Being Indian American in the US

I remember my time as an undergraduate student at Rutgers University- Newark in New Jersey, I had at one point a really good friend from India. Although I heard a number of stereotypical things about Indians, I wanted to learn about their culture and traditions. Since I didn’t have any Indian friends until college, I assumed that everyone from India were the same as Native Americans or American Indians. Then I began working as a petroleum transport engineer, aka gas attendant, at a Mobile gas station for a number of years with men from India and Pakistan. I asked one of them to really help me speak the language beyond profanity. One person did. He gave me some garments as a gift. I began practicing Urdu and a little bit of Hindi, Punjabi, and even Gujarati trying to impress my friend. I attended so many Indian and Pakistani parties, was invited to a few weddings and attended many special and ritual engagements. I found the Rutgers Newark campus to be so diverse. People from one cultural club would support and attend other cultural club meetings and parties. While I am clearly aware of pressures and oppression that I experience as a Haitian American Black man in this country, I was very curious about the inequities from the perspective of an Indian or Indian American woman. Turns out that GOMO’s Chief Marketing Officer, Sarah Jerome was excited to share her story with me.   


Ms. Jerome describes her experience as “We were always a grade ahead. Living with my Aunt, Uncle, and Cousin in Colorado was a new, but vaguely familiar, experience for me. I moved when I was 13 and had to choose whether I wanted to be home schooled or attend public school. I remembered experiences in middle school where I was bullied and targeted for being a minority girl so I chose to be home schooled to avoid going through those same experiences. It was during the next 4 years that I was pushed to always keep my head in the books, ace every exam, and get higher than a 90% on every homework assignment. The misconception that homeschooling is much easier than traditional schooling is exactly that – a misconception.  

My aunt created a personalized curriculum that was a grade ahead than what we would normally attend. This meant more difficult schoolwork than I was used to. But this is where being an Indian American really challenged me. I would hear stories about how my Aunt, also being an Indian woman, had to work harder in her academic and professional careers to avoid the negative stereotypes, the biases, and the less-than optimal opportunities available to her. This is where I noticed that being a first-generation Indian American meant that I had to work harder for the opportunities I wanted to create for myself and to pursue the career that I wanted.  


Being home schooled kept me ahead academically, but behind socially and culturally. It wasn’t until I reached my freshman year of college that I learned the inherent inequities that existed in the places that I grew up versus where I was living now in New Jersey. Living in a predominantly White neighborhood and being around mostly, if not completely, around non-minority people, made me feel like an outsider. I could feel the different looks of discomfort from others that I would get at church, the questions of “Well, where did you actually come from,” the stereotypical expectations of going into a STEM field because I was Indian. When I arrived in New Jersey, I was met with a completely different culture shock. Being in such a diverse environment was new to me. I had never seen so many mixes of cultures in one place.  

But unlike moving to Colorado where I would feel like an outlier, I felt at home here. I could communicate with ease; I could relate to others who went through similar experiences of inequity and bias. But despite being here and being able to connect to my fellow minorities, I still felt out of place when I would speak with or find myself in environments with non-minority individuals. I’ve found myself being asked questions such as do I only eat or why I smell like curry, why am I not wearing “that little circle thing in the middle of my forehead,” and if I could teach people how to speak profane words – and only profane words so they could say it to another Indian person or claim they knew how to speak a language they barely knew. But that is when I realized I would face the biases not only for just being darker, but also for being a woman. It was not something that would just go away, it was not something that could just be ignored.”


When some people try to learn another person’s culture to allegedly become competent, there is a tendency to learn or be taught the profane words first. In some cases, that is all interested people learn along with how to name some food. This is the importance of GOMO’s work. Becoming culturally competent is going beyond learning some words, especially inappropriate words, gestures and knowing some food. It requires for people to immerse themselves in the culture and get to know people for who they are. Otherwise, they may or will only offend the people of the culture they are trying to lean about. It will also help them appreciate the cultural traditions and learn the significance behind why some cultures do what they do. More importantly, GOMO is in the business of helping decrease and eliminate micro and macroaggressions resulting from implicit and explicit bias.


