Setting Boundaries

After last week's conversation, I've been thinking a lot lately about the social constructs that perpetuate discrimination in our society. We all learn from a very young age the rules of gender, race, and sexuality. We assign labels to everything so that we can organize it in our mind as a simple, concise package. The binary of male & female, black & white, and gay & straight create restrictive expectations that make us feel like we have to be one way or the other. It's difficult to find an identity that's somewhere in between. Many of us fail to explore the gray area in between because we're not sure if it's okay to be something other than "normal". We fear not being masculine enough, or black enough, or straight enough for the approval of our peers. We're constantly monitoring the expression of our identity because we don't love ourselves enough to know that we're perfectly okay exactly how we are. 

A book I read recently talked about the idea of integrity. I usually talk to my students about integrity as a way of getting them to the right thing when no one is watching. But, the author defined it as so much more than that - 

"Integrity is choosing courage over comfort; 
choosing what is right over what is fun, fast, or easy; 
and choosing to practice our values rather than simply professing them."

Integrity is about making choices for our best interest. It's about choosing to challenge our abilities, choosing the road less traveled, and choosing to let our actions speak louder than our words. So many of us talk a lot about what we want our lives to become and what we deserve to have, but are we exemplifying those desires with our choices? Are we making the choices necessary to get what we deserve out of this beautiful life? No, not always. We tend to speak of ourselves in the best possible light, but if we put a magnifying glass on our lives, are we truly practicing what we preach? Integrity is difficult because it forces us to examine what we've been doing and seek the uncomfortable in order to change it. 

While integrity is difficult, it is also necessary.  Integrity forces us to set boundaries for ourselves and others. It helps us determine what's okay and what's not okay. I may be speaking for myself here, but I spent many years allowing people to treat me for less than I'm worth. I allowed them to befriend me only when they needed me, I allowed them to muffle my voice, and I allowed them to talk to me disrespectfully. I never defended myself either. I allowed them to get away with it in order to protect their feelings, not mine. 

But here's the issue: 
People learn how to treat us based on how they see us treating ourselves. 

Those people didn't treat me like that because they're the worst people on the planet. They treated me that way because I said it's OKAY. I was leading a life where I didn't value my feelings or my voice, and other didn't value it either. I never set my boundaries. I never defined what's OKAY for me and what's most definitely NOT OKAY. If I don't put value on myself, how can I expect others to value it? We must set boundaries for our lives. 

Boundaries are a sign of self respect and self love. When you take the time to determine your boundaries, you are saying that you love and respect yourself enough to know what you are worth. The girls and I set boundaries for ourselves this week by deciding what's okay and what's not okay. We discussed how boundaries are like a fence we build around us to keep the things that make us happy in and the thing that don't make us happy out

My boundaries: 

As I continue to grow in my self-empowerment, I am learning that there are certain things I just cannot allow anymore. I only want influences in my life that will inspire me and support me to grow. I am setting boundaries because I love and respect myself enough to know that what I deserve. When I set high expectation for myself and my life, I will only allow others to treat me the same way. 

The girls set boundaries for themselves too! My 3rd and 4th graders deal with a lot of friendship drama on a daily basis. They are navigating through the challenges of how to be a friend and what they need a friend to be. Setting boundaries allows the girls to make their own choices in respects to their self-worth. The power of making choices is truly what RISE like a girl is all about! 

So, what are your boundaries? Have you been treating yourself the way that YOU want to be treated? Love yourself enough to know that you deserve better than what you're dealing with right now. Sit down and make a list of what's okay and what's not okay for you. We all deserve to be loved, respected, and happy. Who or what do you need to eliminate from your life so that you can be truly happy? YOU are so worth it! 


