The Power of the Differently Abled

The days of looking at people’s different abilities as disabilities are over. If not, they should be. When I was in either second or third grade, I developed a stutter. In the fourth grade, I was designated for speech services while in catholic school. Another student of color in my class and I had to be pulled out during a core content area class to receive speech services. What I must mention is there were only three families of color in this private school in the 1980s: my brothers, sisters and I of Haitian descent, my father’s best friend’s children also of Haitian descent and another family from Peru.  While a stutter is something people can get rid of, the color of my skin was something I could not easily remove. As a black boy at a predominantly white catholic school with all white able-bodied staff that were also of the catholic faith, I was not perceived as destined for greatness. One day during library class, all of my classmates got reading materials of their choice like magazines, cartoons, books, etc. The white PTO parent on duty notified me that she had a book that would improve my reading skills and help me speak better. Then she thrusted a book about slavery, forced me to sign it out and said, “you’ll also get a chance to know about the history of your people!” Trust me, I have so many more stories.

As a principal in a middle school in the early 2000s, I have had students with different abilities classified and placed in special needs classrooms. Additionally, I have had other differently abled students that were not classified but required teachers to address their specific learning needs. I remember parents or caretakers of these students were merely looking for their children to lead normal lives and feel like normal people. What they and I did not realize is that these students were extraordinary! I remember one male student we will call Steve with terret syndrome was able to accurately calculate mathematic equations beyond anyone in the building when asked. Later, he notified us that he immersed himself with everything mathematics when he was home. Another autistic student we will call Michael was gifted with drawing engineering designs. No wonder he loved staying in our CAD class beyond his period all the time. It was months later that his parents told us that he was always on the computer at home inputting code to design his own robot.

I speak about this topic from direct experience because I have a few relatives and very close friends who are also differently abled with cerebral palsy to autism from birth and after birth effects. Throughout their lives, I have seen their ability to do things like pick up an instrument and perform complex classical music without any training, painting without practice and create pieces with precise details that could be sold in art shows or being a key designer with an assistive technology company to create a breakthrough device for mute individuals.

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Now these previous examples seem larger than life. One example of the power of the differently abled on a person happened during my time as principal. Our school had a male student who we will call David was perceived as behaviorally challenging because he liked to oppose all forms of authority. One day when he chose to leave his classroom, he ventured into the MD room formerly known as the room with students with severe multiple disabilities. While in that room, the teacher and the paraprofessional saw that David was very helpful, calm, attentive and engaged with the students. When we heard about how supportive David was in the class, we spoke to him and his mother. We found out that David had a brother that is differently abled. His mother praised his ability to help and protect his brother. We created an individualized personal plan (IPP) for David which included daily time to spend in MD room with the adults and students. It changed him and how David responded to people and things for the rest of the school year.   

The purpose of GOMO Educational Services is to highlight these strengths in all students and help adults be aware of how to empower, engage and enhance the strengths and future potential. Be aware that Michael and Steve have grown up to do some amazing things in their lives. Steve is a physicist and is working on a few invention patents. Michael runs his parents’ winery and designing a new filtration technique to blend wines faster. Don’t forget the boy who I initially mentioned who used to stutter. He is the founder and CEO of GOMO Educational Services and travels around the world training leaders of educational institutions and organizations and speaks in front of thousands of people regularly about history of structural racism, discrimination, restorative practices and cultural competency.      

The Past Challenges of Being Haitian in the American School System

This blog post is very real to me because as it clearly states from the title there are challenges that I have had to endure because of my ethnicity in addition to the color of my skin. Since students and educators always stated that Haiti was the poorest country in the world, it really made me embarrassed of my Haitian culture. So I tried to not tell people where my parents were from. When my classmates saw my father, they knew he was not a Black American. So I was made fun of during my childhood years being called African booty scratcher or I heard the default phrase for black students, “You Jamaican!” I could go on about the socio-cultural conflicts, academic values, parent expectations and stories of my past. However, my experience may be isolated. So I wanted to get the perspective of another adult of Haitian descent. It turns out that Gary Rozier, GOMO Consultant, who grew up in the same town with me, was very excited to share his experience.   

