Roberto Germán 00:00
Excited, excited to have Zakiya Jackson here with me. Been following the work and noticing the amazing things that-- that you are doing in The Expectations Project. But my audience may not know as much about your work, about The Expectations Project. So would love for you to tell us a bit about who you are, a bit about The Expectations Project, and your current role as what I understand, the newly appointed president of The Expectations Project. Congratulations.
Zakiya Jackson 00:34
Thank you. Thank you so much. I'm so happy to be here. We're a huge fan of the Multicultural Classroom at The Expectations Project. We just love the opportunities we've had to get to know y'all's work. So thank you so much. I was very happy to accept the invitation to join you today.
Roberto Germán 00:53
Zakiya Jackson 00:55
I wanna start just by sharing culturally who I am. I'm the daughter of Helen, who is a brilliant scientist and hidden figure. She's also an herbal and natural healer and a-a freedom fighter since she was really young. So that's my mama. And she was mentored actually by Stokely Carmichael here in DC. He was just a good brother who took her under her wings. And then I'm the-- also the daughter of John Jackson, rest in peace. He was a gifted inventor and electrical engineer. He was a Jamaican American and a former Black Panther in Berkeley, California. He was more of the behind-the-scenes type of guy, making sure things were happening as they needed. But that's-- those are my parents and that's the legacy I come from. I'm also the granddaughter of Joan, who was a community organizer when I was a teenager. She had business cards made for herself, that had her full government name and just said community organizer on there. She's the first person to take me to a rally. So I just-- I come from some really beautiful, wonderful black people who cared, cared, and care about their community and about what's happening in the world around us.
Roberto Germán 02:18
What a beautiful and powerful legacy.
Zakiya Jackson 02:20
Yeah. It's so beautiful. And, you know, growing up I didn't quite understand what any of that meant. I'm just hanging out with my people, right? But as I get older, I just turned 40 a couple weeks ago. I'm-- I'm-- I'm so grateful for that- that-- that DNA, you know. And then I also just wanna say I'm an educator. I'm an organizer, and I'm a healer. As you mentioned, I'm a new president of T.E.P. I'm very clear when I'm meeting and talking with people. Yes, I'm, you know, I do strategy and I can do fundraising, and I can do all these other things that a president needs to do. But first and foremost, I'm an educator and an organizer, and I approach this work in a very invitational way. I want us to-- to heal and be liberated together. And so on that note, our expectations, we develop advocates. We like to do what we call supercharge our partners and partnerships. And then we also frame and contextualize current events with ed equity in mind with this sort of prophetic voice. And we do all of that for the purpose of demanding a high-quality, equitable public school education for black, brown, and otherwise marginalized students.
Roberto Germán 03:48
That's amazing. So, are your partnerships with schools?
Zakiya Jackson 03:52
We partner with other non-profits mostly. We partner with other nonprofits, with faith-based communities, with other organizations who might be-- whose members might directly be in schools, or they might be in the community surrounding schools.
Roberto Germán 04:12
Let's-- let's stick with this you mentioned faith-based communities. I want you to share with us what-- what you see as the role of the faith-based communities in in terms of the current educational landscape. Much going on there, and surely people have opinions all over the spectrum, but what-- what do you see as the role of faith-based communities in education?
Zakiya Jackson 04:42
Yeah, I'm gonna say something. It's my hot take. I think it's a good hot take, but I preface it with that 'cause I know it'll-- some people will-- would have feelings about it. But as a general premise at-- at T.E.P, we believe, and I believe that the church and faith communities need to stand down as pertains to posterization and education. A lot of times folks are worried about faith communities being involved in schools and in-- and in advocacy even related to schools because they think it's automatically about privatization or automatically about conversion. Right? And at TEP we're really clear now that people come from a variety of faith backgrounds in schools. They don't need us to bring faith to them more or less, right? Like they already have within their families and within their communities some sort of faith conviction. Most people, even if they're not religious, have some sort of moral centering or grounding or-- or-- or faith orientation, even those who abstain. And so we don't-- we aren't the ones who are like, Let's go in there and get people to all, you know, follow the same line. I actually think that's really harmful to schools and harmful to children. What we do believe, and what I do think is really important for faith communities and-- and for the church is to be huge advocates of public education and equity. Even churches that run private schools are not against private schools existing totally, right? Sometimes they serve children well, but even in that case, churches should be advocates of high-quality, equitable public education because the vast majority of children go to public school. And if the church is a place that claims to care well for children and to love children, you have to care about public education too. It just goes hand in hand. And-- and I believe that churches can do that by becoming places where the adults show children that we treasure them in a trauma-informed, culturally sensitive, restorative way. We can treat children that way at church and then we can ask that anybody, including schools that interacts with children, also treat children in this way.
