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Sincere Visions » SincereVisions
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The Power of Words: Scaffolding Black Brilliance in Light of the Achievement Gap

By Ashley M. Blanco

Brilliance comes in all shades, can be found in all zip codes, and is displayed in all children regardless of disability. So why is Black Brilliance in the title of this article? Because many people are discussing the statistics around Black preschoolers being suspended from school at alarming rates, but little has been said of how we perpetuate oppression with our words and what we can do to change that. Sure the systems are severely fractured. But at the end of the day, we are all part of the system be it at the macro-level or micro-level.  Instead of merely reiterating that our earliest learners are experiencing injustice at the entry level of their educational experience, I would like to provide some insight on how we as educators and influencers can close the achievement gap with reflecting on our words and our perspectives.

In my professional work with families and our earliest learners, I see the correlation between two factors: the manner in which adults respond to the abilities and behaviors of Black children and the number of instructional minutes that are lost for these students in particular. My work with program coordinating and case managing the interests and needs of Black girls ages 8 to 18 in the Bay View revealed that the achievement gap also has a debilitating effect on Black learners. Psychologically, they have to overcome a disproportionate amount of barriers when asking for help and trying to avoid negative attention, be it from adults or peers. We have indeed come to a critical point in education as a civil rights issue.

Recognizing that the blame we put on their inability to learn is often our unwillingness and incapacity to support their multiple intelligences and learning styles is one of the first steps. I strongly recommend Dr. Debra Ren-Etta Sullivan’s book titled Cultivating the Genius of Black Children. It, along with my work as a Family Support Specialist, has inspired the writing of this article.   

My goal in writing this article is to remind us what we already know and may forget in times of trouble as we all do this equity work together. Our power to close the gap power rests in our language when approaching Black children. Here are five tips I offer in improving our language and approach to Black children, youth, and their families.

  1. See the humanity of Black students. 

    Find out what their interests are, their needs, their expectations for themselves and the challenges in meeting those expectations. Black children are often seen as a problem or a set of points along a line of data. If we don’t see their humanity and their ability to think, create, discover, inquire, and construct, we are setting ourselves at a distance from helping them become agents in their academic journeys.

  2. Check your heart when speaking to Black children and youth

    We all need to make sure our hearts in the position of kindness and generosity when working with any group of humans. When working with Black children in the academic or social setting, be it before, during, or after school, our hearts have to be in alignment with the mission of the work we’ve entered. If you’ve entered education with the hope of fixing Black children or simply closing the achievement gap, you’re in the wrong line of work. Also, if you plan to work with children but you are afraid to build a relationship with their families as chief facilitators in the educational experiences of their children, you have to interrogate your reason for working with Black children and youth. Black children progress and thrive in the context of their families – not outside of it. Approaching Black families beyond our perception of their struggle and engaging Black families at the level of their strengths are critical to closing the achievement gap.

  3. Speak to children and youth with words that affirm their growth mindsets. 

    I share Superintendent Dr. Vincent Matthew’s belief that all children can learn, want to learn, and our job as educators is to make that happened.  In order for us to speak to the growth mindset of a child or youth, we have to believe that each child has a mindset that can grow and excel for the rigor of any project or task. I have heard teachers (Black ones included) talk to Black children like they’re not moving their trays fast enough down the counters in penitentiary cafeterias. “Stop. Get over here. What are you doing? Why did you do that? Keep moving.” It really saddens me. I encourage all of us to speak in a way that says I see you. I hear you. I see that you are growing. I hear that you are working through this process and I can tell because of the words you’re using. I appreciate you thinking aloud; now let’s take it a little further. What do you think about this? We are already creating the world we want to see. Let’s expand it and outdo one another in doing good.

  4. Model the learner you want our Black children to be even when you’re agitated. 

    Choose to model the cognitive, social, and emotional skills that children need to succeed academically. Our modeling and our consistency along with partnering with families can close the academic achievement gap. Imagine the power of adults using words that scaffold the brilliance of children and youth in their presence when they’re frustrated? That’s called changing the world under pressure, one life at a time. Too often we break others down in our moment of frustration or disappointment. Yes, we can repair. The more we change our response, the more we can change our reality.

  5. Ask yourself what type of identity you want to nurture in this child. 

    When I speak of identity in this context, I am referring to a set of internal characteristics that express themselves outwardly and help the child be an agent in his or her academic journey. These internal characteristics include the socioemotional qualities, cognitive abilities, approaches to learning, and communication styles of the child or youth. Ask families to share what they have observed in their children regarding approaches to learning, socioemotional qualities, and cognitive abilities. Some families may not know these exact terms but if you ask them in a way they understand, you can get your answer and be delightfully surprised by what you learn. Choosing to nurture a secure, confident learner means you ask the child or youth questions that affirms their growth mindset. These questions give them insight into their ability to persist in identifying solutions and seeing themselves as keys to their development. With your words, you create opportunities for them to grow.

Photo by @dre0316 from

When we partner with families to reinforce the greatness of their children, to see their children’s greatness especially when disabilities, for some, may block their view, we can close the achievement gap.  We are not helping children and youth by talking to them in ways that “prepare them for the real world.” We are also not helping families when we put our goals for their child before their goals for their child. We have to find out what their goals are, look for overlaps between theirs and ours as educators and support specialist, and start the journey from there.