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Gary states, “The Montclair Public School System in New Jersey is where I received my formative education; it’s my hometown. By and large, growing up in Montclair was a good experience but not without some challenges.  As a young Haitian American I was living within a culture that was vying for my attention against the culture that was raising me.  My parents emigrated from Haiti [to the U.S], and while I am the last of six children (four boys and two girls), I’m also first generation American.  In my estimation, we lived in a town that was relatively diverse. The Fourth Ward of Montclair was primarily African American, but the schools we attended were racially and ethnically diverse. I went to schools comprising students that were Black, Jewish, Asian, White, Latino, and so on. 

            My parents valued the importance of an education, so much so that when it came ;down to it- the teacher was always right.  I remember one time my Social Studies teacher told me he was going to stop by my home one evening so that he could talk to my dad and tell him how well I was doing in his class. I never told my dad he was coming.  When the doorbell rang, I answered it and welcomed him in. I told my dad who rang the doorbell, and he got dressed so he could greet him.  When my dad came into the living room, he brought the biggest black leather belt he had; I was so disappointed and embarrassed at the same time.  By the end of the visit, if my dad thought or felt he committed a faux pas, he certainly did not acknowledge it, but inwardly I felt vindicated to some degree.

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            Back then, if you were of Haitian descent, your number one priority was to bring home the best grades you possibly could to make your parents proud.  Extracurricular activities didn’t rate that much.  I so wanted my dad to see what else I was good at.  At the time, I think I just wanted his support; I wanted him to see me doing my thing.  When I showed him newspaper clippings of my wrestling matches, he didn’t seem interested.  He never came to my wrestling matches even when I became captain of my team.  While I was working hard to earn my father’s approval, I was yet (along with a great number of my friends) dealing with the social ills that accompanied being black and of Haitian descent.  It would’ve been one thing if white kids were making fun of the fact that I spoke a different language, but when it’s your own kind rendering the ridicule day in and day out, that can be quite a bit to process.  This was my life, along with several of my peers, for some time.

These things caused us to band together all the more.  We didn’t band together because of the social ills we incurred.  We did so because in a sense without knowing it, we realized that we were all that we had.” Imagine how different the schooling experience could have been for Gary, me and countless other children of Haitian descent or Haitians who emigrated to the US if we didn’t have to experience the barrage of ridicule, social isolation, bullying and oppressive practices. I remember a number of students of Haitian descent that were socially accepted by the popular American group of students. Sometimes, they joined the popular group in the disparagement in order to protect themselves from being recipients. While these stories may seem isolated or were common just in the past, but they’re happening presently in schools and in the community.

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As a former principal, I made sure to highlight and celebrate the Haitian culture because of my childhood school experiences. I was also always praising my students of Haitian descent but especially those who newly emigrated to the US. I spoke Creole and French with students, parents and staff all the time to show them I took pride in the language, regardless of who was around. It generated a level of pride that the Haitian community always said they valued and really appreciated. One student told me that I made him feel human comparing his previous school experiences before my leadership. My experience with this topic strengthens the need for GOMO Educational Services to help educate, empower and build agency in all places involving students. We work with adults to help strengthen relationships and value diversity so students and adults can grow and learn from all ethnic and cultural differences.      

            On one hand, readers of this blog post may feel sorry for Gary and me. On the other hand, Gary adds, “Who would’ve known that what me and my cronies endured as young pre-teens and teens would only make us stronger as we became men?  Our perceived weaknesses essentially became strengths.  We weren’t wise enough to identify that at the time because we were immature, and the pain of dealing with the teasing, mockery, and bullying was too difficult to see past it. Yet, we went through it” As you can probably tell Gary and I became stronger men that have become proud of our Haitian culture.

Being a Targeted Christian in Times of Racial Tension (Part 2)

From my examples provided in part 1, you can clearly see that racism exists in all facets of life, both personally, professionally and spiritually. Since Christians of color are being discriminated in the church and amongst the body of believers, why would it be different in the world? Well, it isn’t.

