Dreaming in Color: Rhonda Broussard

06/23/2022 | 33 min

Summary

Episode Notes

In this episode, we talk with Rhonda Broussard, an award-winning education entrepreneur, public speaker, and a queer Black mother. She is a seasoned educator, global researcher,and the founder and chief executive officer of Beloved Community, a national nonprofit committed to sustainable economic equity in schools, the workforce, and housing. Join this conversation as we discover how to open doors through language, trace the importance of ourlineages and loved ones, and interrogate systems that have long needed to be corrected.Tune in as Rhonda returns to the chalkboard to teach us how to lean into our authentic selves, celebrate others, and channel diversity into impact.

Episode Transcript

Darren Isom (00:04):

Welcome to Dreaming in Color, a space for social change leaders of color, to reflect on how their life experiences, personal and professional, have prepared them to lead and drive the impact we all seek. I'm your host, Darren Isom, this is Dreaming in Color.

I've known Rhonda since we were both in high school, which despite our youthful glows was quite a long time ago, she was fighting the good fight empowered by a contagious sense of joy then, and that is remaining the same. She's a fellow Louisiana native and francophone. A queer Black mother, she's an inquisitive writer, fierce advocate of justice and teacher to all. An award-winning education entrepreneur and public speaker, she began her career researching and teaching language immersion in schools across the US, from Louisiana to New York. An expert in navigating and communicating across cultures, Rhonda founded several organizations dedicated to investing in our youth, in our collective future; the St. Louis Language Immersion schools being a brilliant example of such institutions.

Darren Isom (01:00):

She received an Eisenhower Fellowship for international leadership, which led her to conduct research in minority language instruction, and teach education internationally including France, New Zealand and Finland. She would channel her findings and her general brilliance into launching a blog entitled One Good Question, where she built hard-hitting topics around system and policy reform and talks with education leaders and experts. Most recently, she founded Beloved Community, a dynamic organization devoted to creating sustainable paths toward equitable schools and communities. She earned her bachelor's degree from Washington University in St. Louis and her master's in French studies from NYU, and serves on the boards of EdNavigator, Dat School Agile Learning Center, and the Diverse Charter Schools Coalition. Et comme on dirais chez nous, “soyez la bienvenue Rhonda, faites comme chez vous.

So excited to talk with you. Thank you for making time. And as you know, Rhonda, we like to start things off with a bit of an invocation, which is set the space. So pass it to you. Go for it.

Rhonda Broussard (02:00):

Yes. I appreciate this so much and love just having the time to think about what I wanted to say to set the space. I think when we first started talking about the podcast was before Bell Hooks passed. And so this means even more to me in the aftermath of that transition. So in ‘All About Love’, Bell Hooks writes, the individuals who are part of that beloved community are already in our lives. We do not need to search for them. We can start where we are. We can begin our journey with love, and love will always bring us back to where we started.

Darren Isom (02:31):

And that is beautiful. Mother Bell Hooks always offered some words for us to live by.

Rhonda Broussard (02:35):

Always, always.

Darren Isom (02:37):

Speaking about people, always being there and the people being there already. I went to start off by full disclosure, Rhonda, I was sitting back to thinking through when we first met and we first met the summer of '91, and I'm going to be honest. I am too afraid to even do that calculation.

Rhonda Broussard (02:49):

Don't do it.

Darren Isom (02:50):

I'm going to tell anybody how long ago that was. We were both teaching in Uptown New Orleans. I was hardly a year or two older than our students. You were hardly a year or two older than me, and there you were in rhinestone studded cat eyeglasses. You were easily the coolest Black person I'd ever met, which says more about me than it does about you. And I just remember that from the first time we ever met, how you just radiated joy. And that's something I remember, I hold with me. And so I just wanted to kick it off by asking you, Rhonda, where does that joy come from? I know it don't come from Lafayette, so don't give me that.

Rhonda Broussard (03:20):

Stop.

Darren Isom (03:21):

Where does that joy come from?

