Roberto Germán 00:01
Welcome to Our Classroom. In this space we talk about education, which is inclusive of, but not limited to what happens in schools. Education is taking place whenever and wherever we are willing to learn. I am your host Roberto Germán, and Our Classroom is officially in session. Today's guest is Stacy Seward. The Executive Director of The Dream Network in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Her role is to use asset-based ideologies to impact racial, social, economic, educational, and environmental justice for those impacted by the carceral system. Stacy is a mediator and certified diversity professional whose practice centers around the social and psychological dimensions of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion. Stacy has provided equity-centered technical assistance for department of justice grantees and programs across the nation and provides re-entry guidance to organizations across The Commonwealth, Massachusetts. With us today, Stacy Seward. Well, we are back. So excited to be with you all once again. Thanks for tuning in. And my guest is Stacy Seward of The Dream Network. I met Stacy this summer while we were doing a Textured Teaching Workshop at El Taller in Lawrence. And got to hear a little bit about an organization that she works for, The Dream Network. And I was definitely moved by the work that her and the individuals involved with The Dream Network are doing because it's important and meaningful work as it relates to supporting folks that have experienced incarceration. And this-- there are connections here to be made in terms of the education world. How this impacts education or how education impacts individuals that experience incarceration. But I don't wanna say too much because Stacy is here to really share her insight. And so, extremely grateful for your presence here this evening. Thank you for being here. Thank you for the wonderful work that you're doing. I want to jump in by having you tell us a bit about who you are and your connection to The Dream Network.
Stacy Seward 02:48
Well, thank you so much for inviting me in to your Multicultural Classroom universe. I am so happy to be here. My name is Stacy Seward. And how am I connected to The Dream Network? Well, I am actually one of the founding partners of The Dream Network, which started in 2013. But at the time we were called Lawrence Dream Network. And we came together actually in late 2012 in response to an article that was published called Lawrence City of the Damned. And yeah, it's deep, right? And I wanna break it down, right? Because I think for different people, that article had different meanings. But this was an article that was done about our city and talked about all of the negative aspects of our city--
Roberto Germán 03:41
Of Lawrence, Massachusetts. I just want folks to be clear.
Stacy Seward 03:43
Yes, I'm so sorry of Lawrence, Massachusetts. And really spoke negatively about who we were as a community and neglected to really talk about all the positive aspects within the community. And so we came together to actually talk about this and I think what was most offensive about the article is that it was written by a priest at one of our local churches. And for, yes, and for us, right? And for some of us who are diasporic people understanding the parallels between calling a group of people damned and calling a group of people cursed and connecting those two terms to some of the rationale and justifications that were used for shadow slavery, for me was just horrific. And for many of us in the community, it was horrific. And so we really rallied together to kind of talk about how to one respond to this horrific language that was being used by a white Catholic priest to characterize a community, primarily a community of color and a Latino community. We really came together and pulled together and said, listen, we need to start an organization to start talking about these issues very publicly. And so that's how The Dream Network started in 2013. And so, we had very few resources. We started out really, really small in a living room of one of my very dear friends and colleagues, Victor Martinez. And we sat down and we, you know, asked communities questions. We had forums. We had education forums. We had finance forums. We had get-out-the-vote activities. And so through all of these activities, we were collecting data and we were looking at what is it that we need to focus on to rally our community, to pull our community together, and to start focusing on the positive things that were happening in the community. And so thus, The Dream Network was born and we started looking at some of the intersections between education, incarceration, racism, social injustice, economic injustice. And so that is how The Dream Network was born.
