Ayodele Harrison reflects on the experiences of black male educators with Adam Geller from Edthena in the first part of their 4-part PLTogether Lounge Talk conversation.

Here is a transcript of their conversation.
– Welcome to PL Together Lounge talks. I’m Adam Geller, founder and CEO of Edthena. And today we’re talking with Ayodele Harrison. He is a former math teacher who’s taught in California, DC, and South Africa, and also the senior partner of education at an organization called CommunityBuild Ventures. Ayodele thanks so much for joining us.

– Thank you Adam for having me.

– Well, let’s start by talking about CommunityBuild ventures and also one of the main projects there as I understand it, which is BMEs Talk. So what is BMEs Talk?

– So BMEs Talk well, if you don’t mind, I’d love to step back and talk about CommunityBuild Ventures. So community is a solution-focused firm that is committed to eliminating racial disparities by developing powerful, impactful, and racial equity-driven leaders and organizations. And so under that, and under the education umbrella, I am a black male educator and so part of this is about creating and curating safe spaces for black male educators to connect, grow, and lead. So that is what BMEs Talk is, is a space where we’re creating professional learning spaces for black male educators.

– So you’re creating a safe place for black male educators. We’ll have a chance to talk more about that, but, you know, I guess what are some of the ways that people can find out more if they’re watching this and they’re thinking, wait, “I want to be part of that.” Where do they go to find out about this black male educators talk?

– Sure. All everybody can find out more about BMEs Talk at bmestalk.com. There you’ll be able to find all the information about what we do, the types of convenings that we hold. We also have a very popular Twitter handle @BMEsTalk where we actually gather every Tuesday night for a Twitter chat with black male educators, about 20 to 30 from around the country gathered during that time. So those are the two main places that you can find us, but we’re also on all social media platforms that exists.

– Great. Well, let’s start with some good news. And by this, I mean, what’s a story of an educator or someone that you’ve been talking to or working with that’s really, you know, giving you that extra energy right now, when you know, things are pretty complicated and challenging.

– Yeah, I’d love to share too. One is more personal as me while I am a consultant, I also as many parents have found themselves as being educators for the students that are in our class, that are in their homes for my children, my child. So I have a six-year-old child and something that has given me, really given me life, it’s a small thing, but so we’ve been doing a lot of learning at home and working on, she’s going into the entering the first grade, working on sight words and adding and the one sight word that she’s really been struggling with is what, you know, when she sees it, she’s guessing randomly and so we’ve been working on it probably since March, we’ve been working on it. And just the other day I held up the flashcard and she was like, what? And my heart was just overjoyed. I was like, “Finally, we got it without any prompting or things like that.” So I think that’s one thing that’s given me life. I also wanna speak to another brother who’s connected to BMEs Talk is James Price. He’s, been someone I’ve co co-facilitated work with. He’s a K-5 educator in North Carolina. And we were conducting a training yesterday and he shared with me that one of his parents had expressed that their child does not have a desk and something that was making virtual learning very challenging ’cause he noticed that the child’s laptop was kind of bumping around and doing things like that. And so he said, “Let me see what I can do.” And he said, “He looked around the school, they were getting ready to throw out a few desks.” He actually took one of the desks, drove it over to the parents’ house, left it on the front, and just was able to meet that student’s need in that moment. And so, you know, when I heard that, I was just like, “See, these are the things that educators, and he’s not unique, there’s educators around the country who are doing these things to be to better meet the needs of the students and the families they serve.”

– And what I like about that is that it really takes into the, into account, the individual needs, right? And being flexible, like you said. Well, you know, I think one of the things I wanna dig in with is start with, you know, we talked about your role with BMEs Talk recently you wrote in a blog post with the headline black male educators aren’t safe and I know headlines are meant to catch attention, but I don’t think you were writing this just for, you know, attention sake. So take us to beyond that headline to really understand why an or like BMEs Talk exists to support the needs right now for black male educators, both teachers, and leaders.

