As far back as I can remember, I craved social interaction. I loved sharing stories, engaging in conversation, and teaching new things.
My eagerness to speak up would light up my nervous system, rattling me until my words were out into the world. Not speaking up, felt physically painful.
But by second grade, I learned pretty quickly that my teachers rejected having an opinionated little person in the classroom. I was shushed often. Once, my jaws were even squeezed to a shutter— pushing a loose tooth straight out of my mouth. Almost daily, I was ordered to be seen and NOT heard.
By middle school, I became a pro at hiding my truth. I learned how to be silent and reticent, which easily gained me the validation I needed from my teachers, indicating that silence with a smile was exactly what teachers wanted from me. A tape would on repeat, in my head, “you’re never enough or almost always too much, so just be quiet”.
By the time I was a teenager, I knew how to play it small and overthink everything. I’d get subtle, consistent, and compounded reminders that would serve as my proof points that being mute equated to being liked, palatable, and acceptable. This permeated my mind.
It should come as no surprise that I become an adult without a voice.
By my mid 20’s, I was a divorced mother, with a young black son to raise practically on my own. It was then that I finally realized I had to speak up and live my truth, be myself, share my story out loud, contribute my gifts to the world, and set an example for my son.
In my late 20’s, I became a principal and made a choice to put teachers that valued student voice and choice inside my classrooms. They’d eventually become my teacher leaders. I’d go on to earn award-winning status as a school leader, superintendent, and best-selling author. While rising the ranks, I'd share the same message. Young people, especially in communities of color, should know for sure that they are valued, loved, and important; their voices matter, and their existence in this world is essential to creating a better one for all of us.
Using my voice did not come without a cost. There was always someone, at every level, trying to silence me. When met with confrontation, I remained confident and pushed back with poise. I remembered that I had important things to say, and I was serving as an example to other aspiring leaders looking to impact their communities.
Today, I’m CEO on a mission to create racial equity in our schools and workplaces.
My company, Truly POC, helps leaders be the disruptor they want to be. We teach leaders how to advance racial and social equity by attracting, training, and retaining cultural rockstars— teams that value voice, choice, inclusivity, and their communities’ cultural capital. Our training teaches teams to realize their students’ power, opulence, and consciousness; particularly in communities of color. It starts at the very earliest stages of life when people of color and people from marginalized groups are told, consciously and subconsciously, that we are not valued in this world.
Schools should the place to dream, discover, and wonder. They should be spaces to experience challenge, love, protection, and value for who you innately are. Schools should provide learning environments that inspire, empower, and encourage young people. And even when students may super young and inexperienced, they should still be respected. We cannot dismiss the imagination, innovation, and curiosity living inside our youth because it's literally the secret sauce needed to power our future.