Closing the achievement gap amongst Black and Brown children is possible. It starts with interrogating our own hearts as we do this work. When we reflect on our attitudes and approaches to Black and Brown children, youth, and families, we will view them in light of the good they capable of doing and experiencing. Trauma is real. Post-traumatic transformation is also real. To close the academic achievement gap is to open true economic opportunities for the Black and Brown communities. When we are comfortable with the plight of a group of people and/or we are threatened by the success of a group of people who happen to be Black or Brown, we are simply gratifying ourselves with benevolent conversations around closing the gap. At the end of another 50 years, nothing would have changed for the better.

Happy living and happy giving as you do your heart’s work!



Sincere Visions

Some Dreams Take Time

October 5, 2017

Did you know that today, October 5, 2017, is the last day for Dreamers whose status expires on or before March 5, 2018, to renew their DACA?

On June 15, 2012, former President Barack Obama formed the Deferred Action for Childhood policy for undocumented young people who came to the United States as children. The program then began on August 15, 2012, to protect young immigrants as they pursued an education and work in the country.

Since the program was created, there has been national debate as to whether the program is effective or not. It is.

Here a few facts about DACA from the Pew Research Center:

  • About 690,000 unauthorized immigrants were enrolled in DACA as of Sept. 4.
  • Current DACA recipients come from around the world, but more than nine-in-ten were born in Latin America.
  • Two-thirds of DACA recipients are ages 25 or younger, and a majority are women. 

Last month, President Trump announced that his administration would be ending #DACA  although the program is more important than ever for immigrant students and workers. At the end of the day, hundreds of thousands of young peoples futures might be uncertain as their permits expire soon.

If you could share inspirational words with a Dreamer while they wait for a response, what would they be? Leave it in the comments below.


What Kenneka Jenkins’ death can teach us about sisterhood, friendship, and accountability

The saying, “If you go together, you leave together”, were some of the first words to leave my mother’s mouth before I left the house with my sister or friends. That was the golden rule before we left the house, let alone the block. That rule applied to family outings, gatherings, and parties – especially. In fact, it is still applicable.

When I arrived at Bennett College for Women and I was told during orientation that, “You never leave your sister”, those words weren’t hard to receive. When we stepped foot off of the sidewalk on East Washington Street to head over to North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University or onto Gorrell Street to be picked up I took seeing my sisters off on their way seriously. Before the luxury of high-resolution cameras built into cell phones, I wrote down and even would even memorize license plate numbers of the cars my sisters entered and asked for young men’s numbers/addresses to be shared with me. This is something that every girl is taught on the campus as they matriculate into womanhood.

In addition to the safety protocols, we are taught how to love on one another. No, we aren’t perfect. Love and respect, nevertheless, are a huge part of feeling the need to protect others.

At Bennett College, we are taught to see one another as ourselves. Good, bad and indifferent. And, while we were all different, we were taught that we were one. At the root of it all, we are sisters.

When I think about what we do and do not know about the unimaginable death of Kenneka Jenkins, of course, I think about the disappointment and heartbreak her family and Black women are feeling around the world. What I also think about is how we as a community need to reinstill and teach the importance of sisterhood to young black girls and women.

“When I look at you, I see myself. If my eyes are unable to see you as my sister, it is because my own vision is blurred. And if that be so, then it is I who need you either because I do not understand who you are, my sister, or because I need you to help me understand who I am.”- Lillian P. Benbow, Past National President of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.

It is hard to leave a sister hanging. And, if you do, you’ll have to live with it for the rest of your life.

Here’s a little advice, Sis:

  • Trust your gut.
  • If you feel uncomfortable, make that known.
  • If you do have to leave who you came with, don’t be afraid to call someone to let them know what’s going on. Be sure to call a car service, share your ride information with someone, and stay on the phone with them until you arrive at your destination safely. That doesn’t make you a coward or less of a woman, it makes you smart.

Although the public does not have all of the facts regarding Jenkins’ death, the fact that some young women can’t conceptualize the value of another young lady’s body and life possibly beyond money pains and sickens me.

Teaching girls and women how to love on each other is imperative. It is time to reclaim our love for one another and the time we invest in sisterhood.

I got your back, Sis.





Don’t Christianize your stupidity.

Today I have un-friended three members [thus far] from the congregation where I once worshiped, served and cried out for countless hours. Before I go any further, this is not a post about how my faith has been weakened and I no longer believe because of this election. Do you know who my ancestors are? #KnowUs.

In one of the most beautiful, multicultural, De facto segregated, gentrified, progressive, ambiguously racist and crime riddled cities that celebrates the love of all things–yes, all things; I have discovered that some members of the congregation voted for the man who vows to further oppress and segregate people with the hatred that lives and breathes within him.

My heart sank when I saw a praise report for Trump published to a “trusted” leaders Facebook page. Are you really thankful for him? Really?

Here’s my issue. Salt and water don’t mix and we know that as believers.  If Trump were a trap artist and said “Grab her by the p***y “, some of the same people would call him carnal. How can you say that you love Gods people, that you’re pro-life, pray for the sick and less fortunate and vote and praise The Lord for Trump? What disciples are you making?