Rhonda Broussard (03:23):

Stop. Look, this is my lineage, this is my birthright, my grandmother, Jessie Mae Ledet Celestine literally birthed that joy into us and into everything we do. I think, you know this about me I credit her for so much of my inspiration in life, but the idea that even in pain, even in struggle, even in really not knowing what the answers are for the next meal for the next bill, for the next career move, there is joy, there is beauty. And the opportunity that we have to stay centered in that joy is something that nobody can take from us, right. You might lose the house, you might lose the job. You might lose the external lover, but if you keep this peace, that's what you get to carry forward. So, yeah, I definitely hold on to that. This grandmother passed when I was 14, and so there are ways of transitioning from living with her to then living with my mom have really impacted the way that I parent my own children. And there is a joy and a silliness in just waking people up in the morning and putting them to bed at night and dancing in the kitchen and making up a song because you have to go and change the laundry. We really live into those daily small moments of joy.

Darren Isom (04:38):

No, I love that. I was raised by all four of my grandparents because my parents were working. So your grandparents were there. And I lost both my paternal grandfather and my maternal grandmother within six months of each other. And it's interesting because it's funny how when you think about, those folks are in many ways placeholders for things that are really important to you in life and things that you hold onto. And, I love who you're talking about this joy piece is in many ways that was something that you needed in your life. As something that was important to who you are as a person and having that person as a placeholder that you can hold onto becomes a really formative way of thinking about your upbringing and crediting them for that as well.

Rhonda Broussard (05:19):

Yeah. I have this whole parallel life in dance community, and studying dance and performing dance. And even though I never did these dance forms with my grandmother, I absolutely feel her in the space with me. To be in community, to be dancing with women who are 20, 30 years older than I am, has always been a way to return home a way to re-experience the closeness of my grandmother with me. Yeah, we absolutely hold onto it.

Darren Isom (05:46):

Yeah. We're going to come back to that dance, I didn't have that on my list, but I got to talk about that as well. What I do want to jump into now is, early experiences in French studies education, your connection to la francophonie. I would love to hear how, that has shaped your approach to the work. Your life perspective, your understanding of education equity, all those things.

Rhonda Broussard (06:09):

Yeah, absolutely. And for me, the connection to la francophonie is absolutely deeply personal and familial. It was still growing up with these same grandparents who all spoke French and Creole at home, and learned to speak English in school. In Lafayette, they were the last generation who really lived their full lives in language. And it's been filtered down since then. So we're in this language revitalization space. We're children of CODOFIL — le Conseil pour le développement du Français en Louisiane, and it'll be interesting to me how my own children who are also bilingual, how they live into that. I very much want to be somebody's old Creole, mami. I want the grandkids to come and spend summers with me and we do all of that good stuff in French. But what it did for me, because when I made the commitment that I would be bilingual, that I would raise my children in my language, I didn't have any sense that would impact my career, my vocation, my studies. And where it led me to, and particularly the work that we do today, is to really have this really constant lens around language justice, and language as another way that folks get marginalized within communities, whether that's a school community or a work community or housing community. And so being able to have the conversation with folks about, oh yeah, we've done all of the outreach. We've been doing all of our community engagement and these families just don't show up. We're like, well, did you actually do this outreach to them in their language? And it's like a light bulb goes off, they're like, oh, it never occurred to us that we could ‘blank’. We worked with a school in a community that is historically Chicanx and has new waves of Latinx immigrants and new arrivals every year. When we sat down with this school and started talking through like, what are your needs?

Rhonda Broussard (07:50):

What are the pain points your community's experiencing, particularly in COVID? How do you keep doing community engagement when now things have moved into this virtual realm? They named things that we heard from other schools all over the country. When we actually then went to do focus groups with them, when we planned this out, we said, look, we can do these focus groups in Spanish for your Spanish dominant families, help us understand. Not just yes, we can have Spanish families in a focus group, but which countries are they from so that we can make sure that we are using the Spanish that actually resonates with them and isn't offensive to them, in our facilitation. What happened though as a result, so we start facilitating these focus groups, some in Spanish, some in English, same content, same topics we were trying to talk to families about.