The social construct of race to classify people hundreds of years ago dictated who had the privileges and advantages and who didn’t. Therefore, the experiences of those under the same being of Christ were also and continue to be different because of race. Although I am stating the Christian faith in the title, there are so many other faiths that practice love and turning the other cheek for your persecutors. However, it is a difficult thing, especially if the oppressive behavior and practice continues to reoccur.

Many people of color around the world are looking to see how other people of color are responding to the tensions because they are tired of seeing Black men mistreated and killed by law enforcement and other people of underrepresented populations being denied access to numbers of human rights because of systems that are designed to see them fail. What’s worse are the supposed Christians that act like a savior but are only looking to boost their egos or position in the world of helping people of color in need.  As a result, we see varied responses from peaceful small gatherings to large protests not only involving Christians but people of every faith and walk of life.

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We are no longer in the 17th century during the times of Puritans like John Lock, John Cotton and Richard Mathers when Black people, mainly African slaves were regarded as a commodity, uncivilized beasts, unintellectual and hyper sexualized. Although the times have changed, some views and practices have not. Without turning this into a history lesson, the forced assimilation or voluntary adoption of Christianity by Blacks and other people of color prepared us to forgive for the social ills by our oppressors with verses like Matthew 5:44 “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” and Romans 12:9 “Vengeance is mine. I will repay, says the Lord.”  While this may be my position because of my spiritual walk of referring to the scriptures, prayer and fasting are my personal preferred responses, not every Christian responds the same because of their continual reception of racial microaggressions and macroaggressions, especially by other Christians. Don’t forget I discussed three personal examples in part 1.

Unfortunately, I have seen firsthand discriminatory actions against students of faiths outside of Christianity and Catholicism by adults. School is a place where students enter to feel safe from many social and societal ills. However, in some cases, it is a continual perpetuation.

At GOMO Educational Services, we realize that everyone’s faith and upbringings play a significant role in the shaping of their values and belief system. Therefore, we stress the importance and set up relationship building dynamics to get to know people first. It is impossible to develop a relationship if there is any discrimination based on race, class, gender, ability, sexuality, religion from the onset. So we are intentional about professionally developing the cultural awareness and competencies of adults so positive relationships can be abound in every school district, organization and community. It is our hope that not only Christians of color will no longer be targeted in schools or the world but people of every faith.

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Christians or a believer of any faith with a higher power need to be anti-racists. Most importantly, it is the responsibility of Christians of the dominant group when they see or know about discrimination to speak up and speak against. Why would you allow your spiritual brother or sister to be silenced or experience oppression of any kind when you are supposed to be suffering together or deny your spiritual brother or sister the opportunity to bond and rejoice with you in love? So it comes down to the words of the song from the Black Eyed Peas, “Where is the love?”

Being a Targeted Christian in Times of Racial Tension (Part 1)

From birth to grade eight, my family and I only attended Haitian churches. So everyone spoke the same languages and looked like my family from the babies and youth to those in their very wise years. During my high school and college years in the late 1980’s and 1990’s, our family attended an American church in Montclair, New Jersey. Everyone still looked like us, but it felt like we were in North Carolina in North Jersey because there were so many people from the South. Therefore, I would overhear adults discussing some of their experience and challenges with racism from the South growing up but also in the present time.

It was not until 1991 during my freshman year at the largest Christian university in the U.S. that I was called the “N” word on the first day in the dorm. The white freshman who called me the racial epithet stated that I was the only “N” he had ever seen close up before because there weren’t any where he lived in Vermont. Of course, I asked him to refrain from identifying me with that term. Because change is difficult, I believe it occurred a couple of other times before he stopped completely. However, it took for him to get to know me as a person.

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There was another male student in our dorm that I had to interact with daily. He used to look at me with a crooked eye. Although we had classes together, dorm gatherings, bible studies and more, he watched me closely for the first semester but never spoke to me. It was not until the first day after returning for second semester that we began talking. He notified me that I was also the very first Black person he had seen. Growing in West Virginia without any person of color, he heard so many negative stories of Black people. Prior to me, he only heard one time that there was a black person in a Walmart parking lot. So he and a few of his friends ran over there to see this phenomenon but the person had already left. It was a missed opportunity. Therefore, watching me over time interact with other people proved those stories incorrect. Additionally, the other Black people in his classes and places he visited also were different. We really became good friends during the second semester because he let his guard down.

