What Does Women’s History Month Mean to Me?


By Natasha Coleman

It’s March which means it’s Women’s History Month. It also means that as a black woman this is a 31-day span that gives a time to reflect on myself, all of the women in my life, my ancestors, women who have created paths of opportunities for me, for us, and mostly, I think about the lives and work of those women who were disruptors and unapologetic about being against the status quo.

They are and were warriors. They are sheroes. And our world is filled with them.

Women’s History Month also gives me a chance to think about how I can contribute to society as a woman. It makes me think about how I want to influence young girls to believe in themselves and grow up strong and determined because this is a world that will try to prevent women from shining and from being on top.

I am an educator and as an educator, when I think about ancestors like Sojourner Truth, Nannie Helen Burroughs, and Mary McLeod Bethune, I know Women’s History Month is also our reminder about our consistent fight for equality in our world. The wage and opportunity gaps are very real issues for women. My hope is we can continue to uplift one another and give each other the courage to keep being great. This month we celebrate women and all of the accomplishments that have been made in history.


African American Women Make History

By Natasha Coleman

“The day will come when men will recognize woman as his peer, not only at the fireside but in councils of the nation. Then, and not until then, will there be the perfect comradeship, the ideal union between the sexes that shall result in the highest development of the race.”-Susan B. Anthony.

Some of the strongest talented people I know are women even though they still have to fight to be recognized as equals to men. Women deserve to be able to hold any position they want and to be heard and treated fairly. They are hardworking and determined. And while there are many great women in this world, I want to highlight African American women in particular who have faced struggles and obstacles that other women have not. Yet, they remain strong and amazing.

And although History months are typically for acknowledging what people have done in the past, I want to take a moment and honor African American women who are currently making history. They are paving ways for other women to follow in their footsteps.

Here are five of the women who I admire the most:


•    Joi McMillon is the first black woman nominated for a film-editing Oscar, for her work on Moonlight.


•    ImeIme Umana was elected as the first African-American woman to serve as president of the Harvard Law Review in its 130 years.


•    Viola Davis becomes the first black actress to win an Emmy, Oscar, and Tony.


•    Tracy Oliver is the first female African-American screenwriter to bank $100 million at the box office; the film, Girls Trip, is the first with an all-black team on and off camera to earn that much.


•    Lena Waithe, star of and writer for Netflix’s Master of None, is the first black woman to win a comedy-writing Emmy.

Five Lessons I Learned from Michelle Obama


By Shawnta Barnes

Sometimes life grants you opportunities where the reward clearly outweighs the investment. Hearing, then Senator, Barack Obama, speak in person, was one such opportunity for both my husband and me. It was Monday, May 5, 2008, the day before the Indiana primary election and Senator Obama was scheduled to speak at a campaign rally at the American Legion Mall.  As a child, it never crossed my mind a person of color could become the President of the United States. Just the possibility of this becoming a reality convinced my husband and me to stand for hours after work and wait in a long line. With tired feet and hungry bellies, we were blessed with tickets close to the front of the crowd - thanks to the kindness of a stranger.

Fast forward ten years later and life presented me with yet another opportunity to hear an Obama speak. This time it was with Former First Lady Michelle Obama. She was part of an event put on by the Women’s Fund of Central Indiana called, “A Moderated Conversation with Former First Lady Michelle Obama.” I knew I had to be there to hear one of my sheroes speak.  She is hope realized for many women of color.  I wanted to soak up any wisdom she had to offer and apply it to my own journey in life. The ticket wasn’t cheap, but it was well-worth the investment for the lessons I received. I’ve detailed those lessons below: 

When you get a seat at the table don’t waste it.

“If you are already telling yourself they don’t want to hear me or maybe I’m not smart enough and you’re in a position where someone has put you at the table exactly because they want to hear from you and you’re quiet - you’re going to eventually just become a
non-factor because they're getting nothing from you.”  MO

Michelle Obama’s words hit home because I have been a non-factor before.  When I first started getting opportunities to participate in conversations or to join committees, I would take notes, observe, and would rarely voice an opinion.  One day, after a committee meeting, an older black woman pulled me to the side and, “What’s the point of you being here if you ain’t gonna say nothing?”  After I got past my hurt feelings over her bluntness, I realized she was right.  Even though you know you're at the table for a reason, it still is hard to voice your opinion because you worry about how what you say might be interpreted or what it might cost you.  When I started writing on a consistent basis last January, I wrote “safe pieces.”  They were boring pieces and I wasn’t saying anything.  I was worried about how my opinion would affect my job.  Now, I don’t worry about that.  I write and speak about issues important to me including recently testifying in front of the Indiana Senate about the problems students, especially black students, are facing because of poor discipline practices in some Indiana schools.  If someone doesn’t want to associate with me because of what I said, maybe I don’t need to be around this person or if someone gets angry because of what I said, maybe I’ve hit the nail on the head and the issue needs to be addressed.  Issues can’t get solved if the people at the table who have new ideas to offer are mum. 

