By Megan McDonell, Border Crossers Board Member
I recently heard that an organization called Water for People was asking people to write about individuals in the community who are changing the world in some way. I, of course, immediately thought of the amazing Executive Director of Border Crossers, Jaime-Jin Lewis. As a volunteer and now Board member, I’ve had the immense pleasure of working with and getting to know Jaime-Jin over the years and was so excited to interview her for this project. She is incredibly smart and passionate about her work, as well as just a very genuine, lovely person to be around. I asked Jaime-Jin about the workshops themselves, her plans for the organization, and her hopes for education equity/racial justice in general. And of course I threw in a few fun questions too. Here’s what she had to say!
What is one of the most often-cited takeaways from the “Talking About Race” workshops?
People often tell me that our workshops give them a safe space to talk about their own experiences with race and racism in a way that society does not often afford. I believe that if we do not make space for these conversations, we will not be able to find solutions. In fact, injustices in the classroom are often perpetuated in silenced moments, when we don’t know what to say and don’t have practice taking action. Participants say that our workshops give them the tools and practice working through these moments.
What is one of the most memorable moments from a Border Crossers workshop?
In one of our workshops last year, a veteran educator got to share an incident that happened to her over 15 years earlier. She didn’t think there was anything she could have done and hadn’t shared the incident with anyone. In the workshop, she was able to share her scenario, have her experience validated, and find strategies she could use if situations like this arose in the future. She told us she felt like a burden she had been carrying around had been lifted.
Even though I’m not an educator, I got a lot out of the workshop–especially learning about my own white privilege and ways I didn’t realize racial inequity still existed. Do you think this type of workshop is something everyone could benefit from and why?
We live in a world where racism is woven into the fabric of our culture and institutions in ways that we often don’t even see. Teachers are in a unique situation because they are in a position to perpetuate or interrupt society’s biases and inequities within their classroom. They determine who graduates, who goes to the principal’s office, who’s labeled with a learning disability, and so on. Yes, it is absolutely necessary that everyone understand the role of race privilege and power in their own lives, but it’s especially important for teachers to do this work in order to create more equitable schools.
In terms of education equity and racial justice, what is your hope for what that will look like in 10 years?
I want to see the opportunity gap close between white students and students of color. I want to see society engage in real conversations about racially equitable outcomes. But that’s not enough; I want to see the institution of education transformed to support and benefit all students. I put 10-year goals within a larger vision for a beautiful, curious, and just world. I call it my “200 Year Plan.” I hope to see at least a third of this vision accomplished in my lifetime.
What would you like to see Border Crossers look like in five years?
In five years, Border Crossers will be in every school in New York in some capacity. We will expand our citywide workshop offerings, work alongside dozens of schools year-to-year, and have a robust Learning Network that supports our teachers and leverages their collective power to create institutional change.
By Nicole Murphy
I had the pleasure of joining Border Crossers as they kicked off the very first Book Club session this February with The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates. The book is a unique twist of biographical and autobiographical narrative crafted by former White House Fellow, Army Veteran and Rhodes Scholar, Westly Moore!
The book compares the life trajectory of the author with that of a young man of the same age and birthplace, also named Wes Moore. Though the men share commonalities in their backgrounds, they appear in newspaper headlines in the same week- with one Wes receiving a Rhodes Scholarship and the other Wes receiving a conviction of murder and a life sentence without parole.
“The chilling truth is that his story could have been mine. The tragedy is that my story could have been his.”
Moore paints a vivid picture of each man’s journey, leaving it to the reader to explore and analyze why and how these two passionate and capable individuals found themselves worlds apart.
Through lively discussion, and a collection of creative, thought provoking activities led by BC Program Director and book club facilitator, J’nelle Chelune, we found ourselves often focused on breaking down the many factors that contributed to the divergence of these two men’s pathways. Through exploring the differences and similarities of each Wes’ lives, we discussed of how factors of race and class affect young black men in America. As educators and social justice advocates, our conversations frequently landed upon our roles in dismantling the inequities that place young men like Wes Moore on disparate ground from the beginning of their lives. What can we do? How can we do it?
Come join our conversation! Border Crossers is always seeking passionate voices to connect with our community! If you are excited to discuss race, racism, youth and education, enjoy eating delicious snacks and participating in fun, engaging activities, then please keep an eye out for our next book and meeting date or email bookclub at bordercrossers dot org. We’d love to see you there!
“Why Don’t We Have Any White Kids?” (May 11, 2012)
“Here Are Easy Ways to Have Tough Talks With Kids About Race” (February 20, 2012)
“The Horrific Death of Shaima Alawadi and the Many Lessons of Hate” (March 30, 2012)
The Root: “How to talk to kids about race” (February 21, 2012)
Facing History And Ourselves: “Using Facing History to Talk With Students About Race” (February 20, 2012)
The Pulse at Ohio State
“Talking About Colors Other Than Crayons: Should Race Be a Topic in Elementary Classrooms?” (March 23, 2012)
Socially Just Parenting Project
“Talking With Kids About Race” (February 21, 2012)
“Three Tips for Social Entrepreneurs: Balancing Work with the Holidays” (December 6, 2011)
“Community Clean Up” (April 27, 2011)
NYC Private Schools Blog
“Private and Public Schools Come Together to ‘Green’ West 61st Street” (Nov 23, 2009)
“Schools Build Community Around West 61st Street” (June 19, 2010)
“Border Crossers” (June 2009)