Author: Dr. Joy

Reflections of Imperfect Communication

I have been thinking a lot about what I say, and how I say it, why I think it important to say anything…

Somehow, what we have learned during the last few years in isolation has not meant silence…the speeches we have heard have been loud and public in our mind, on our televisions, in our ears…the noise is deafening.

So I thought today about Rhetoric…Aristotelian varieties where ethos, logos and pathos converge…maybe answers exist there to understand this whole thing.

Ethos is the thing that gives the speaker credibility to an audience and is based on character, good will and intelligence (emotional, spiritual, multiple)

Logos has always meant “the Word” and applies to the language that establishes what is true and “good” as in logic–readable and discernible–as proof of truths

Pathos like in pathology is about the hearer…the audience…filtered through another’s life and experience

There is no way I could know what that has been…what their nature has been…what baggage they carry or how my choices of words and actions could trigger the storm that would unsettle their life…especially if I, the speaker, fall short…except my motives be pure.

Keep growing…

Brokenness: An artifact

Like this dollar left on the table

We are broken

Crumpled and torn

Battered and bitter

The singleness of a single

Standing alone

Needing and wanting but resolute in its significance

Up close you imagine the history

That from afar leaves little clue

Of the trauma and the pain

That tape and bandaids will never heal.

Stranger Danger

Being called a N*igg#!

In a strange [and strangely familiar] place

While walking on the street

Or playing on a court

Will never be okay

And is nearly impossible to forget.

While I appreciate the academics of an intervention and a strategy,

Racial trauma IS racial stress–labor, abuse, predation–and changes your life forever.

I was 21 walking on a street in Colorado by myself as a college student in a new place, by myself…on assignment to write stories about science and enjoy the freedoms my school-imbued pedigree released to me.

I was so scared in that moment, in the first week, on the second day that I could do nothing but be afraid of being by myself…on assignment…

Being my self…on assignment.

I did not have the terms or language, nor did I think or imagine ideas that were coded as:

Just fear and anxiety.

Was it my Blackness, my womanness, the boldness of my youth or some combination of all the things outside of my control, encoded in the social DNA and historical fabric of that moment only days after the uprisings that defined the 90s? Would they come for me? Who were they anyway? I could not see them, I only heard them…I do not know them. They are strangers and this is strange. How did I get here? Why am I here?

It was so terrifyingly ironic…the combined sounds of anthems from NWA and Sir Mix-a-lot swirling in the air accosted by unfamiliar voices with very familiar tones.

So many questions. No answers.

Fast forward thirty years, another girl on assignment, to play a game bearing letters and numbers of a team surrounded by people suffered the same experience…

Stranger danger

Strange fruit

Legacy lingering

Father’s & Freedom Day

On a recent trip to Harlem and to the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, an exhibit called Been Seen stirred up so many emotions in me. The gallery was filled with images of us, in the past and in this moment, projecting into our future about Black Futures made stronger by our past. This picture by Ricky Day is a visual poem, a love song, from a father to a child. It reminded me of this precious relationship…a parent-child tie crafted by God.

Chase and Kendahl by Ricky Day

Fathers: grand and simple…complicated, complex, common and conceptual. They lift us–at least mine did. Not perfectly, not always steady or for a long time but for whatever moments, gazing into their eyes in joy, fear and love, fathers matter. My life was changed by this scene when I was a child lying on the floor at my grandfather’s house…watching. Watching her be born, he made a commitment, he sacrificed his freedom to secure the feeling of her (and her mother’s safety). Can you imagine that?! I can.

Kunta Kente lifting Kizzy (Stay put): Behold the only thing greater than yourself

On mother’s day, I enjoy the freedom of deciding what I do (and with whom I do it)…the choice by itself is so wonderful even if slightly scripted by the cards and text messages all day…

Nevertheless, my reason for celebrating has always prioritized making me feel loved in grand and simple ways. Prompted by adult others early on, he now happily obliges all the traditions to my gleeful and humble delight.

When I was young and naive, I used to want a man like my father who would sing to me, teach me like MusiqSoulChild and then I realized those too deny freedom. They are boxes made by fairy tales.

