Black Women and Education, Interrupted

Education is the civil rights movement of our time. Positive education always causes elevation (PEACE). Those two mottos guide every professional decision I make. From working with children in Brownsville Brooklyn, Flushing Queens, and the Mississippi Delta to building Thompson Education Consulting (TEC), an education consulting company with clients across the country, those thoughts live within my being and drive my actions.

I created the “I am a Black Woman, Yes I Matter” community event series while producing the play, Sistas on Fire in New York City as a way to bring excerpts of the play and create dialogue about black women’s experiences and foster opportunities for black vendors to sell their products. Those events were always sold out. When the COVID 19 pandemic exposed the centuries’ old underlying inequities for Black and Brown people, we decided to go virtual.  Our first virtual event was incredible and there was high demand for more. I decided instead of a one-time event, we would hold this series monthly and open up the space. One of our goals is not to “preach to the choir,” but to create spaces where anyone from any background can value, uplift, and engage in the expertise Black Women bring to the table. Through these virtual townhalls, we seek to create actionable and sustainable change within education, through politics, with our voices, and with our finances.

The first of these events was scheduled for late June. We had over 350 RSVP’s, 8 incredible panelists, four of which would be speaking on Early Childhood and K-12 and the other half on Early Childhood to Higher Ed. Everything started off well. We had hundreds tuned into on YouTube, where we were streaming live, in addition to those joining on Zoom.

I started the event by setting the stage, sharing our commitment to the work and the vulnerability of putting our resources, our minds, our emotions, and our voices out there. There’s an emotional tax but one we want to pay because this space of actionable community is central and important to our ideologies. There’s an inherent risk to being “the angry black woman,” to our livelihoods, but with this fear comes courage, fearlessness, and heroism.

And then we were racially targeted and Zoom bombed, despite having strict security settings in place. Twenty minutes into the event, someone took over the controls of the meeting, streaming inappropriate video that included racial slurs.

To say that it was a traumatizing experience for all involved is an understatement. In true, professional Black woman mode, I was ready to restart the meeting and keep it moving. A friend, who was also a panelist, called me and was like ,”Girl, we are all traumatized. Close it down. Let’s regroup. Send a statement.” And that’s what I did. I’m glad she stopped me from doing what the world expects Black women to do: push our emotions aside, stay focused, and do the work at the cost of self-care and honoring our emotions, at the cost of ourselves as human beings.

Pushing our emotions aside allows people to see us as archetypal tropes such as an angry black woman and, we in turn, go into Superwoman mode. To be so often in Superwoman mode is emotionally taxing, affecting our mental and physical health.

The goal of the attack was to silence. The people behind these attacks are looking to disrupt and digitally stalk, bully, and harass us into fear. The work has never been easy. And it’s just getting harder. Every decision I make, I have to think about all angles and possibilities. When a white person wants to have a Zoom call, they check the proper settings and off they go. When I do, I check the proper settings as a must, hire a tech team to add security, and I still will have running questions and anxiety prior and throughout the meeting. Outwardly, I will look cool, calm, collected, and professional. Inside, my mind will be racing, my heart beating slightly faster as I worry whether the space I am creating will be threatened and attacked again.

I will not be silenced.

I will not back down from courageous conversations.

I will continue to fight for actionable and sustainable change.

Since this time, we have had three separate live events; two on Black Women in Education and the last one Black Women: Global Voices. All three events have had over a 100 live participants on YouTube and an average total of 200 views, comments, likes, and discussions across all social media platforms. What is clear is that people want to hear from Black women and want to know and learn from our experiences. We are in a time in history where Black people will no longer be silenced, women will no longer be silenced, Black women will no longer be silenced. We will tell our stories and people will listen, learn, and act.

The same reasons I started “I am A Black Woman, Yes, I Matter” are the same reasons I joined EP years ago. EP is very much aligned with my core values in education and that is why I am proud to be an Alum and continue to be very involved in the community as an Alumni mentor. I am committed and passionate about equitable education and truly believe education is the civil rights movement of our time.

Education is radical.

Education is the driver of change. It’s not just about what we know as public education or education in the US; education is that which leads to the quality of life we want, the success metrics we determine for ourselves. It is not centered on white ideology, not on corporate dialogue or what Merriam and Webster says is correct. But in what we want and on what we value.

It is through education that racial injustices and institutionalized systemic racism can be eradicated.

Kwamara Thompson is the founder of Thompson Education Consulting (TEC), and an accomplished speaker, leading discussions, presentations, and professional development at conferences across the country. She also sits on several boards and helps those organizations strategize and implement their education programming and strategic growth initiatives. She has a master’s degree in Education Leadership and a bachelor’s degree from New York University. Kwamara is a 2013 EP Alumna; she completed her Fellowship at LEAD Public Schools in Memphis, TN. You can follow her @tectalktecsolve on Twitter and Instagram, and you can also subscribe to her YouTube Channel.

If you’re an EP Alum interested in writing a story for the EP blog, you’re encouraged to email Colleen Downie, Senior Manager of Marketing and Communications.