Roberto Germán 06:09
That's awesome. And we're so fortunate to have folks like you that came together and reacted in a way that supported the community, not just throw our hands up when we have folks throwing stones and condemning us, right? 'Cause I'm from Lawrence, Massachusetts. I was there when the article was published, I was there for the match. I wrote a poem, City of Promise in response to that. It's going to be in my upcoming publication of young adults' poetry, Blue Ink Tears. And so that is still very vivid in my mind. And the response of the people was incredible. I wasn't aware of The Dream Network, even though I do know Victor, but very appreciative to have that context. I'm thinking about schooling and I'm wondering what it is if not you perhaps you have enough insight from folks that you have supported through the work of The Dream Network, what it is they wish their teachers would've known or cared to know. Or what it is you wished your teachers would've known or cared to know. 'Cause even though you may not directly have experience incar-- well, we all, we've all have experienced what incarceration is in some way, shape or form, right? Just even given the nature of the communities that we come from, we're connected to folks whether within our family circle or our friend network or neighborhood in general, we all know somebody that has experienced incarceration. And when I say we all I'm talking about folks who are coming from low-income areas, folks who are coming from areas that are designed to fail, essentially. Even though we are over-comers and we do overcome, but unfortunately, we also have individuals that experience some hardships, including incarceration. And so I'm curious to know, again, whether for you personally or for individuals that you have worked closely with, what it is you or you think they wish their teachers would've known or cared to know.
Stacy Seward 08:41
Yeah. And so I'd like to speak to this a little bit more broadly. And I think it's such an important conversation. You know, I think we don't do enough to individualize education, right? And I think one of the things that teachers don't know is, you know, they know about us, they know what they read. They know what's passed up from teachers from the year before, but I don't know that they know their students. I don't know that they know particulars about the impact of trauma. I don't think teachers understand the importance of creating healing-centered classrooms, right? I don't know that systems understand resilience in a way that is not often talked about, right? We do talk a lot about trauma, but we don't often talk about resilience. And so I think that I wish when I was a student and now that the system as a whole understood a lot more about ways in which we can promote resilience, even in the toughest of circumstances, right? Even in the most challenging circumstances. Even with our students who seem to have the most trauma. There's always light there. There's always opportunity there. There's always strength there. And so a lot of this, like strength-based approaches are very hard to dig into when we're worried about standardized testing, right? When we're worried about metrics that don't necessarily indicate how well a student will do in life, but are metrics that we're taking in terms of standardized tests for the sake of just having standardized tests.
Roberto Germán 10:28
Interesting that you mention that. I just posted something on Twitter in response to an article that I came across today, stating that Massachusetts approved increasing the score you have to achieve on the MCAT. I don't know if you saw that article.
Stacy Seward 10:49
I saw it today.
Roberto Germán 10:50
And in the article it mentioned, there was a comment about students who did not score in that particular range. Maybe it was somewhere between 450 to 470 or 455 to 470 did not go on to four-year colleges, you know, within the seven years after graduating from high school. And I'm like, there's so much to unpack there. But I'm like, no, that's actually not the reason. That-- That's-- not-- that-- that's not it. That's not what's happening. So to your point, there's such a-- there's such heavy emphasis on test scores and we're overlooking some critical information, right? Critical data or street data as author Shane Safir would frame it. We're just looking at many of our scholars, many of our learners, many of our young people as numbers instead of individuals, instead of human beings. And considering the whole experience that you mentioned not exactly how you frame it, but you were talking about trauma and I think the term you used was healing-based classroom. Correct me if I'm wrong.
Stacy Seward 12:25
Yes. A healing-centered classroom. Yes.
Roberto Germán 12:27
Healing-centered classroom. What does that look like?
Stacy Seward 12:34
Mmmh. Yeah. So, you know, healing-centered classrooms it kind of goes back to what I-- we had talked about initially around finding ways to individualize education, right? Allowing students to learn in a way that is supportive of them. That is a validating of them and their experiences. And so for example, you know, in a community like ours, a healing-centered classroom actually would be co-designed by the students, right? Because a lot of times when we talk about all of these systems, we say, okay, well, the teacher is the person who is going to implement something. A healing-centered classroom is students are co-architects.
Roberto Germán 13:21
I love that. I love that. That's-- having it be student-driven is one of the pillars of textured teaching.