Despite experiencing continual barriers, Ms. Jerome reports, “And yet, here I am, working in Marketing and Graphic Design and building my own business. But without those challenges, I would not be where I am today, doing all the things I was told someone like me could not do. These inequities, biases, and stereotypes that had been directed towards me taught me, that while I may need to work harder just to be noticed or taken seriously, that I am not defined to one field, career, or path. That with planning, and hard work I can achieve things that many people may not want me to or think I could achieve.” As a teacher, administrator and basically every adult, you potentially persuade and/or dissuade students to/from their future aspirations in life. Are you aware of the message your sending, especially if you’re a person of the dominant race or culture? If you’re not aware, all you have to do is ask with humility. That alone will go a long way towards opening doors into learning about other cultures and you may possibly learn new things about yourself. I know I have!   

Switching the Minority

In a lot of the spaces that I have occupied since college, I am usually the only Black male or one of a very few minorities. So I have heard the comments and questions like “You are so smart. Wow! I didn’t realize how smart you are,” or “I can’t believe you’re a doctor at such a young age,” or “How did you get that job?” Obviously, I have been able to navigate the different spaces and cultures by code switching and negotiating for acceptance. While I was not happy about it, that was my reality. However, I have been wondering how a person of the dominant race would respond if the roles were reversed, i.e. how a person of the dominant race would exist as the minority in a space where a majority of people were of color.

Debbie Irving, in her book titled Waking Up White: Finding Myself in the Story of Race, she did just that. She purposely moved into an urban area where she was the minority to get a glimpse into how it felt. I wanted to see if anyone I knew had a similar experience. In fact, my friend and I were talking about this experience just two days ago. So I didn’t have to look far because I had Paul O’Neill, Supervisor at Mill Pond Elementary School in Lacey Township, NJ, Founder of #PLN365 and GOMO consultant, excited to share his experience growing up in New York City.


Mr. O’Neill states, “living in several different cities and states during my lifetime has provided me with experiences that widened my knowledge base, understanding, and perspective. The first fifteen years of my journey took place in the borough of the Bronx in New York City. As a high school student, I attended a school where over 6,000 students were educated in an eight story building complete with several elevators and escalators. The student population was 95% Black and Hispanic, 3% Asian and 2% White. “Erica” was one of my closest friends during my Freshman year. We used to walk together from our bus stop to the school which was about a half mile away. One day another friend asked me, “why do you walk to school with that Black girl?” It was one of the first times that I reflected deeply about race. I didn’t view “Erica” as my Black friend. I just viewed her as my friend. This led to an uncomfortable conversation when I was told that if I continued to walk with “Erica” that my friend would no longer talk to me.  I knew at that moment that I would not only be losing a friend but that I needed to speak up against something that I knew was unacceptable. Judging “Erica” critically by the color of her skin was wrong. My parents had taught me this at an early age. I lost touch with Erica after our Freshman year because I changed schools. However, our time spent together always reminds me of a quote from the famous I have a dream speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The part that has resonated with me from this example was when Dr. King references his children one day living in a nation “where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Later that year, one of my classmates said, “hey White boy, give me a pencil.” I didn’t put much thought into the comment. Instead, I chose to focus on the fact that my classmate needed a pencil so I gave it to him. I could have chosen to be offended but I decided not to judge what I didn’t fully understand. My parents taught me not to assume that I could understand what someone else was going through. A few weeks later, I found out the name of my classmate and soon after discovered that we had several things in common. He learned my name and our initial awkward interaction was left in the past.

While growing up in New York, I never noticed a consistent pattern of behavior when it came to race. Most of my interactions were positive. I had friends from all different races and religions. Of course, there were occasional comments made to me that focused on my race especially when I was considered a minority in a space that featured a majority of people of color. I was taught by my family that experiences would vary and that the actions of one individual shouldn’t lead me to expect others to behave the same way.

During my Sophomore year, my family moved to a town just North of Tampa, Florida. The school building itself and the student population looked much different than my previous school. My new high school was a two-story building where just under 1,500 students were educated. The student population was 96% White, 2% Hispanic, and 2% Black. It took a while for me to transition from city life to life in the country but both experiences prepared me to interact with culturally diverse populations of people in a variety of social settings. Most of my classmates in Florida attended school with very few people of color. I quickly noticed that significant levels of bias and assumptions existed in my new community. A new boy named “Alex” moved into town shortly after I arrived. We both became friends with a common peer group and were invited to play basketball one afternoon. As the captains picked teams, “Alex” was picked first. Judging by the smiles on their faces, it was no surprise that “Alex” was picked first because he was Black.  The team captain assumed that because of his skin color that “Alex” was good at basketball.  Much to everyone’s surprise, “Alex” did not live up to expectations.  After the game, “Alex” said, “I know why you picked me first.”  You could hear a pin drop as “Alex” continued.  He said, “that will teach you to judge a book by its cover.” A memorable life lesson was learned on the basketball court that day.