On father’s day, I lament the loss of my own fathers–grand, simple and complicated. They loved music and parks and playing games with us and watching us eat (treats, sweet and melty) and grow up. They enjoyed taking us on vacation and taught us how to rest.

On father’s day, I slow and steady my heart to clap for the men in my life who are fathers and father figures to me, the children we serve as teachers and loved ones in our lives. I wish you freedom of choices to spend the day enjoying with glee and delight all things big and small that keep you humble and working to be…



On the last day: I A.I.M.

What do teachers do on the last day of school?


What is?

What did?

Who is?

Who did?

Why this? Why that?

What does this mean?

In my typical fashion, I summarize my thoughts–my why–in this way:

I aim to do better and co-operate with others as they strive to do the same.

I hope to create space for us to aim and reach our goals. But what does it mean to aim in a year when direction has felt denied…like when a global positioning signal is dropped?

I am thinking

A + I = M

Achievement plus integrity equals merit

(A-I) = M

Achievement without integrity (or artificial intelligence) is meaningless

Void of human vive, it, like a machine programmed by someone seeking truths outside of real things, suffers realities that are not real…

How do we make it better next time, this time next year?

Aim higher than achievement…

Reach for actualization instead…

Okay…for now..celebrate freedom and seek rest.

Start again when you can.

Secret Cup of Gladness

Ossie Davis, 1917 – 2005

I have loved Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis forever…

Their voices, speaking and thinking

Their presence, on stage and in life

Have always been a guide for my agency.

What does it mean to hold a secret cup of gladness?

What does it mean to drink from a secret cup of gladness?

What does it mean to imagine those words…that idea?

What a gift.

Interview on Paul Robeson

Teacher Activism as Self Care

Early in this school year, I was questioned about what I wanted my legacy to be…

The question took me into a private place of wondering…what did I want my legacy to be in a year of “unprecedented” everything…

Today, on a day of sanctioned teacher self-care, I chose to act with other teachers in the middle of the street with a hand-made sign, tee-shirt and my voice…lifting the weight of a world by raising my arms…

I am not like the sheroes who I have admired all my life

Ella Baker

Anna Julia Cooper

Ida B. Wells

Pauli Murray

Fannie Lou Hamer

But today, I understand them better…I feel the triumph of their legacy.

For the first time this week, since Tuesday, I am able to act without tears…without crying…without rage, not without pain but certainly with a clear(-er) purpose.

Rest in peace to all victims of gun violence

Rest in power to all those who have worked for change

Ode to Trayvon: Mother to Son MMXXII

I can’t imagine

How she feels, how she felt…

When she heard…

She watched him grow and appreciated his swagger

His quirks and his smirks…she knew them as she knew him. They were probably familiar and uniquely shared.

When I look at you, now 22, I feel her pain, even after 10 years.

So this I say to to thee…

Mother to Son,


I love you, I hear you, I see you,

You matter

Your joys and your pains…matter.

Keep your head up even when you’re down…

A life built on concrete, sitting on bricks, will never be easy but don’t worry,

Hard is not the enemy.

Ignorance is.

Crystal stairs have never been worth the price to keep them

from being dirty, just to be clean or

saved from being broken.

Taken at Philadelphia Protest: Justice for Trayvon (2012), 12 years old
“Historically Speaking” a moderated discussion with Sybrina Fulton (Trayvon Martin’s mother): 5/24/22


Ona Judge was a fascinating human

A freedom fighter who was never caught

Who knew opportunity when it presented itself

On May 22, 1845–49 years and a day later than the moment she “seized her freedom“–she could still tell the story about why, and who, and what would help her reach the prize

‘While they were packing to go back [into bondage land], she was packing too’ for whatever dream land provided.

Imagine that…

An entire lifetime lived beyond that moment

She still knew details

She still weighed the moment in a balance of moral fortitude

Liberty was always going to be better than bondage

Erica Armstrong Dunbar (Author of Never Caught) discussion with Aspen Institute moderator

Double Agency | V.XXI.MMXXII

05.21.2022 Double Agency by Dr. joy Barnes-Johnson | #31DaysIBPOC

This word AGENCY takes on brand new meaning when paired with DOUBLE. It leaps beyond the mundane and into the supernatural…it takes a girl with a “$30 dress and $2 suitcase” from a place of ‘out of excuses’ into the world of being seen (Thank you Ms. Davis…for giving me more words to explain who I am in your memoir Finding Me). What double does for and to a word or idea is magnificent and makes me wonder…maybe wander…through etymologies and epistemologies…philosophies and sociological imaginations.