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During that same school year, I became friends with two white female classmates. I felt the bond getting stronger that I asked them both at separate times to potentially consider our friendship to evolve into a relationship. I was rejected by both at separate times but for the same reason. My classmates attributed their future rejection by their families and communities would be too much to bear. One even stated, “What kind of struggles would our future mixed children experience? It wouldn’t be fair to put them or me through that.”

Although sad, these situations occurred at the most prominent Christian university in the US at the time in the early 1990’s. There is a chance they probably still do. How could that happen, every student, faculty, staff and administrator is supposed to employ Christ-like principles of love so racial epithets, divisiveness, oppressive behaviors and practices should not exist. Unfortunately, they do. I will discuss more about Christians and racial tension in the world in part 2.

Proud American, Practicing Muslim

Growing up as a devout Christian, I didn’t interact with any visibly practicing Muslims at all. I remember seeing a few men wear a kufi during my childhood at the supermarket and laundromat. It was not until I was in middle school that I saw a woman wearing a niqab. While I knew that there was something visibly different between the woman and my mom and sisters, I wanted to know why she was covered all over. I remembered staring at her because I could only see her eyes. Since the only religion I ever knew as a child was about Christianity, I inquired from my mother about the Muslim religious practices. She provided me some brief information about the Quran and some of the differences in the religious beliefs.

During that year, I saw a couple of documentaries for a middle school social studies class assignment about countries that practice the Muslim faith. While I don’t remember what I did for the assignment or exactly what I learned from engaging in the activity, I remember being intrigued about what would the woman have looked like with a dress and her hair out. While some non-Muslim people may not interact with practicing Muslims, I wanted to get the perspective of their challenges and discrimination experienced in the US. As you can probably guess, I didn’t have to look too far again. Rabia Nawaz, GOMO’s Restorative Practices consultant, was excited to share a little bit about her journey on this topic.

Senior year of college is exciting for students because it marks new beginnings; that is the year they finally graduate and start applying to their dream jobs. Mrs. Nawaz reveals, “For me, senior year of college marked a whole new journey. That was the year I started to wear the hijab, an Islamic headscarf. When I announced this to my mom, she tried to discourage me from doing so because she was anxious. She feared that people may not be able to look past the hijab and subject me to their stereotypes of Muslim women. She was concerned that I will have a tough time finding a job. She was worried about my safety and being a victim of an Islamophobic hate crime.

I was adamant about my decision and my biggest drive for wearing the hijab was the fact that I finally felt confident in my identity as a Muslim American. I wanted people to know that I am educated. I am independent. I am a practicing Muslim and a proud American.

Fortunately, I obtained a teaching job shortly after graduating college and was even luckier to have landed a job in a positive school climate. My coworkers were understanding of my religious practices and open to learning more. They knew that I would pray during my lunch break. They were mindful of my halal diet when ordering food for an event. (A halal diet strictly forbids pork and alcohol and the meat consumed must be slaughtered in a humane way.) They were eager to know my family’s Ramadan traditions. These small gestures from my colleagues made me feel like a part of the school community. Their open-mindedness helped put my fears of being ostracized at rest. My school’s staff was culturally competent.

Although, I had a very positive experience at work that is not the case for many Muslims around the nation. Some of my friends have had to inconveniently and quickly pray in desolate places because their workplace was not accommodating of their religious needs. For practicing Muslims, cultural awareness and wellness go hand-in-hand. The five minutes it takes to pray really helps Muslims to center themselves and take a mental break from the commotion of life. It helps them to go back to their work with a renewed and fresh attitude.

