Our Power is Our People: Connie Wun

 

IMGL1369-web

Who are you, where do you work, and why do you do what you do as an organizer for education activism?

I’m a Vietnamese, feminist of color research scholar who ended up getting a Ph.D. in Education from UC Berkeley in 2014. I’m also the Founder and Director of Transformative Research, an institute that trains organizations and community groups in community-driven research and data analysis as well as works with agencies as a strategic partner on issues of racial/gender advocacy. In this capacity, I’ve worked with organizations such as Girls for Gender Equity in NYC and Monsoon: United Asian Women of Iowa to train their staff in community-driven qualitative research and data analysis. We’ve written and published reports and articles based upon our research for the purposes of community organizing, popular/political education, and advocacy. Through this work, I’ve also been asked to co-develop and facilitate local as well as national forums about the intersections of interpersonal, institutional/state, and structural violence for educators, students, community organizers, service providers, and policy advocates. I’ve recently been brought on by EducationTrust-West as an Education Equity fellow to help inform their work on racial and gender justice in education.

My current work is informed by my personal, political, and professional experiences. As a former Ethnic Studies and English high school teacher, advocate for sex workers, anti-sexual assault counselor, and community/student organizer, I hope to bring a particular lens to the field of education and educational settings. I think that because of my experiences and knowledge, I am acutely aware of racial and gender violence in its micro and macro forms. My political education began 20 years ago, when I attended the Asian Left Forum, Critical Resistance, and Color of Violence conferences and when I was a community advisor to the Prison Activist Resource Center. The education I received in these spaces from feminists of color and other radical scholar educators helped me to understand the things that I experienced as a first generation, poor-working class Vietnamese girl who was born in Oakland and raised throughout the Bay Area.

While I am fortunate to have had a handful of amazing high school teachers (including a white woman who helped me to fall in love with Toni Morrison and a Black male MacArthur Genius speech coach), it wasn’t until I was in these alternative educational settings that I became an active learner. In these spaces, I learned about the history of imperialism (its indefinite impacts upon myself and my family), the prison industrial complex and carceral state (their relationship to my communities and people I’d never meet), and complexities of intersectional violence (as they played out everywhere in my life). In time, I learned about how they were all connected.

My experiences with these various educational spaces informed my doctoral research on girls of color, violence and school discipline. They also informed how I understand the ways that racialized patriarchy plays out in K-16 education, namely the ways that mostly white liberal educators and some cis-gendered men of color scholars relate to cis, trans girls and women of color and our politics. I am acutely aware of the micro and macro aggressions that happen – consciously or unconsciously.

As an extension of this history and to pay it forward, I do this work because I am invested in the type of educational experiences and lessons that help more individuals to identify racialized gender violence as it structures society, its institutions, relationships, feelings, and politics. My work centers the experiences of cis and trans girls and women of color because I think we sit at the interstices of multiple forms of violence. And as Black feminist scholars and other women of color scholars have historically noted, our experiences with violence – including strategies for survival – can help others to understand violence much more complexly. It is these narratives and analyses that will help to develop more imaginative solutions or alternatives to the world that we have lived in and that exists as at the expense of communities of color. My goal is to help others to own our experiences with this world, to complicate and expand our understanding of its violence against our communities, and to galvanize support for our efforts to change things as they have been. It’s a lofty goal, but because of all the violence I’ve known, it is long overdue.

What five books have been essential to your formation as an education activist?

Anzaldúa, G. E. (1990). Making face, making soul: Creative and critical perspectives by feminists of color. San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books.

Fanon, F. (1963). The wretched of the earth. New York: Grove Press.

Hartman, S.(1997). Scenes of subjection. New York: Oxford.

James, J. (1996). Resisting state violence: Radicalism, gender, and race in U.S. culture. Minneapolis: University Minnesota Press.

Meiners, E. R. (2007). Right to be hostile: Schools, prisons, and the making of public enemies. New York: Routledge.

Richie, B. (2012). Arrested justice black women, violence, and America’s prison nation. New York: New York University Press.

What are three things you love about what you do?

I love that I get to teach people what I was teaching my undergraduate and graduate students, but outside of the academy and with the purposes of advocacy, community organizing, and political education.

