Solutions for Sticky floors & Drowning waters: Abolitionist strategies for educators

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Dear Reader, 

I share because I don’t want to forget. I am an introvert who projects as an extrovert, but people who know me, know better. I am a life-long lover of learning—not school. But schools are the structural place where many people acquiesce and assign the task of learning/teaching…so I think of myself as a pedagogue—a critical one (in multiple ways). I also share in the #31DaysIBPOC space with the hope that other brave and wondering people who lead others as educators see something in my piece that brings them comfort…knowing that what they are experiencing, others experience. Shout out to Angela Bae: I felt every line with a special familiarity that helped me finish this piece even though the cover art for our stories is probably very different.

My writings usually flow between poem and essay, choreographed with rhythms and visuals implied in the background. I prefer to write in quiet places with hints of sunshine lighting the room. This piece is no different. How do I structure my writing? I am a divergent thinker—with no tolerance for game-playing and untruths. I have always been artistic, a little [melo-] dramatic and plain old, regular shmegular. Like Lisa, Angela, Pamela and Renee, I’m from around the way…the girl in the pack of people turning “it” on when I feel like it and speaking for my crew when dictionary language is needed. Some call it code switching but I have come to understand it as “speaking to be heard”—for me and for us—when necessary, however frequent, perhaps too much sometimes but neither silence nor façade is for me.

This piece has a little poetry, a little reflection and a splash of history dropped in a few key places. This is who I am, unapologetically. 

Thank you Damaris for sharing #STICKYNOTES yesterday (I have shards of yellow, green, blue and pink everywhere too)! Thank you to all the authors whose writings have come before and will follow this one: you keep me inspired and I love reading your posts every morning.

To Tricia who speaks with a love language like mine—quality time and fond memory making—I appreciate the way you live so openly and share so freely for us online. Meeting you in DC is still one of the coolest things I never imagined I would do. To Kim, oh man…what can I say? From NY to Boston to wherever we get to share space again, the gratitude I have for your work will never fit adequately into words I know, nevertheless I will start by saying thank you…for all you are and do for us. 

“To Burghardt and Yolande, The lost and the found…

The Forethought

HEREIN lie buried many things which if read with patience may show the strange meaning of being Black here at the dawning of the Twentieth Century. This meaning is not without interest to you, Gentle Reader; for the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color-line.”

—W.E.B. DuBois, 1903, The Souls of Black Folk: Essays and Sketches

“The Negroes’ real problem is that they have seldom had adequate choices…they avoided victimization…by withholding a significant commitment to any organization or individual.”

—Martin Luther King, 1963, “The days to come” in Why We Can’t Wait

Verses in S: Using Time and History as my Guide

Why iS the color line Still our problem? One hundred twenty yearS of Struggle trying to Solve thiS problem. How do we Shift from Saving Souls to Soul Stirring to keep them? Six generationS removed we Still Suffer under the weight of itS limitS, like calculuS…the area under the curve of thiS arc iS Slight yet Significant.





The sound of S as it escapes between clenched teeth…


Like a snake, hidden in high grass




Psychological strategies of

Separation & sabotage

Reminding myself that

Success may trigger in-Security and



Is the stance of a sell out

I choose to focus on the S at the beginning and end of solutions…

Using time and history as my guide

Why this topic on this day?

  • I watched my mother (and by partnership in her marriage) my stepfather, the man I call Daddy, pressed by glass ceilings and concrete jungle walls…suffer on sticky floors that trapped them like urban mice when poison was too common, obvious and embarrassing to leave out in the open and the mechanics of a trap were too messy. My parents became parents early and the twin spirits of revolution and rebellion were swirling all around them. Their parents were passengers on trains and in cars from Alabama and Florida and Virginia heading UpSouth and MidSouth from Chocolate Cities during the Great Migration. They wouldn’t stand for such defiance and divergence from their conservative moral suasion. Today would have been his 74th birthday. This is a reflection and thank you note to them.
  • I almost drowned three times: literally and figuratively. Twice when I jumped into deep waters because ‘if they could do it, so could I…right?…not’! Once because I fell over the edge of a boat as I leaned in to see what lived beneath the surface of my clear sight.

