This post was written by NCTE member Sonia Adams.
2020 was a year of great bewilderment and uncertainty for me. COVID-19 waged battle against the world, leaving its crimson stain in the aftermath. The death of George Floyd and the ensuing protest movements for him and countless other Black and Brown bodies, both named and unnamed, provoked a rallying cry for justice. My work position at a writing center shifted from onsite to remote within a week. As months passed, my work hours waned. My dissertation proposal was at risk. Words and sentences were stunted by lack of inspiration and creativity. I needed empowering words to take center stage on the blank white page. Experiencing these public movements and private moments were clear indication for me to etch out some time to reevaluate my priorities and work in the world.
It was important for me to reclaim and sustain my identity and purpose as a Black woman of faith. It was also essential for me to seek enriching spaces where my roles as an educator and literary scholar could be cultivated and nourished. I was ecstatic upon learning of NCTE’s member gatherings. At the first gathering I attended via Zoom, I was enamored by the hosts Detra M. Price-Dennis and Antero Garcia’s community ethos, ethic of care, and purpose-driven stance in supporting the NCTE members’ emotional needs and professional endeavors.
Antero and Detra would begin each gathering by posing the question: How are you doing? It’s a simple question but it exudes intentionality in the health and well-being of each teacher and administrator in attendance. NCTE members were invited to use the ‘raise hand’ feature or unmute themselves to talk and to use the chat box to write their thoughts of reflection. This gesture aroused such joy and gratitude within me. I found my community where I could thrive and gain the knowledge and tools to deal with challenges that come with the education profession.
The myriad of discussion topics, presentations, and resource materials was invaluable. Dr. Valerie Kinloch, at the time NCTE President elect served as a presenter, conveyor, and interviewer in some of the gatherings. Dr. Kinloch often summoned the spirit and writings of the late poet, activist, and educator, June Jordan. At an early gathering, she read and discussed Jordan’s “Poem for South African Women” and “The Problems of Language in a Democratic State.” These poems spoke to issues of political corruption, racial and gender oppression, and forced silencing. President Kinloch then shared her insights on teaching and learning. She posed the question, How do we liberate ourselves as educators while educating others? And I reflected on this question. There are great stakes to liberating oneself and community. President Kinloch charged NCTE members to question themselves as educators, their teaching practice, and the learning spaces they create and occupy. She challenged me to reflect on and learn from my past failures as an educator. Dr. Kinloch also encouraged me to unlearn modes of thinking, being, and acting that are counterintuitive to building a community framework within the classroom where students’ voices and identities are validated and their knowledge and skills are nurtured.
Other presenters that have made an indelible mark on my teaching practice are Dr. Gholdy E. Muhammad, Dr. Yolanda Sealey-Ruiz, Dr. Danny C. Martinez, poet Alberto Ríos, Carol Jago, Alfredo Celedón Luján, Teacher-Librarian Julia Torres, and Dr. Kimberly N. Parker. Collectively, these educators have taught me about culturally relevant and sustaining pedagogies and social justice principles for transforming student learning. The NCTE member gatherings continue to motivate and equip me with knowledge and strategies for handling the rigors of leading an academic life.
As citizen, I bore witness to racialized gendered violence, COVID-19 casualties, and mental health and education battles plaguing educational institutions. As scholar, I reoriented myself with the activist writings of the late author and educator, Toni Cade Bambara. As scholar, I took possession of the pen and blank white page and simply wrote again.
Sonia Adams is a native of New York City where she currently serves as an adjunct professor of English at Appalachian State and St. John’s Universities. She teaches courses in American multiethnic, Black diasporic, and world literatures. Professor Adams is also a PhD candidate at St. John’s, where she’s at work on her dissertation study centered on Black diasporic feminist literature. As an education practitioner, she’s committed to social justice initiatives centered on equity, inclusion, diversity, and representation. Ms. Adams enjoys attending cultural events, spending quality time with family and friends, listening to podcasts and contemporary gospel and R&B music, writing poetry, and reading great works of literature.
It is the policy of NCTE in all publications, including the Literacy & NCTE blog, to provide a forum for the open discussion of ideas concerning the content and the teaching of English and the language arts. Publicity accorded to any particular point of view does not imply endorsement by the Executive Committee, the Board of Directors, the staff, or the membership at large, except in announcements of policy, where such endorsement is clearly specified.