– Well, I mean, so at CBV again, we’re about addressing and eliminating racial disparities and what we know for a fact research is showing less than 2% of our teaching population are black men educators. And so what that really looks like is you might have one black man educator in an entire building that maybe 50, 60, 100 or more educators. And if we really said 2%, it would be two out of a hundred teachers are black educators. And so what we endeavor to do is create spaces where they can gather and convene because we know that there’s a lot of growth in community. There’s also growth that happens in affinity. And so we create these spaces to really be able to engage them. And so that title, it was salacious, but it was, it actually came from an experience. So we had a virtual happy hour. So we’ve been here every month, since the pandemic has set in and outside has been closed, we’ve had a virtual happy hour and we encouraged black male educators to register and come in and so someone that I have a professional relationship with who’s not a black man educator actually kind of at the tail end, jumped onto the virtual environment. And right then the invite, there was a ripple that went through because you have to imagine we’re sitting with 20 black men educators on the video screen, they see this image pop up and the name is it sounds female or reads female in that way and then we’re like, “What is this? Who is this now in our space?” And so that’s where that whole title came from is like, it’s hard for us to have safe spaces to gather and connect in just affinity black male educator affinity. And so we experienced this quite a bit to where, if you’re one of few, where is your safe space? You know, not on your hallway, it might be in the room that you create that you lead or the office that you have, but there’s not very many other spaces. So many a times we know an affinity there is, there is commonality, there is comradery that happens. These also happen in non-affinity spaces, but we know that there’s a greater impact when we’re able to do that. And as being one of few in a building, it’s hard to know if you’re actually safe in that building emotionally, physically, psychologically, because there’s a heightened sense of awareness that you have because you are one of few, if not the only one in the building.

– Yeah, I’m thinking about if you’re someone, I mean, I’m, I was a classroom educator, I’m not black, right? So I’m listening to you explain this and I’m trying to imagine someone watching this and kind of compare maybe some of my experiences to what you’re saying about the importance of needing to belong and what I think, you know, I’ve had a variety of different times in my life where I have chosen to belong to an organization to talk about shared experiences with those people. And so I think, you know, maybe what you’re talking about here is the importance for people to feel like they can belong and even acknowledging that if you are, if you are an educator in a building that has a black male educator, even if you’re making the most inclusive space that you can is still may not fully meet the needs of that educator to feel fully safe. And they, it’s important to have an opportunity to connect with others that are sharing your experience.

– Yeah, well, you know, and you know, that’s a great point. And I would add to it that in my own personal experience, I remember some 20 years ago when I first was starting off teaching, I took my resume and this was back in the day when it’s like, if people don’t answer your phone call or an email was growing, I’m not that old. But you know, emails were growing, but I would drive by schools. And I remember driving up to one school and wanting to give my application in and right away, the secretary said, “Are you a teacher? Do you wanna teach? You’re hired?” Right. And they didn’t even take the time to really get to know me and I was excited that they wanted that, but this was an indication of the dearth of black male educators. They just don’t see that. And then oftentimes as soon as we entered the building, we’re assigned tasks, whether that is consciously or subconsciously, like people assigned tasks to us where, you know, research has shown so many black male educators and myself have been in positions where we’ve been asked to be disciplinarians, right? And sometimes that is something we, a job we look forward to, other times we’ve been thrust into that. That’s where that lack of safety sometimes comes is because there’s expectations that have been put on me that might not be deserved, but it’s what the environment or what my colleagues think is gonna be beneficial for learning in schools. And so that’s another space where when we’re one of few and we have such a positive, we can make such a positive impact in the lives of all children, particularly black children. We’re kind of given assignments beforehand and when you’re kind of, you know, I’m told what to do and how to be in a school, and you’re not allowed to find your voice and your space, it does feel unsafe many times as soon as you leave your building. And sometimes even you don’t even have to or leave your classroom. You don’t have to leave your classroom to feel unsafe. You know, there are times if you have a strong relationship with a child who’s in another teacher’s classroom and maybe something happens and that child is asked to leave, they come to your classroom, right. Or a teacher walks into your room and saying, “I don’t even have a safe instructional space because I’m being interrupted with other people who have needs for me to feel for them.”

– I’m processing here. And also thinking there’s a lot to talk about and what you’re sharing. We need to take a break, but we will be back to continue the conversation. If you’re listening to this or watching this video on some corner of the internet, make sure that you head to pltogether.org to find the rest of this conversation as well as others. Ayodele thanks so much for joining us and we’ll be back in just a minute.

– Thank you.

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