Prejudice, People of Color, & Microaggressions

As you probably know, February is Black History Month. I always feel so conflicted as a teacher around this time of year because I feel obligated to tell a story that fails to give the entire truth. Sure, MLK Jr. and Rosa Parks were courageous, influential people that made a tremendous impact on bring black voices to the forefront. However, the story we tell our children is one that makes it seems as though it happened in the past and now it's over. We make it seem as though the problem has been solved, the dialogue is no longer relevant, and justice has been served. However, you and I both know how untrue that is. The more that I watch the news, the more fearful I become that our next generation is growing up in a world that demonstrates hate and injustice. It seems so ridiculous to me that even after all this time some people in our country still cannot prioritize character over color or culture. I sincerely hope that one day I live in a country where we see souls instead of bodies. 

I wanted to acknowledge Black History Month with the girls this month but I had to shake it up a bit. Instead of going back into the history books, I brought forth the here & now by discussing what it means to be a person of color in America today. The issues people of color are facing in our country are real and the girls need to know. Now, you may be thinking - What does race have to do with feminism? Well, everything. Both ideologies symbolize otherness - something that separates them from the "normal".  We see it in pop culture, our institutions, and even in our language. Women and people of color have a similar fight. My girls, and myself too, identify with both of those things. It's important to me that my girls know what they're up against so that they can grow into the strong, self-affirmed young women they desire to be. 

The unique and beautiful thing about the demographic at my school is that it is rich in otherness. Most of the students, my girls included, are the product of families coming to America for better opportunities for themselves and their family. There is so much depth and beauty to their story that is something I never experienced where I'm from. I love (and almost envy) the fact that their lives are so wrapped up in culture and tradition. Knowing my girls and their families has softened my heart and given me a wider perspective of just how intricate and amazing our world can be. But because we live in such a diverse city, the girls aren't as aware of "whiteness" as I was growing up. To me, in order to understand what it means to be a person of color, you have to understand what it means to be white as well. The girls and I discussed the history of slavery in America, segregation & the civil rights movement, and how racism plays out in both obvious and subtle manners. 

Racism is embedded in our culture in more ways than we realize. I think sometimes we don't acknowledge it because it exists as subtle clues that we just see as normal. Racism isn't always as radical as calling someone the N-word or not hiring someone at a workplace because of the color of their skin. Racism exists as subtly as maintaining a prejudice about a particular group of people. You may never say anything about it, you may never act on your feelings, but the false stereotype exists within our minds. Prejudice doesn't end with race - it spans across all minority groups within gender, sexual orientation, and religion. Prejudice is an opinion about a particular group that is not based on fact. Having an opinion is OKAY. Passing judgement on someone that is different than you is human nature. Many times, having prejudice isn't even our fault because the ideas have been taught to us by our families and communities in which we live. However, what is not okay is continuing to be ignorant to our prejudice without being open to seeking a new perspective. Not knowing our prejudice makes us more likely to say hateful things to people that live a different life than we do. When we're aware of our prejudice, we are much more likely to choose our words wisely and expand our horizons to new people and new experiences. 

This lesson I created for the girls is probably one of my favorites because it's one of those things I wish someone would have told me when I was their age. I needed this lesson so badly as a young girl. Growing up mixed race in a primarily white town was challenging for me. My youngest memory of being aware of my racial difference is when I was 6 years old in first grade. I knew I was different because my friends told me I was. They would ask questions about the texture of my hair or why it was always styled in big braids with balls on the end. Their questions were innocent and didn't mean to hurt me, but their comments sent a hidden message that made me feel like my difference was undesirable. In middle school it developed into things like "you act white" or "you talk white" which again, were merely observations to them but internalized in my mind as You're not black enough. In college, a white male friend of mine said, "You're pretty for a black girl, but I could never date you" which I translated in my head to Black girls normally aren't pretty and you're not good enough. Ugh! It saddens me to rehash those emotions. Those words crippled me and my sense of identity for a very long time. Although none of those people said anything overtly mean to me, their words had a racial undertone that tapped into my insecurities. 

