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A Professional Dream Deferred

Feature article by Beth Applewhite, District Vice-Principal of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, SD 41 (Burnaby), for Principl(ed) magazine, March 2021.

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore — And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over — like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
Langston Hughes

Racism hurts.

Racism sometimes stings, sometimes bites and, too often, cuts deep. Racism crushes dreams, destroys hopes, and slaughters spirits. I do not know this from reading books or watching webinars. I know this from lived experience – personally and professionally.

I started my Anti-Racist journey young. From standing up against racism on gravel and grass fields to asking tough questions in classrooms, from calling out prejudice on playgrounds to pointing out the erasure of Black History in Socials class, I have carefully spoken up against racial discrimination since grade school. If a nine-year-old bi-racial Black child in a predominantly white school can muster up the courage to face racial injustice, the reluctant leaders of present-day school communities most certainly can; in fact, they must.

I am aware that my opening comments will inspire some, and annoy or scare others. That has been – and continues to be – the paradoxical nature of my professional life. Often celebrated for exposing systemic racism in our education system, yet equally criticized for not hitting hard enough. Though I have been consciously doing Anti-Racism work since 2006 when I first read Canadian scholar George J. Sefa Dei’s work Anti-Racism Education: Theory & Practice (1996), I am not an Anti-Racism expert. Those who have been reading and learning about Anti-Racism know that the journey is never ending. I will never be done as my learning and growth will never be complete. I have been a student, a student-teacher, a teacher, a school administrator, and I am now a District Vice-Principal in the BC public school system. As a student in B.C. public schools, I had to find and create opportunities to bring my cultural heritages into the classroom. As a teacher, I had to search for and create units and lessons (initially, without the benefit of Google) that were more culturally inclusive, and to learn how to create safe spaces for discussions about racism, stereotypes, and discrimination. As a school-based administrator, I have had to pick and choose very carefully when to highlight inequities in policy and practice at the school and district levels. Such work has been risky, and often does not endear one to their colleagues. Yet now, as a District VicePrincipal of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, this has specifically become my work. Somebody pinch me!

I have dreamt of doing Anti-Racism work in a recognized position for years. I once considered leaving a Vice-Principalship for an Anti-Racism teacher-lead position. I was encouraged to move to Ontario where work in Anti-Racism education had started in schools. Tempting, but I never wanted to leave British Columbia. Sadly, it took modern-day lynchings and a racial reckoning for many privileged folks to open their eyes to the reality of racial inequities in Canada, in our province, and in our school system.

To read the full article in PDF format, click here.

Principl(ed) is a compelling and powerful voice for BC’s school principals and vice-principals, offering sector context along with a focus on learning practices, leadership, Indigenous education, and topics related to wellness.