Thursday, December 15, 2016

Edairra McCalister - Unity Circle: Seeing Our Girls and Womyn

Edairra McCalister is a proud mother and an educator. She is a recent graduate of Metropolitan State University with a Master’s of Science in Curriculum, Pedagogy, and Schooling from the School of Urban Education. Edairra participated in the Minnesota Humanities Center’s 2016 Summer Educators’ Institute.

I have always wanted to become an educator. As a child I dreamt of the day that I would have my very own classroom, so I practiced by playing school with my siblings regularly. The day that my dream came true was the journey of joy, pain, and learning curves that began with no signs of slowing down.

I’ve worked in North Minneapolis as an educator for the past two years and traveled the journey as if I were made for it, because I believe I was. However, somewhere along that journey joy departed, and as a result, I recently resigned from my teaching position a quarter into my third year. With no new job on the horizon, and no plan in place, my resignation was an act of shear faith and me taking a stand for what I believe in.

While participating in the Humanities Center’s week-long summer Educator’s Institute in June of 2016, I made a breakthrough in understanding my purpose and direction as a black womyn and educator. Rich discussions about absent narratives, understanding place, and exploration of epistemologies, equipped me with much to bring back to the classroom to engage in critical learning. It was learning about the transformative practice of holding a ‘Story Circle’ – as introduced and facilitated by Ms. Rose McGee during the Institute – that planted a seed.

As part of the Educators’ Institute, participants were required to create an action plan based on enduring understandings from lessons that took place throughout the week. My own personal and professional experiences of invisibility as a black womyn, and my desire to share those stories, particularly one that took place about mid-way through the week during the Institute, inspired an action plan titled: Unity Circle.

Unity Circle was created using storytelling as its key component because it provided an opportunity and platform for girls/womyn of color to share experiences and facilitate critical dialogues. I envisioned the space to be cultivated within a Unity Circle as a potential way to deconstruct invisibility and create a sense of value amongst girls/womyn, and was eager to begin creating this space with my scholars. I saw this work as necessary and, at this point, there was no dedicated space for girls/womyn of color in the school environment. The need to address the absent narratives of girls/womyn of color in the school setting presented Unity Circle as an option to become the focus of my master’s thesis research.

In response to issues faced by black girls in the school setting, I did facilitate Unity Circle this past November with scholars attending school on the North side of Minneapolis.  Unity Circle proved more than I had imagined but, most importantly, everything I hoped for black girls – that being a safe space to speak and hear others. Engaging in this work is not easy, but it is important. I know all too well how it feels to be silenced and unseen, which is why I concluded that remaining an educator who felt invisible in their school environment would be antithetical to the work of deconstructing invisibility and revealing absent narratives. The Humanities Center’s Educators’ Institute changed my life quite literally, and I was empowered when I decided to stand for what I know to be right, despite perceived consequences.

“If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.”—Zora Neale Hurston

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