Two teachers share how the School Leaders of Color Conference gives them hope
February 8, 2017
Two African American teachers from San Diego will join hundreds of corps members and alumni in February at a School Leaders of Color Conference convened by Teach For America.
Takeeia Perry and Ebony Killebrew are both in their second year teaching early childhood students in schools that serve predominantly low-income neighborhoods. They will spend the weekend in Houston learning to improve their leadership skills while fulfilling their commitment to social justice.
Here they share why training alongside other young African American teachers energizes them to work for equity inside and outside of the classroom.
“Look at your school. See what is missing. See what you can add to it. Be you. Don’t close off who you are to fit in, be who you are and make the fit work.”
Takeeia Perry, kindergarten and first grade, Miller Elementary
Q: This is your second School Leaders of Color Conference. What did you get out of your first experience?
A: My first experience was very meaningful for me. It provided me with healthy ways to create a safe space in a predominantly white classroom environment.
It also provided an opportunity to learn how to share with my students, to teach standards but at same time embrace the culture of black people.
Q: How has that translated into the classroom?
A: Here in San Diego, a lot of my students aren’t exposed to the culture of black people. I am the only black teacher at my school, and a majority of my students are white or another race. When I meet a student of color, they look at me like, “Wow, I haven’t seen anything like you before.” What I do now, especially around Black History Month, is I try to educate my kinders and first graders on black history, things that are age appropriate for them, but at same time meaningful. I want them to have the knowledge and awareness of black people’s contributions, particularly because those contributions are not taught, not required.
Q: Is there something you are excited about teaching this February?
A: Let’s reflect on last year first – I had fifth graders in an afterschool reading club. I taught them about the civil rights boycotts and desegregation. They acted out roles of the African American and white leaders that sat-in at lunch counters. They were amazing. Unfortunately, I cannot do that this year with my first graders and kinders, but I am looking forward to sharing with them about Dr. Martin Luther King and the legacy of President Obama – who he was, the growth our country made while he was president – and to introduce them to women like Rosa Parks and Harriet Tubman.
Q: What do you hope to take away from next conference?
A: I want to see where Teach For America is going with its African American teachers, its leadership within TFA as a staff, and what TFA will continue to do for communities with predominantly African American families. And with a school like mine, which doesn’t have a high rate of African American students, what can we do in those situations to still provide knowledge for students here? Basically, what’s the plan?
Q: What would you say to African American prospects who are considering a place like San Diego, especially someone like you who came from a predominantly black community in New Orleans?
A: I would tell them that it is different, but not to feel that you cannot be who you are. Sometimes it does feel lonely, but who you are is actually a gift to your school, and you are needed there. Look at your school. See what is missing. See what you can add to it. Be you. Don’t close off who you are to fit in, be who you are and make the fit work.
“The idea of getting together with like-minded individuals who actually look like me -- it’s exciting. When the opportunity presented itself, I was like, “Yes, I’m in!” It gives me hope that I am not in this fight alone, in terms of tackling educational inequity.”
Ebony Killebrew, early childhood, Neighborhood House
Q: What brought you to Teach For America?
A: I majored in education, but I didn’t know exactly where I wanted to be or what I wanted to teach. I was going back and forth between applying for TFA and just applying to get my credential. I ended up choosing TFA because I wanted join a national movement geared toward solving the inequalities and inequities faced by students of color in our school system.
Q: You grew up in San Diego. Was it intentional to teach in your hometown?
A: I went to college in Georgia and hadn’t expected to come home. But I have a different perspective coming back, it’s definitely different than when I was growing up. Most of my time growing up here in San Diego was North of the 8, in more affluent and middle class communities. I hadn’t spent too much time South of the 8. Now, this is where I live, this is where I go to church, this is where I teach, all within walking distance. It’s nice to be completely submerged in the work that I’m doing. Before I had no idea what was going on in these communities because -- even though it’s the same city where I grew up -- I was far removed.
Q: Why are you interested in the School Leaders of Color Conference and what do you hope to get out of it?
A: The idea of getting together with like-minded individuals who actually look like me -- it’s exciting. When the opportunity presented itself, I was like, “Yes, I’m in!” It gives me hope that I am not in this fight alone, in terms of tackling educational inequity. Last year, I was one of the only black teachers at my school, and I am still definitely the youngest teacher. So, I am able to have conversations about what is currently going on in the world, but not to the extent of what I would like to. I am looking forward to talking to people my age about the realities we’re facing and the tools we can use.
Q: Are there particular African American leaders who you call out as inspiring you to do this social justice work?
A: I honestly admire any leaders of color who are actually in our communities, getting their hands dirty, and making the change. It’s one thing for us to just talk about it all day, and it’s good to have conversations, but it’s really about what are we going to do and what are we going to do next? I admire anyone in who is in position and doing something about it.