Empowering Communities through Education and Advocacy: A Journey of Giving Back

Black Panthers did it many years ago and they lied and said that they were a militant group. No, they were feeding people, educating people, making sure the communities were in good standing. We cared about our communities. And until we as the people, we the people, decide that we don’t want this anymore and take control of our communities and love one another once again. Yes, I am the Peace Bunny. I don’t care. Then nothing will change and will until we decide because right now someone else is pulling the strings. Yes.

Absolutely. And listen, I went, I’m a product of DC Public Schools, Washington, DC public schools. And when I went to school, first of all, I went to the same elementary school from pre K through the sixth grade. And then I went to middle school for two years. And then I went to the same middle school for two years. And then the same high school for two years.

The main difference that I see, and again, I’m an educator. I got my master’s in secondary education back in 2,007. I taught for a number of years, DC, Philadelphia and even New York. I emancipated myself from that work back in 2016 to consult with educators nationally and to work on some policy.

The main thing is black teachers no longer really have access to the classroom. I was taught and raised by black teachers. All of my teachers were black. Right? And it wasn’t until I got into like middle school, like 8th grade, I had like my first white teacher. And then I had like maybe three in high school, but especially in elementary school, you know, we had the same teachers in that school from, you know, they taught there for like 50 years. So they knew generations of us. They knew our parents. They knew our grandparents. They knew our uncles and aunts. They lived in the neighborhood. Our teachers went to church with us. And they did everything and they could really discipline you. And they put their hearts and their souls into this because they saw us as their children.

Right now, we have a lot of teachers who are not black. They’re being, they’re move, they’re being pay all these big bonuses and being gentrified into our neighborhoods. And they don’t have the cultural competency to raise our children, let alone the life experience, right? Like these are, you know, I was a young educator myself when I went into the classroom, but things to think about in terms of how the landscape of education has changed and how black people really don’t have access to teaching jobs anymore. What are your thoughts on that, Lala?

I think that’s the key critical thing. But look at what’s happening right now in our world. Currently, they are removing curriculum from schools. Teachers are now being threatened with jail if they even teach anything. So teaching is, oh, I wouldn’t wanna be a teacher. First of all, you’re underpaid for what you’re doing. And now they’re telling you what you can and cannot teach. And all of the programs that were set in place for, to helping these communities are now being taken away.

Saying that it’s no longer needed or, you know, everybody needs to be equal when it was never a equal playing field in the first place. Never has been. It’s just been an illusion of what they say down in Florida, which I have been down in Florida for several years now. They may, they even teach teachers out of the classroom, allowing military people to come in and teach who have no educational background. Did I let that sink in for a minute? They’re letting people come in and teach your children who don’t have an educational background because they need teachers so bad, but yet they want to sue them. So I think as long as they have these things in place and they have us in a chokehold, it doesn’t matter what color teacher you’re gonna get. You’re lucky to get a teacher at this point. So how do you expect to educate our children when the educators are not educated themselves?

I’m in Florida, too, by the way. And which is like the wild west these days cuz photopolitically is like the. But I have friends who were teachers and guidance counselors and they would tell me that instead of even raising the pay to retain teachers, what they’ve done is create programs to get people from the other countries for a low cost to come and do the teaching jobs. And that way, so that you can cut down cost. But also you have to question the quality of the education, especially to your credit, Lala, you said that, you know, they’re having people with no educational background teaching your kids because a lot of, I mean, a lot of teachers, you’d find that they didn’t originally wanted to be a teacher. They studied something in school, they couldn’t find a job. And as long as you have a bachelors, you can get a teaching job in most states. And they went for it, not really having the passion originally needed and also not really even necessarily trained. Cuz if you go through a college program to be a teacher, I’m sure you’re more equipped to do that job versus you just kind of like shimmy your way in.

But I think that with what’s going on, we need to shift from our individualistic nature in America. And I think that concept is to our detriment and has us lagging behind other countries. I think that to deal with all the issues around education, community base, family base, togetherness is going to s help solve or rectify some of the issue, especially as it comes to childcare cost, time and money. A lot of this is also a money issue.

You get that, right. And there we go. Once again, we’re back to the disparity of they have and they have not. It, it, it’s constructed very well to tie us all into bondage. And it is for a reason. I’m not trying to preach doomsday. What I’m trying to get across is until we are ready to make the change, until we are ready to really pay attention to what’s going on around us. This is just one little puzzle piece that we are suffering from, and this is where you also really need to be paying attention to who you’re voting for, who is coming in on these smaller platforms, such as your local librarian, your local jailer, your local, if you pay a really close attention right now, you’ll see that there are a lot of people who are against anything that we stand for or are going for those smaller jobs because it’s a stare stair step into the politics to take care of what they want to get wiped out.

But Erica, I’m curious to know for you as an author, how do you, I mean, how do you do, how do you give back as well? That’s something that we all do. You sound like to me that you’re a person who likes to give back. So how do you get back to the community?

Well, you know what I do? I graduate from arts high school. That’s legacy Melbourne graduated from there. Tisha Campbell, Savion Glover. I’m not gonna tell you when I graduated, but not gonna tell you my age, but I graduated from that amazing school in the performing arts. And I would go back and speak to the television production class. I actually worked with a friend of mine. He was there. He just retired this school year. And I helped one of his students. Her dream was to publish a book, and I helped her publish a book. I helped her get her ISBN. I helped her send her letters off to the library of Congress. We sat down. We worked with an, a fellow student that was an art major that helped her do her illustration so that she knew those steps to take in order to make in order to create her book that she wanted to write and make available.

So yes, giving back is so important. But my thing is if we don’t give back in those areas that are depleted, you can give all day, but if it’s in an area that’s already overflowing, because that’s what everyone is. Yes, that’s for optics. No, we need to get in here where it’s depleted. And that was an area for me that was depleted because when I went to our high school, no, we didn’t have television production. We just had music, drama and art. No, we didn’t have creative writing. And truth be told, I was a music major, but I was a writer before I sang or danced or did anything, I was a writer. So my thing was, is this was an area that was depleted.

This young Latina wanted to learn how to do this. And I said, you know what? I am obligated and committed to her. We started off with 15 of them, and she ended up being the only one. And I said, alright girl, it’s me and you. We gonna write, we gonna publish this book and it took us all school year. And at the end of the year, before she graduated, she had her completed book. Cool. That is one of the things that I get back.