We talk about missions trips but are intimated by the people who populate the area in which our physical church resides in. I don’t want a tally of your community service, how many people you’ve you won over or another message asking me if I am okay. We are not okay. Believers and non-believers alike are not okay despite the many who are celebrating.

Prison stocks went up today.

There are people are losing hope, are questioning their faith and millions of people will continue to be overlooked.

Some are already saying that this was meant to be. I can live with that…or at least I have to for now. What I can’t live with is being silent while those with authority who claim to be called by The Most High boast in evil. Yes, exercise your right to vote but please be mindful of those who are impacted by your decision.

We do not wage war like the world or grieve like those without hope–but we are not okay.

Donald Trump is not Pro-life. He is anti people of color, anti the less fortunate, anti-women, anti-LGBTQ, anti-Muslim and anti anything that is not like him.

On Sunday, I heard a word here in Harlem that inspired me to pray with more fervor and consider a few things. The word was, “The blood still cries out from the ground,” preached by Michael A. Walrond Jr. I have been meditating on these words for the past few days as well as the context of the Bible where it comes from when Cain murdered his brother Able. But that’s for another day… I urge you to check out the sermon online at FCBCNYC dot org.

Trust and believe, I know there is a time and place for everything. The time is now because Amerikkka is still the place.

If you are going to Christianize your stupidity at least allow Him to radically change you.

Resolved, “There is no right way to do wrong.” -Wilbur ‘Coach’ Jiggins.



A Night to Remember

November 7, 2016

In a matter of hours, either history will be made or this country will be in critical condition. As millions of Americans head to the polls and cast their votes tomorrow [GO VOTE] people are reflecting on their memories as first-time voters and expressing what this election means to them.


On Friday, November 4, 2016 young black professionals took to social media to reminisce on what was a historical night 8 years ago when Barack Obama became the first Black president of the United States. Oh, how he will be missed.


Below is a screen shot of a Facebook memory of mine from last year that appeared on my timeline. It inspired me to go through old photos on my Mac from the night POTUS won the election.


FB Post Obama


I was that enthusiastic first-time voter away from home in college in a red state that turned blue in 2008. My vote counted along with thousands of other college students who rallied for hope in solidarity with Barack Obama in efforts to make history. I was a Bennett Belle and anyone who knows anything about Bennett College, Congresswoman Alama Adams and the history of voting knows that “We are Voting Belles.”


With that being said, after scrolling through photos from 8 years ago I found 18 images from my trusty 10-megapixel point and shoot camera from the night of November 4, 2008. Years later, I wanted to know what that moment meant to some of the young women I photographed that night so I reached out to them.


Here is what they said about 2008 and what they think about this election.


Lastactia Sanders – Somerset, NJ


Lastacia Sanders [photographed in the Free Jena Six Shirt] experiencing a chilling celebratory dive with friends from Jones Hall dorm in the Reflection Pool on NCA&T’s campus.



“Anything is possible,” is what my mother reiterated to me throughout the entire 2008 election process. On November 4, 2008, I believed every word. With so much joy in my heart, I marched with my sisters and brothers into a new beginning.


Today, what my mother said still holds true. In a room full of republicans, I am usually the only democrat. Silent, but knowledgeable, I am aware of the political views discussed around me. My political etiquette derives from the 1960’s, where our actions spoke louder than our words. Now on November 8th, 2016, I may be able to help make history again. This time providing the world with a women’s prospective. As Susan B. Anthony said, “The day may be approaching when the whole world will recognize woman as the equal of man.” That day will be Tuesday.



Antoinett M. Atkins – Tacoma, WA



Antoinett M. Atkins with chanting in celebration of President Barack Obama on NCA&T’s campus.


Eight years ago I was a Freshwoman at Bennett College interning with the Obama Campaign. I was also Miss Political Science and felt an obligation to be involved with the 2008 Presidential Campaign.


I remember that day to be very cold and rainy. I spent almost all morning and afternoon with my Campaign Manager knocking on doors trying to make sure people were going to the polls to vote.  I went back to campus tired, wet and nervous.


I remember sitting in my dorm room when Barack Obama was announced the 44th President of the United States. I remember hearing my Belle sisters screaming and running in the hallways. I remember being in my pajamas and taking my ObamaBiden sign with me to the flagpole where all the Bennett Belles gathered to cry, pray, and rejoice that President Obama would serve as the first African-American President of the United States. It was pouring down rain, but it did not matter. The rain felt like I was being washed in a pool of liberation.


Marching with my Bennett Sisters that night meant everything to me.


Ryanne P. Thomas – Houston, TX



Ryanne P. Thomas exiting the Reflection Pool after taking a victory dive in celebration of POTUS Obama.


Well, it was my first year voting. I have always heard about history but it was amazing to be a part of a life-changing event. I knew that I contributed to our country’s success and I was so proud.