  • Double entendre
  • Double jeopardy
  • Double trouble
  • Double minded
  • Double sided
  • Double consciousness

It evokes so much that is parallel and lopsided at the same time. It pulls me back toward a history in spite of the intensity of the present moment, so this post will share some of me and a lot of that–history.

Following the models from art and science and literature and dance, my life has always been double agentic…it has always been a type of choreopoem peppered with stories of joy and struggle and spiritual strivings but I love who I am and what I am becoming…as I admire the literate ones who celebrate words and wax poetic through books and essays, while I languish in emotions, stirring ideas in a pot or a beaker that I am not


make a difference.

I am both art and science, teacher and servant, follower and leader, like so many who have come before me.

I say I am an EqSTrEAM educator, in the margins and not–bounded by extremes but free–a science teacher but I really am a double agent. Like the pedagogues in our collected and unreconciled memory, historically and in recent times, we are fugitives, fugitive pedagogues, running from and to the systems that we want, need and challenge. We believe in education but are making our own maps to freedom because the old ones just


[seem to] work.

Our memories of stony roads and bitter chastening

Won’t keep us from returning to post-pandemic classrooms with broken windows,

mirrors and sliding glass doors…this blog is for us.

Schools are racialized organizations “that enhance or diminish the agency of racial groups” (Ray, 2019. American Sociological Review, 84(1), 26-53). Teachers, especially those of us who identify as IBPOC, are double agents with agencies we hold close to our chest like the S in sound, and super, and stressed…on the verge of breaking, we retreat to the pages written by a league of heroes, with gratitude.


I often talk about being EqSTrEAM as a humanities-loving science teacher. Pronounced  /ɪkˈstrim/, who I am is extreme, as in, ‘in the margins’, so my position outside of center makes total sense to me. It amplifies the human as it elevates the other. But it is the “r-factor” that has meant so much over the course of my thinking about who I am and what I do. Telling myself ‘Whatever it is:

  • must be relevant
  • responsive
  • REPRESENTATION (in a hip-hop kind of way) and re-presentation
  • Reflective of the people and reflexive in its goals’
  • It is righting the narratives that erase or appropriate…but, #31DaysIBPOC reminds me that it is more than that.

Starting on day 1, Dr. Kim Parker provided REASONS to perform (although that’s not quite the best word) when our students no longer experience joy

even when they “win”…

…because the pressured voices ringing in their mind “to try harder

steal accomplishment from them and call themselves underachievement…

It is our RESERVATIONS and REPRIEVE SPACES (insights courtesy of Erica Pernell) that cause us to take pause…

When we feel questioned by students whose book learnin’ turned into the nouveaux machine variety

we can only remember in a distant recollection of self…

the mental tricks and shortcuts we owned and created at 16 sit now on a dusty shelf in the recesses of our decades older mind, unconnected from real things that our adult selves use frequently…or…that (like them) can only be re-membered long enough to connect dots on a test, created by a curriculum that was disconnected all along…

It is our RIGHTING as we write. Filling in gaps about our greatness and unhiding who we are and stepping into the light, even though shade (in all its coolness) feels necessary more than comfortable.

It is my RESPONSE…to the brutality we suffer in grocery stores, on streets, in churches, in schools…feeling shame and regret not for something we have done but because of who we are…and yet, somehow, too many children, are unable to identify this or any moment where their life matters less…could it be because they don’t know their history and are becoming so numb to their present that a dissonant future not based in myth is beyond their understanding acceptance? Searching for answers like other teachers in this moment, I looked to intellectual ancestors for answers.

