The following is a guest post by Shalimar Douglass, Owner of Uplift and 2018 Imagining Justice in Baltimore Fellow. Learn more about the Imagining Justice in Baltimore series.
“O, believers! Stand firm for Allah and bear witness to the truth. Do not let the hatred of a people lead you to injustice. Be just! That is closer to righteousness. And be mindful of Allah. Surely Allah is All-Aware of what you do.” (Surah 5:8)
For me, teaching young people requires God’s calling and covering. It is God’s covering that got me through each day and made way for me to connect with my students and their families. I absolutely love teaching. Though I do not recall, my parents have shared with me since I was a young child, I declared I would be a teacher. And so, it is my chosen profession to be a teacher. For nearly 15 years I taught both middle and high school-aged students. To be chosen by God to develop the thinking and skills of young people is a blessing not to be taken lightly. God is entrusting me with one of God’s most precious and vulnerable populations. Indeed, it takes a village to nurture a child mentally, physically, and emotionally. With everything in me, I gave my best to my students. I withhold nothing. Everything God gave me, I gave them with joy. Understand that it was never lost on me that I was serving to the glory of God, never. I cannot do the job of a teacher without the presence and covering of God — period.
So imagine how jarring it felt to my soul to often be told by parents, “Don’t say nothing to my child.” What do you mean, “Don’t say nothing to my child”? They meant Ms. Shalimar, you can teach my child American history or whatever it is you teach, but with regards to correcting my child’s behavior, keep your thoughts and opinions to yourself. I found this implausible. How did they expect me to teach with one hand behind my back, so to speak?
Teaching is not only the subject matter, but it is also relationship building with students and their families; building trust one for the other, and co-developing the students’ character and integrity.
Unfortunately, it is my belief that parents, families, and students see and experience some teachers and/or school systems the same way as they do policing and other systems of oppression. That is a system that imposes its rules, conditions, and opinions and implies, that they know best and know more. This leaves parents and families feeling and or believing they are inferior. The paradigm in these systems of oppression is that the students, families, and communities are innately bad people and dysfunctional. They are too often questioned, not trusted to do the right thing, treated like a suspect of a crime, and stripped of their human dignity. Anything said to them to their child or about them is believed to come from a position of superiority and is felt as dehumanizing, ugly, and crude. At some point teachers and the system of education at large became a place where families, parents, and communities felt disrespected, like outsiders instead of trusted and supported insiders and loved.
How do I get to justice in my classroom and school when I am told, “Don’t say nothing to my child?” Not saying anything to my students is not an action I am willing to take. Not doing it!
I am a teacher. I teach the whole child. I will do what it takes to gain the trust and respect of my students and their families. I will show them that I am a part of a system that uplifts them, supports them, and believes that together we can do good things on behalf of young people.
Without fear or hesitation, over the years I have informed my students, colleagues, and families that God called me to teach, and God is my boss. It is my duty as a believer to speak the truth and be about justice. For me to keep my opinions, thoughts, and beliefs to myself is to be disobedient to God’s will. It is also a contradiction to the village mindset of Black communities. When we say nothing more harm than good is done. When we say nothing we perpetuate the disposition of the bystander. When we say nothing we empower wrong. When we say nothing we have given up on one another. When we say nothing we give away our right to peace and faith in the moral good. Hence, “Don’t say nothing to my child” allows for the building of another infrastructure that destroys hope for relationship and the presence of God’s will to sustain us and keep us.
My saying something to your child is a condition of love and justice. Looking the other way and saying nothing is not an option for me who believes that God called me to the profession of teaching; therefore, will hold me accountable for every good and bad thing I do. May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon us all.
The city of Baltimore is part of a national conversation around questions of justice, race, and community. In the initiative Imagining Justice in Baltimore, the ICJS will contribute the perspectives of local Jews, Christians, and Muslims to the public conversation about justice, and injustice, in Baltimore. Each contributor represents her or his own opinion. We welcome this diversity of perspective and are not seeking a single definition of justice between traditions, nor denying the multivocal nature of justice within traditions.