Rhonda Broussard (08:32):

In the end, when we were writing up the insights, the pain points that Spanish dominant families raised were really different then the pain points that English dominant families raised in that same community. But one of the very first things they said was, no one has ever done this for us before. No one has ever asked us in our language and given us some space to be in community and talk about what our needs are. We get the unidirectional communications, we get the Spanish language text, or the Spanish language email, but not an actual time to sit down and say let's talk about what your experience is. And for them, it made them feel more connected to their community, and like their voice mattered more. And it sounds so simple when we say it out loud, but I can't tell you how many communities we support, where we have that experience over and over again, because they haven't used language as one of the lenses to support their DEI work.

Darren Isom (09:23):

And I want to jump in there because I think that there's a whole lot to unpack and that simple statement, right. And I think talk about Lafayette and the French language being still fairly, promise it’s gonna be from a generational perspective in New Orleans, we were all French speakers, but we lost that connection a few generations before. And we lost the language, but we didn't lose the lifestyle. And so in many ways, although the language changed, although one can argue whether New Orleans is speaking English or not these days, we're definitely speaking our own patois. We didn't necessarily lose that connection to the language, and you're talking about how language can be a placeholder for culture. or your ability to think and speak in a different language or more importantly, listen in a different language can allow you to build different narratives.

Darren Isom (10:01):

And I joke all the time, I may have joked with you before studying French in school at some point you get to the subjunctive tense and the French struggle with the subjunctive, Americans struggle with the subjunctive. I felt like as a Black person, my whole life was in a subjunctive. Like this irreal tense. I mastered the subjunctive. I know how to speak about fictional tenses and moods where things happen. I would love just for you to unpack a little bit more, how that connection from a language perspective, and speaking a different language and connecting to a different culture gives you an opening to the world, and an opening to yourself.

Rhonda Broussard (10:35):

Yeah. Absolutely. So before Beloved, you know this Darren, I started a network of language immersion international baccalaureate schools. And one of the things that was very apparent when we were doing our early outreach for school recruitment, both on the employee side and on the student and family side, was that because I spoke another language, because I raised my children in another language, I had a way to talk to our students and families about what it feels to be marginalized because of your language experience. And even though I don't have a story of immigration, our family has been here for 250, 300 years at least. I do understand what it's like to lose language, to have other people criticize and question your choice of language with your family. To have other professionals actually discourage you from speaking your language with your family in your home, and what that starts to do to us psychologically, what it starts to mean when young people are translating for adults in very adult situations because their family didn't have the access.

Rhonda Broussard (11:35):

And because the place that they're visiting, whether it's a school or a hospital, doesn't have anyone who speaks their language and can help the family. And so it made space for us to bridge this divide between your Black, your white and your other and immigrant experience, and say, actually we actually have a lot of things in common when we look the language lens and the ways that understanding someone else's perspective can help you either build a bridge or burn a bridge. And it came up for us often in that space in St. Louis. I think there's also a way in which as we're building our work at Beloved, we still take that perspective that says we can do all of this work in English. But when we get down to like, what is at the core of white supremacy culture? What does it mean to be anti-Black?

Rhonda Broussard (12:22):

How does anti-Blackness show up for us in the US? How does anti-Blackness show up in Brazil? How does it show up in France? How does it show up in Columbia? How does it show up in Haiti and Dominican Republic? These are global concepts, we were all impacted by colonialization. We were all impacted by white supremacy. And the opportunity to then say this conversation, and the work that we have for equity long term actually has to be a global conversation. So not only saying yes, we can facilitate things in two languages. We can have discussions with folks in multiple languages across our team, but now also starting to build really specific tools in multiple languages to use with our clients and partners. When we think about the work that we do to support other language immersion communities, or dual language communities, particularly for equity in schools, one of the pain points that administrators will raise is, because of the nature of our school, every three to five years, all of our teaching staff changes.

Rhonda Broussard (13:21):

It's really hard to build critical mass because we have so many teachers who are here on short term visas. So it's hard for us to build this momentum towards equity and have enough of this shared analysis. And when they find out that I speak French, they're like, well, Rhonda, can you just come? Can you come and train all of our teachers and do this work? And you're a Black woman who speaks French and you're from this country, I'm like, yes, I could absolutely do that. And it's not a scalable response for you. It's not a sustainable response for you. So what we decided to do was to build this online course series and translate it into the top five languages of language immersion programs in the US. To say, okay, you can now have something where your English language teachers and your French, and your Spanish, and your Brazilian Portuguese, and your Mandarin, and your Cantonese speakers can all be doing this work in their language.

