I’m a Nuyorican, meaning I’m a Puerto Rican (& Dominican) woman born and raised in El Barrio, or Spanish Harlem, in NYC. While I attended Catholic schools from pre-school until 12th grade, I had no real knowledge or experiences with independent schools until my junior year of college. I was student teaching in local public schools when the other members of my education program were encouraging me to get my masters at the Bank Street College of Education. I began my career as an early childhood educator in the independent school system in the fall of 1990, and I have been here ever since!
Over the years, many of the student teachers in my classrooms, particularly the graduate students of color, asked why I didn’t teach in public schools. “The students of color there need you,” they would say. My answer was Afiya!
Afiya was a young student of color in my room during my first year of teaching that compelled me to be a role model for her, and all the other students who attended the school. I wanted to model for the students what a person of color, a woman, a Latina, a lesbian, a person who grew up poor in Harlem was all about. At three, Afiya’s questions about her identity, comments about sameness and difference, and pure joy for life’s opportunities, brought me to initiate and institute an anti-bias approach to education.
Over the years I have presented workshops at NYC-AEYC, PoCC, GLSEN, and NAIS. I joined committees and organizations dedicated to the work of diversity, and eventually pursued a position as Director of Diversity & Community. I have stayed in independent schools because, well, to be honest, because there were many Afiyas these past 21 years who were asking for my presence and voice. For every Afiya, there were several of her White peers who also raised questions of identity, yearned to learn, and asked for my presence and guidance in understanding how to relate to the diverse people in the class/school.
My first PoCC was in 1995 in Philadelphia. I never left the site of the conference because there was so much work to be done. I heard stories that echoed my own, I saw people connect across grade levels, school types and sizes, ethnicities and ages. I was witness to testimonies of people’s desires to retreat from working in independent schools and yet maintain a passion to return to home base and continue the work of diversity, awareness, and inclusion.
I ask all who attend the People of Color Conference to brace yourselves for the journey for it is a life long and rewarding experience. Just ask Afiya!