Roberto Germán 07:28
You're-- you're getting that bridge in the gap. And-- and you said a lot there in terms of the trauma-informed culturally sensitive approach. Can-- can you give us an example of that?
Zakiya Jackson 07:38
Mm-hmm. A good example is-- is I'll-- I'll actually use a-a scripture Matthew 18, a biblical scripture. Is this-- is Jesus talking about the greatest in the whole kingdom, the greatest in the kingdom of heaven as a child, right? And how you treat a child is how you feel about me. And-- and I think what would it be like if we practically speaking, treasured and revered children in the manner that Jesus is describing in this scripture. We pull out the red carpet for them, we make sure they're comfortable, we make sure they have what they need to enjoy their neighborhood and their environment. Practically speaking, that is something churches can do, but I think often don't. And if churches are having that prophetic witness about, Oh, we have to treasure children, and here are the practical ways that we have to do it, then that translates to what we expect schools to do as well, and how we expect schools to treat children. So another practical example this year in the state of Florida. There--
Roberto Germán 09:09
We-- we offer a lot of examples so people can-- can learn and-- and grow in their education.
Zakiya Jackson 09:17
Roberto Germán 09:19
We are unique in Florida, but go ahead. Go ahead.
Zakiya Jackson 09:23
In the state of Florida, I don't remember the specific name of the bill right now, but it was referred to as, don't say gay, right? In schools that children are not supposed to talk about questions or thoughts or any of the stuff that they have about sexual orientation, gender identity, all of this. And obviously, this is a contentious topic in the church sometimes, including amongst communities of color. And we put out a press release stating honestly, regardless of your spiritual convictions on this topic, you have to treat children well, period. And you have to remember that LGBTQ+ rights is not a white thing. It's-- whiteness is often the face of it and advocacy, right? But there are children in your family, in my family, in our families, right, who need to feel safe. And like they can talk about things in a-- in a-- in a way that helps them understand what's going on in the world around them. Right? And so we-- we try to approach challenging things invitationally. We're not telling you everything you have to do, but we are saying we have to step up and show up better for children and invite ways for them to grow and learn that-- that aren't so putting boxes around them, you're only allowed to exist in this one way to be a good child. Right.
Roberto Germán 11:04
So these-- these are the type of things that you present or talk about or train your partners.
Zakiya Jackson 11:12
Yes. Yes. So we have policy priority areas that we really have a suite of curricula made around. Trauma-informed schools is one of them. Early childhood ed is another. High quality-- high quality teachers in leadership is another that-- that we actually train people and understanding the topic so that they can do advocacy around it. And that they can talk about it in ways that aren't, you know, ed reform world is confusing, , there's a lot of language that is-- that is not approachable in it. And so we try to make it accessible. And then on this topic, we don't actually have a suite of curriculum on that topic about what happened in Florida, but it was an opportunity for us to speak into a current event that we thought, again, let's remind people of faith, of goodwill, who care about children that we can't get so lost and-- and so distracted in-- in-- in our theological beliefs that we neglect children in the midst of working that out. Right? Again, I'm not here to tell anyone to-- to-- to-- to say you are bad for your theological belief, but I am asking you if your theological belief is harming children. And if it is, I need you to consider that and make an adjustment to ensure that you allow children to-- to live and to be nurtured. We need children to really be nurtured. You should have been nurtured too, probably is the honest truth of it. Right? Like many of us, were not nurtured in our environments.
Roberto Germán 13:06
Sure, sure. Yeah. What's-- so, I'm sure you encounter plenty of interesting moments in the work that you're doing. What's something that has surprised you?
Zakiya Jackson 13:21
One thing that has surprised me, and I say this with gentleness and kind of sadness, not disdain, is how hard it often is for black people and-- and people of color in general, to let go of some of our beliefs and values that don't serve us. Like it can be really hard for us to release them because I think if we do, it can make us feel powerless and very vulnerable. And I don't think we're ever powerless. But I do think dealing with racism and white supremacy is vulnerable. It can make us feel very-- and so-- so-- so an example especially working with faith communities, I used to run into this more, not as much now, but I really used to run into more all of these fatherhood initiative things. It's all about fatherhood initiatives for the black community. Now, fatherhood is important, it matters. But I could see that sometimes these fatherhood initiatives were not addressing the root issues of what is-- what is it making it hard for-- for fathers to be present in their children's lives. They're not addressing economic mobility. They're not addressing the criminal justice-- injustice system. A friend of mine likes to say, right. They're just making it all about how men and in particular black men need to be better people. And they're putting all of the responsibility on you all instead of saying, "Let's look at-- at what we're not doing for black people and black families. Let's look at how we're harming." And-- and I do think that sometimes because it feels like we have more control if it's just about how you're acting, Roberto, if it's just about how I'm acting, there's some comfort in being like, it is all about me. It is all about how hard I work and how much energy, how much I grind, grind, grind, grind, grind, grind, grind. It's-- it's-- it's hard to say. Actually, some of this is much bigger, more powerful than any amount of grind I could ever muster. I'm gonna have to approach this problem in a different way.
