“If You Build It, They Will Come” Creating Spaces Especially For You
“If you build it, they will come,” a popular Field of Dreams movie reference, was a central theme in my upbringing and has remained so in my adulthood. Although this famous quote arose out of a desire for the film’s main character to take a leap of faith in order to revive a bygone era, its essence can certainly apply in a multitude of situations. Never have I understood the importance of “building” something “so they will come” more than I did when I moved to Delaware County, PA. Here, where belonging is insurmountable, a swift realization of my pungent new reality hung above me like a dark cloud. As a Black woman and native New Yorker who was always taught to be bold, bright, and outspoken, I noticed that I was not quite welcome. It was an unspoken “you are not welcome,” but nonetheless an unrelenting truth. Not having a place that is especially for you might be manageable for some. However, my core thrives on connecting with others and community building and is, therefore, a central part of my make-up.
An epiphany emerged once I revisited lessons from my childhood. Building confidence, understanding the importance of self-acceptance, and having the wherewithal to build it if it does not exist, immediately encapsulated my soul. It is the reason I started Morning Meeting, a segment of Responsive Classroom, before it was a district-wide mission. As an educator, I knew that Morning Meeting would be a catalyst for my students’ authentic sense of belonging. The goal was for them to feel—with every part of their being—that this classroom community will always be a space especially for them.
It is the reason I started a Brown Mamas group when I opted to be home with my children full time. I grew tired of being the only one at the local library’s storytime. The constant stares, questioning eyes, and “why are you here” glares were excruciatingly burdensome. As I met more women of color who were stay-at-home moms, I was determined to ensure we, too, had our place. The sense of pride we exuded when we marched in tandem, with our brown babies in tow, was palpable. Even though our paths do not cross as often, we can collectively recall the feeling that this space was made especially for us.
Years ago, my six-year-old observed that he was the only brown child in his class and, though he was not upset, it was apparent that reflections of him were scant. True to form, I reached out to the building principal to inquire about creating a networking group for Black families. Six years later, we now have a thriving parent diversity group tirelessly working towards a mission of equity and inclusion and ensuring that underrepresented students are seen, heard, and never question their belonging.
The Brown Mamas, and their brown babies,
at Philadelphia’s Bartram Gardens in the fall of 2019.
They are still in touch today!