Stacy Seward 13:31
Roberto Germán 13:32
Making a connection here. Come on, sister, keep it going. Come on. What else?
Stacy Seward 13:36
No. Well, so, right? So the students are the ones who are determining what makes a safe, cohesive, therapeutic learning space for them, rather than teachers at the outset kind of dictating what that space is. And then on top of it, implementing all of these test standards to make sure that students are performing at a certain level, despite the essence of themselves being lost, right? And so what healing-centered spaces do is actually recapture the essence of who students are from their environment to their families, to their backgrounds, to their individual likes and dislikes. And that is how you begin to start creating healing-centered classrooms. And it sounds really labor-intensive. But for me, you know, it's kind of intuitive. If you wanna learn more about your students, if you wanna be able to help your students learn in the most effective ways then you need to know enough about them to know how to reach them.
Roberto Germán 14:41
That's the type of talk that we need to continue to push. And there's a lot of resistance to truly embracing the culture of the students, the culture of the community, especially in community like ours in black and brown communities, low-income communities. There's a lot of resistance to bringing this stuff in the classroom. And so I'm glad that we're talking about it and hearing it from different angles from people who work with other organizations and not necessarily schools, but are seeing the impact of what happens in schools or in many cases what doesn't happen. Right? You see some ripple effect there. And so I wonder when you hit a term school-to-prison pipeline, what comes to mind for you?
Stacy Seward 15:42
The absolute failure of our school systems, right? And in many ways by design. And actually, it's a school-to-prison pipeline, but it's actually a cradle-to-prison pipeline.
Roberto Germán 15:59
Stacy Seward 16:01
You know for the most part we can take somebody's, you know, zip code and parent education level, and what that person's lifelong income is going to be and their life trajectory is going to be, right? So I-- we think of school to prison pipeline as more broad and sadly in some cases more intentional. And if you look at the way, some of our school systems are set up, if you look at the way that some of our schools are structured in many ways, they mirror the ways in which correctional institutions and prisons and jails are structured, right? So already--
Roberto Germán 16:39
Let me-- let me interject.
Stacy Seward 16:41
Roberto Germán 16:42
For our audience, can you make some explicit connections or provide some more concrete examples? I don't wanna assume that they are understanding exactly what you're talking about. I know what you're talking about because I've, you know, I was a student in these schools. I was a teacher in these schools. I was a principal in these schools. And so can you give them a couple explicit examples of that, the parallels between some of our schools and prisons?
Stacy Seward 17:19
Yeah. Well, and I hope that we're moving away from this, but we still kind of see echoes of this, even now in our public schools. This kind of like no excuses discipline policies and codes where, you know, there are no exceptions for deviations in any behavior, right? That there are certain rules that are set up by those who are in power. And if you kind of color or draw outside the lines, you are consequence. In many ways, and not in many ways. In all ways, that is what you see in correctional institutions. There are a set of rules. You either follow the rules or you don't. If you don't follow the rules, there are consequences. And I think the level of high-- this connection between high structure, high stress, high data-driven environments for our students is somehow going to create innovation and creativity in our students. I think is just bizarre, right? I think all of these guardrails that are put in place under the guise of trying to control student behavior actually detract from students' abilities to be innovative, to learn, to be creative. And so we're not teaching our kids how to think. We're teaching them what to think. And I think when you don't teach kids how to think you're setting them up to be streamlined into particular field or positions, or in some cases, you're literally creating this pipeline into jail because you're creating this environment of compliance. Compliance or your consequence. Compliance or your consequence. And so as students get older and go through the system and their discipline more harshly, you see kids begin to get suspended more often. And sometimes for really small and tiny infractions or infractions that are connected to social behavior, emotional diagnoses that either are not diagnosed or are not fully being accommodated in the school system.
Roberto Germán 19:38
Thank you. Thank you. That was indeed an explicit and concrete breakdown of the parallel between school and prison. How can financial literacy and economic power change the trajectory of individuals that face a higher risk of incarceration?