Rhonda Broussard (14:09):

That's deeply personal, that's deeply painful at times and not have to be translating it into another language in their head, or thinking this is an American problem. And I'm here to help support these Americans who are trying to understand race and equity, and not making a connection to what it actually means in their home country. You may not have a lot of Black people in your experience in your country, but anti-Blackness is still there. And how do you start to understand who has been marginalized in your home country and how that impacts the ways that you see young Black children in the schools that you work with when you come to the US. See, I think that's a perspective that, not just because I'm bilingual, but because I've had this experience in school communities and multilingual school communities for a while, it's a unique lens on the way that we approach our work at Beloved.

Darren Isom (14:56):

Yeah. It's real powerful as well, I think this ability to... You talk about this idea of making sure that the language, in some ways, you're able to meet people where they are from a language perspective, but you're also able to learn from them. And I'm sure you have some expectations how the work and the assessments and all those things may evolve differently based on the language differences, and how you may able to capture things culturally that she couldn't do otherwise.

Rhonda Broussard (15:17):

Yes. We're really excited about that; what might it look like. And this will probably be like five years before we have all this data, but what would it look like to understand the experience of Taiwanese Americans who have been in the US for two generations, and are working in Cantonese majority communities in comparison to their peers in Taiwan who have stayed on the island are still working for national companies. Are their experiences of belonging and inclusion the same, or are they different, and how are they different? Or what does it look like if I work for a multinational company that's headquartered in Taiwan, but has a North America office? Is my experience in the North America office, different than my experience in the headquarters office? We're super, super geeked out about what that's going to look like in a few years.

Darren Isom (16:02):

As you should be. It's hella interesting, and hella powerful as well. And I do want to transition a bit, you talked so much about language and how language in many ways shapes, connection and community and all those things. And something that really is obvious as you talk about the work as well, is a love for the communities that you serve, a love for equity that love and that joy that you talked about in the very beginning, how that shapes the work itself. And you've spoken in the past about just the importance of centering love and how we approach our work. What does that mean and look like for you?

Rhonda Broussard (16:35):

It is absolutely a non-negotiable. And one of the things that we think about all the time at Beloved is how we have to center ourselves in first, that self-love and how it allows us to then reach out in love. There is this Assata Shakur quote that we reference probably in every facilitation or the start of every engagement where she says, ‘we need to be weapons of mass construction, weapons of mass love. It's not enough to change the system, we need to change ourselves.’ And that construct, that we are actually building something new and no shade to abolitionists, right? There are lots of systems that we need to absolutely abolish and take down. At Beloved, we are focused on what are we building in its place, the folks who are going to be responsible for building what the new is still have their own work to do.

Rhonda Broussard (17:27):

We have got to absolutely meet them in love so they can build with this new paradigm, build into this structure or concept or infrastructure that we've never experienced before. And we deeply believe that if you're doing that in love and really thinking about who has been consistently marginalized in your experiences, you're going to build something radically different. To me, I think the greatest travesty of any of this work would be we get more Black and brown faces in power. We get more queer folks and recent immigrants and multilingual folks in power, and they continue marginalizing our unhoused population. They continue marginalizing our gender non binary, gender nonconforming loves. They continue marginalizing our folks whose English isn't good enough, or who lack the respectability in the way that they present themselves. We're seeing this play out in some municipal elections right now. That is not enough. It's not enough to have your Black face up here, sir. You actually need to really deeply understand what it means to meet us in love, if you're going to build some policies and structures that get us all into safe and effective housing, that get us into stronger public healthcare that get us into stronger education.

Darren Isom (18:38):

And I have to stop you there, because there's so much to unpack and we might need to unpack this at another point over cocktails. But there's something to be said about this concept really, so many of us have been able to integrate, for lack of a better word, spaces and find ourselves in powerful places. And there's a decision that one makes at that point, whether you're going to use that positionality to integrate and assimilate into where you are, or are you going to use that positionality to change the folks that are there and getting them to think more openly about this space. So that's one marker, I would love for you to talk on how do you use your positionality as a way of bringing people around and changing it from a thinking perspective.