One year later, I tried out for the football team. Our team had plenty of spirit but lacked talent.  “Kenny,” our star linebacker, seemed to hate everyone. He was known for his fiery temperament and permanent scowl. I thought his hate for everyone was equal but found out on a hot August afternoon that his hate for “New Yorkers” carried an additional level of intensity. After catching a pass, I turned to run downfield but was met with the force of a two hundred pound freight train.  As I laid on my back, squinting into the Florida sun, I heard a gruff voice mutter, “I hate New Yorkers.”  There was no happy ending to this story.  We did not become friends down the road. “Kenny” continued his football career and carried his hate for “New Yorkers” throughout our time spent together in high school.  Beyond the football field, he never spoke to me or acknowledged my presence. Fortunately, many other Floridians were much more welcoming.

My time spent in New York and Florida offered contrasting experiences as I experienced being a minority surrounded by people of color while in New York and spent time as a White person surrounded by people in Florida who looked exactly like me. My most valuable experience from the time spent living in Florida was learning about life in a small community.  When a new student started at the high school, everyone knew about it. When “Alex” enrolled, it was the talk of the town because a Black student would be joining us. The town that I currently work in reminds me of the town where I lived in Florida. The racial demographics were nearly identical and the “small town feel” also exists. Many families have lived in both towns for generations. There were no shortage of conversations in each neighborhood about community business. I learned as the size of the town became smaller, it became more difficult to keep your private business personal. I’ve watched people of all ages become categorized and evaluated based on their involvement or inclusion in a particular group. I’ve heard students who were part of higher level courses be described as “the good kids.” I’ve heard students who played on sports teams be described as “the talented kids.”  These labels are harmful because they create limits, bias, artificial boundaries and dangerous assumptions. If we don’t change our mindset, language and behavior then structural inequalities will continue to exist.


Now I first connected with Paul as someone just checking out the #PLN365 chat on Twitter. We eventually met face to face at EdcampNJ in 2017. We have become close friends because I truly believe that we share common values and beliefs. Now that I have gotten to know Mr. O’Neill on a personal level, I can truly tell you that he is an amazingly kind, caring, and humble human being. I have seen him display the willingness to support people and extend himself regardless of race, creed, religion or ability. It is because of his past experience, Mr. O’Neill is so valuable to this equity work and movement. More importantly, he is an vital member of the GOMO family as we seek to build experiences for people of the dominant race and cultures to try to understand about the systems that have been designed for certain races and different backgrounds to fail, also known as structural inequalities. As GOMO seeks to make the people of the dominant race and culture increase their awareness around socio-political consciousness and on topics like white privilege that gives them political power and access to receive unearned merit while denying others, we do it humanely because there are people who have been oblivious to the experiences of the oppressed groups and they have been potentially shielded all of their lives.

If everyone had intermittent moments in their lives where they were able to experience prosperity as well as poverty, I believe our discussions about society today would be on a different topic. Additionally, it wouldn’t be one-sided. In actuality, I don’t even like to use the word minority because it is also a label and already connotes inferiority for whatever entity is being discussed or mentioned. However, it is like every other social construct out there. Unfortunately, mainly every group or person outside of those in power experiences the disproportionate access, service and treatment ending in the same results. Therefore, the proposition of deconstruction and dismantling of current systems needs to be a serious topic and focus. Otherwise, the minorities of past and present will always continue to be the minorities. If we’re ever going to start really talking about equality, systemic equity for past injustices and anti-oppression needs to be addressed first. I really wish that every person of privilege experienced a little of what Mr. O’Neill went through in their youth and had parents corroborating this same message of treating all human beings with dignity, care and kindness. Then there would be no need to switch the labels for any group or person. So it is my hope that the word minority as it deals with race, culture, religion, sexual orientation, ability levels, etc. would evaporate from our lexicon. Don’t you?       

Is Technology Really that Important in Education?

Is Technology Really that Important in Education?