I love that people I train, especially young women of color researchers, are enthusiastic about research and learning theory. It is especially amazing when researchers ask for more readings on topics such as criminalization and colonialism so that they can better understand their communities and the data they have collected on contemporary political and social issues.

Most recently, as a feminist of color scholar, I am thrilled that I am able to use my different resources to support important projects and organizations as they work against the carcerality of schooling in the U.S., gender based violence in their communities, and structural violence at large. When I was in graduate school, one my advisors asked if I was planning to be either an activist or a scholar. I think that I’m proud to say that I’m able to do both in this lifetime and with such amazing groups of people.

What misconception about education would you like to correct?

Education happens everywhere. It is a dynamic, vulnerable, and humbling experience. I don’t know if I’d correct anything about “education,” but I would challenge educators and students to feel as though good education is a creative process. It is an emotionally   challenging experience. It requires introspection and limited defenses. In order to learn, one should be able to feel safe enough to do so. In my experience as an educator and learner, students, especially those that have experienced violence, have to feel safe enough to not know before they (or we) can begin the journey of owning our own expertise and to learn from others. I believe that traditional U.S. educational institutions – which are structures and sites of violence for many, especially gender non-conforming, cis/trans Black and poor, working class non-Black girls of color – have a difficult time selling themselves as “safe spaces” for learning. It then becomes the objective of critical educators to own and display their own humility and vulnerabilities to their students – to genuinely lead by example and to welcome the growing expertise of their students (without romanticizing them). As responsible educators, we should be able to own what we know, support our students with what they know, encourage everyone to learn more, and be willing to not know anything. Hopefully, that gets us to a feminist of color educational praxis.

 

Legal victory for Ethnic Studies!

The core focus, mission, and practice of the education for liberation network is that through education, we can liberate ourselves from knowledge systems that erase and suppress for the purpose of domination.

As many know, the fight for ethnic studies has been a crucial expression of education for liberation. With its start in the 1960s on college campuses, ethnic studies is now a well-developed and integrated curricular and pedagogical endeavor in dozens of districts and states.

Predictably, though, this work to reconnect learning to the cultures of marginalized students brought backlash from the dominant culture. For the past six years, former and current students and teachers of Ethnic studies in Arizona have been battling in court systems and continuing the work of ethnic studies without the sanction of schools or district offices.

So, it is with tremendous joy that we share the wonderful news that a federal judge has preliminarily ruled that an Arizona law banning the teaching of ethnic studies violates students’ constitutional rights. The full decision and consequence for the ruling is still to be announced, but the ruling fully describes the racial animus behind and explicit in the Arizona law.

As network member Carla Shalaby wrote,

“This legal victory for ethnic studies in Tucson is a victory for all who believe young people deserve the teaching of their ancestors in our schools, the hearing and telling of their own stories, and the recognition of their particular place in our history and in our future.

It is also a reminder of the power of youth and educator activism, and I’m grateful to the teachers in Tucson who made their way to the courtroom after losing their classrooms in the unconstitutional ban of their courses.”

save ethnic studies

Carla also shared a link for the full decision – check it out.

Here’s the NPR story on the ruling and a previous story that details the racist legislation in Arizona.

And, following Carla’s lead, we’d also like tribute artist and cultural worker  Julio Salgado for the artwork that so clearly depicts the stakes.

Battling white supremacy requires many strategies. We are thrilled to join thousands in celebration of this important victory. And then we get right back to work.

In Lak Ech

 

Acting UP for Justice: FMFP in the Streets

 

marchFMFP.jpg

On a hot Sunday, July 9, hundreds gathered in front of the Enoch Pratt Free Library, blocks away from Baltimore’s Patterson Park.

Like in many cities across the United States, we gathered because the park, embedded in Baltimore’s Latinx community, continues to be targeted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids. We rallied because we oppose not only these raids, but like national organization Mijente, we know our neighborhoods are stronger and safer without policing, borders, immigration bans, and ICE raids.

Reminded of the importance of taking care of our people and called to action by Mama Victory, local organizer and the mother of Victorious Swift the 19-year-old Baltimore art student killed in March weeks before his graduation, we headed to the park.