Darren Isom (19:17):

I think the other, which is a really powerful one as well. And this is one where I think it's... And we're just in a really interesting moment where people of color have greater positionality in conversations than we had easily five or 10 years ago. What happens when all of your power has come from punching up and all you know how to do is deconstruct. And what a power move it is to talk about what you're building and how do you leverage that opportunity to build something powerful and beautiful? But also how do you empower folks to know that they can build? They just don't have to tear things down, they can build as well. Those are just two points that I would love for you to speak on if any of that resonates.

Rhonda Broussard (19:53):

Absolutely. So the first piece, I think about one, it doesn't have to be linear. How I may show up at 12, at 20, at 35, at 85 might look really differently based on how my own learning journey is going and how my own love of self and center of self is evolving. So I don't want anybody to think, oh yeah, I'm on a straight line, and at some point I'm going to hit this enlightened space. And for me personally, there was, not accidentally, but I started locking my hair in 1994 after my first trip to France. So I had a perm until I was 19 and we're going to France and it's like, well, who's going to perm my hair in this small town of France. And the answer is nobody in case, you're wondering. So all the Black girls who were going on this ship were like, okay, so what are you going to do?

Rhonda Broussard (20:40):

And so one girl was bringing her hot comb, but the only person who had ever pressed her hair was her grandmother and were like, we have to learn how to press your hair? Somebody else got braids. I did two strand twists. We're like, we're going to figure something out, right? Don't make me hurt you Jocelyn with this hot comb. But coming back, I was like, mama, I think I want to do this. And my family thought I was crazy. My grandmother said, baby, you should just let your good hair grow back. But I started this lock turn in 1994. And so it meant that my entire professional career, I've created this very visible response in people. In the 90s, there were no hair magazines talking about how lock your hair for women, or here are some cute lock styles. It was a real bushy lock fest.

Rhonda Broussard (21:20):

And I had this nose ring and I started coloring my hair in '96. So I go out into the job market and my friends actually ask, they're like, well, what are you going to do about your locks? And I'm like, there's nothing I can't do. This is my hair. I'm going to wear it because I'm going to the job interview as myself. And my perspective was, if you really can't process what I look like physically, you're not actually ready for the analysis, I'm going to bring into the classroom. You're not ready for my pedagogy. You're not ready for the ways I want to engage young people in their own power. And by having that, it really did mean that I was able to commit myself to learning environments where I got that kind of support. I didn't have to hide, I didn't have to mix words.

Rhonda Broussard (22:05):

And then fast forward, 2007, I started working on opening these schools in St. Louis. And here I am with my wife and my two kids and dared those people to say anything to me. And like, okay, we're going to have a Black lesbian running in elementary school, you sure are. And here are my children and here's our community and here's our network, and here's what we stand for. Here's what it means for us to be able to say to all of these wildly different types of families that we are recruiting. Yes, we're going to treat every grandmother who comes to the door to enroll their grand babies in school with as much love and reverence as we would for the CEO of whatever company. Because I have that personal lived experience of growing up with my grandmother, this matters, we're going to be able to treat our same sex couple families the same.

Rhonda Broussard (22:50):

We're going to be able to treat our families who have limited English and high fluency and other languages with the same type of respect and care and community and support them. And I think the sooner you get to that resolve for yourself, the easier it is to then turn that into some advocacy, no matter what type of work you do. But advocacy for other people because it creates some, not just empathy, but there is some political cover that happens. I remember very clearly having a supervisor who, when I was being attacked for offering free professional development around how to support LGBTQ students and families. I had an assistant superintendent attack the work and attack me personally. And my supervisor was like, here is what we're going to do. Here's how this person is going to behave. And here are the moves that we're going to make politically. Here's how we're going to protect you. Here's how we're going to get the training and provide these supports for everyone in our school, because we can control that, we can't control what she does in that central office. And so learning how to leverage that power, how to provide that cover made a huge difference for me, both as an educator and then over time as a leader in these industries. And now I forgot what the second question was.

