Shine On, Mareatha Wallace

“It is never the wrong time to do the right thing.” 

If you’ve spent any time with JFK educational support professional Mareatha Wallace, there’s a good chance you’ve heard this mantra of hers—and her message for others.

A speaker of truth to power at every turn, Mareatha was recently awarded the Louise Gaskins Lifetime Civil Rights Award from the Massachusetts Teachers Association for, as noted on the MTA’s website, “embodying the qualities of humility, leadership, and tenacity that Louise Gaskins [a pioneer for the involvement of women and people of color in education] has brought wherever she has served.” Mareatha has been an ESP at JFK for the past five years, where she’s also the staff advisor for the Students of Color Alliance (SOCA). She is a devoted mentor to students and a lover of history who describes herself as “moving from being anti-racist to being abolitionist—which feels like a more intentional word.”

Earlier this year, Mareatha created Black History Month curriculum for the middle school. The programming was delivered to students in March and continued into April with Black herstory in honor of Women’s History Month. Mareatha’s main goal with the curriculum, and her teaching in general, is to “flip the narrative,” she says—to bring forward voices and contributions that are often overlooked in mainstream education. For example, although she teaches about MLK, so too does she dig into the rich stories of Malcolm X and Ida B. Wells, other civil rights leaders who are generally given short shrift in textbooks.

Currently Mareatha’s love of learning about the past finds her working toward her history teaching certification, which she says will fulfill her dream of focusing exclusively on history education. Singing is another passion of hers, and she is deeply proud of her work with the Amherst Area Gospel Choir that lets her “sing all over the Pioneer Valley,” sharing messages of hope and change.

Mareatha wants to see more people step into the work of anti-racism with open hearts and minds. Her vision for an anti-racist JFK is a school community committed to ongoing training and to relationship building based on trust—a community that embraces the discomfort that can come with learning and growth.

“We can’t sweep things under the rug,” she says.

With its “Shine On” series, REAL (Racial Equity and Learning) spotlights educators, caregivers, staff, and students who are using their energy, creativity, and heart to build community and dismantle systemic racism in Northampton Public Schools and beyond.

“Nunca es un mal momento para hacer lo correcto”.

Si ha pasado algún tiempo con la profesional de apoyo educativo de JFK, Mareatha Wallace, es muy probable que haya escuchado este mantra suyo y su mensaje para los demás.

Como portavoz de la verdad al poder en todo momento, Mareatha recibió recientemente el premio Louise Gaskins Lifetime Civil Rights Award de la Asociación de Maestros de Massachusetts por, como se señala en el sitio web de la MTA, “personificar las cualidades de humildad, liderazgo y tenacidad que Louise Gaskins [una pionera en la participación de mujeres y personas de color en la educación] ha llevado a donde ha servido”. Mareatha ha sido ESP en JFK durante los últimos cinco años, donde también es asesora de personal de Students of Color Alliance (SOCA). Es una mentora dedicada a los estudiantes y una amante de la historia que se describe a sí misma como “pasando de ser antirracista a ser abolicionista, lo que se siente como una palabra más intencional”.

A principios de este año, Mareatha creó el plan de estudios del Mes de la Historia Afroamericana para la escuela secundaria. La programación se entregó a los estudiantes en marzo y continuó hasta abril con Black herstory en honor al Mes de la Historia de la Mujer. El objetivo principal de Mareatha con el plan de estudios, y su enseñanza en general, es “cambiar la narrativa”, dice, para presentar voces y contribuciones que a menudo se pasan por alto en la educación general. Por ejemplo, aunque enseña sobre MLK, también profundiza en las ricas historias de Malcolm X e Ida B. Wells, otros líderes de derechos civiles a quienes generalmente se les da poca importancia en los libros de texto.

Actualmente, el amor de Mareatha por aprender sobre el pasado la encuentra trabajando para obtener su certificación de enseñanza de historia, que dice que cumplirá su sueño de centrarse exclusivamente en la educación de la historia. Cantar es otra de sus pasiones, y está profundamente orgullosa de su trabajo con el Coro de gospel del área de Amherst que le permite “cantar en todo el valle de Pioneer”, compartiendo mensajes de esperanza y cambio.