I almost drowned literally. After the first time, I thanked God for guards at the Y who knew that most of the kids who show up for ‘learn to swim for free’ (L2S4F) sessions, really don’t know how to swim or hold their breath. When I fell out of that canoe at camp (Nope…I wasn’t supposed to be out there by myself ) I thanked God for L2S4F classes that taught me how to float. I must have been out there for about 15-minutes before they found me…but I was calm and relaxed as the little lake fish tickled my not-so-nervous body. The third time, I jumped willingly into deep and storm troubled waters in a gulf of natural waters. What was I thinking? I really don’t know…the rest of my team was in the water, I wasn’t the same 10 year old little girl, at least I knew how to swim and tread water in a pool…right? L2S4F certificates DO NOT prepare you for the reality and difference between a chlorinated tub and the ocean. The brain of a fear-filled person is not the same as that of an animal whose instincts are simple: trust God in a Matthew 6:26 and Psalm 37:25 kind of way. When you almost drown, the freeze, fight and flee instincts of our human condition overtake all forms of joyful engagement. I respect water now in ways that I did not in my youth. Like Aang learned to respect fire, I have learned to trust waters’ powers to calm and to invoke fear: it is energy and life.

Figuratively, every major job I took I found myself at the edge of deep water. My first Ph.D. program (in chemistry), my first teaching job where racist parents wanted their daughter removed from the Black teacher’s class. I walked into that meeting as if it were a diving board. I didn’t understand the expected performance. I bounced with uncertainty and flopped upon entry into the water. My first supervisory job this year. The eerie similarities between the first and the last time in each case is astounding…somehow I should know better, but something about time and space between them and the learning that happens along the way makes you forget. 

What have you learned that qualifies you to facilitate learning?

(After all, learning is supposed to make finding solutions more natural and easy to do…right?) I learned that you will surely have to depend on others to save you when you jump into something because someone else did it first—that is EGO functioning all day! I jumped into danger following others as I compared myself to them. When I fell out of the boat, it was because my curiosity was driving me to explore—my mistake was going by myself. Others were close enough to “find” me and now that I think about it, the water was probably not that deep—I could have made it back to the dock paddling if I tried but instead, I was actually comforted (and proud of myself) that I stayed calm enough to hear my own breath, sensitive enough to feel the pecking of the fish beneath me, and unafraid enough to test myself.

Why these points in history: 1947, 1963 and now?

  • 1947 was championed (like 1863 and 1865 and 1884) as a critical year in the multicultural through line of American history.
  • 1963 was when MLK wrote Why We Can’t Wait. The March on Washington for jobs and freedom happened. The Atlantic captured it beautifully in their 50-year retrospective.
  • 2023 is the year that I will remember as the year I decided to remove the mask I have worn for so many years in public. Thoughts swirl of Maya Angelou who wrote “The Mask”, a variation on Paul Lawrence Dunbar’s 1895  poem. 2023 is an anchor point for all the people who wear and have worn masks in order to survive.
Maya Angelou ” The Mask” (ca., 1988) Read more about how a ‘laugh can be used as a tool of survival’


Sticky floors

Aspirations keep us reaching upward. But some of us are just stuck.

1947: Integration of major league baseball and the disruption of color lines that never went away. Two years after WWII, the world cheered as Jackie Robinson integrated the major leagues. How many people asked questions about where/how he traveled with the team? Was he safe?

1963: Myth of mobilization “The Germans, Irish, Italians, and Jews, after a period of acclimatization, moved inside political formations and exercised influence. Negroes partly by choice but substantially by exclusion, have operated outside of the political structures, functioning instead essentially as a pressure group with limited effect.” (Why We Can’t Wait, p. 184). Every time I think about ethnic enclaves like Chavez Ravine I wonder what IBPOC unity could mean if we really saw each other and resisted the myth of merit by mobilization.

2023: Truth telling beyond reckoning. The years between 2019 and 2022 will go down in history as a major period of social reckoning in the United States. Sanctioned violence against individuals and collective calls for justice crossed racial, ethnic, class and gender lines at state and interpersonal levels; somehow people have forgotten how NOT to be socially distant (or rather to be socially close without a populist false knowing or perverted intimacy created by invasive social media). The unintended consequence of all the messaging to ‘fend for yourself’ has produced a pathology on the scale of crisis and disaster.