Darren Isom (24:06):

We can get back to at another point, because I think that you've just jumped into a lot there that I want to unpack a little bit more. One of my favorite quotes is Zora Neale Hurston, and her ever flippant way commented, it was funny how God's always behaved like the people who created them. And if you replace God with systems and institutions, that's a whole dissertation that I really hope somebody's writing. You've already started digging into this and even answer to some degree, but queer Black leader, how do you celebrate self as a means of operating from a place of love? And how do you project onto the world of love and grace that you've internalized in a way that is both selfish and selfless?

Rhonda Broussard (24:40):

I think you're saying it right now. It is actually in the fabric, it is actually in the breath, it is in the way that we greet people. Sometimes my team members will say, Rhonda, I couldn't tell if this was someone you just met or somebody you've known for 30 years based on how you greeted them. And so I don't always know how to navigate afterwards, and I'm like, why should it matter? I'm going to greet you in love because we are humans sharing this experience and who doesn't need more love today. And I think there is a very clear imperative to understand what that breath feels like, what it's like to lower your shoulders because you stop being defensive. You stop bracing yourself, you stop trying to dodge the microaggression and someone just saw you. They saw you in your humanity and you got a chance to respond from that.

Rhonda Broussard (25:24):

It is absolutely the thread that connects the way that I live and the type of work that I choose to do and the way that I approach that work. So if we're talking about having the conversation with three year olds or 13 year olds or 30 year olds, we can meet them all in love. I think there is a way in which when I look back at my own leadership trajectory, the times when I was most scared and probably made the most types of leadership mistakes was when I couldn't show up as my full self. When I was trying to align myself, you talked about integration assimilation earlier. There was definitely times when I was like, well, I need to go buy a suit. Because I showed up at this event and I'm the only woman in the room and all these men have on gray suits.

Rhonda Broussard (26:04):

And I was like, well bet, let me go to the mall and find a gray suit, so the next event, I look like everybody else in the room. And spent years suiting up, I think it's how I started drinking bourbon. Because I went to some event and after the official thing was over, all the men are at the bar drinking at bourbon. I was like, well you all not going to play me whatever he's having and I'll have the same drink. And to then get to this space where it's like, I actually don't have to do that. I don't have to look like you. I don't have to show up in this space like you and can wear whatever I feel like and still be respected, because I'm respecting myself in it. I had to learn that.

Darren Isom (26:39):

Totally 100%. I repeat all the time to quote from my uncle Renard. But as I went off to school, he's reminding me that you're not going to beat white people at being white, but you can beat them at being Black. And so at some point you have to figure out how you're going to leverage your assets. I always found it hilarious when I was in Memphis and folks would be like, you're just out, and I was like, what else am I going to be? I can't hide-

Rhonda Broussard (27:00):

What else you going to be?

Darren Isom (27:01):

That's so much work.

Rhonda Broussard (27:02):

Had they met you?

Darren Isom (27:04):

Am I going to hide my husband? Like, what? They're going to catch these colors.

Rhonda Broussard (27:07):

Hide your kids, hide your wives look.

Darren Isom (27:12):

I think there's something to be said about how you live into that identity in a way that's powerful and meaningful. We're coming into closing out, our time is almost up that quickly, how about that.

Rhonda Broussard (27:22):

Aw. We need more time together.

Darren Isom (27:25):

Yeah, we can do that. We can definitely set that up for sure. I do think there's a something I wanted to give you space where I know that, you had spent so much time with the One Good Question. I would love to hear where that is and where you're going with that.

Rhonda Broussard (27:36):

Yes. So One Good Question is a blog series I started in 2015, really out of my own curiosity. I had lots of things that I wanted to learn about and didn't have any specific answer or end game. I didn't have like, this is my theory and I'm trying to get everyone to answer my question and prove me right. And it meant that I got to just spend time talking with really fabulous, intelligent people from 11, 12 different countries about my question. And then by extension what they were doing and how they were experiencing their own work in their own lives. And so my question at the time was focused on investments and how do we understand our investments in education as a reflection of our belief about how youth will lead in the next generation. And we heard some of everything from all different types of perspectives. So fast forward 2022, the book One Good Question is coming out this spring. And I'm really excited about what conversation it starts to raise for folks now about the questions that we ask and how they will compel us to different answers.

