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  • Jillian Lenae

Leading while Black....and a Woman: A reflection based on my experiences as a Black woman who leads

February 10, 2018 --- I woke up this morning and ran across an article on my Facebook timeline that was shared by a respected colleague; a Black woman in Ed Leadership - JuDonne Hemingway. The article was titled “The Purposeful Silencing of Black Women in Educational Leadership.” I read the message she wrote in reflection and knew this article would speak to me. She wrote:

“I can’t tell you how many times someone has commented on my “passion” or my “tone” or my “emotion.” But these same people appreciate those elements of my leadership when I’m advocating on their behalf. I should also mention that the silencing of the black woman leader happens not just at the hands of her white counterparts; sometimes her brothers and sisters are the main silencers. That is until her voice benefits them.”

This. Hit. Home. For. Me. I know the feeling(s) all too well. In the article, written by a white teacher who supported her Black principal, the writer shared the experience of seeing her leader be oppressed by those around her. It was so refreshing to read about a woman supporting another around what’s right (forgetting about race). What was more troubling to me, I found myself thinking about how I’ve experienced more than one Black woman be an active participant in my oppression. Shouldn't we support one another? As JuDonne stated, this is not uncommon behavior - to be silenced by our own Black brothers and sisters. It is a hurtful reality that I had to relive while reading the article.

  • “You’re intimidating.”

  • “You still wear Jordans; even as a principal?”

  • “You’re so aggressive.”

  • “I would never say some of the things you say to my boss.”

  • “It’s your tone.”

  • “You’re unapproachable.”

  • “You’re a bit much to deal with.”

These were some of the things I remember being told Leading while Black (and Being a Woman). These same sentiments can be (and has been) seen as strengths from others based on the lens in which they chose to view me through.

  • “You are a powerhouse!”

  • “You connect with your kids in so many ways; you’re very relatable to them.”

  • “Your passion is refreshing and needed at the table.”

  • “I’m glad you have the courage to say what no one else (wants, but) chooses not say.”

  • “You are very direct; those who lack confidence in themselves and their ideas will see it as a threat.”

  • "You are all about what’s best for kids and you mean business! Those who are not, will struggle to approach you.”

  • “It’ll take a strong person to not be intimidated by your worth ethic.”

I understand that both sets of sentiments can be true of me depending on one’s perception. While I do believe I have some power over changing other people’s perception, I find myself asking the following question after reading the article and reflecting: why should I have to? Do you have any idea how it feels to try to suppress who I am and how God created me? It’s almost easier to pretend as if I’m not enough, so I can become more (and better). But to have to shave off parts of me that already extremely overwhelming. As of today, this act has become unnecessary for me. I am a child of God; Daughter of the King! If there was no use for my passion, courage, and directness, He wouldn’t have created these things in me. Today, I am committing to being who I am without apology or guilt. Either I’m a good fit or I’m not, but changing who I am to make others feel more comfortable - is not going to happen. The following quote assures me that it is the correct approach to take:

“You can’t control how other people receive your energy. Anything you do or say gets filtered through the lens of whatever they are going through at the moment. Which is not about you. Keep doing your thing with as much integrity and love as possible.” -Nanca Hoffman

In even more simpler terms, Dr. Seuss states the following:

“Why try to fit in when you were born to stand out?”

Here’s the link to the article if you’re interested in reading it for context:

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