Imani Cohen – Los Angeles, CA  



Imani Cohen with raised fist symbolizing Black Power


It was a magical time! I actively participated in the election process and was extremely proud and eager to be part of the student campaign for Barack Obama. I remember going door to door in Greensboro, North Carolina registering voters and feeling so proud to be contributing to this concept of “Change”. I remember the night Obama was announced as president. It was a time I will forever cherish and think of joyfully. That was a moment where I felt so much unity as a community. Obama superseding the opposition showed me that with the right determination and execution that I, too, could be anything I wanted.


This years election has really lifted the veil on the injustices and hate that flourishes and thrives in this county. I feel that this election has forced our awareness to be focused on the REAL issues. Although this political process has been discouraging, I feel collectively as a black community it is our obligation to participate with the same enthusiasm as we did to elect President Obama–not because we have the best candidates but because we need a candidate that will continue to encourage the change this country is in such desperate need of!



In 2008, these young women took part in making history.Tomorrow, you have a moral obligation to actively participate in one of the most critical decision-making processes in the history of this country.


Your vote matters. Whether you once felt the Bern, are not interested in either of the two nominees or think that things will never change–this is not the time to silence yourself by not voting.


Tomorrow, do your part.



Lift Every Voice

September 21, 2016

For many people, the only stars and stripes they know are the ones they saw after being beaten and the ones photographed on the backs of their ancestors.


I made the decision to stop pledging my allegiance to this country my junior year of high school during a JROTC lesson as we broke down what it means to do so. Here’s the meaning sourced from Restore The Pledge dot com.


“I pledge allegiance”

(I promise to be true or follow and obey and never to renounce, desert, or betray)

“to the flag”

(to the symbol of our country)

“of the United States of America”

(each state that has joined to make our country)

“and to the Republic”

(a country where the people choose others to make laws for them —a government for the people, by the people)

“for which it stands,”

(the flag symbolizes the country)

“one Nation”

(a single country)

“under God,”

(I acknowledge the dependence of our people and our Government upon a supernatural being)


(the country cannot be split into parts—recalls the Civil War and the triumph of federal union over states’ rights)

“with liberty and justice”

(a balance between equality and individual freedom)

“for all.”

(for each person in the country)


Since the founding of this country it has been made clear that some things do not apply to everyone…


At sporting events I do not place my hand over my heart. I, too, sing America but the Black National Anthem. Our songs are different. One was composed by oppressors the other by my ancestors.


I stand with Kaepernick.


Video Courtesy of Committed to Sing’s YouTube Channel


I am outraged by the reoccurring immoral killings of black people across this country. Since Kaepernick took a knee protesting the national anthem 16 people have been killed by police officers including Trye KingTerence Crutcher and Keith Lamont Scott.






On Friday, September 16, 2016 around 7:30pm in Tulsa, Oaklahoma Betty Shelby took Terrence Crutcher’s life. She took his life from his family, friends and community. Trained to kill, with a single shot she stole his life.


Before dying in cold blood Crutcher stood with his hands up. He did not die as a result of his car breaking down but because of Shelby’s “big bad dude” perception of him. Shelby is a reflection of America’s heart [hate] issue.




Tulsa Police Department


Her life was NOT endangered. He was NOT breaking any laws. His hands were up. He was Black, stuck in the middle of the road and breathing.


I wonder how Dave Shelby, her husband and fellow member of the Tulsa Police Department, felt as he watched his wife gun-down Crutcher from the police chopper that captured the moment?


I cannot imagine the pain his family and loved ones feel although I’ve watched this narrative unfold time and time again.




On September, 20, 2016 Keith Lamont Scott was shot and killed by a Charlotte police officer. Hours later the people of Charlotte took to the streets.


Last night, I watched several Facebook Live videos including one reported by Fox 46 of the uprising in Charlotte with about 50,000 other people nationwide.





The live videos from both citizens and reporters were raw, emotional and hard to watch. Same narrative, different city.


You can read several reports of each deadly encounter, watch the videos or scroll down timelines across platforms to see how this nation feels, divided and all, but no one will ever know what Crutcher’s, King’s or Scott’s last thoughts were or if they knew their fate because of the history of this country.


Something has to change.


To claim to be neutral is to be silent. It is time to lift every voice.



The Power of Blood

August 30, 2016

Jennifer Joseph wondered why the woman across the room was crying. They were at the American Red Cross office-or-clinic for the first day of training to become phlebotomists – and as they watched a training video about a woman who needed a lifesaving blood transfusion, the other trainee began to cry. McKenzie later explained that her own mother had needed transfusions, although they had failed, in the end, to save her life. That was why McKenzie wanted to be a phlebotomist. Three years later, the one-time strangers are the best of friends, down to their matching blimp tattoos.


Blood Donors Awareness

Every two seconds in America someone needs a blood transfusion and most people do not know what they could save three lives with just one donation. Only four percent of America’s population gives blood and of that, one percent is African American.

The American Red Cross Greater New York blood center on West 49th Street provides access for Long Island, Westchester, and greater New York with an emphasis on diversity, from the staff to the donors.

Brianna McKenzie, from Queens, New York has been working at the Red Cross for as a phlebotomist ever since she started that training program. She is a tall, vibrant black woman with a short lilac and blonde Afro, silver hoop earrings, and a big smile outlined in red lipstick, whose personal story and passion for work are aligned. She was a blood donor for her mother, who died a month before her fifty-second birthday of leukemia, a cancer of the blood that hinders the body’s ability to fight infection.

