During a January panel discussion at EduCon on “Connections in Education” I cited three books that are mandatory reading for every teacher and school administrator. I offered these book recommendations for educators to grow in their understanding of race, culture and ethnicity, and in the process strengthen their connections with nonwhite students and parents.

That appearance led to an invitation this spring from MindShift KQED to write on a book that had a profound impact on my life today – a book that I was eager to share with others because of the lessons I learned. I chose “Faces At The Bottom Of The Well: The Permanence Of Racism” by Derrick Bell.


The conversation sparked by Bell’s Faces at the Bottom of the Well among four Black women sitting in a Northeast D.C. living room is as indelible as the book’s content. In education, one of the foundational principles is that understanding and learning is enriched when students learn with and from each other. But not all learning happens in a classroom, and peer to peer education can take many forms. This book club rebuffed light reading fare. Its members – a PhD in social psychology, an English professor at the University of the District of Columbia, and a graduate student – saw the monthly book club as a seminar in raising racial consciousness and saw themselves as social justice teachers.

Faces at the Bottom of the Well pierced my perception and views about race and racism in America.

Read more on how “Faces at the Bottom of the Well” affected me and continues to influence me as a writer, parent and lifelong learner.

The Emancipation of MDA

Written on 19 June 2015, 08:00am under Homegrown

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I don’t garden. I don’t hike. I don’t crochet. Writing is my hobby and my job and my happiness. Writing is a forceful tool for activism and social change, and indispensable to inviting reflection and fresh discoveries. At a very early age, as I learned to navigate unchartered waters on race and racism, writing down my thoughts and observations became a mainstay. Intellectual powerhouse James Baldwin said, “To be black and conscious in America is to be in a constant state of rage.” As a child, I was never in a rage, but over time I developed my own anger translator in my head.

“You’re so articulate.” – Smile.
Why the #*!# does speaking exactly the way you speak require commentary?

“You dress nicely for a Black girl.” – Grin.
I dress nicely for any girl – any race – and if you like what I’m wearing, just say that!

“Your parents must be so proud of you.” – Nod.
My parents are extremely proud of me. Even more so because I didn’t curse you out for throwing shade my way. I spared them a call from the principal. That’s true pride!

“When we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard or welcomed. But when we are silent, we are still afraid. So it is better to speak.”
—Audre Lorde

From elementary school through my teens, I was the brown cocoa puff in a bowl of white milk, more commonly known as the Philadelphia Main Line. To most onlookers I was a triathlon swimmer in an ocean of whiteness. Except I refused to get in the water, because every time I got my hair wet I had to hold a symposium on why my hair looked “like that.”

It was through writing – feverish scribble for my eyes only! – that I was able to begin to process and make sense for myself of what it meant to be a Black girl … tween … young woman and why those witty responses could never pass my lips. Eventually I retired the anger translator. I became a professional writer. And now I write specifically on issues of race and equity in education. I poke. I prod. I push. I challenge. I question. I ruffle. I reveal.

I found my voice. I’ve been making up for lost time ever since.

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
—Maya Angelou

I am a product of public schools. Culturally and racially responsive teaching. Racially and ethnically diverse educators. Ethnic studies. This was not my experience. My education suffered for it. I have a child in public schools. The school-to-prison pipeline. Black and Latino students isolated by segregation. Racially-biased teachers. Limited access to AP and advanced classes. This is his realized and potential educational experience.

I follow one creed when it comes to my writing and activism and that is in the fight for educational equity and justice there are no good-hearted bystanders. To paraphrase a sentiment posted on social media, I am not comforted or appeased by well-meaning allies. This space is for conspirators and accomplices only. Freedom is never free.

On June 19, 1865, two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect, slaves in Texas learned they were free. Today is Juneteenth. Black Independence Day. But with an asterisk. Historical accounts relate that slaveholders forced slaves to remain in bondage until after the next cotton harvest and that many slaves were killed seeking “absolute equality.”

On June 19, 2015, channeling the spirit of Shirley Chisholm – “unbossed and unbought” – I have learned many things about who I am and what I aspire to be. The emancipation of Melinda D. Anderson is complete.