One super-duper-cold morning in Duluth, Minnesota, with great views across Lake Superior's horizon, there was a male in a light grey baseball-like cap, dressed in a grey shirt, breathing in fresh air while exhaling curiously. For those who know him well, he is known as Smurf. At the spur of the moment, Smurf grabbed a pile of rocks and threw them sideways into the lake, to realize that counting skips as each rock created ripples into the lake consists of a story. Each story is created with vibes on various levels: a social gathering, casual outing, intimate relationships, professionalism, and et cetera.
In 2020, Smurf undertook a journey--his mother had reminded him that she made countless sacrifices for her deaf first-born--to take American Sign Language (ASL) to another dimension with a passionate teaching responsibility in higher education. "That starts at schools, that starts at education, that starts with curricula," [Christopher Johnson] signed. "ASL in education is not diversified, and that impacts marginalized students at the beginning of their thought process and that has an impact that is lasting." (Erickson, 2020) The experience of a first-semester, first-year experience as Black deaf faculty during a prevailing pandemic; once there is more representation in education, the curriculum becomes more inclusive. Smurf learned and realized that two things could impact d/Deaf youth mindset on cognitive and social maturity: responsibility and being held accountable.
“Deaf individuals who are members of ethnic minorities have been found to experience a double burden (MacLeod-Gallinger, 1993), as the relationship between socioeconomic status (SES) and levels of reading achievement is likely mediated by the impact of SES on family education and income levels (Kluwin & Gaustad, 1991)” (Myers et al., p. 451). Since December 2019, the coronavirus pandemic ostracized the Deaf community, especially the Black Deaf. The ongoing pandemic creates an additional burden and barriers that include the increased facemask usage, receiving prejudice from hearing peers while being vulnerable in the lower SES adjusting to the Center for Disease Control's (CDC) guidelines that oppresses deaf and hard of hearing’s ability to read lips while facing hardship listening to the conversation's intonation and reading facial grammar in sign language. The first thing that crossed his mind is the school-to-prison pipeline and the scarcity of mentorship for Black deaf folx in rural areas. Both authors, Dr. Ernest Hairston and Linwood Smith (1983), who wrote Black and Deaf in America: Are We that Different, highlighted the importance of understanding each individual’s background experiences, ”when speaking of the education of Black deaf children, it is necessary to take a backward look to understand the present situation” (p. 9).
The most underrated question is, who is responsible for deaf students’ educational achievements? We can name several: teachers, school administration, parents, and the community. These aforementioned roles should be held accountable for their contributions in supporting each students’ aspirations. The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), signed into law in 2002, was designed to create a quality curriculum. Teach Us All is an excellent documentary film that underlines accessibility, education equity, and leadership at Little Rock High School in Arkansas. This film is an ideal common ground for leaders to build healthier relationships between communities, Deaf and hearing, through diverse discourses on ways to dismantle systematic oppression in classrooms, create educational pathways with the community to bridge gaps in employment, increase postsecondary enrollment and accessibility, and, lastly, to revamp the Deaf Education in mainstream or deaf residential schools.
The National Deaf Center (NDC) published data-driven research, ”Deaf People and Educational Attainment in the United States: 2017,” highlighting the disproportionate number of students without proper resources to maintain postsecondary educational attainment, or, at least, exceed beyond the expectation of the Black deaf college retention rate. Equally important, responsibilities for each Black Deaf student varies in communities and districts. The narrative is deep-rooted, where there is a distinction between the needs and types of resources for Black deaf to overcome obstacles in the South, East, Midwest, and the West.
Humility is key. A scholar, author, and motivational speaker, Manny Scott (2017) wrote a book on the essential, safe space, indicating that “students feel safe and secure when they see, in your eyes and body language, and hear in your voice that you are genuinely happy to see them” (p. 28). Smurf then looked back to when students at Tennessee School for the Deaf-Knoxville (TSD) expressed concerns about the lack of resemblance in the administration and Black deaf educators. Their voices inspired him to pursue a vocation, where Smurf, in the past, encouraged students to remain active in their studies and extracurricular activities of their choice, to become someone that he never experienced; a Black deaf educator.
Erickson, A. (2020). UMD American Sign Language educator exposes the power and culture within the language. Retrieved November 29, 2020, from https://www.duluthnewstribune.com/news/education/6622300-UMD-American-Sign-Language-educator-exposes-the-power-and-culture-within-the-language
Hairston, E., & Smith, L. (1983). Black and Deaf in America: Are We that Different. Silver Spring, MD: T.J. Publishers, Inc.
Myers, C., Clark, M., Musyoka, M., Anderson, M., Gilbert, G., Agyen, S., & Hauser, P. (2010). Black Deaf Individuals’ Reading Skills: Influence of ASL, Culture, Family Characteristics, Reading Experience, and Education. American Annals of the Deaf,155(4), 449-457. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/26235083
Scott, M. (2017). Even on Your Worst Day You Can Be A Student's Best Hope. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.