“My mother passed away because she did not have enough blood,” said McKenzie. Her mother was in need of both blood and bone marrow during her treatments. McKenzie donated blood to her mother regularly and her aunt was a bone marrow match — but she could not receive a sufficient amount of transfusions because of the low number of donors who were a match.

Jennifer Joseph, her tattoo-mate, is a young black woman with locked hair, whose arms are covered with sleeve tattoos, including a favorite of her two-year-old niece Joanne, who was born prematurely by four months and needed blood transfusions.


“My niece lived in the hospital for four months and needed blood transfusions so I know how important this is,” said Joseph. “When I found out that Brianna and I had these experiences we became close friends.”


Public Health Issue

While there are 318.9 million people in America, only four percent of the eligible sixty percent of the population donates blood, according to the American Red Cross. Of that group, African American people account for one percent of all giving at an estimated number of 76,536.


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 in every 365 African Americans is born with sickle cell disease and 1 in 13 African Americans are born with the sickle cell trait. People born with the trait are at higher risk of later developing sickle cell anemia.

If black people do not donate it makes it more difficult for people who are suffering from sickle cell anemia to receive transfusions because of the rare antigens found in African American people’s blood. People living with the disease need transfusion therapy to prevent progressive organ damage every two to four weeks.

Seventy one percent of African Americans have Type O or B blood and U-negative and Duffy-negative blood types that are unique to their ethnic group. Black people with sickle cell anemia have the U-negative and Duffy-negative types and need blood transfusions from donors from that group.

 Blood transfusions are also needed during cancer treatments, after major surgeries and car accidents.


“Blood sees no color,” said McKenzie. There is a constant need for donors from every background, but it is imperative that African Americans donate, have access to drives and are educated on the benefits of giving.



Prospective donors are greeted by volunteers like Maureen Miller who has been a volunteer with the Red Cross since the late nineties. Mrs. Miller checks ID cards, signs people in, goes over preparatory information with donors and chats with them as they wait.

Soft rock, R&B and old school hip-hop play in the background as phlebotomists and donors talk about their holiday plans. Four people are lying on medical beds, some already donating while others wait their turn. Donating a pint of blood on average takes 15 minutes unless you give a Double Red Blood Cell “double red” donation which can take up to 40 minutes it’s a donation of two pints of blood, with plasma and platelets returned to the donor. The Red Cross, which handles 40 percent of all blood donations in the U.S. has regulations for height, weight and blood time for prospective donors, and requires a 56 day wait period between donations to allow blood cells to regenerate.

Jaime Milner, 29, chose to take selfies while donating, so that she could upload them on the American Red Cross blood donor app, as her girlfriend Erica, who was also donating, directed her, “Get the Red Cross sign in the back, baby.”

“Sir, get out of my selfie,” said Milner to one of the coordinators in the room, causing everyone to laugh.

Milner, a young African American woman who has the universal blood type, O-, says that it should be common sense for people to donate, because most people are going to need it at some point in life. “I learned at an early age the importance of giving blood,” which she does every six weeks. Milner’s mother is a nurse and spoke about the importance of donating.

Blood Types


There are four blood types in the ABO blood system: A, B, AB and O. The absence or presence of antigens in the cell determines the type and rarity.

“One way the Red Cross can help meet the unique needs of patients is for blood and platelet donors to indicate their race at the time of donation,” said the external communications manager of biomedical field marketing and Communications at the American Red Cross.

“By selecting their race, donors help the Red Cross better search for rare blood types to best meet the needs of patients of all backgrounds.”


Communities of color in the New York-Penn region are creating initiatives to educate potential donors.

“The Red Cross offers a variety of tools to educate the public about the importance of giving blood. Red Cross employees create presentations for individual organizations/groups to explain the blood donation process, benefits and reasons why there is a constant need for blood donors. The Red Cross also educates students in elementary, middle and high schools about the importance of becoming a blood donor through specialized initiatives, including Future Blood Donor and Pint-Sized Heroes programs,” said the Red Cross manager.

In October 2015, there were 150 new rare donors on Long Island, where McKenzie and Joseph conduct drives.

“This is the first time the Red Cross Blood Services has a presence here in the city. We go to high schools that are filled with kids of color and they donate. They want to know how to volunteer. We go to predominantly Black neighborhoods,” said Joseph.


McKenzie and Joseph both encourage friends, family members and donors to continue to give the gift of life.


“All we need is your time and you’ll legitimately save someone’s life,” said McKenzie.


To find out more about how you can become a donor and save lives visit


Sincere Visions
Sincere Visions

A six-year-old boy holds “Stop Hunting Black Men” sign. Photo captured in 2012 in Greensboro, North Carolina at a protest led by students and residents after the shooting death of Trayvon Martin by Lydia T. Blanco


In a matter of hours, children have watched their fathers drown in their own blood. Women have become widowed, mothers have lost their sons and a generation of young people will never get to experience the love of these men. In a matter of hours, lives have been forever changed.

The courage of Diamond “Lavish” Reynolds, her four-year-old daughter and those who film fearlessly is remarkable.