I remember at least a decade ago, there was a lot of buzz about computers taking over the jobs of teachers and we, educators, will need to find another profession because there won’t be a need for us. Some educators really believed it. I remember hearing people say the time of “The Jetsons” is here. With each year, we are moving closer and closer to the “The Jetsons”. There is no need for teachers and school administrators to panic about technology taking over.     

From my point of view, technology is a tool that cannot and should not overshadow the powerful and effective pedagogy of teachers. However, technology is a quintessential conduit in keeping up with the real world today. Since technology continues to improve the function of everything around the world, infusing technology into lessons and activities is very important. Technology helps level the playing field by increasing engagement, offers differentiated lessons/activities and allows learners to expand on any type of topic.

Outside of the school building, students are utilizing advanced technological devices, software and programs to perform daily tasks at home. Therefore, educators must increase their digital citizenship along with their students. Technology allows teachers to connect students to sources outside of the classroom to observe and experience the content/concepts integrated with real life activities. Despite an era of declining budgets, students can take virtual field trips via an app or observe surgeons perform surgical procedures on patients while communicating with viewers or NASA astronauts currently in space discussing geological, mathematical and space science content with viewers.

Even when access to technological devices is limited, educators can still make a significant impact by offering instructional and assessment differentiation through a myriad of free educational software and apps. Additionally, the bring your own device (BYOD) movement is another answer to many organizations budgetary concern with purchasing, annually sustaining and maintaining technological devices. Consequently, technology is causing educators to rethink and make sudden changes to facility design/blueprint, technology infrastructure, educator training/professional development opportunities, budget allotments, security measures and even district policies for students and staff use due to its rapid evolution. Now technology is proving to be very important with assessment administration also at local, state and federal levels. If technology was not important, we would not see such significant changes.

Within the last decade, I have had to make significant changes to my level of technology proficiency. In my last school as principal in 2010, it had a 1:1 laptop classroom environments and had almost all of the latest technology. Due to my vision for leading an organization into the 21st century, I used to continually model the integration of technology into everyday operations to get staff accustomed to sending and receiving communication via various apps like Google site, drive, sheets, forms and social media platforms. At one point, we had seen a significant decrease in people reading our monthly newsletters, hashtags were created to ensure that we continually highlight the activities and events on weekly, bi-weekly and monthly basis. 

With the everchanging times, educators’ perception of reaching all students academically and socially has had to evolve and technology is always presented in the solution. Therefore, the answer to my topical question is “Yes, technology is really important in education”. If it is that important, why isn’t the use of technology more prominent in more schools to effectively prepare 21st century learners? Now that the use of technology is so prominent outside of the schoolhouse, professional learning is available basically on demand at every corner of the Internet. Some steps educators can take to increase their technology awareness, literacy and proficiency all for the purpose of engaging students:

1) Ask your students what are the latest tech tools and social media platforms that they are using. 

2) Join Twitter 

3) Participate in educational technology chat forums on Twitter like #edtech, #edchattech, and connect with leading technology novices and experts to communicate your educational technology successes and concerns. More importantly, be ready to build a professional learning network (PLN) around your passion and curiosity for educational technology. 

4) Follow educational technology companies/organizations like @edsurge, @officeofedtech, @mindshiftkqed, @edtech_k12, @edtechexposed, @edtechtimes, etc.

5) Attending state (like NJTechspo), national (like FETC) and international (ISTE) technology conferences  

Are Expectations Really Based on Color?

As a first generation Haitian American, I was always clumped in the African American category. It was difficult for me to understand early on because most of my early childhood I mainly interacted with Haitian family and friends. Therefore, I basically accepted being called African American. Unfortunately, the stigma of low expectations that is closely associated with being a Black person, especially a Black male has developed so many stories since my youth that I have to share. However, I wanted to get a parent to tell me a story about the inequities in education for their child of color. In my pursuit to find stories of inequities in the form of low expectations for students of color, I didn’t have to look far. Someone that I consider a dear friend, Jennifer Minaya-Osemwegie was excited to tell her story. Mrs. Minaya-Osemwegie is the Director of Community Education for the South Brunswick Public Schools in South Brunswick, New Jersey and a GOMO consultant. She is a first generation Dominican American and her husband is Nigerian.   

Mrs. Minaya-Osemwegie recounts, “When my son was in elementary school he excelled in math. He never scored lower than a 95 on any assignment, did mental math faster than my husband and I, and was recognized for three consecutive years as he received a perfect score on the math NJASK assessments.  When we received his placement letter for math as he entered intermediate school, I was shocked to find out he was placed in a remedial math class. I assumed this was a simple oversight. How could a child slated for gifted and talented be scheduled into remedial?  