This post is a love letter to Leila Amos Pendleton, a woman who wrote books, curated poems and penned letters to remind and inspire us to look back/retrieve our histories, our stories, in order to better understand our present and our future. In 1912 she wrote a history book called A Narrative of the Negro which was published by her husband. After thanking almost fifty people (for what I am sure were political reasons) she explains on page 3:

In this little volume contains, in story form, a brief outline of the history of the Negro...In presenting this narrative, as a sort of “family story” to the colored children of America, it is my fervent hope that they may hereby acquire such an earnest desire for greater information as shall compellingly lead them, in maturer years, to the many comprehensive and erudite volumes which have been written upon this subject.

Pendleton, L. A. (1912). A Narrative of the Negro (21st, 1998 ed.). Press of R.L. Pendleton.

Chapter 1 (A talk with the children) gives vibes of the opening scene of the Black Panther (or maybe the 1619 Project). The telling of our origin story and the reminder to always capitalize the first letter of whatever we choose to call ourselves (p. 5): embodying the idea of KUJICHAGALIA (self-determination). In one paragraph, the text hugs the psyche like a quilt stitched to protect against insecurity. Through the next 20 chapters, Mrs. Pendleton holds up history like a magnifying glass for us to see our Diaspora unobstructed by racist hate scribbled on pages but through a lens of love and truth…

We were ‘born on the water’ and she helps us to fully see it without shame. She introduces us to patriots, artists, spiritual leaders and other heroes with African roots–reminding us that we have a stake to hold in this country. She describes the inner-workings of and names some of the lesser known conductors on the Underground Railroad (pp. 118 – 150). The conductors–abolitionists–were celebrated with the familiar and yet lesser known ‘John Brown‘s men’ (p. 156) as she named names, as if she knew them. She lauds the establishment of Black institutions of higher learning and the many people and visionaries of the time who believed in Black folks…

But at the beginning of Chapter XXI, she describes where we were in the 1910s, just as if she were writing about where and who we are now…projecting and predicting this moment with acuity, warning us of this moment and probably hoping that this knowing would keep us from this living.

…there arose the two great schools of Negro thought, which, for want of more exact terms, have come to be known as the Conservative and the Radical. Briefly stated, the Conservative school of thinkers lays most stress upon the opportunities and privileges which Negroes enjoy in this country, while the Radicals insist upon the rights of which we are deprived. Each side is most intensely in earnest and both seek the highest good of the Negro. The difference seems to lie in opinion as to how this highest good is to be secured (p. 189).

The struggle of two knights—both are right.

Leila Amos Pendleton (1860 – 1938)

Echoing an idea posed by mathematician and sociologist Kelly Miller (another double agent) only a few years before in his essay “Radicals and Conservatives”, we are in the same place 5-½ generations removed from that moment. Chapter XXI is an ode to the political nature of the Black teacher.

I once argued that schooling does not have to be political…it could be objective...that was before I really knew who I was as a teacher...or what my ‘assignment’ to teach in mostly White schools meant.

I get it now–after more than 20 years–I am there for all students but especially for the Black and Brown (Bb) students who need to see teachers who know a thing or two about history…and the stories that history tells. Thinking about @GraceKChoi in her thread about showing up…being a double agent.

Double agents are individuals willing to carry the load of responsibility…for others…

Double agents are connected to that which moves outside of them selves…

Double agency is a responsibility.

Being a double agent is:

RIGHTING while we write and

Representing while we represent the various selves we are to others and our own beings.

Those who identify as IBPOC are always somewhere educating and leading,

with and without titles

with towels and tools…

in light and love…

So what is the end of the narrative you wonder? What comes in Chapter 22? Pendleton concludes the family story with a list of names and biographical sketches that explain how the “light is diffused”.

There would be just too many to name if we were to celebrate every education double agent that possesses the “r-factor” so I will simply encourage you to look around for the ones who are busy doing the work and building collectives like this one.

Thirty-one days in May never seems quite long enough to get to know all the heroes in our multiverse multicultural universe but for now I will take it, with gratitude.

This blog post is part of the #31DaysIBPOC Blog Series, a month-long movement to feature the voices of Indigenous, Black and other People of color who live as teachers, artists, writers and scholars. Please read yesterday’s blog post, Pinoy Ako by Leah Werther (and be sure to check out the link at the end of each post to catch up on the rest of the blog series).

Dr. joy, 2022