As heartbreaking as it was to hear Reynolds’ daughter utter, “It’s Okay. I’m right here with you”, her words will resonate with this country forever.


For those of us watching life flee from the bodies of unarmed men, it is not only a constant reminder of the history of this country but that no one is exempt.ChildrenCryingSincereVisions


Strange fruit is what they called us as they picked at us with their laughter and hate until we rotted. Dust to dust and watered by the light, we cross-pollinated this nation and its soil with our blood, sweat and tears.


People are demanding that black and brown people stop being hunted.


The past 48 hours has also been a reminder of how powerful social media platforms are when they are used as a tool to report on or a resource when crying out for help when your significant other is being murdered and you need the world to see.



A screen shot of Diamond ‘Lavish’ Reynolds’ video post after it reappeared after being taken down from Facebook.


Alton Sterling [unarmed with a gun in his pocket], Delrawn Small, Anthony Nunez [armed and reportedly suicidal] and Philando Castile [had a permit to carry] have been murdered in the past 48 hours at the hands of police officers around the country.


Every 28 hours unarmed black people are killed at the hands of officers in the US and it seems like that time is being shortened.


As the responsibilities and priorities of social platform companies shift as heavy content is published to their sites it is important that we use our the power of our words intentionally.

As the war raged against people of color continues remember to live out your truth, protect your peace and live.

Since reports last year that Mall of America security were “catfishing” [pretending to be someone else on social media to deceptively gather information] Black Lives Matter protesters, details about similar incidents have begun to surface.


More recently, in Portland, Oregon the Department of Justice has admitted to searching the Black Lives Matter hashtag on Twitter to find people in the area to monitor. The surveillance project was motivated by the belief that Black Lives Matter members were threatening police officers online. In result, the DOJ began to search #BlackLivesMatter looking for persons who were harassing officers and in turn identified Attorney Erious Johnson, an employee of the Oregon Department of Justice, who just so happens to be black. Johnson’s tweets appeared in the #BlackLivesMatter.


One of his tweets was of the Hip Hop group Public Enemy’s logo. Through the search, Johnson was identified as a person of threat. This incident led to a five month long investigation revealing the cultural flaws of the DOJ.


Teressa Raiford

Teressa Raiford

For organizers like Teressa Raiford, social media surveillance is nothing new. Raiford, 44, the lead organizer of Don’t Shoot Portland say’s her privacy has been invaded both in the digital space and in her everyday life. On April 21, 2016 after being on trial for three days Raiford plead not guilty to charges of criminally obstructing traffic during a protest on the death anniversary of Michael Brown Jr.


Two months after Raiford’s arrest her intuition of being monitored were confirmed.


“After I got arrested on August 9th, in October we found out that the Department of Justice in Oregon was surveillancing us. They had been scoping us and looking for tweets.”



Raiford Screenshot

In an article written by Matt dos Santos, a Legal Director for the Oregon American Civil Liberties Union, in response to the report released by the DOJ he wrote, “Don’t be fooled, if you tweeted or publicly posted on Facebook about #blacklivesmatter and #fuckthepolice, your data was collected and likely reviewed, contrary to the DOJs assertions and in violation of Oregon law.”


In an article on social media, security and surveillance Brett Solomon, Executive Director of Access Now a digital rights non-profit organization, laid out privacy in digital communities.


“At Access, our Digital Security Helpline works with platforms to help secure the social media accounts of users when it’s necessary to protect human rights and safeguard marginalized communities. Social media platforms have responded over the years by developing numerous positive security enhancements,” explained Solomon.


Solomon went on to say, “Social media platforms are increasingly where people connect with other people online. As such, police and security agencies, especially in repressive countries, often rely on social media to force people—members of minority groups, journalists, activists, and others—to reveal their social networks,” which is legal and overlooked by everyday users.


Oregon law states that no law enforcement agency may collect information on political, religious or social groups without criminal charges.
Sarah Armstrong, Communications Director for the American Civil Liberties Union in Oregon, worked with Raiford on her case.



“We here in the ACLU filed a brief in that case arguing how the court should interpret disorderly conduct.” Raiford and the Oregon ACLU feel the police department’s charge misrepresents the facts. “They tried to criminalize protesters because we were in the street. I never meant to obstruct the public. We were just expressing our art. They wanted to criminalize our art and our free speech-they couldn’t criminalize that,” said Raiford. “She [Raiford] was off the curb a was not blocking the street,” said Armstrong.


Raiford says that knowing her rights and the history of this country helps to keep her ahead of a corrupt system.


“When I felt like we were really being surveilled we began to make workshops and training available to the public. I use history as a foundation for understanding. In court we fought back by disclosing what we were doing because it is not illegal to organize. We wanted anyone who was illegally surveillancing us to know that when they tapped into what we were doing that that information would be the evidence we used in court against them.”


While she puts up a strong front, the effects of surveillance permeate her everyday activities.


“What’s really been happening is that I’m scared.”


Raiford says that she does not fear for her life but everyday moments like going to the park and hanging out with family and friends is a challenge.


