When I sat waiting on Monday evening for a decision in the possible indictment of Officer Wilson, I immediately recalled the moment I found out I was carrying a little black boy in my womb. The Trayvon Martin shooting was fresh in my mind, and I thought about how my skin color would be passed down, and my unborn son would be judged, undervalued, and treated poorly as a result.

Because of his race coupled with his gender, my son Jackson entered this world susceptible to poverty, homelessness, illiteracy, poor health, mass incarceration, gun violence, police brutality, and racial profiling. His ability to stave off many of these ills will be our responsibility, as his parents, and that is a heavy toll. We are ready for the challenge.

Growing up, I visited the reservation almost every weekend, stayed during summer break, and ate tonoo’ (seaweed) and taa'oo' (acorn mush). My dad and I often had talks about what it was like for him in the world and the history of my family and our people. Our conversations always seemed to lead to discussions about being Pomo—something that has molded my self-identity. To some, I don’t look like a stereotypical Native. As a child, and even today, I often hear, “Oh wow, you don’t look American Indian” or “But you’re not a real Native.”

School was a different and interesting experience as I was the only Native in my classroom. At times, it was great. Once per year my mom would bring my grandmother’s baskets to my class and tell stories about my tribe. But, there were also times when it felt really horrible. I was often confused as to why the history my dad taught me didn’t align with the lessons I was taught in school about Thanksgiving, Columbus Day, and U.S. history. Hearing my classmates recite phrases like, “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue,” often left me feeling conflicted and angry.

“I’m not Choctaw; I’m Japanese,” my four-year-old son Rhys cried. I had just given him his tribal membership card, something that I thought he’d be proud of.

The strange thing is my son isn’t actually Japanese. Sure, he goes to Japanese schools and is fluent in the language, but neither my wife nor I have any Japanese ancestors. In his mind, he speaks Japanese; therefore, he is Japanese. Inheritance and genetics do not matter to him. When he found out that his hair and eye color were different from everyone else in his class, he didn’t see that as a problem. Instead, he confidently told us, and everyone, that he was a blonde-haired, blued-eyed Japanese boy. He knew he wasn’t Choctaw because he didn’t speak the language. It was okay for Dad to be Choctaw because Dad could speak a little Choctaw, but that didn’t mean he was.

As I think about my son’s development of self-identity and celebrate the heritage, culture, and contributions of American Indians during Native Heritage Month, I am reminded of the importance of identity in education. My ancestors came from many places, but my grandmother’s Choctaw culture and history were always the most important to me. Perhaps this has something to do with Choctaw culture itself, where the maternal family is the one where inheritance is passed on, or maybe it’s due to the historical continuity my family has had with our tribe. Whatever the reason, being Choctaw was always very important to me.

Amber Woodbury

I grew up in south-central Wisconsin in the city of Madison—and off of the reservation. The Sokaogon Chippewa Community resided just north of me, but I had to cultivate my own identity as an American Indian in a town with very few people who identified as Native. As I learned how to relate to my culture and identity without being assimilated to life on the reservation, I also began to learn more about how Natives have been impacted in the education system.

During my time in school, I often felt alone in terms of my identity. There were no Native teachers at my school, very few Native students, and the only mention of my culture in textbooks referenced “pilgrims and Indians” each November. But, despite these challenges, teachers like Mrs. Lori Hunt dedicated time to ensuring that I succeeded and saw college as a viable option after graduation. Mrs. Hunt re-instilled in me a love for education and learning.

As a student at the University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee, I began to shed my blinders of ignorance towards Native issues and became committed to being an advocate for opportunity and advancement in Indian Country. As I studied community engagement and education in college, I started to understand the undeniable ties between educational opportunity and community impact.

Dr. Joseph Wilson and Kara DiGiacomo

Organizations from all sectors, teachers from all communities, and even politicians on both sides of the aisle agree that an excellent science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education opens doors of opportunity for all students. Great teachers give students the skills to be competitive in the STEM-sector jobs which will increase 17 percent in the next four years – but more importantly, they impart the passion to explore, discover, and create upon our next generation of leaders. The simple truth is that we need more great STEM teachers in our nation’s classrooms.

Teach For America and the Biogen Idec Foundation are committed to ensuring all students have access to high-quality STEM experiences. We are thrilled to announce a five-year collaboration to provide recruitment, training, and professional development opportunities to STEM corps members, as well as high-quality STEM educational opportunities for students in under-resourced communities.

I grew up in the early ’60s and was 6 years old when the Civil Rights Act was passed, opening up social and economic opportunities for persons of color. Despite this historic legislation, my parents, both enrolled members of the Oglala Lakota Nation, were born before American Indians were granted United States citizenship. My mom and dad each experienced the oppression, cruelty, and forced assimilation of government-run boarding schools, and this followed them well into the 1970s, when American Indians began to organize their collective voices as first Nations people.   

Robyn Fehrman

Last week, the school board of Durham Public Schools opted not to extend its contract with TFA. Durham is one of the 18 communities in North Carolina with which TFA partners and, as the district where I send my 5-year-old to kindergarten every morning, it’s a place that matters to me deeply. While I am proud to know that so many parents and principals contacted the board to express their support for continued partnership and describe the influence corps members have in their students’ lives, I also worry about the implications of the decision.


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We believe education is the most pressing issue facing our nation. On Pass the Chalk, we'll share our takes on the issues of the day, join the online conversation about education, and tell stories from classrooms, schools, and communities around the nation.

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