As a visible Muslim, I am very cognizant of my demeanor when I am out in public. I make an extra effort to be nice to strangers, because I believe it represents my faith. People will judge my actions as a reflection of Islam, and I want to make sure I leave a good impression. Thankfully, I’ve had mostly positive interactions with strangers, and I have never been a victim of a hate crime. That is not to say hate crimes against Muslim women do not happen; as a matter of fact, an article published by the Washington Post states that Muslim women bear the brunt of Islamophobia. The study revealed that women who wore symbols of Islam (like a hijab or a niqab, face veil) were more likely to be targeted. Hate crimes against Muslim women vary from derogatory statements, to forcibly removing their headscarf, and even death. The 2015 Chapel Hill shooting in North Carolina is a recent example of an Islamophobic hate crime in America. Shootings like these ignite my fear of being a Muslim woman, because I wonder if something of that nature will happen to me.

Photo by Brian Lundquist on Unsplash  

My fear was particularly heightened when I lived in Long Island, New York. My town was not very diverse, and I would notice my neighbors staring at me as I walked with my daughter in her stroller. At the time my daughter was only a few months old and I would always cover her stroller to protect her from the sun. I was once asked if I was my daughter’s nanny. I laughed at my neighbor’s comment and took the blanket off my daughter’s stroller to show her a brown baby, just like me. I was never bothered by these statements and just brushed them off; however, comments like these are microaggressions. Seeing a brown, hijabi girl in a predominantly white neighborhood would evoke someone to assume I was not a resident of the town and perhaps I was working for someone there.”

Mrs. Nawaz states, “For the most part, I’ve considered New Jersey to be my home and I love the diversity that it has to offer.” According to the Pew Research Center, New Jersey is home to two to three times as many Muslim adults per capita as the national average; therefore, cultural competence is extremely important. One focus pillar for GOMO Educational Services under the equity umbrella is cultural competence because we understand the value of this practice in our schools, society and country. Participating in a cultural competence training is a start but in reality, cultural competency is a lifelong process. We must continue to examine our own thoughts and attitudes about diverse people, backgrounds and religious beliefs, while addressing our biases. Ultimately, we must embrace our cultural differences and use them to improve our communities.

Cultural Cataracts in the Classroom, Part 2

In my first blog post, I explored the term cultural cataracts.  This is the condition in which one’s vision is blurred due to an inability to see situations clearly.  Cultural cataracts not only applies to my personal narrative but applies to the narrative of equity in education.  Education is often touted as the great equalizer.  However, when many schools are underfunded, under resourced and filled with administrators and teachers who only view students through a blurred lens, education is no longer an equalizer.  Education points out inequities and creates tension in our classrooms and schools based on a singular blurred view. 

In the first post, Mr. Alhassan Susso also provided his understanding of cultural cataracts. Now, he recalls his first encounter with cultural cataracts in the United States two weeks after his arrival. He ran out of clean “American clothes,” so he wore his African clothes to school. He was complimented by the teachers in every class he attended that morning. When he walked into his history class in the afternoon, the teacher seemed to leer at him.  After a few moments, the leer became a glare and the history teacher blurted out, “If people want to wear their funny dresses, they should stay in their country. This is America!” Mr. Susso was shocked and so, it appeared, were my fellow classmates.

A few months after that uncomfortable encounter, his history teacher took the time to get to know him. They eventually developed a strong relationship based on understanding each other’s backgrounds and values.  Mr. Susso reminisced about how many times a week he would visit his history teacher during lunch and ask for help since he literally knew nothing about U.S. history. His history teacher began to understand his story and who he was as a person rather than through stereotypes and assumptions.  As his history teacher began to internalize Mr. Susso’s story, he became interested in the connection between American history and immigration. For this U.S. history class final project, students had to interview an immigrant and write about their experience in America. By the end of the project, these stories were read out loud, the class decided to compile them in a book to share with the rest of our community. The publication of Poughkeepsie Pride: The Stories of our Immigrants became one of the most exciting and memorable experiences of Mr. Susso’s high school days.