“I don’t leave my house to go anywhere by myself. I can’t catch the bus. I don’t feel comfortable going to the park. I don’t even hang out with people anymore and it’s horrible. People will say, ‘Well this is what you signed up for.’ Actually I never signed up to be humiliated and dehumanized. Internalizing and accepting that and not being in denial…It hurts.”


While Raiford says that self-care “seems like a myth” in her line of work she makes sure to hold tight to her faith. “When I do go somewhere it’s to church. I stay in prayer and meet with my pastor,” she said.


A Modern Day Cointelpro


In 1971, the U.S. Government established a counter intelligence program called Cointelpro to monitor the activities of Black Panther Party. The program essentially destroyed members of the party and their movement. Some would argue that today’s surveillance practices on organizers within social movements is a mere extension of the program especially in cases like Raiford’s.


“I don’t have any privacy-none of us do- but to know it’s because you’re an activist… It does what they want it to do-it breaks you. It stops you from organizing and it alienates you,” said Raiford. “It means something to the protest and for the movement when their leader is arrested,” said Armstrong.


She feels like the world is watching her and says that she is tired of it.


“I’m tired of thinking about who knows what about me that I haven’t figured out for myself,” said Raiford.


The Power of a Hashtag


A range of social movements have demonstrated the power of social media, and #BlackLivesMatter is no exception. Nielsen research shows it is an important organizing tool & most searched. According to Nielsen’s 2015 report, Black Influence Goes Mainstream in the U.S. the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter, “Is one of the most powerful examples of how social media conversations are effecting civic change.” In fact, their research shows that the Black Lives Matter hashtag was the most researched and used tag on Twitter among black users with more than 4.5 million mentions to date.


But that power has a dark side. In the past two years Raiford and her group decided to no longer use social media to discuss strategy after receiving phony friend requests on Facebook and learning about privacy.


“In 2014 we stopped using Facebook for messaging, strategizing and organizing. We shut down Google Docs. I’ve been working with different IT specialists who help us create our own spaces,” explained Raiford. Armstrong added, “There is a lot of internal issues with people trying to figure who is real and who is undercover.” Don’t Shoot Portland strictly uses social media for advertising and supporting other organizations in the digital space to build momentum.


While disheartened by the quality of her personal life and lack of privacy Raiford does have a sense of appreciation for technology. “I can be feeling on edge because I can’t go outside but I’ll go online and develop process for the people who are still outside.”


What she always keeps at front of her mind is, “my life matters too.”


Despite her lack of privacy Raiford says that she will continue to fight for justice.





The days of accessing the Internet with an AOL CD-ROM are long-gone yet connecting to the web for many American’s in rural and low-income communities has yet to come.

According to the Pew Research Center, 33 percent of people in America are not connected to the Internet at home.

Politicians, advocates, and technologists alike are taking initiatives to put policy and systems in place to bridge what is identified as the digital divide with programming, digital literacy workshops and free Broadband Internet services.

According to the FCC, 16 million people in do not have access to broadband Internet. Broadband is defined high-speed Internet access but for those living without it is hard to define let alone attain. Broadband includes several high-speed transmission technologies and is always on and faster than the traditional dial-up access. The federal standard for broadband is 25Mbps downstream and 3Mbps upstream.

In New York alone, 36 percent of people living below the poverty line do not have Internet access at home. That means over 3 million New Yorkers are digitally disconnected.

While access to the Internet seems to be a social norm, as more social and educational services become available exclusively online more and more people a digital wedge is being placed in between the haves and have-nots.

After years of rallying for Internet equality by Internet advocates and community members, In July of 2015, Mayor Bill de Blasio made the decision to invest $10 million in Broadband Internet access for 16,000 New Yorkers living in public housing and $200 million into a statewide effort to connected millions of people called LinkNYC.

The initiative is simple to explain, free gigabit Wi-Fi, but the technology behind the service is more technical than that. Dozens of touch screen kiosks have been popping up around New York City that looks like 9-foot display monitors with digital advertisements, USB outlets that are good for charging portable devices and a digital phone screen to make free phone calls.

William Colegrove, Senior Technologist and Director of Technology and Transparency for the Manhattan Borough Presidents office says that LinkNYC is a great resource but is it not the only solution to bridging the divide in New York City.

“Much of the focus is on free broadband initiatives so we have the LinkNYC network, which is providing a great service to the city. What we’re seeing is that we’re turning payphone infrastructure that no one was using into a 21st century amenity that brings free broadband Wi-Fi internet access to New Yorkers” said Colegrove

The kiosks, which seem to be randomly placed for people passing by and recognizing them, are powered by fiber optic cables that makes the Wi-Fi 100 times faster than spotty public Wi-Fi you can connect to at a local café. The network is encrypted and the data of users in protected by a customer-first privacy policy that forbids the allowance of personal data to be solicited to third parties.

Tiffani Lopez, 19, a resident of East Harlem noticed the newly installed kiosk on East 116th Street and 3rd Avenue in front of Duane Reed drug store for the first time while coming out of the store.

“I didn’t know what this thing was but I appreciate it being in my neighborhood because I don’t have the Internet at home,” said Lopez.

New York has invested $200 million dollars into LinkNYC to benefit people like Lopez and others who want to connect to the web while exploring the city.

