“The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” – Audre Lorde

Maybe it’s time to rethink school district-sponsored affinity spaces. A few weeks ago, I met with Jalisa Evan, executive director of the Black Educator Advocates Network, whose organization focuses on supporting Black educators in creating equitable spaces through organizing efforts. As a part of their work, her organization conducted a California state-wide Black educators survey with one of the questions asking if they would like affinity spaces in their schools: the result was a resounding yes. As we discussed the rest of the survey results, she realized that perhaps it’s not affinity groups that Black educators seek but wellness spaces.

That conversation with Jalisa reminded me that I participated in my district’s affinity groups as an educator. Once or twice a year, Black folks would gather in a high school lunch room after hours, huddled around catering from Qdoba. Happy to see another Black face, we hugged and laughed before someone from the equity department gave a little speech and asked us about our experiences during that particular school year. A lot of nodding and writing things down would happen, but that was it. In the twelve years that I taught elementary and middle school, not one time did I feel as though what was shared in that gathering over a mound of chips and queso would move the racism needle in that district. So, is it time to give up affinity spaces as we know them to be?

Here are a few questions to ask yourself about the affinity spaces you attend/run:

Are affinity groups in your school/district supporting the changes needed to support the well-being of Black educators and their families?
Who runs your school/district affinity spaces? Why were those folks selected?
If the affinity space ended, would anyone care AND put in the effort to have it reinstated?

Creating Black educator spaces focusing on well-being asks us to shift our thinking away from the DEI checklist incorporated into district/school mandates that barely retain our Black educators. What could wellness spaces look like? Starting from scratch would ask us to think about every detail of the affinity space.

The Space

Is a school or district building the best place for wellness space to be held? My answer, no. For many Black educators who attend these gatherings, the place chosen for them to congregate is sometimes the same place where the harm has taken place. It feels unsafe and unwelcoming, not created for peacemaking and healing creation. If not a district building, then where? That question is best answered by the folks who will be a part of the space. As allies in space creation, my co-facilitator and I have brought forward the idea of coffee shops, community centers, and other hubs.

The Hosts

The heavy responsibility of maintaining a consistent and thriving wellness space should not be overlooked. Are employees from human resources, the equity department, or some other district-run space appropriate for the work that needs to be done? Who should be charged with standing at the door greeting guests, acknowledging rage, walking alongside co-creators, or all of the above? If you are in charge of an affinity space, do you feel a profound responsibility to the Black educators and the families they go home to? If not, why not, and who should be there instead? If you are a person who knows that affinity spaces in your school or district exist but have not or no longer attend, why not? What could and should be different about the people holding the space that would draw you back?

The Co-Creators

Co-creators are folks who are a part of the space. They help to plan and also participate in the gathering. It would seem like common sense that a Black educator affinity group would only have people who identify as Black within it. However, as a person living in Colorado, I have seen MANY spaces specific to racialized groups invite other races as guest speakers, allies, or other roles within the space. In the norms created within the group (if there are any), has this been established as okay? This is especially important when we consider the toll anti-Blackness from non-Black communities can play within the gathering.

Everyone cannot nor should not be invited into the space.

Many other factors should be considered when shifting a space away from traditional affinity groups. It is our responsibility as hosts and co-creators to reflect and shift according to the needs of the group. Moving away from a venting space where nothing changes and Black educators and, subsequently, their families continue to be harmed in school spaces. We are responsible for the RETENTION of Black educators and must act as such.

By: Dr. Asia Lyons

Interested in participating in the Black educator wellness conversation? Sign up to receive the Black Educators Be Well newsletter at https://tinyurl.com/Black-Educators-Be-Well


Leave a Reply

Avatar placeholder

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


@Issue Disclaimer

The Denver Journal of Education and Community welcomes you to @Issue. We have designed this platform for educators, scholars, parents, students, and community members to communicate and think together about public education. We hope that the conversation feels current, relevant, and responsive to what you’re seeing in school settings in the Denver metro area. To write an original post on a topic that’s important to you, send between 300 and 1000 words to our director, spencer@educationandcommunity.org. To respond to an existing post, do so in the comments. We ask that you write and respond in a thoughtful, civil way. @Issue is not about being correct but about thinking together. DJEC reserves the right to review, edit, and/or delete any comments it deems inappropriate and/or hateful. The opinions expressed in @Issue are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of DJEC or Education and Community.