Drowning waters

Danger is everywhere.

Princeton Plan: 50 Years Later

Drowning waters is a metaphor for the environment where we are. All of us are vulnerable to hurt and harm—the dangers of being together. Drowning waters can be contrived like a pool or natural like the ocean but they are always risk-heavy, even for the skilled. Learn from the stories these waters hold. I point out three different media examples of drowning waters.

Using time and history as my guide

1947: The Princeton Plan is an example of legislated school integration. Combining schools and resources, ethnic White and IBPOC children came together in schools with their White peers. Watch this history and hear the water

Resources about the Children’s March of 1963 (Learning for Justice teaching resource 

1963: The Children’s March  was called D-day back then. Juggling the complexity of compliance (to their parents) and resistance (to the system), youth organized with adult help and supports—from within and outside of their community—to change the course of their experience. How could they have known the evils lurking beyond the obvious horizon but they took a chance on their agency. What do the elders, alive as children back then want us to know?

  • They woke up with their mind stayed on freedom
  • They heard adults use coded language that they fully understood. Adjacent in purpose though slightly older in years, they trusted that adults cared about them and wanted to secure for them a future that they did not have.
  • Revolution in 2023 exists in the long-cast shadow of the past…know these histories. There is much to be learned.

2023: Emerging from quarant-eaching (Teaching in Quarantine film by Lydia Cornett ​​ do we really want people to “mute themselves” as they enter conversations? How do we preserve the liberties and freedoms we all experienced  when we were set at home, socially/structurally distant, from others while acknowledging the comedy and tragedy in those same arrangements? Background noises we can’t control. Gadgets and distractions that allow us to stay interested and families or caregivers that made sure we stayed motivated. In those moments, some of us thrived in solitude while others of us, turned it all off and became like adults (or like children).


Every now and then, teachers need to be talked to. James Baldwin paused in 1963 to do it at a conference. We needed that. ‘Yoli’ did it again in 2022. Centering your SELF without being a self-serving sellout is an archaeological process (Sealey-Ruiz, Y. (2022). An archaeology of self for our times: Another talk to teachers. English Journal111(5), 21-26.).

Call it my work (or maybe my journey), at the conclusion of this piece, I offer solutions for sticky floors and drowning waters

  1. Sort through the catalog of your personal interests as an exercise in soul keeping and self-care. This will allow you to walk in your own truth. 
  2. Identify your needs for full human joy without comparing yourself (or your needs) to others’. Observe others but don’t compare yourself to them.
  3. Pay attention to your VIVID dreams—the ones you remember, are designed to speak to you. The ones that are scary and the ones that inspire you are pointing you in specific directions to keep you safe, challenge you to stay disciplined or inspire you to be. There is a reason why you remember them, if only to laugh about it later.
  4. Evaluate your “reasons why” without sacrificing any part of yourself or ascribing someone else’s reasons why to your own
  5. Think more about harm reduction and elimination than the trauma that harm produces. Sustainable change requires different thinking.  Imagine eliminating harm rather than simply responding to it…
  6. Lead as a member of a collective (know who is with you): find your people, embrace community and share responsibility. The Kwanzaa principles are alive and well. We don’t only need charismatic individual leaders; we need collective agency and efficacy. Live the principles all day, every day.
  7. Step away from stuff and folx…no phone, no computer, no pressure for a few minutes every day, at least three times a day—in the morning, in the evening and somewhere in between, so you can keep your soul. Teaching yourself to retreat is different from learning how to rest. Take baby steps toward the latter by prioritizing the former. Guard your heart, your life and your work by adding distance between you and the stuff around you. This is stewardship.
Nguzo Saba (Seven Symbols/Principles) of Kwanzaa

Don’t be afraid to make a commitment to individuals and organizations whose ceilings, floors and drowning waters you feel. Using time and history as our guide, we have seen that we can make it…now believe it.

This blog post is part of the #31DaysIBPOC Blog Series, a month-long movement to feature the voices of indigenous and teachers of color as writers and scholars. Please CLICK HERE to read yesterday’s blog post by  Damaris Guitierrez (and be sure to check out the link at the end of each post to catch up on the rest of the blog series).

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