We Can't Fight This Education Battle If Our Trauma Beats Us Before We Beat the System

Last night during the Education Leaders of Color (EdLoc) Convening, an itty bitty lady from Puerto Rico with a powerful voice and massive mission was asked a question by one of my EdLoc sisters: How do you find peace in the trauma we experience as Black and Brown advocates in education? 


Ana Maria Garcia Blanco’s answer was this: “My grandmother would say, when you are hurt, come home.”


While the answer seems simple and surface, it was deep. And I could tell it resonated with the entire crowd of Black and Brown leaders from all across the country who came for fellowship, learning and healing because we all grew silent in that “amen” moment.


Since then I’ve noticed a recurring undertone and commonality that unites us all at this conference—the overcoming of obstacles and turning our trauma into triumph.

Mayra González Menjívar shared her story of being an undocumented, first-generation college student who because of her status, was ineligible to receive federal grants. She overcame those challenges and now works as a project associate at The Education Trust.


At 18, Chris Wilson was given a life sentence for killing someone in self-defense. While in prison, he sought to turn his life around through education. However, because of the Clinton Crime Bill that prohibited felons from using Pell Grants and cuts to educational programs, Chris endured a number of setbacks during his incarceration.

But he persevered, was released from prison after serving 16 years and today he’s an entrepreneur and advocate who’s worked to transform the lives of hundreds of people in his hometown of Washington, D.C. 


We’ve all had to overcome at some point, but our wins mean nothing if our kids are still susceptible to losing.

As advocates, we have a responsibility to shield them from issues we’ve experienced and reduce their exposure to trauma in and outside of the education space. 


During our fireside chat, Dr. John B. King—former U.S. Department of Education Secretary—said, “We should be trauma-informed, but we should also have less trauma and disrupt the systems that cause trauma to begin with.”


And he’s absolutely right. 

We have to check teachers, administrators and school districts who judge kids by their zip code and label them as underachieving before their academic careers even begin.

We have to protect and advocate for students who will face harsher disciplinary actions because of the color of the skin.


We have to redirect and support students of color who are set up to become victims of the school-to-prison pipeline and those who could be casualties of the higher education system because their K-12 career didn’t prepare them to succeed.  


And we have to oust the elected officials and organizations that aren’t working in the best interest of our communities. 

Fighting to reform and repeal educational policies and practices that are rooted in historic, systemic racism is hard work and sometimes, seemingly hopeless work. And operating in disrupt mode 24/7, damn near 365 days a year causes us to relive our trauma through constantly telling our powerful, but triggering stories. We can’t continue to fight this battle for our kids if we’re physically and spiritually drained.

So to circle back to sister Ana Maria’s self-care strategy, I urge all of my fellow advocates and activists to go back home where the space feels peaceful, safe and the vision is clear.

Go home to be with your family and community so you can be reminded of who you’re fighting for and why.

Fellowship with your brothers and sisters who are on the front lines with you regularly. Families like EdLoc and Surge Institute exist to serve as safe, uplifting and fun spaces for leaders of color.


Finally, go back to your own personal triumphs and bask in how good you felt in that moment. Then think about how good it’ll feel to give others that sense of liberation.

The road to education liberation is long and the work is hard. I know you’re willing to fight, and we need you at your best. Rest, rejuvenate, get inspired—and stay in the game!

Tanesha Peeples
Tanesha Peeples is driven by one question in her work—“If not me, then who?” As the former Deputy Director of Activist Development for brightbeam, Tanesha merges the worlds of communications and grassroots activism to push for change in the public education system. Her passion for community and relentless mission for justice and liberation drive her in uplifting and amplifying the voices and ...

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