Darren Isom (28:40):

Look forward to reading that. And I want to close out with one of the questions. I had a mentor and by mentor, I mean therapist a great one, many years ago. Who, in a dark spot, said that sometimes hope comes from experience. And I would love to have you close this out by sharing, what are things that you're hopeful about things to come and what experiences have provoked that hope?

Rhonda Broussard (29:03):

Oh, beautiful. The kids are all right. I have a lot of hope in the ways that this current generation is just completely challenging all of the respectability, completely challenging the false expectations for how they show up. So from high pop culture, examples of a Lil NAS X and Naomi Osaka saying, this is who I am, this is what I need. And if you need my talent, you're going to have to respect my wishes as well. And how it's just shifting the ways that our young people center themselves and fight for themselves. We know that this is building on generations of struggle and building on generations of self actualization. But I am really most hopeful for how they will continue to push on our norms. On our societal expectations within Black community and across different communities. We have our own work to do as Black people, and I think that with youth like this at the four, they're going to force us to have some different conversations and different reckoning.

Darren Isom (30:03):

Great to hear that we definitely have our own work to do, but these kids are free and that counts for a lot.

Rhonda Broussard (30:08):

They really are, they really are. And being a parent at this point is like, I'm raising these children to be wildly free and I don't even know what it's going to turn into for them. I look at them with wonder sometimes like, who are you going to be? Because you don't have any of this baggage that we had to wind our way through.

Darren Isom (30:29):

Well, that was beautiful. Thank you friend for your time.

Rhonda Broussard (30:33):

Thank you friend. I appreciate you.

Darren Isom (30:35):

Keep doing all the good work and we'll talk again soon.

Rhonda Broussard (30:37):

Love you.

Darren Isom (30:38):

Love you too. At some point in this very long pandemic, I was lucky enough to reread Jean Toomer Harlem Renaissance novel Cane. I didn't seek it out, it was sitting right there on the bookshelf one day when I glanced over from Netflix. How I got there is a bit of a mystery the first and only time I'd read it before was sophomore year of high school, when my wonderfully worldly white English teacher at my very white high school presented it during a full two month lesson on the Harlem Renaissance. During that lesson as was the norm Cane was presented as a Harlem Renaissance anomaly. At a time when most Black writers were writing in lyrical praise of the urban north that Black Americans were fleeing to in masses, here comes Cane crafting a beautiful depiction the pastoral American south. Toomer caught heat for writing Cane, criticized for romanticizing Southern oppression and writing what folks deemed as a work of false pride. The accused of them trying to make the great migraters long for the toxic world they were leaving behind.

Darren Isom (31:30):

But what became perfectly clear is I reread Cane's brilliant collection of vignettes and prose is that it’s Toomer's love letter to Black joy. Toomer wasn't writing to glorify the oppression Black Americans were leaving behind. He was writing to remind us of the joy we were taking with us, a joy that had been cultivated and defined of the oppressive American narrative in which we'd been typecast as the victim. He was reminding us of the immeasurable wealth that this joy offered up and that this joy was a gift to be celebrated. I'm thankful for that joy, a defiant manifestation of an internal optimism born from generations of struggle, unwavering faith, and unquestioning conviction that in the end, right will win. And if it ain't won, then it ain't the end. And I'm so thankful for Rhonda and others who are our generation’s joy bearers, for the joy they share so generously and the love with which they carry out the work. All such beautiful manifestations of a multi-generational legacy.

Darren Isom (32:21):

You all that's a wrap, and while the episode is finished, the work continues. Thank you for tuning in and listening generously to Dreaming in Color, a Bridgespan supported, StudioPod Media production. A special shout-out to our show producer, the wonderful Theresa Buchanan and our show coordinator, Nicole Genova. And a huge thank you to my ever brilliant Bridgespan production team and family Cora Daniels, Michael Borger, Christina Pistorius, and Britt Savage. Be sure to subscribe and leave a rating and review wherever you listen to your favorite podcast.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license are available in our Terms and Conditions.

More Articles To Read

Racial Equity 

06/23/2022 | 44 min

 

Allana Jackson, Alexandra Williams, Leslie Hicks, Yizhi Hu, Cora Daniels 03/17/2022

Racial Equity 

Debby Bielak, Darren Isom, Marion Michieka, Bill Breen 09/21/2021