Core local organizers, including fierce leadership by young Black and Brown folks with The Baltimore Algebra Project, led the chants, and the local and national participants marched with signs like ICE-FREE BALTIMORE, We are VICTORIOUS and NO ICE RAIDS IN OUR COMMUNITIES.

With a federal administration that continues to champion white supremacist policies — immigration bans and border walls — our political moment is like too many before. Resistance isn’t futile, rather across the country, it is our only pathway, together.

Also notable, this march was the first time, and hopefully not the last, that the Free Minds Free People gathering ended with an action, and with delicious cupcakes and cakes, made by the amazing Christina “V” Villarreal.

FMFPcake.jpg

Celebrating the Life of Antonio Nieves Martinez

antonio huitzin .jpg

 

 

The Education for Liberation community joins many siblings across Turtle Island in grieving the loss of our beloved Antonio Nieves Martinez. Ed4Lib family member Patrick “Cam” Camangian wrote the loving tribute below.

 

Dear People’s Community, friends, colleagues, and allies,

In case you do not already know, it saddens me to share news about the untimely death of our good brother, committed comrade, loving community member, and dear friend in Antonio Nieves Martinez last Tuesday, July 11, 2017.  The People’s Education Movement was first conceptualized at a coffee shop meeting between Antonio, Carolina Valdez, and myself in Koreatown, Los Angeles in January 2013.  Through Carolina, his wife and exceptional educator, Jerica, and Antonio’s organizing efforts with other founding members in LA, People’s was established during a summer retreat in July 2013.  During this summer retreat, I was encouraged to organize People’s Education Movement, Bay Area with other like-minded educator-organizers.

 

Here is the Facebook announcement for the bay area celebration and memorial of Antonio’s life: https://www.facebook.com/events/619000538296678/?active_tab=about.  And here is the information for a gathering in NYC on July 26th.

 

Donations can be made here: https://www.mealtrain.com/trains/wod57w/donate/.

 

Antonio has long been involved in multiple community projects and coalition of educators, activists, community members, and researchers working towards liberatory education:  He was also a former council member of the Association of Raza Educators and board member of the Education for Liberation Network (EdLib).  Antonio’s commitments with both People’s and EdLib led him to take on leadership and committee roles for the Free Minds Free People (FMFP) national conferences held in Chicago in July 2013 and Oakland in July 2015. Before moving back to the SF Bay Area, Antonio and Jerica were engaged in establishing equitable, restorative educational spaces in the Holyoke community of Western Massachusetts.

 

antonio-teaching1-e1500488506726.jpg

 

As a scholar, Antonio studied the importance of teachers collectivizing to transform larger systemic issues undermining the humanity of people in culturally wealthy communities of color.  Through this work, Antonio helped further establish the importance of developing popular education programs to challenge some of the more colonial, deficit, and neoliberal narratives and practices reproduced in society.  Antonio argued why and showed how the concerns of students, families, community members, and critically conscious teachers should inform the type of education needed to transform dehumanizing social conditions. Antonio also took on leadership roles within the Critical Educators for Social Justice (CESJ), Special Interest Group for the American Educational Research Association. A colleague who worked closely with Antonio in this capacity said, “He was fiercely dedicated to social justice and supported CESJ however he could. In fact, much of the growth and more communal nature of the grad forum can be attributed to Antonio.”

 

Attached is a research article titled, “Solidarity with the People,” which he co-wrote with Carolina Valdez and another People’s founding member, Stephanie Cariaga.  Solidarity EEE

 

Thank you for your positive thoughts and prayers for Jerica, their wonderful daughter Huitzin, and Antonio’s family at this time of unimaginable loss.

In sincere community solidarity,

Patrick “Cam” Camangian

Thank you for making FMFP 2017 a success!

fmfp

 

The Free Minds, Free People Conference is a project of love built by volunteers from across the country who donate their time, resources, ideas and labor in order to co-create the type of space where we can learn, listen, heal, be seen and heard in ways that are vital for transformation from oppression to liberation.  It is a project that started with a handful of powerful leaders, thinkers and organizers over ten years ago and has grown from that small group to a planning team of over 50 people and a conference of 75 participants to over 800 participants.  

