This series is a platform for black authors to share personal accounts about their life experiences in research and academia, as well as reflect on the Black Lives Matter movement, the current state of affairs and where we go from here.
Dr Judith Bruce-Golding is this week's guest author, a postdoctoral researcher in Education and Leadership. She has a background in working across all educational key stages, including mainstream and secondary special education, mainly with excluded children and young people and disabled students.
Over the weeks, I have experienced many emotions concerning the heart-breaking death of George Floyd and others who have died from police violence. This unfortunate situation, coupled with COVID-19 and its disproportionate impact on people of colour, have been two events that have strengthened the evidence of continued injustice and disadvantage within our communities. So where do I start? I think about the Ghanaian metaphorical symbol Sankofa "it is not taboo to go back and fetch what you forgot" which has inspired many to look back into history, learn from it and bring the best from the past to make progress for the future. When I look back, I think about the journey of my parents and what they had to endure in England when they came over to offer their skills and create a future. The heartache of them leaving close family, friends and that beautiful sunshine behind. In looking back, I think about the social and psychological challenges that they experienced trying to fit into a society where they were wanted but also not wanted. I understand how this duality of seeking belonging but not being able to belong could place an individual into an emotional no man's land. This duality has played on my mind for a long time. I think about my own school experience and the jobs that I have held, and although qualified, I somehow did not feel that sense of belonging that I was hoping. I think about the journey of slavery where although some slaves had bought their freedom, they were still not considered or treated as free. They did not belong.
"...I think about the social and psychological challenges that they experienced trying to fit into a society where they were wanted but also not wanted. I understand how this duality of seeking belonging but not being able to belong could place an individual into an emotional no man's land."
So yes, about my journey, I grew up on one of the largest council estates in England. Although my parents were quite strict, they continually shared their ambitions and desires for their siblings and regularly sacrificed for their children. It's funny because when I think back to where I grew up, I never felt that I needed for anything and my parents worked day and night shifts to ensure that we were all looked after. I remember the National Front had a substantial presence in the estate along with a series of violent attacks on black and Asian families in the community. I can only imagine how my parents felt about how they were to protect their children during such trying times. I have since been fortunate to hear my parents share about how they got through such a difficult time in their history of which I am forever grateful. I now understand the why's, and my parents will always be my source of inspiration. History tells us that there is so much to learn about the impact of power on class and race when we consider how black people were used for human experimentation and placed in human zoos around the world. COVID-19 and The Black Lives Matter movement are two significant accounts that have prompted questions and exploration into asking the question why? As the Sankofa symbol implies, there is a wealth of knowledge to learn from the past, which can inform us for a better future.
Although I was not sure of my career aims, I always had a desire to help young people, so when I became a teacher, it was life-changing for me. My desire to become a teacher stemmed from not seeing teachers that looked like me as a child. One thing that struck me in my first year of teaching was when I received the predicted grades for the students. My students were predominantly from African Caribbean and Asian heritage, so when I showed them their predicted grades, I felt sad because all of them had been predicted low grades compared to my white students. The situation reminded me of my school education and the limited options that were offered to me career-wise. The students reacted in different ways, some verbally expressed their dismay, and others sat silently, but I could read their expressions. I told them that they had the power to change the data and that they were in control, and if they worked hard, they would be far away from the predicted D and E grades. The students committed themselves to prove those grades wrong, and for me, it was an absolute privilege to see them achieve the grades that they deserved. This experience gave me a lot of fulfilment. Still, the situation left me asking the question of why children of colour were automatically predicted low grades compared to the white students in the class. I spent a lot of my time on changing mindsets and raising the aspirations of these young people as well as impressing on them to work hard with what they could control.
"My desire to become a teacher stemmed from not seeing teachers that looked like me as a child."
Following my teaching role in a mainstream school setting, I then went on to work with excluded children after wondering a lot about their journeys. I thought about why the child or young person was excluded from school and what impact that would have on their life course. I wondered if schools had done everything in their power to keep that child and work with the families who needed support. Working in a Pupil Referral Unit was not easy; you get accustomed to regular violence and abuse, which to me was a snapshot of the child's own lived experiences. When you work in such challenging settings, you do not realise how stress and the experiences of others can impact on your sleep, concentration, and emotional health. I only realised this after I moved into a new role. Throughout the nine years working with excluded children, their families, and schools, I saw similar patterns regarding types of children that would be excluded from the mainstream school setting. There were high percentages of children from African, Caribbean, Asian heritage, children with refugee status and children with specific learning difficulties. Many children and young people were dealing with traumatic family events unable to cope with the daily school schedule, and several were experiencing undiagnosed mental health symptoms, low self-esteem, and were considered as being at risk. I remember the many conversations held with the students about how they felt like they did not fit in. Several children felt rejected by their main school and in some cases, their parents or guardians. Some parents spoke about the lack of support that they had received when trying to support their child. It brings me back to the concept of belonging and the difference it can make to someone's life when they feel like they belong.
Read the second part of the blog: 'Sankofa– learning from the past for a better future Part 2'
Dr Judith Bruce-Golding is a postdoctoral researcher in Education and Leadership. She has a background in working across all educational key stages, including mainstream and secondary special education, mainly with excluded children and young people and disabled students. She completed her doctorate while working as the Lead ICT Teacher at a Pupil Referral Unit in England. Judith is a Youth Mental Health First Aid Trainer and has interests in Leadership and Education, Special Education and Psychology.