Counterstorytelling Is at the Heart of Anti-Racist Teaching

Jul 21, 2021 12:00:00 AM

by Kwame Sarfo-Mensah

Counterstorytellling is so much more than just a tenant of critical race theory. It is at the heart of what we do as antiracist teachers. For Black and brown educators, our presence has always been felt and necessary in schools because WE are the counterstory. We represent hope, progress and possibility for our Black and brown students. 

We are counterstorytellers by default because many of us have spent our entire lives striving to shift the narrative within our families and our own communities. The resiliency that we exhibit, on a daily basis, to show up and overcome personal accounts of racism in a world indoctrinated by whiteness is our narrative. 

Our ability to master the art of schooling and utilize the tools and techniques we have learned to navigate a racist educational system that was never designed for Black and brown folx to thrive is our counterstory. [pullquote position="right"]We have an authentic frame of reference that allows us to guide our students in building their own agency[/pullquote] around how to challenge the racist narratives shared about them, their communities, and in the whitewashed textbooks that they’re forced to read.

Our Stories Are Our Superpower 

Our superpower lies in our ability to tell stories that forge human connections with our students. I know this for a fact because our greatest revolutionary leaders laid the foundation for me and many paid a fatal price for it. Knowing that, I have an obligation to step into the classroom every day to share the stories of these great leaders, to unveil the truths they never had the opportunity to reveal because they transitioned from the world too soon. 

In the end, right-wing politicians, conservative politicians, and anti-CRT folx can police all the textbooks, bully us into resignation, dish out fines, and do everything imaginable to block students from the truth. But what they don’t realize is that we, as Black and brown teachers, have always moved in the spirit of our ancestors. Even though the invisible tax is still very much present and our racial battle fatigue is unquestionably an inevitability, [pullquote]we still persist and dutifully engage in counterstorytelling as a tool to protect, empower, comfort, and center our Black and brown students.[/pullquote]

We work tirelessly to present to our Black and brown students a reality where our stories can help them peel the multiple layers of their identities to reveal the greatness of their existence in this world. We are the modern-day griots. Some of us do it with the unapologetic rawness and unequivocal flair of Gil Scott-Heron, while others make it happen with the elegance and immeasurable grace of Toni Morrison

[pullquote]Regardless of how we articulate the spoken word of liberation in our classrooms, our mission is the same: to teach our students the truth about who they are and how they are seen by others in this world.[/pullquote] I would be remiss if I didn’t point out how these same politicians and anti-CRT folx have historically touted Ruby Bridges and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as symbols of a post-racial America, but then conveniently exploit and appropriate their legacies for the purpose of political warfare.  

As annoying and frustrating as all of this is, here is one thing that will always remain true—the stories that we hold in our hearts for our students and the lessons that we have gained from our own subjugation and oppression in this society serve as our underground railroad to freedom. That sacred knowledge can never be taken away from us no matter how hard these politicians try—and that’s where our power lies.

Kwame Sarfo-Mensah

Kwame Sarfo-Mensah is the founder of Identity Talk Consulting, LLC., an independent educational consulting firm that provides professional development and consulting services globally to educators who desire to enhance their instructional practices and reach their utmost potential in the classroom. He is the author of two books, "Shaping the Teacher Identity: 8 Lessons That Will Help Define the Teacher in You" and his latest, "From Inaction to 'In Action': Creating a New Normal for Urban Educators". Throughout his 14-year career as a middle school math educator, author, and entrepreneur, Kwame has been on a personal mission to uplift and empower educators who are committed to reversing the ills of the public education system in America and around the world. As a staunch ambassador and advocate for teacher empowerment, Kwame has spoken at numerous national education conferences and worked diligently to support the recruitment and retention of teachers of color in the education system. In January 2019, he was one of 35 Massachusetts teachers of color chosen by Commissioner Jeff Riley to be in the inaugural cohort of the InSPIRED (In-Service Professionals Increasing Racial and Ethnic Diversity) Fellowship, an initiative organized by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education for veteran teachers of color to recruit students of color at the high school, undergraduate and graduate levels to teach in targeted districts within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. As an InSPIRED Teaching Fellow, Kwame facilitated professional development workshops for aspiring teachers at universities such as Boston College, UMass Boston, and Worcester State University and has served as a guest speaker for non-profit teacher pipeline programs such as Generation Teach and Worcester Public Schools’ Future Teachers Academy. A proud graduate of Temple University, Kwame holds a bachelor's degree in mathematics and a master's degree in education. He was honored as the 2019 National Member of the Year by Black Educators Rock, Inc. for his unwavering commitment to the advancement of the teacher profession.

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