May 5, 2021
Prof: Ariana Mangual Figueroa
As a social worker for almost 15 years, and as a Black woman who grew up in the Bronx and whose family interfaced with various systems, I have seen how inequities negatively impact children, families, and entire communities. I have often been saddened and frustrated as a social worker interacting with these systems as I advocate for families. I have also come to understand that using research, particularly community-based participatory action research, to generate knowledge, influence policy, and teach the next generations of practitioner’s offers hope and new ways forward.
It is because of these personal experiences that I understand the importance of youth engagement at all stages of planning as it relates to educational goals and planning. Youth engagement underscores the importance of having people at the table who are identified by the youth because support does not always exist in the form of blood relations. When youth engagement and family/community involvement are incorporated from the beginning it becomes easier to address barriers that may present themselves, and ultimately can be the determining factor in failure or success.
Yet, COVID 19 and the pandemic has expanded the “why” of many things. As I further reflect on my initial reasons for being here and pursuing my PhD. I am reminded about my commitment to community and family as indicated above; two areas that have been highlighted for me over the last twelve months of the pandemic. I am also forced to examine loss, grief and the honoring of legacy, spaces that I’ve also realized are privileged. Privileged? Yes! Privileged and Graced that at the height of the pandemic when many people were dying in hospitals alone without family or community, I was able to bring my mother home and she died surrounded by family and community. Privileged and Graced that when people were unable to bury their loved ones, we were able to have a service honoring my mother. My positionality has privileged me in ways I may have taken for granted, because yes privilege does not just encompass the disparities that are glaring, it is also the small moments spoken in a whisper, like saying goodbye to a loved one.
In the midst of preparing for the passing of my mother, she and I had conversations about my acceptance into Urban Ed and the potential direction my educational path could take. I considered taking a leave of absence and dedicating my time fully to care for her, which she was adamantly against. She spoke the following words that have both held me and pushed me the last 11 months, “darling, I am going to die and there is nothing that you or I can do to change that fact.. all we can control are the moments I have left..bedsides we have worked and prepared our whole lives for this” and two weeks later she was among the ancestors. So much of who we are is grounded in the lived experiences of family, community, and relationships, all equally essential in determining how we show up in the world. I’ve come to learn that leacy is the impact and the imprint we all leave both on others’ as well as the path we each collectively travel.
I have been humbled during this time in addition to being further determined in my desire to uplift communities of Color while also empowered to hold spaces that center their voices and lived experiences. Working at not only having a seat at the table but ensuring that seats are made available to others is true inclusivity and oftentimes a hard distinction for some to understand. True authentic equity that addresses the needs of communities of Color is why I am here and pursuing my Ph.D. in Urban education because, as James Baldwin (1985) wrote in A talk to teachers, “The paradox of education is precisely this- that as one begins to become conscious one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated” (p.1). This has been my season of consciousness and it is my hope that the imprint of legacy will always remind me of humility especially as I embark upon research that may impact vulnerable populations and communities. I cannot effect change without examining this society in which people of Color are being “othered” in educational spaces.
Baldwin, J. (1985). The Price of the Ticket: Collected Nonfiction, 1948–1985 (1st ed.). St. Martin’s Press.