 

The board of the Education for Liberation Network would like to thank the planning team for their significant, steady work in making #FMFP2017 a success.  Thank you to our local hosts in Baltimore.  The Baltimore Algebra Project suffered a great loss in the passing of Victorious Swift, and yet they continued to organize for us, their guests, from across the country while loving each other with strength and consistency.  They showed us the depths, the power and the beauty of the people in Baltimore and we are so grateful for the young leaders there.  To all of the presenters and speakers-thank you for sharing yourselves and your essential work with us.  The skills, tools and knowledge that you bring from your organizations and regions give the conference life and we couldn’t be more honored to learn from and with you.

 

To our director, Thomas Nikundiwe, and Carla Shalaby, for their tireless work and their love.  They put every ounce of themselves into this conference and we could not have done it without them.  

 

We hope that you all enjoyed your time at #FMFP2017 and we hope that you will stay connected, share what you learned and come back again with others!  

 

Below are a few comments from folks who attended when we asked about the greatest strengths of the conference. We couldn’t agree more.

 

One of the greatest strengths is the opportunities that young people have to lead–as facilitators and participants in workshops. And I love that children are so welcome–and that there are offerings for the very little ones. The overall structure is so much better than any other conference I’ve attended, too. The plenaries were excellent–and then you have two workshop sessions to attend. I like that the workshop sessions were longer so you could actually learn about others’ work in a substantive way.

 

The balance between critical dialogue and social events is a recipe for building authentic and long-lasting relationships/community. Youth-led spaces keep the energies and vibes positive and grounded in our purpose.

 

Centering liberation, love, healing, hope as responses to our oppression and oppressive spaces.

 

I appreciate the mix of educators and students. I appreciate the breadth and variety of education justice issues addressed. I appreciate the centering of people from marginalized communities. I appreciated the effort to highlight the host community.

 

The beautiful gathering of like-minded people of color committed to this justice work.

 

The voices of youth activists. The variety of advocates. The calls to action and liberation. The talk by TL and Dustin as well as the talk by Dr. Ginwright were powerful and eye opening. More provocative and important work like that.

 

Facilitators created spaces where participants felt safe and valued (in many different ways). The location was accessible and affordable (at least for east coast travelers – and thinking about housing and transportation costs once in Baltimore) STUDENT LEADERSHIP!! This was so well done. I was excited to see so many young people participating as attendees, facilitators, leaders, etc. Child care provided. Events that helped participants connect with peoples/places/etc in Baltimore.

 

Youth facilitators were instrumental to my learning during the conference. One of my takeaways is how can I prepare and support my students to present at formal conferences. I believe this is an important step in honoring student voice in an authentic way.

