education spaces where the subject of race and racism was ignored and raising these subjects was professionally risky. EduColor was a safe space: to share, laugh, and lament. It was a space where we could be our whole, passionate, justice-filled selves.

In 2013, I traveled to New York City, and while there carved out time to meet the teacher-blogger from NYC who had conceived EduColor. It was in its infancy—it was literally five of us on email: myself, Liz Dwyer, Xian Franzinger Barrett, Sabrina Stevens, and the founder Jose Vilson. Fierce and fearless and unapologetic in our drive to bring justice and equity to educational spaces. In the subsequent months and years, we attended conferences and met educators seeking what EduColor offered. People like Rafranz Davis. They were welcomed into the tent. We met people online—frequently on Twitter—and we saw they shared our battles. What we were experiencing as people of color in education was pervasive. We created a space for affinity and uplift and unending support. We boosted each other. We rallied behind each other’s triumphs. We dried each other’s tears. We used social media to organize and bring credibility to discussions about racial and cultural literacy in educational spaces.

It was good. And EduColor accomplishments are notable: speaking out on harsh and racially disparate discipline, tackling Jordan Davis or Ferguson and Mike Brown in classrooms, speaking out when NYC teachers wore “Thank You NYPD” t-shirts, and organizing against a Virginia school district that wanted to charge Black teens with felonies for a senior prank. There are many more examples of this coalition – this collective – coming together to spark discussion and take action on educational injustices. I’ve always been deeply proud and humbled to be a part of a grassroots activist space that intentionally set out to be a haven from the dysfunctional, marginalizing, hostile spaces so many of us worked within.

But regrettably, EduColor Movement has replicated the same institutional behaviors. On Saturday, I resigned from EduColor. I sent a letter to the general membership explaining how EduColor has become a collective without a collective soul for me. I spoke my truth, though in the intervening days more questions have surfaced. So for those sincerely interested in knowing what I’ve experienced, please read on.

From the beginning, the founder’s drive and devotion contributed to this movement. I’ve always respected his hustle and ingenuity. I also respected his wisdom in knowing that growing a collective is not a solitary enterprise. From its original days—when the handful of us included three Black women and two men of color—EduColor’s resourcefulness, fuel, and fire has mostly come from women of color. The collective was built and grown with the time, energy, passions, and unpaid labor of women of color. But disappointingly, as EduColor expanded, what the founder has called “growing pains” in all candor was individuals grasping for social capital and ego gratification—with myself and another woman of color as the collateral damage.

EduColor became known for its ability to prod others to have difficult and crucial conversations. But we abdicated our duty to do the same within the EduColor collective. An ill-defined advisory committee—of which I was a member—remained silent as the founder made unilateral decisions, including decisions that silenced and marginalized women of color in leadership. EduColor has now lost two dedicated members within months. The loss of Rusul Alrubail, a loyal EduColor member who sat on the advisory team, symbolizes the harmful impact of steamrolling over peers and disregarding consensus. And I emphasize impact—because regardless of one’s intentions, two women of color walked away from interactions feeling erased and disrespected by the group’s founder. And once that’s brought to your attention, and you fail to reflect and readjust, the only conclusion can be that this is intentional. That it’s not a flaw in leadership style, but a feature.

As things turned bad, I challenged my fellow advisory members to be the leadership team the collective deserved—to hold each other accountable, to lead with integrity, to adopt norms and bylaws and a democratic construct to guide the group’s operations. I owned my part in not speaking up when I should have – and I committed to do better. And all of this was met mostly with silence. Everyone in EduColor is a volunteer – and people have busy lives, myself included. Additionally, there are any number of reasons for why people can be silent in online spaces. But when “leaders” remain mostly silent in the midst of misogynoir and sexism it’s not normal – and when peers remain silent on this matter and willingly engage online at other times, the busyness of life is a convenient excuse—what’s being practiced is selective silence and a lack of conviction. I stepped out to challenge the group’s status quo. In service of a stronger, more just EduColor, I directly and unflinchingly challenged the founder and our processes – and the reward was becoming his target.

As the ugly surfaced, he intentionally ignored my inquiries in group discussions. My work in the group – on our monthly chats and in other ways – was intentionally overlooked and disregarded. And when I sparked a discussion about the erasure of women of color as it relates to press coverage of the movement—and a scholar subsequently published a blog post recognizing EduColor women of color – myself (and others) were accused on a general membership communication list of “overshadowing” the male founder. With the founder’s tacit endorsement. Through his public and less visible actions, I was reduced to a detractor, when I’ve always been a builder and edifier – and I was cast as divisive, when I’ve always been explicit and transparent with both my rejoicing of and critiques of this movement. The sincerity of communication I shared with others was not shown to me.

With all of this, it should come as no surprise that I resigned. Who would want to stay in such a space? I’ve lost faith in the founder. I’ve lost faith in the advisory committee. I’ve lost faith that me beating a solo drum for a democratically operated and controlled group is the path forward for EduColor, especially when silence has been the most dominant element within the space for much too long. But some faith remains—that EduColor members who truly believe in just social movements will bring your fierceness, fearlessness, and unapologetic drive and energy to righting what is wrong within the EduColor movement. Not only through norms, bylaws, and structures that I championed – but through empathy and compassion, and being present for and to each other.

With love. Salute.