Their words are all examples of microaggression. Microaggression is unintended discrimination based on a stereotype. It's not on purpose and the person that's saying it usually has no idea that they're offending anyone. It's very different than purposeful discrimination because hateful words usually produce an angry response because it's obviously uncalled for and ridiculous. Microaggressions are more hurtful because it validates at pre-exisiting insecurities which can lead to anxiety, depression, and poor self-esteem. 

Like I was explaining before, all microaggressions have a hidden meaning. I gave the girls a list of common microagressions and they brainstormed what they really mean. 

I wish someone would have told me about microaggressions when I was younger because it would have given me a better understanding of what was happening. If I was aware of the system of prejudice then I would have known that what they were saying wasn't truth, but an opinion. I wouldn't have allowed their words to penetrate my heart and affect my self esteem. 

Be aware of your privilege, your prejudice, and do whatever you can open your heart to all people. 

"I cannot and will not judge by what by eyes can see. For the skin on a man shall not reveal his true identity." 


Piecing Together Our Stories

Hi everyone! I hope your week is off to a great start so far! I can't believe we're already in February - this year is going by way too fast. I can't wait to share all of the exciting things that will be happening (hopefully!) for RISE like a girl within the next few months. As always, thanks again for tagging along on our journey together. It means so much! 

Last week in RISE like a girl, we talked about the power of stories. The stories we have to tell are a result of the meaningful experiences that have come our way. The person we become is the sum of our triumphs, our failures, the opportunities we've been given, and the people we have met. The girls spent time telling their stories to each other last week and reflecting on how that experience made an impact on their sense-of-self today. 
I want my girls to know that there is power is sharing your story. As empowered girls, the only way we can rise above societal limitation is by owning the power of our voice. Our voices matter and they deserve to be shared. We share our stories for the following reasons: 

1. It turns weakness into strength. 
We all experience struggle and heartbreak at some point in our lives. Instead of keeping it inside and letting it eat us apart, we can assign power to that story by letting it out. Keeping our pain inside only leads to more pain because you are allowing that emotion to control you. However, when we let it out and share it with others, we take back the power by not letting that emotion take over. Sharing stories of struggle helps you reclaim your strength. 
2. Sharing vulnerability inspires deep connection with others. 
We all fear being the only one dealing with a certain problem. However, truth is, many of us are struggling with the same thing. By opening our hearts and bearing our soul, we become transparent. Transparency fosters trusted and strong relationships between people that cannot be broken. 
3. Self-reflection is the key to growth. 
Knowing where we've been and where we have to go is powerful. Taking the time reflect on what we've been through forces us to assess what we did right, what we did wrong, and how we could do it differently next time. Once we're aware of what we're truly capable of, the only place to go is up. 

This week was all about putting those stories together to show just how beautiful our world can be. 

I want you to think about 2 things: 

      A blanket                                  A tapestry

What's the difference between these two things? Well, the blanket is plain and grey while the tapestry is detailed and colorful. If I had to choose one that was more aesthetically pleasing, I would surely choose the tapestry. The tapestry is unique. It represent an artistic expression of creativity in a way that the blanket just doesn't even come close to. 

The tapestry represents our world - the fusion of people from various backgrounds, cultures, and experiences. We are not one-dimensional like the blanket, we are a culture that is rich in color. All of our stories come together to make our world into the beautifully diverse place we live in today. The diversity in our stories is a privilege that all of us so easily forget to enjoy. How lucky we are to live in a place where cultural knowledge is right at our finger tips. I don't have to only spend time with people that share the same story. I have the honor and privilege of learning from others as they share their own unique story. 

Maya Angelou Quote by Nate Williams Illustration and Hand Lettering:

The girls pieced together their stories this week to make their own beautiful tapestry. There is power is togetherness. When we join our authentic stories, it's easy to see just how beautiful diversity can be. Our story tapestry is currently hanging in the hallway at our school for other students and teachers to see! 

I encourage you all to share YOUR story with someone you know! It may just be exactly what that person needs to hear. 
Sending lots of love and gratitude your way! Have a great week!