Be prepared to know that the work is hard, but do it anyways.

"What you have to do is just get up and do it. There is no magic.”   MO

We lie to our youth, when we don’t tell them it takes hard work to achieve your goals.  Everyone is looking for a shortcut and the reality is you have to make a plan and take the time to do the work.  Earlier this year, a student asked me, “How do you do all that you do?”  My students are aware I write a lot, teach at their school, and teach at a local university.  I tell them I have a plan and in that plan, I have a schedule that allows me the time to get the work done to accomplish the goals I have.  Yes, that means I get up early and yes, that might mean I have to stay up late and miss some social events.  If I want to achieve my goals, I have to work hard.  The payoff is so worth the hard work and the hard work opens door to opportunities.

Save the platitudes and fix the problem.

"You can't ask people to just live on platitudes and well-wishes. You can't pull yourselves up by the bootstraps if you don't have boots."   MO

In society, we are really good at trying to patch up a situation with nice words.  For example, “I’ll keep you in my thoughts and prayers.”  There is nothing wrong with reflecting and praying but that alone won’t help a child that’s three grade levels behind catch up on reading, it won’t help the woman that is being punched by her partner, and it won’t help the family that has to choose between paying the light bill and getting groceries.  We have to take action in addition to saying kind words.  Someone asked me, “Why did you go back to the school that cut your literacy coach position to facilitate the Black History Month Literacy Night?”  For me, the answer was simple.  Praying that the families would find books with characters representative of who their children are in hopes they would read and improve their literacy is not as helpful as showing up and giving those parents tools to accomplish that goal.

Set boundaries.

“You have to know how to advocate for yourself...There are things that I need to make this work for me.  So, I was very clear about the boundaries that I needed.  This is also something that I think women do not do well for ourselves is creating boundaries within which we want to work.”   MO

When August rolled around last year, I was burned out.  I had just finished coursework to obtain my school administration license.  I had finished a policy fellowship.  I had finished interviewing at several schools for a new job after my position was cut.  I had wrapped up my contributions to the Indiana ESSA plan just to name a few.  I realized moving into the 2017-18 school year something had to change.  I could not keep saying yes to everything.  Some days, I was attending multiple meetings.  To be honest, some I wasn’t even that interested in.  My friend jokingly calls me superwoman, but I felt like a super failure.  Although I’m not perfect this school year, I’m getting better at saying no and telling people how much time I can give.  I liked when Michelle Obama shared how she would only give three days of her week to support Barack Obama during his campaign for President.  By making those demands she said, “People learned to respect those boundaries.”  People will pull you in so many directions if you don’t advocate for yourself and you should only participate in activities in which you are passionate.

Push through self-doubt.

"I want them to know that anybody who has been successful, particularly if you're a woman, and especially if you're a woman of color, you grow up with a lot of doubts in your head."   MO

"You have to practice achieving through people's low expectations of you."   MO

Although this portion of the night, Michelle Obama was focusing on the young ladies in the crowd, every woman, every person, needed to hear these words.  Achieving through people’s low expectations doesn’t stop once you finally obtain your first professional job after college.  Being a black professional is hard.  There are times my husband and I lament about situations we have endured while navigating our respective fields, his technology and mine’s education; these difficulties were simply because of our color.  People think you only got the job because of affirmative action or people think you are less competent.   Once people get to know you, they realize you do know your stuff and that you might even know more than them.  There are times I get upset internally, but I know I have to keep my head held up high and push on because my two sons and the rest of their generation is behind me looking at my example.  

So on this first day of Women’s History Month, I salute Former First Lady Michelle Obama. Your words, wisdom, and work have inspired me to continue doing my best and to know that the road may be long, but the journey is mine to call my own. It is up to me to make the best of it. I salute you!

Equity vs. Equality: The Great Debate


By Natasha Coleman

The debate between equity and equality has placed itself as the basis of so many issues and problem-oriented conversations, that the picture above represents them all. Equity is the ability to have equal access to equal opportunities.