Stacy Seward 20:04
And I don't even know where to start with that question. But I wanna frame a little bit about our community and our incarceration rates and then our community and some of the economic challenges that are here. So Massachusetts has the highest disparity between white and Latino incarcerated individuals in the country.
Roberto Germán 20:29
Stacy Seward 20:31
Not California or Texas or Arizona or Florida, Massachusetts.
Roberto Germán 20:35
Stacy Seward 20:37
We have the 13th highest disparity between white and black individuals who are incarcerated. Our organization is working on a project now where we're looking at some of our upcoming sheriff NDA elections. And we've done some research on this, and we've also found that Essex county, which is the county in which Lawrence is seated has almost four times the number of dangerousness hearings. And to not get too much into the weeds, but as people are-- go through the court system and they're seen by a judge, if you're held on a dangerousness hearing, it's an automatic 90-day stay. Essex county has four times the number of dangerousness hearings as Suffolk county does, even though a population wise, we have fewer people living in Essex county.
Roberto Germán 21:36
Oh, that's wild.
Stacy Seward 21:39
And so we are early and often moving people into the carceral system. Our juveniles even though we are the third largest county in the state, Essex county has more juveniles under supervision in the system than any other county in the state. So early and often we are getting people into the system. On the financial side of this, there was a 2015 Boston Fed study which said in the Metro Boston area for every $247,000 in assets, white families have black families have $8 and Dominicans have zero.
Roberto Germán 22:25
Stacy Seward 22:27
Yes. And so you can see where the connections are between this financial literacy piece and incarceration and how they intersect, and when you add education into it. And I don't know if we mentioned this at the start of our talk Lawrence is one of two or three school districts across the state that is in state receivership, right? So we don't have control of our own schools. So we can't elect our own folks to make decisions on behalf of our students. So when you factor in the challenges with education, like huge disparities, $247,000 to zero in wealth, and the almost quadruple number of people that we are pushing into the system into longer term sentences, you begin to get a picture of how and why some of these issues are so complicated and intermingled.
Roberto Germán 23:25
So deep. So messed up. So much to unpack there. Thank you for sharing this. Some statistics that you cited that I definitely was not aware of, and it's quite alarming. Though not surprising, unfortunately. So all these challenges and yet there's good work that is happening. There's good organizations who are making a difference such as The Dream Network. And there are individuals that are trying to bring about change. What's one thing that you're noticing that makes you feel hopeful?
Stacy Seward 24:29
Yeah. I'm hopeful about a lot of things, right? And I think our organization is hopeful about a lot of things. I think sometimes we overcomplicate things in life, right? And we overcomplicate solutions. I know that one of the reasons why I feel like our organization is so successful is that it is led and driven by impacted people and people of color in a community that is predominantly a community of color. And so what happens when you have people running and leading and making decisions for themselves and their community, is that things actually begin to change and become positive. Right? And so part of what I think needs to happen as we look at our leadership, and I'm not talking about elected leadership, I'm talking about leadership in terms of who is making decisions, right? Who is responsible for creating anti-racist organizations? Who are the folks who are trying to dismantle systemic and institutional racism? Right. If you allow folks. If you bring seats at the table, or if you knock the table overall together, right? And even the playing field, so that impacted persons have a voice in how to best manage and control their lives, Right? How to create opportunities in their lives. I think that you can see positive systemic change.
