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Community Building Space the Nourishes the Soul

Image of D'Lynn"Ms. Jacobs, Ms. Jacobs" one of my new highly inquisitive 4th grade students exclaimed as she ran to catch me in the hallway. "Hey Jess! Walk me to my office, you know I'm scared of the hallway monsters," I quipped. She giggled as she quickly started, "so, I heard Mrs. Schuster is a..." She paused and looked down whispering and swallowing the word "Lesbian".

I had the opportunity to attend the GLSEN Massachusetts Educator Retreat for consecutive years. I attended as a participant my first year and I later returned as a workshop facilitator and co-facilitator. 

I've continued to reference materials and use activities in my daily work from various workshops I attended. In addition to being a community building space the nourishes the soul (yes, it was truly a retreat), it offered useful tools for classrooms and schools to foster more inclusive and loving communities. I appreciated workshops that grappled with power, privilege and oppression and gave tangible tools and language to integrate into my schools programming and culture.  In the workshops that i facilitated, I worked with educators to consider the ways that their identities influenced their teaching styles and content.

The community is warm, engaging, open minded and encouraging. The willingness to grapple with the intersections of race, religion, class and other identity traits is testament to the organizational commitment to its mission. The weekend is beautiful and the accommodations are lovely, peaceful and welcoming. As a queer woman of color, I seek spaces that I can bring my full authentic self and I reflect fondly on my time with participants, new friends and workshop facilitators in P-town. The retreat is a space where we speak loudly, who we are and name ourselves as we see fit.  We should be able to do that everywhere but as Jess made clear, those are not the messages that society has been sharing.

Jess was responding to the messages that she had been sent her whole life; as educators, it is our responsibility to combat disparaging messages of inequality. She was enacting what adults, teachers, media, and other friends shared with her; unfortunately that was fear of difference. "Jess, you know you can say Lesbian, right?" It's not a bad word.  As she looked around when I said it loud and proud, and nothing happened, a gentle grin came over her face. She continued with generous stories of lesbian teachers she used to have and her mom's lesbian friends. Jess contributed much in my leadership classes and encouraged her peers to be more expansive in their thinking.  She no longer whispers identity labels and checks her peers from doing the same. 

Submitted by: D'Lynn Jacobs

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