victorious.jpg

Reflecting on FMFP and Family Engagement for Radicals

As a conference, FMFP is special for its unique intergenerational participation. From the conference planning and leadership to whose voices are lifted up by conference activities, young people and adults work together in exploring and executing liberatory education with our minds set on freedom. However, from the perspective of someone who works in the field of school-oriented family engagement and parent organizing, FMFP has struggled over the years to more fully integrate these parts of the collective struggle for educational, social, and economic justice. I have been intimately connected to FMFP since being part of the host committee from Providence in 2011, so this is a critique I make not from the outside, but as someone who owns responsibility for the continued development of FMFP over the years.
Thus, I was excited to attend Teaching for Change’s FMFP workshop session, “Family Engagement for Radicals.” First, how liberating to be at a conference where this session title could unapologetically proclaim its radical stance. At FMFP there is no need to disguise open and honest discussions about the realities lived by people and communities of color, women, queer folk, and anyone else who experiences the day-to-day grind against the institutional, interpersonal, and internal oppressions of the world. In other venues, this workshop title would likely be sanitized–“Family Engagement for Radicals: Partnering with Families Using a Social Justice Lens and Popular Ed Approach” would be washed out and instead be called something like, “Family Engagement for Practitioners: Partnering with Families Using a Community-Centered Approach.” Thank goodness for FMFP’s commitment to creating and protecting space for us to be our full selves as presenters and attendees.
Screen Shot 2017-07-13 at 9.58.15 AM
The workshop itself was wonderful! The presenters from Teaching for Change (Allyson, Maybelline, and Andrea) were engaging and energetic. Through a healthy mix of interactive activities (whole and small group), presentation, and discussion our room full of 20+ participants got to dive deep into thinking about how to better support family engagement at our school and program sites. Aside from having the opportunity to meet and talk to other FMFP conference goers, which is always a treat, I had one perspective-shifting takeaway from the session that seems utterly important for informing my work in the field of family engagement and parent organizing moving forward!
As advertised, Teaching for Change approaches family engagement with a social justice lens and popular education approach. They’ve borrowed from the traditions of community organizing and popular education to develop their framework for doing radical family engagement. In doing so, the Teaching for Change family engagement framework, which they call “Tellin’ Stories,” borrows heavily from the work of Paulo Freire, author of Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Many of us who attend FMFP are probably familiar with Freire and those of us who consider ourselves adherents to critical pedagogy have certainly spent a lot of time with Freire’s ideas. Having written a dissertation and book about teacher activist pedagogy, Freire is certainly an intellectual antecedent for my thinking about education. However, even though Freire was an adult educator (!), until Teaching for Change made the connection for me, I had never linked my deep work with Freire’s ideas to my extensive work in the field of family engagement and parent organizing. Somehow, I had relegated Freire (and all the other education theorists and teacher practitioners who have done work in relation and response to Freire) to my thinking about teaching and teachers and had not allowed him to enter my family engagement and parent organizing work. In retrospect, this seems a major oversight. Personally, I’ve struggled with how to more explicitly connect what often seem like two worlds of mine: engagement with teachers/teaching and engagement with youth, parent, and community organizing. While it has never made sense to me that these areas should feel distant, in practice they are much too often separate. However, after Teaching for Change’s workshop, I’m excited to explore how the use of critical pedagogy and popular education in both arenas might help me draw them closer together in my work!
To learn more about Teaching for Change and their Tellin’ Stories Project, check out their website. If you’d like to learn more about grassroots parent organizing for educational justice, check out the Journey 4 Justice Alliance! They have a biweekly newsletter that is well worth signing up for. Finally, for some more basic primers on how to rethink school-oriented family engagement practices, a go-to resource that Teaching for Change highlighted and that I’ve used extensively in my work is the book Beyond the Bake Sale by Anne Henderson, Karen Mapp, Vivian Johnson, and Don Davies. And, of course, if you haven’t yet read Pedagogy of the Oppressed, you probably should check it out from your local library.
——-
Keith C. Catone is associate director of community organizing and engagement at the Annenberg Institute for School Reform and serves on the Education for Liberation Advisory Board. His first book, The Pedagogy of Teacher Activism, was published earlier this year!

The fight for ethnic studies goes to court

FullSizeRender 2.jpg

 

Ethnic studies programs were borne from college student protest and demands to have education experiences that destabilized eurocentrism and centered the knowledge systems of Indigenous, Black, and brown peoples. Ethnic studies programs have been in existence for decades, but they have never had security in the way that eurocentric education systems have enjoyed for generations. From struggles to study on college campuses to the fight to educate society’s youngest in the ways of their peoples, ethnic studies has been both at the vanguard and vulnerable.

 

Many are familiar with the specific fight for ethnic studies pedagogy and curriculum in Arizona, and more specifically, the Tucson Unified School District because of media and documentary coverage of the historic showdown between culturally relevant educators and conservative politicians.

 

On June 27, 2017, the fight for ethnic studies programs in Arizona moved into the U. S. District court system, with the plaintiffs first arguing for the right of students of all racial backgrounds to learn about history beyond Eurocentric frameworks. This coming week, the defendants will do their best to convince the judge that learning about race politicizes students of color and imperils white students.

 

The struggle to study happens in multiple, concurrent forms. From thousands of Chicago Public School teachers striking and marching to protect rights to the special education teacher who attends to her students socioemotional needs instead of proliferating the number of Black students labeled with behavioral disorders, the struggle truly is everywhere. As the fight for ethnic studies is argued by lawyers, witnesses are examined and cross-examined, and a judge bears witness to the one of the most rarified battle lines for racial justice, we hold close the educators, students, and families in Arizona who seek the basic human desire and right to education as tool for liberation. In lak’ech.

 

in lak'ech