Intro: So What’s Jini’s Deal?

If you read the “About the Authors” tab, you’ll see some of my basic info. But it doesn’t tell anyone why I care about all of this so much, how I got here, or why it might be worth anybody listening to me. So….I’ll share a little more of my background…particularly in regards to how I grew up and the experiences that led me to pursue ally-ship, anti-racism, education, and equity advocacy.

I grew up relatively poor in southern Minnesota.  My family moved almost every year, but I was fortunate to attend school in only one school district from 4th grade until graduation.  I say that I was fortunate because I received a great education and my school provided me with stability and hope- two things I didn’t have much of at home. Honestly….my home life growing up was really not good. While I’m thankful now, since it had a huge impact on who I am now….it was abusive and unhealthy. I left home when I was 16.

Before that though….

I was 13 when I realized I was bisexual.  It gave me a leg up, if you want to call it that, on thinking about bigger issues and social justice. During that time, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was still enforced in the military, marriage between same-sex couples was still illegal, and the “T” in LGBT still was pronounced silently. That said- my school district leaned very liberally and I was able to help establish and run a “gay/straight alliance” at the school and feel fairly safe in general.  Because of this, it was instilled in me early that I could fight for equity, thanks to a school who was affirming and welcoming.

College was a little bit of a wake-up call for me.  I wasn’t in a liberal town any longer and suddenly there really was the potential for negative and tangible consequences as a result of my identity.  I was fortunate again however, in that my “controversial” identity was invisible to others, so I had the choice to share that information (or not).  I could control who knew and who didn’t for the most part….and when I realized what a privilege it was to have that choice, I also realized that I had to fight for equity for more than just myself.

Fast forward….I graduated college with a B.S. in Instrumental Music Education in 2012 from Bemidji State University. I, again, was fortunate and found a job right away teaching 6th-12th grade band, choir, and general music at a school nearby. Because I’d like to focus in this blog about equity and social justice, all I’ll say about the experience from a teaching and personal perspective is that it was incredible. I love those students to this day and I am so grateful for that year.

Beyond that– it was the first time that I really started to think about race. Almost 20% of the school was made up of students who identified as First Nations People (Native Americans or American Indians, if you’re unfamiliar with the term) and although I have ALWAYS tried to treat every student as unique, full of potential, and wonderful…it was the first time I was introduced to the context of race in a person’s life.

Our district was, thankfully, interested in helping us understand that concept and provided several professional development opportunities led by educators and trainers who were actually members of the Native American community themselves, and who generously shared their perspectives and knowledge. Through listening to them, I began to realize that affirmation is wonderful….(and I’ll take it any day over most other ideas about race)….but it’s still not enough.

After my first year of teaching, I moved to a new school district, where I taught beginning band for three years. It was a challenging position, split between several schools, with limited facilities and resources, but I learned a lot and am grateful to have had the chance to work with so many wonderful children.

This new school district was split almost directly down the middle demographically between White Students and Students of Color. In Minnesota…that’s pretty diverse. As a result, the school district required each that new teacher attend a training through the West Metro Education Program called “Beyond Diversity.”

It’s there where I think I finally started to “get it.” I learned about and began to recognize my own privilege. I delved into uncomfortable questions about my roots and my personal racism. It was hard work and felt pretty awful at some points. But it obviously is necessary and worth it.

Now….I want everyone else to “get it” too. So, I’m hoping that through this blog, I can help even just a couple of people shift their perspectives towards ones that are more loving and accepting too.

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