Don’t doubt, just do- There have been so many times where I have second guess myself and said, “Am I really doing the right thing?” That doubt has sometimes led me to not posting something or waiting until I could muster up the courage to possibly confront negative feedback. Just put it out there, yes there might be criticism and controversy from people who don’t agree with you, but in the end, by not putting it out there you are sacrificing yourself and your goals.
As a part of my series about social media stars who are using their platform to make a significant social impact, I had the pleasure of interviewing Andrea Bazemore, a diversity and social justice educational consultant. She also writes curriculum for kindergarten through fifth grade with an emphasis on social justice, diversity, and rigor. In addition, her company Diverse Kids Read strives to bring gently used books with people of color and diversity to Title I students.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
My first year as a teacher, I felt completely lost on how to connect with my kids. Every week it seemed like I was trying out a new teaching strategy and failing epically. I kept teaching in ways that I knew weren’t connecting to my students and was inauthentic to myself.
One day, I heard a kid rapping, he was saying inappropriate things, but I didn’t focus on that, I focused on the fact that he could remember the content of the lyrics. I finally realized that was my gateway to connect with students; we had a shared interest.
I was always fascinated with hip-hop and loved rap music. I also knew I was good at parodying songs (a skill no one knew I had), so I decided to merge both of my loves and give it a try. The first rap I did was about merging poetry and hip-hop over the Fresh Prince Beat. My kids loved it! Their engagement changed overnight. Then I thought, what would happen if I did this with multiplication, again I saw a transformation. By the end of the year, I could see dramatically improved results in my classroom.
My second-year teaching, I thought about other ways I could not only infuse hip-hop, but themes of social justice in my classroom. We started to have discussions of race, justice, immigration, allyship, and LGBTQ topics. By the end of the year, my class soared in academics and I thought, if I could do this, I know other people could too.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began this career?
Since I’ve documented my journey of teaching practical tips for teaching diversity and social justice in classrooms, I’ve been surprised by how many teachers were like me, desperately wanting social justice and diversity techniques to implement in their classroom but unsure how to do so. I’ve loved with connecting with teachers and educators, some internationally, to collaborate. It’s been amazing!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
The first time I did a professional development, I did a rap that I was doing for my students. I was so nervous and was TOTALLY off beat. I had to stop it because I was so bad (it was my Adele moment). However, my audience was gracious and let me start over. It allowed me to understand that yes, I can make mistakes even as a presenter and that vulnerability is great. It shows people that you are human and that you don’t have to be perfect to make an impact.
Ok super. Let’s now jump to the core focus of our interview. Can you describe to our readers how you are using your platform to make a significant social impact?
My platform is called The Black Apple, and I help school districts, teachers, and leaders teach diversity and social justice in ways they can directly apply to their classroom setting. I connect with teachers and stakeholders across the country and utilize my platform to give practical advice on how to concretely teach diversity and social justice.
Wow! Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted by this cause?
My favorite story is about a teacher who saw me on another platform and immediately contacted me through Instagram. We talked and she told me about how her story connected to mine and how she felt so inspired by my story. She told me about how she cried because she finally didn’t feel alone and for the first time, felt validated in her feelings. It’s moments like that that make me proud to be doing what I do.
Was there a tipping point the made you decide to focus on this particular area? Can you share a story about that?
In my third year of teaching, I decided to focus on teaching social justice in a kindergarten setting. Most things that I was seeing on Instagram, Pinterest, and even podcasts didn’t tackle the heart of social justice and especially didn’t do it in a kindergarten setting. So instead, I decided to try it out in my classroom and also document it. I was so shocked when teaching from a social justice perspective not only worked as far as academics, but also allowed students to have a better sense of self. I knew I had something special.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
1st- In the teaching community, we have a tendency to think, “If I just put up images of seemingly diverse images in my classroom, I’m good on my diversity quota.” However, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Diversity has to be a constant and conscious decision that you make every day. One diversity day, conversation, or a single Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day will not suffice, especially in our schools that have are segregated and divisive.
2nd- Allow your students to have mirrors, in order to see themselves reflected in your school community. This means bringing speakers that can talk about their culture, validate students by reading or talking about diverse literature on a daily or weekly basis, and integrating culture into standards.
3rd- Allow your students to have windows, in order to see other cultures and respect them. This means you have to be gutsy and ask yourself the honest questions, “Who isn’t being represented in my curriculum or in my classroom?”, “How am I marginalizing a group of people or a person’s experience?”, and “What is it going to take so that I am equitable in my classroom instruction for populations that aren’t represented?”
What specific strategies have you been using to promote and advance this cause? Can you recommend any good tips for people who want to follow your lead and use their social platform for a social good?
I love connecting with teachers who are interested in my work. A good phone call, direct message, or even comment thread is what I love to see. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve skyped with teachers around the world and how empowered I am after I hear from them.
If you want to use your social platform for good, be as authentic to yourself and as vulnerable to your audience as possible. People want and like realness, especially in a world that has so many people faking their experience. Be different, be real.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
1) Tell your family what you’re doing, but don’t ask for approval-
When I first started my journey, I talked about some difficult things that I was facing and put it up on Facebook. Well, my mom’s friends started contacting her and she flipped! In hindsight, I should have reached out to my mom and talked about what I was doing, just to give her a heads up. But the reality is, I’m a grown woman and I can make my own decisions. So, this heads up isn’t asking for permission, but respecting her as a human and as my mother to let her know what’s going on.
2) Do your social media research-
Figure out what trends are going on and what’s new in social media. By planning for new features, it can help you help you boost your social platform and elevate your user experience.
3) Use a social scheduler-
Planning and using a social media scheduler will save you a lot of time (and headaches). Utilizing this tool will free up time for you and allow you to concentrate on creating more content and growing your business.
4) Get out there-
Social media is great and it can really grow and expand your business expontentialy, but don’t forget the art of being able to talk in-person to others. I’ve gained so much from leveraging both and it’s amazing how much leveraging your connections can help you down the road.
5) Don’t doubt, just do- There have been so many times where I have second guess myself and said, “Am I really doing the right thing?” That doubt has sometimes led me to not posting something or waiting until I could muster up the courage to possibly confront negative feedback. Just put it out there, yes there might be criticism and controversy from people who don’t agree with you, but in the end, by not puttiing it out there you are sacrificing yourself and your goals.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
My movement would be my curriculum being utilized in elementary schools all around the globe in order to connect with their students in a way that is organic and meaningful to their school population.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“You guys know about vampires? . . . You know, vampires have no reflections in a mirror? There’s this idea that monsters don’t have reflections in a mirror. And what I’ve always thought isn’t that monsters don’t have reflections in a mirror. It’s that if you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves. And growing up, I felt like a monster in some ways. I didn’t see myself reflected at all. I was like, “Yo is something wrong with me? That the whole society seems to think that people like me don’t exist?” And part of what inspired me, was this deep desire that before I died, I would make a couple of mirrors. That I would make some mirrors so that kids like me might see themselves reflected back and might not feel so monstrous for it.”-Issa Rae, Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl
When I heard this quote, I was on a long car drive and I almost pulled over. It was my Oprah “Ah ha” moment. This is why I teach. I wanted to create mirrors and, in my classroom, especially because 90% of my class looked like me. It made me realize that this is what I want to do, and this is how I wanted to change the world for kids.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I would love to have brunch with Brittany Packett! I love her platform and how she is inspiring other educators/activists with her platform!
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very meaningful, thank you so much!