Unbought and Unbossed: Shirley Chisholm

On the eve of this impending election between, “super predator” Clinton and “grab them by the …” Trump, we at CREAD want to honor and encourage you to acknowledge and celebrate the 48th anniversary of Shirley Chisholm being elected as the first African American woman to Congress.

On November 5th, 1968 Shirley Chisholm began representing New York’s 12th congressional district for seven straight terms and in 1972, a mere 4 years after becoming the first black woman in congress, my girl had the tenacity to run for President, of this here United States.

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So, let me ask you some questions.What do you, know about Shirley Chisholm? In all your many years of schooling, what did you learn about Chisholm? Last one, what, if anything, have you ever exposed or taught your students of Chisholm?

I don’t want you to feel badly alone, so let me give you my answers. I know a lot about her, because I had to do research for this post. But prior to that, I mean, I heard about her in 2008 because Obama and Clinton were touting that they would be the historic firsts and somebody, somewhere said, oh noooo, Shirley Chisholm was the historic first.

I do not recall ever learning anything about Chisholm in school, ever.

And therefore, I have never ever taught about Chisholm in any of my classes, ever, even as a Social Studies teacher.

Now we don’t want to ask Cathleen these questions, because she will hurt our feelings. I mean, she was able to tell me that Chisholm came from Bajan parentage off the top of her head. So, ummmm, yeah, let’s leave her out of this conversation.

I want to admit something else, because we’re really good friends and friends should always tell each other the truth.

I have never “celebrated” Black History month while a teacher. Wait, hear me out! I didn’t celebrate it because I felt like I taught black history everyday and I have the receipts to prove it. But as I researched Chisholm’s impressive and daring life. I started to feel very guilty about never engaging my students with her, and began thinking, this IS why we have a month dedicated to the achievements of people of the Diaspora. Black History Month is about saying, you will not erase me from history.

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So, this post isn’t a book report on Chisholm, ladies and gentleman. Instead I’m leaving you with a charge. Acknowledge Chisholm in your classrooms. As we inch closer to election day 2016, find places beyond this election cycle, to make her a permanent part of your classroom environment. I don’t care if you teach Kindergarten, calculus or art. Get yourself in formation.

And here are a few places to start:

This Wednesday, November 2nd, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture will be paying tribute to Chisholm with a screening of the film, Chisholm ‘72 – Unbought & Unbossed with a talk back afterwards.

Of course, you can purchase Chisholm’s book, Unbought and Unbossed along with the documentary on Amazon. You know you got that prime so it will be at your home on Wednesday if you purchase today. Hit that one click!

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The Shirley Chisholm Project of Brooklyn Women’s Activism housed at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York, (where Chisholm taught) has tons of resources to help you bring  Chisholm’s life story into your classroom and your home.

And looky here, even Engageny has an evidenced based claims unit on Chisholm, Sojourner Truth and Venus Williams.

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We all know representation matters. Our students need to be able to see themselves in the examples we set for them. As educators, we must take finding, sharing and being those examples seriously. I know for a fact that our students, much like ourselves, are so ready for this election to be over. I’ve heard stories of kids playing “Trump” on the playgrounds, where, if you get tagged, you are deported. Our students have seen the endless loop of Clinton describing young black males as “super predators” and Black Lives Matter protesters being shouted down, while all along, the state condones the killing of unarmed black people.

It has been a disappointing election cycle, to say the least. All of our children, 18 and under, only know Barack Obama and his family as the Presidential family. They will be losing that representation and what will take their place will not fill the hole that will be left. For those of us old enough, we still remember Reagan, Both Bush’s and the other Clinton and we’ve learned enough to know that Bill was not the “first black president” but rather the President who enacted the 1994 crime bill , which helped to further decimate our communities.

In the midst of all this, it is incumbent on us, to remind our students that anything is possible. In 1968 and again in 1972, Shirley Anita St. Hill Chisholm showed us that. Born to Bajan immigrant parents; her father an unskilled laborer, her mother a domestic worker and seamstress unable to care for them, Chisholm and her sisters were sent back home to live with their Grandmother in Barbados. Chisholm credits that experience as foundational for her strong belief in herself; “Granny gave me strength, dignity, and love. I learned from an early age that I was somebody. I didn’t need the black revolution to tell me that.”

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You want to know what Culturally Responsive pedagogy is for students of the diaspora? It’s helping them to deal with the realities of current life, working with them to examine the systemic levers of oppression, ensuring that they have strong academic skills and providing them with models of success, determination, and unapologetic love for the diaspora, all the while allowing and encouraging innovation, creativity and community.

Now, what are you going to do?

As always,

Deep thinkers only!

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