“I think it’s cool that I can come to this block and get on the Internet so that I don’t have to use all of my data,” said Lopez.

The goal of LinkNYC is to install over 500 Link kiosks throughout the five boroughs by July 2016. So far there are 92 active Links throughout Manhattan. 89 of them are located along the East side starting at 14th up to 116th Street with three located on the upper west side.


Photo Courtesy of LinkNYC

While LinkNYC is a resource to the community it is also an advertising model.

“LinkNYC is a major part of New York City’s plan to close the digital divide by providing fast, free Wi-Fi as no cost to taxpayers. The Link tablets and future public gigabit centers also provide an access point for those without home Internet service to use the web. And by generating over $500 million in revenue for the City, LinkNYC can help fund other city digital divide initiatives, like providing free Wi-Fi in public housing,” said CJ Macklin of Berlin Rosen Public Relations who is communications associate working on the LinkNYC team.

“Because it is an advertising model the priorities of the franchisee is to place these kiosks in areas that are going to have a high advertising revenue. So, surprise, surprise-that’s in Midtown and lower Manhattan where we don’t have the same needs in terms of Internet access,” explained Colegrove.

While Colegrove thinks the LinkNYC is a step in the right direction in the case of these kiosks location is everything.

“The kiosks are on the streets so that’s really not going to be really getting into your bedroom unless you’re sort of perfectly situated. Honestly, it is just an amenity for a short-term thing.”

The digital divide impacts people of all backgrounds nationally and internationally.




Just a few hours away in Baltimore, Maryland, Bernie Smith founder of E-Club Digital Project, advocates to end what he calls the “digital apartheid” by providing community trainings, online resources and through partnering with other advocates.

Smith says the divide goes beyond race and demographics and for members of his community it is also a tech literacy issue.

“It’s more than the digital divide. We’ve got a literacy problem where people don’t know how to use the computers. Older people don’t even know where to start,” said Smith.

For the past 10 years Smith has been advocating to close the digital divide and in 2013 launched his website

Smith says that partnering with other organizations has been key because of how many people are impacted.

“I work with the Boys and Girl Club, United Way and the recreation centers in Baltimore. I am also trying to come up with a computer sharing program where people can have access to computers,” said Smith.

For many low-income American’s not having access to computers makes connecting to the Internet more difficult because mobile-only access becomes too expensive due of data overages.

Smith says that everyday things like paying bills and applying for jobs is challenging for those who are digitally illiterate.

“A person in Baltimore that’s low-income has to keep kicking out two dollars every time they pay a bill,” said smith.

Here are three things Smith says impact people in his community:

  1. People cannot seek employment online
  2. Students cannot do their homework at home
  3. People are not connected to what is happening around the world

“Everything is moving online and it’s taking away from everyday life for a lot of people. Most poor people spend their money on housing and after eating, gas and utilities it’s nearly impossible to afford the Internet,” said Smith.

In a recent article, Charlotte Residents Shouldn’t Have to Buy a Burger for Wi-Ficovering the divide by Sherrell Dorsey, she breaks down the cost of being disconnected for North Carolina residents who dine at fast-food restaurants like McDonald’s to connect to the Internet.

For many, the alternative to “fast food connections” is to connect at the public library.

Jeremiah Rushing, 23, sophomore sociology major at City College of San Francisco, says that the public library is his hot spot for accessing the Internet. Rushing is someone who would be classified as a mobile-only user being that he does not have broadband Internet access where he lives.

“I go to the public library every day because they have the Internet and study rooms. It’s hard trying to type a paper on my phone. I’ve tried doing it on the train but it’s really distracting because there are a lot of ads that pop up,” said rushing.

For students across the nation public libraries are an access point for the Internet and digital literacy workshops. In New York City alone there are 92 Libraries throughout the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island.

“We serve a vast and diverse population and each of our branches offers programs and services that help and support local communities. As centers for education and learning, NYPL has made a commitment to provide our users with the resources they need to succeed in New York City,” said Amy Geduldig, Senior Publicist for the New York Public Library.

“I don’t know what I would do”, responded Rushing when asked what would he do if could not access wireless Internet at the library.

“In regard to technology this includes our most recent pilot program – the Library Hotspot, which are Wi-Fi devices that are checked out like a Library book and enables users to access the Internet at home; workshops on technology for the beginner (Basic computer operation) to the more advanced (Coding classes); offering desktop computers and/or laptops for patron use for those who are not able to access a computer at home; free Wi-Fi at all Library locations for those who may not be able to access the internet at home,” said Geduldig.

“It’s super important that working with people at the public library and talking to institutions around the city and community groups…we have to make an effort to develop programming and infrastructure around these kiosks. There is great potential to connect folks with access to computer and other sorts of digital literacy to help bridge the digital divide but it’s going to take the efforts of working with stakeholders across the city to make this possible,” Colegrove emphasized.

Although thousands are people are connecting to the Internet for free in the city there are thousands who still are not.

“This [LinkNYC] is not a silver bullet but I think shows that the city is committed to this effort and I think it’s a really good thing that secured franchises are providing a service at no cost to tax payers…so hopefully it’ll be something that we consider in our future franchise deals,” said Colegrove.