Mareatha quiere que más personas se involucren en el trabajo contra el racismo con el corazón y la mente abiertos. Su visión de un JFK antirracista es una comunidad escolar comprometida con la capacitación continua y la construcción de relaciones basadas en la confianza, una comunidad que acepta la incomodidad que puede surgir con el aprendizaje y el crecimiento.

“No podemos barrer las cosas debajo de la alfombra”, dice.

Con su serie “Shine On”, REAL (Equidad racial y aprendizaje) destaca a los educadores, cuidadores, personal y estudiantes que están usando su energía, creatividad y corazón para construir una comunidad y desmantelar el racismo sistémico en las Escuelas Públicas de Northampton y más allá.

Reflect, discuss

Prompts for personal reflection and conversation with others:

> What do you experience in your body (sensations), heart (feelings), and/or head (thoughts) on reading the story we just posted?

> What does this story make you want to do/say? What feels possible for you to do/say? What feels hard and/or hopeful?

> Who has the power in this story? Whose voice/s are not being heard?

> What choices might the people in this story have had–and/or not have had? What is the impact of the choices they make? 

> What might they have said or done differently in the moment–or afterward–and what impact might it have had?

Story 7

This story was shared by an NPS student.

Image ID: the background of images 1, 2, and 3 is orange (upper one-third) and purple (lower two-thirds), with a large white square with rounded corners overlaying and within that square, this story in purple font: “My story takes place on a snowy school day in February. I was walking down the hall of JFK middle school, dodging people who were jumping, shouting, running, and numbing into each other just like always. Since my last name begins with ‘A,’ my locker is at the very end of this chaos. There are three teachers standing by in the hallway. I cling to my binder, book, and water bottle and as I make my way through the crowd I notice a student being pushed against a nearby locker by another. The second student is laughing as though this is all a hilarious joke. The first on the other hand, who is a person of color, looks downright terrified. I inch by, because I don’t like to be involved in sixth grade drama. But I should have done something, because this isn’t just drama–it’s bullying. I see the bully’s mouth moving, but I don’t hear what is coming out until he says the N word. At that the bully lets go and the kid takes a few steps back as the bully laughs. And the very worst part of all of this is that the kid forces a laugh too. Because the bully says that they are friends. But I know that it’s a lie–real friends don’t treat each other like this. And good teachers don’t allow things like this.”

Image 4 has the same orange/purple split background, with the white text “STORY THEMES” running up the lower left side and two columns of white boxes (four per column) displaying our eight story themes. Here, the themes “emotional response” and “hurt & exclusion” are emphasized with bright/bold colors and the themes “whiteness,” “the future,” “actions & strategies” “race & identity,” “lack of understanding,” and “educational challenges” deemphasized with paler colors.

Story 6

This story was shared by an NPS student.

Image ID: the background of images 1 and 2 is orange (upper one-third) and purple (lower two-thirds), with a large white square with rounded corners overlaying and within that square, this story in purple font: “In class we were watching a documentary about racial segregation and discussing it. One of my teachers (who was WHITE) said that she and her husband went to a movie and were the only white people there. She stated, ‘We knew what it felt like to be a minority.’ She can NOT say that! If she knew what some minorities have to face she wouldn’t have said that. No one in the class corrected her or mentioned it. I don’t even know if anyone else noticed. She probably didn’t realize, but that doesn’t even make it better. She could have been intentionally racist, however she wasn’t educated to know what she said was wrong. People need to understand and be educated on racism.”

Image 3 has the same orange/purple split background, with the white text “STORY THEMES” running up the lower left side and two columns of white boxes (four per column) displaying our eight story themes. Here, the themes “educational challenges” and “lack of understanding” are emphasized with bright/bold colors and the themes “whiteness,” “the future,” “actions & strategies” “race & identity,” “emotional response,” and “hurt & exclusion” deemphasized with paler colors.

Reflect, discuss

Prompts for personal reflection and conversation with others:

> What do you experience in your body (sensations), heart (feelings), and/or head (thoughts) on reading the story we just posted?

> What does this story make you want to do/say? What feels possible for you to do/say? What feels hard and/or hopeful?

> Who has the power in this story? Whose voice/s are not being heard?

> What choices might the people in this story have had–and/or not have had? What is the impact of the choices they make? 

> What might they have said or done differently in the moment–or afterward–and what impact might it have had?