Mr. Susso further stated, “I understand the importance of addressing my own cultural cataracts.  As I began to peel my own cultural cataracts, I quickly understood that other peoples’ cultures could be compatible with my beliefs and understandings of the world. That’s when we are able to relate to one another and form productive relationships. I’ve come to learn that teaching is all about relationships. Therefore, it is imperative to adjust our cultural lenses to begin to create a more harmonious world.” If we are to become agents of change and an authentic embodiment of cultural clarity, one must recognize their cultural cataracts.  The first step on this journey is to acknowledge your blinders, remove those blinders and build positive relationships.  The second step is to develop a habitat of reflection and be intentional about your words and actions.

My journey to become a more authentic version of myself began with my relationship with Mr. Susso.  Our unique yet similar journeys have empowered us to use our personal narratives to fight against cultural bias and inequities within education. While the process of clearing our vision of our cultural cataracts is a process, this is just one example of the significance for GOMO Educational Service’s presence with helping educational leaders become more culturally competent and responsive with working in and leading equitable school systems and organizations. If we peel back our cultural cataracts, we begin to see the best of humanity. As educators, it is crucial to empathize with our students’ situation before asking them to understand ours. We’ll create more harmonious classrooms and school systems, tolerant communities and eventually, a more unified world.  We become, as such, better individuals, better administrators, better teachers, better faculty and staff members, and, ultimately, better citizens. The process begins at the foundation, as Maya Angelou insists, “It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity, there is beauty and there is strength.”

Cultural Cataracts, Part 1

The medical definition of cataracts is the clouding of the lens of the eyes.  The eyes provide sight and visual detail. When the eye is infected with cataracts, the sight becomes blurry and lacks the ability to see clearly. Although cataracts is traditionally used in medicine, cataracts can be applied to a cultural lens.  Cultural cataracts is the inability to see situations clearly. One’s vision is obstructed and cannot focus.  You can see only vague images and must rely on a limited narrative to make decisions.

While growing up in Montclair, New Jersey, the perception of my life was shaped by cultural cataracts.  My zip code created a false narrative based on the townships’ dominant white culture.  My reality, I was a Haitian American, financially disadvantaged, and living in an affluent township.  My zip code gave me access to events, activities, and an education.  However, my personal narrative was different from the lens from which I was viewed.  My family struggled financially, my white friends did not fully understand or accept me, and I struggled to fit into a cultural paradigm that did not understand me, my Haitian culture or my needs as a developing Black young man.

I first learned of the term cultural cataracts from Alhassan Susso.  A native of the Gambia, Mr. Susso, was the 2019 New York State Teacher of the Year, 2019 New York State History Teacher of the Year and the 2020 Horace Mann Educator of the Year. He was also named in 2017 as one of “The Top 50 Outstanding Educators in the World” by the Varkey Foundation’s Global Teacher Prize. Most importantly, he is also a GOMO Educational Services consultant. 

Mr. Susso recounts, “Of all that I have discovered during my journey from a small town in Africa’s smallest country, The Gambia,  to such a large nation with so many diverse cultures, I have learned that we often develop cultural cataracts, a condition in which the social lenses though which we see become increasingly opaque and blurry. This is not a condemnation, rather a simple recognition of reality. 

As an immigrant, I have had the unique opportunity to see both sides of this phenomenon. As I came to America, I was confronted with preconceived notions of what Americans were, Black Americans, White Americans, women, men and children. Likewise, I was confronted with preconceived notions Americans had of Africans, of immigrants, of Muslims, and black men— often negative and fearful.”

Image by Hella Nijssen from Pixabay

Although I was born in the United States, my young adult and adult experiences with cultural cataracts were very similar to Mr. Susso of seeing and being on both sides of this phenomenon. While this condition causes detriment to groups of diverse backgrounds and cultures, it is rarely, if ever diagnosed or treated by professionals. As a result, the voices of the dominant group which shapes the cultural norms continues to address their group’s needs with little to no regard for all other groups. More importantly, people in the dominated group strive so hard to be accepted by the dominant group or culture. Although we see the negative effects of cultural cataracts in our society, especially during our current pandemic, we must realize that it is not a condition that can be solved with a quick remedy. We will explore the impacts of cultural cataracts in the classroom during part two of this blog post.  

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