*photo cred: Sara Deragon*
Interestingly my identities are shaped from the things society has told me I’m “not enough of” or shamed me for being. I consider them to be all related. I am: Black, Queer, a man, and an educator. Still to this day, my Blackness is challenged. I can think of two times that my Blackness was explicitly challenged by students. When I was teaching on the East Side of Long Beach, I was having a discussion with several Black students about Black culture. The conversation was about music specifically, and one of the students commented “Wow, I thought you were going to be ‘White washed’ because of the way you talk Mr. Rey.” Another time happened last semester in San Francisco. A student commented, “You live in Bayview?! I would have assumed you lived in the Sunset because of the way you dress!” Bayview is a historically Black neighborhood on the southeast side of San Francisco. In Bayview there are housing projects, gang violence, but also historical assets, such as community programs and a strong sense of Black pride. While Sunset is a neighborhood on the western part of the city, near the beach and has a large Asian American Pacific Islander population. It can be described as more quiet, having less crime, and is comprised of an affluent population. Often times I found myself proving my Blackness be it by: vocabulary usage, cultural knowledge, fashion/ dress, etc. The first time I had an awakening of my power and worth was during undergrad. I was at a Black Student Caucus and the topic of discussion was “White-washed” Black folks. Some scholar was talking and basically explained that there’s no such thing as being “White-washed” because then you equate positive or instrumental characteristics as non-Black. I had this thought: “I can define my own Blackness, how I see fit, because it’s my life.” That was the moment I stopped ascribing to values and ideas I didn’t want to be a part of. I felt free.
Society views queer Black men as automatically less than cishet (cisgender and heterosexual) Black men. Being explicitly and subliminally told that I was not “masculine or manly enough” forced me to define my own ideas of what being a man is and stand strong in it. I’ve had a rebellious/ non-conforming attitude since I was young; so, I recognized my individuality pretty early. That could be because I recognized my queerness at an early age. It was around fourth grade when all the boys and girls started “dating” and I was thinking….. “Wait, why don’t the boys want to date each other?” I was closeted until after I graduated from university, while that doesn’t necessarily equate to passing (appearing to be heterosexual); I’m proudly Black and Queer because I had to learn to love those identities, and they were not (and still aren’t) the safest things to declare.
My work as an educator is also paramount to my identity because it’s how I actively change the world, and create safe spaces for students of color in education. I think my worth is tied into my strengths. As an educator, you have the potential to influence and help a lot of scholars. When I started teaching on the East Side of Long Beach and began making connections with students, staff and growing myself, that was when I recognized that one of my strengths is connecting with people and teaching. One of the best ways to connect with youth and empower them is to validate them and their experiences. In doing that, you can help them recognize their voice and worth. What I think that actually looks like in practice is: 1) asking them about their lives outside of the classroom and remembering what’s going on, 2) taking the time to learn the things they like and forming an opinion on them (I love to tell my students that I think Kodak Black and drill music/ trap music is trash and have a conversation about it), and most importantly, 3) being open to learning from them and looking to them for information. Last semester, we took public transit to the beach and I had no idea what we were doing so I asked one of my scholars to get us (four staff and 110 students) to the beach and back to the school, and she executed the task flawlessly. Data shows that in many classrooms students of color are marginalized and silenced, one of my take aways for every student is that “You have a voice, and you deserve to be heard.” Therefore, we work on building vocabulary so they can maximize their voice, and feel confident in it. The moment I felt that I had a “calling” is when I felt I uncovered my worth.
I hope to overcome my habits of overthinking, feelings of inadequacy and most importantly whatever systematic racism that I will face as I continue my career as an educator. The Black male educator burnout rate is very high, and even higher when you add Queerness. I plan to overcome these feelings of inadequacy by focusing on my accomplishments, surrounding myself with a positive support system, and ultimately, believing in myself. I do NOT like talking about my feelings, that probably something I need to overcome. I never want to appear or be vulnerable. But I know you can be vulnerable and open and still be strong.
Outside of the classroom, I would like to succeed in creating safe space for Black Queer People of Color. The Black community can be hella homophobic, so I would like to create a refuge. Be it in a social group, an organization, or even online. In theory, I would like to also succeed in deconstructing homophobia in our community, but then I realize, I don’t have the energy to deal with it; and in the words of Angela Rye, “I don’t talk to bigots.” So that’s by me.
Inside the classroom I would like to do work on creating safe spaces for QTPoC (queer, transgender, people of color) students in urban classrooms. I’m not sure what that work looks like yet, research, presentations, workshops, etc. But I want to actively work on making urban schools inclusive and safe for queer students. My goal is to become the superintendent of an urban school district and implement a reading program targeted at entire families with the goal of increasing literacy rates and language acquisition in Black and Brown communities. In addition to that I would like to finish learning Spanish and American Sign Language. Currently I teach in the “Newcomer Pathway” which is a track that is designed for students that have arrived in the country within the last two years. Most of our students come from Spanish speaking countries in Central America. So as an educator it’s important to me to learn Spanish because many of my students don’t have access to English… yet. Imagine sitting in a class for 50 minutes and the teacher, and students around you are talking in a language you don’t know; now multiply that by seven, because we have seven periods a day. Then multiply that by five. That’s a lot of time being isolated from communication, social interaction and information. So if I’m able to reduce that time of isolation, and make them feel valued by learning a new language, I’m going to do it. I’m no where near fluency, but I’ve had students thank me for trying and even told me they loved me lol. I tell my students “Hey! You help me with my Spanish, and I’ll help you with your English!”. American Sign Language is one of the top five languages spoken in the United States. It’s used by d/Deaf folks and also individuals that are non-verbal. Being able to communicate in Sign Language benefits me as an educator because in the event that I have a non verbal or d/Deaf student I can communicate with that student. As a person, knowing these languages makes me a better community member. If needed I can help with translation, provide interaction, or code switch to meet the needs of the other person. Another benefit of learning a language is you learn the culture(s) attached to the language; making you a more informed person. I had no clue about the oppression d/Deaf folks encountered until I learned the language. I love communicating with people and the more language and culture I know, the less barriers there are. I think my willingness and desire to learn languages ties into my strength of connecting with others because it checks my ethnocentrism and the elitism around English. When I enter these interactions, I know that the way I do things or speak is no less, or more valid than anyone else.
One thing that really propelled my growth was when I stopped comparing myself to others and their successes. My advice to all people of color is to find your own truth, unpack your social conditioning and find out what you believe, and don’t believe. And whatever truths you hold, are just that; truths YOU hold. You don’t have to ascribe to any standards you don’t want to, and you shouldn’t expect anyone else to ascribe to your standards. Being your true-self will bring people in your life that will support you and become chosen family. Once you have community behind you, it becomes even easier to be yourself unapologetically.
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