In September, I made an appointment to discuss his placement. I was told to first speak to the teacher and so I visited the school and went to the remedial class. I found my son helping the other students. The teacher commented and praised him for working so well with his peers and being her assistant. I asked her why she thought he should be in the class if he had mastered the skills the class was supposed to address. She responded that she had nothing to do with placement and that I needed to speak to the administration. As I walked down the hall, I looked into both the regular math class and the gifted and talented class. I continued to the main office and scheduled another appointment. I had to wait three weeks for the assistant principal’s schedule to accommodate me.  

On the day of the appointment, my husband and I waited in the main office to speak to the assistant principal who was running late. After waiting for 20 minutes she rushed us into her office and asked us whose parents we were. I advised my son’s name and reminded her we were there to discuss his placement in the remedial class. She cut me off, saying that all placements were final and that multiple measures were used for placement. I asked her to explain what measures these were. She sighed and began speaking slower “multiple measures means we use different information to put students into the classes they belong”. I asked if she could let me know what information had been used to place my son into this remedial class. She informed me that they used state test scores, report card grades, discipline records and teacher recommendation.  She again repeated that all placements were final and that she had another appointment she was late to.  

I smiled, and then explained to her that I was also an assistant principal and that I also used these exact same criteria when placing students at my middle school. She looked up from her desk as I pulled five years of report cards, three years state scores, the certificates and pictures with the teacher and principal for three years of perfect scores, his good citizens awards, perfect attendance awards and a card from his last teacher that discussed his recommendation for my son to go into the gifted and talented program at the intermediate school.  

The assistant principal was at a loss for words. She shook her head and exclaimed “There must be some mistake”. I stood, gathered the documents, picked up my bag and signaled to my husband.  I advised her that the only mistake was that the class I had visited was 100% children of color in a district where black and brown students accounted for only 20% of the population. I also noted that the gifted and talented class that I had seen as I walked down the hall that day, had no children of color. She assured me that she would speak to the math supervisor to see what she could do and that I just needed to fill out a transfer of class form. I looked at her, shook my head and informed her that the only form I needed was a withdrawal form because my son was going to an independent school.   

Not only had I had to wait over a month and a half to rectify my son’s placement, I had to endure her lateness and attitude and had to justify what should have been a given and what the other white parents in gifted and talented did not have to defend.”  

This is why the work of GOMO Educational Services is so important for school and district leaders. It is imperative that the leaders recognize and tackle the implicit and explicit bias that permeates the educational system. Equally important they must become aware of the micro and macroaggressions that are delivered daily to students of color and different backgrounds. Districts must change their practices and understand the root causes that lead them to automatic assumptions towards students of color and different backgrounds and their families. These assumptions include that parents of color and different backgrounds are ill equipped to understand school policy and procedures, that they are subpar and that their children do not deserve what is rightfully theirs, an equal opportunity to the American Dream.  

I guess that some people of the dominant race and culture believe that they and anyone they grant access has the right to this dream. Imagine if Mrs. Minaya-Osemwegie didn’t come prepared with all of her son’s data, report card and letters and told this assistant principal that she was not only equally educated but held the same role. It would have been a different story for her and her child. Today, Mrs. Minaya-Osemwegie notified me that her son attends a prestigious private school in Princeton, New Jersey that challenges him to be even better as a student and human being. Educational leaders are you leading an organization with oppressive practices and procedures that saliently or delicately contradicts the organization’s proposed belief of all students and their potential? If yes, what steps are you taking for your organization to become anti-racist or anti-oppressive?  Remember, you are not alone in this pursuit. Here are some simple and quick steps leaders can take immediately in their organizations.  

  1. Speak to the staff and students of color and different backgrounds in your organization and ask about their experiences like treatment, academic and behavioral expectations, voice, access, procedures, etc.  
  2. Conduct a minor audit around the areas discussed with the staff and students of color and different backgrounds for inequities 
  3.  Bring together a team of various stakeholders that seek to make and see real change in policies, procedures and practice. Create an action plan from the system down to the classroom and activities for the community to engage in.  
  4. Find out what your neighboring schools and organizations are doing or search on social media to get ideas from people around the world.  
  5. Seek out other organizations that are really grounded in the work for short-term or long-term support.