And I think one of the things that we do is that, you know, we try to encourage people, you know, going back to that financial literacy question. You know, sometimes people say they don't wanna buy into the system, right? And so they create their own system, right? So we encourage people to create their own economic networks. We encourage folks to be entrepreneurs and then we support them in doing that, right? We talk to our young people about being entrepreneurs. We talk to them about this internal liberation, right? And I wanna like rest with that for a second. You know, we're not taught our public school system, our classrooms don't always teach us to be independent liberated thinkers. Again, you know, we're often taught what to think, not how to think. And so a lot of what we're excited about is opportunities to actually foster some of that independent thought, that liberatory streak that we see in folks when they are unencumbered by all of the inaudible 27:03 and just feel confident enough to lean on their own strengths, their own resilience, those asset based kind of internal resources that we talk about. To put themselves in those healing, as Dr. Jen Wright would say, in those healing-centered spaces. We feel very encouraged about those opportunities for systemic change. Right? And we try to lead by saying that we are an organization primarily led and driven by people of color. Now we don't exclude other people, but it's just, we're led by people who are impacted. And I think that does make a difference. And I think there's a lot to be excited about as folks start looking at what the true meaning of anti-racism is. What the true meaning of that an old empowerment word really is.
Roberto Germán 27:59
Hmm. Thank you. Thank you for sharing that. What's the message of encouragement that you want to offer our listeners?
Stacy Seward 28:10
You know, I would say, go with your intuition. You know, find ways to actualize your dreams. Right? And I don't mean to be like pie in the sky. Dreams can be very tangible and practical. What are the things that you wanna change about your life and start with that. And the other thing I would say is think about the spaces in which you need to heal, right? Because in order for those dreams to be actualized, it's important that we acknowledge and identify the harms of things like systemic racism and institutional racism and sexism and homophobia, and all of those things that we sometimes internalize and carry with us, or those daily micro-aggressions that we often experience. We have to acknowledge those, right? We have to-- we have to understand that healing is necessary and healing is not a one-time thing. Healing is an ongoing process. It's important to kind of share your experiences with other folks who have like experiences. So you're not feeling alone and isolated and learning to heal. And then once you kind of get in the habit and the rhythm of doing that, you know, digging deep and saying, "This is my-- this is what I wanna do. This is where my spirit is leading me." And reaching out and asking folks in your circle, in your group, in your sphere, how do we, you know, how can I learn? Don't be afraid to ask someone to, to sit in and learn from them, or be an apprentice, or be an intern. Find ways to slowly, you know, while you're working your 9 to 5 find ways to start, you know, putting a shingle out for your small business. You know, reach out. I know locally in Massachusetts, we have the black economic council of Massachusetts, and we have amplified inaudible 30:13. So we have organizations that are put together for people of color and communities of color to help you build your business. The small business administration can be helpful. So there are resources and tools out there, but I think it starts with just having the confidence to just, you know, go out there and take that first step.
Roberto Germán 30:36
Have that confidence folks. Take that leap of faith. Bet on yourselves. Where can people follow you?
Stacy Seward 30:45
So you can follow--
Roberto Germán 30:47
Or follow The Dream Network.
Stacy Seward 30:50
Yeah. So we do have a Facebook page. It is a work in progress. We are also on Instagram and as The Dream Network. And you can reach us at our website at thedreamnetwork.org. One word. So you can reach us there as well.
Roberto Germán 31:09
Awesome. Great, great. Well, Stacy, thank you. You have been amazing. Learned so much in this short amount of time. I'm really looking forward to witnessing more of your work and the work of The Dream Network and how it is that you're positively impacting folks in the community, not just Lawrence, but beyond Lawrence. I assume that's why y'all changed the name from Lawrence Dream Network to The Dream Network so that you could have a broader reach. And so I salute you and I encourage you. And thank you. Thank you for the work that you're doing in the community. It's, meaningful. It needs to be highlighted. And I'm hopeful that we'll continue to hear more positive stories of what y'all are doing through The Dream Network in Lawrence and beyond.
Stacy Seward 32:07
Thank you so much for having me here. It's really been great.
Roberto Germán 32:11
All right, take care.
Stacy Seward 32:13
Roberto Germán 32:15
As always your engagement in Our Classroom is greatly appreciated. Be sure to subscribe, rate the show, and write a review. Finally, for resources to help you understand the intersection of race bias, education, and society, go to multiculturaclassroom.com. Peace and love from your host, Roberto Germán.