When looking at this through an education lens, we have to consider a number of factors. For one, equality means giving all students the same things, same instruction, and hoping they will all learn the same way with similar outcomes. The problem with that thinking is we know not all students are the same and they need different supports to learn. This is why we need equity in education.

Equity in education refers to the principles of fairness.

In order to achieve equity, we have to start with where students currently are, from where they come, and to what they have access. Teachers have to be equipped with the necessary resources to meet students where they are to be able to differentiate for their students.


The bigger issue is equity for African American students and in particular low-income African American students. Fifty years ago, the Kerner Report was published which detailed the inequities among blacks and whites and the extreme rates of poverty. Five decades later, the Eisenhower Foundation commissioned a report. "Healing Our Divided Society: Investing in America Fifty Years After the Kerner Report." This report blames policymakers and elected officials in our country saying they are not doing enough to heed the warning on deepening poverty and inequality that was highlighted by the Kerner Commission.

I agree with them.

The new report lists areas where our country has seen “a lack of or reversal of progress,” including:

  • The percentage of people leaving in “deep poverty” – less than half of the federal poverty level – has increased 16% since 1975.
  • The home ownership gap has widened for African Americans. Although three decades after the passing of the Fair Housing Act of 1968, black home ownership rose by almost 6 percentage points. However, those gains were wiped out from 2000 to 2015 when black homeownership fell 6 percentage points mainly due to the disproportionate effect that the subprime mortgage lending crisis had on African American families.
  • In addition, gains to end school segregation were reversed because of a lack of court oversight which allowed school districts to move away from desegregation plans and housing discrimination, which forced black and Latino families to move to largely minority neighborhoods. For example, in 1988, about 44% of black students went to majority-white schools nationally. According to the report, only 20% of black students do so today.

The result of these gaps means that people of color and those struggling with poverty are confined to poor areas with inadequate housing, underfunded schools and law enforcement that views those residents with suspicion, the report said.

I believe to truly reach equity in all areas is a hard task but it is definitely a conversation that needs to continue so that all students have the same opportunity to be successful no matter their race or their socio-economic status.

Black Excellence is the New Black


By Erica Copeland 

When the Van Jones Show premiered on CNN last month, hip-hop artist Jay-Z, who often avoids the spotlight off-stage, was the unlikely guest to headline its inaugural episode.

Although Jones interviewed the rapper-turned-mogul one month before Black History Month would begin, one of Jay-Z’s responses was a powerful social commentary on the state of black America – one which is relevant to the conversations often sparked during this celebratory month.

He said, “Imagine a world where there were no more firsts for black people… All of the firsts would have been accomplished. That conversation is done. Let’s move that out of the conversation. So where do we go from here?”

Go ahead. Indulge in a moment where you suspend your knowledge of reality and imagine a world where that dream came true.

That is the fictional world that Jay-Z and Ava DuVernay dreamt in the hip-hop legend’s music video for his song Family Feud which is featured on his newest album, 4:44.

The full-length music video is a 7-minute roller coaster ride into a futuristic era when an adult version of Jay-Z’s daughter, Blue Ivy, and a host of other female powerbrokers rewrite the U.S. Constitution to make it more democratic, inclusive, and equitable for all citizens.

The story weaves a beautiful plot. But once the music video has run its course, viewers are forced to return to a reality in 2018 that is less inspiring.

Black Americans still struggle to achieve many dreams espoused publicly in present or past – that of Martin Luther King that “men will be judged not by the color of their skin but on the content of their character” and that of Jay-Z’s world where blacks have accomplished excellence in every area possible.

Instead, black Americans are living a life that more closely matches poet Langston Hughes’s timely classic, “A Dream Deferred.”

What will it take for black people to reach the heights of excellence in every sector of society, every tier of government, and every industry of commerce?

And where do we begin? Do we start with tackling inequity and injustices in our systems of education, health, criminal justice, housing, or economic development?

The solution lies in each of us. Every generation must take up the yoke of fighting for social justice in this modern era.

We can find hope in the fact that in every historical era, Americans of African descent have been able to achieve greatness despite the yoke of prejudice and discrimination. The fact is that there is no shortage of black Americans  to celebrate for being the first to accomplish an incredible feat in areas of science, industry, arts, government, literature, to name a few.

The ultimate dream is a world where more than a limited few black Americans can break down barriers, set records and make history.  In this dream, black excellence – in every shape and form – is more than a rare exception, it is the norm.