Roberto Germán 15:54
Right. There's a lot more nuance to-- to the issues of talking about, you know, in this case, fatherhood in the black community. We're talking about the nuance and getting at the nuance of what's presenting challenges, what's serving as barriers. And I'm glad you mentioned the economic piece 'cause I don't think that's a piece to-- to be ignored. And-- and then certainly, you know, when I think about things that we're lacking or-- or things that we don't necessarily quickly embrace, there's probably room to create more space to process the motions.
Zakiya Jackson 16:38
Yes. I feel that-- I-- in this work, I feel that some of it is very in-- in a healthy way, pastoral and like creating space to allow the people we are engaging with to process in the moment some of these things, right? 'Cause we can't-- I often find as adults, we actually can't get to the core of how we need to adjust with serving children when we're-- when there's so much static energy in us about who we are and how we've been treated, right? And what we're trying to-- we are trying to protect children from something. But a lot of it is coming out of this how much we've been, you know, harmed placed. So we're not anybody's therapist at TEP, but we do-- we do know that we have to hold space for that grief. We did this summer with the-- all the shootings and with many things politically charged happening. We did a series on grief and lament related to the-- to the things happening. We're very policy-focused, but we understand that actually having time to lament could make us better at implementing, creating, and addressing policy.
Roberto Germán 18:06
It's great that you bring that balance. It's-- I think it's critical because some folks have not had the opportunity or have not been encouraged to grieve or lament. And so they're staying on-- they might be staying on grind mode until they grind themselves to the ground. Or they might be in survival mode until they're tired and don't have any fight left. Or just continue, you know, just stay in survival mode. But in-- in the meantime, you're-- you're not taking care of some of your core needs. Right? So, glad to-- glad to hear that The Expectations Project is taking a multi-prong approach to supporting folks. The policy's obviously extremely important and folks need space, especially, you know, you mentioned that you were talking about the notion of like carrying all this weight on the shoulders, right? And-- and we were talking specifically about fathers, black fathers, and that-- that can be quite burdensome and some people might not have the necessary tools or might not have the outlets to be able to take that weight off, right?
Zakiya Jackson 19:31
Yes. And are often not a lot.
Roberto German 19:35
Right. Right. Not allowed. Or, you know, maybe they don't even have the spiritual strength, right? If thinking about like, I, you know, keeping it in a biblical sense, casting it at the feet of Jesus, like, you know, you might not even have the strength to do that. You might just be so burnt out from what life is presenting you with. So I-- I appreciate the work that y'all are doing.
Zakiya Jackson 20:02
Roberto Germán 20:03
Pivoting a little bit. If-- if you had the opportunity to have lunch with anyone dead or alive, who would it be and why?
Zakiya Jackson 20:12
Yeah. I cheated on this a little. I gave more than one name. I thought of more than one.
Roberto Germán 20:17
That's-- Zakiya, the floor is yours. The floor is yours. Is-- we-- we gone permit that.
Zakiya Jackson 20:23
Thank you. I would love, love, love to have lunch with my father. He passed when I was only 24. And his grandmother, great-grandma, Hilda. And just talk to them about our Jamaican heritage, about you know, their values. I would love for my dad to enjoy and see more of what I've done with my life. I know that he is really proud. I'd love to be able to talk to him about it. And also, I met great-grandma Hilda, but I was very young. I don't remember meeting her. So she passed when I was really young. And then the other lunches that I would love to--
Roberto Germán 21:07
Wait, wait, let me-- let me interject real quick because you're talking about your father and it's making me think about my father who passed away in February of this year.
Zakiya Jackson 21:15
Oh, I'm sorry to hear that.
Roberto Germán 21:17
And-- and so it's, you know, we were talking about fatherhood earlier in-- in the sense of, you know, absence or, you know, well really not absent, but, you know, not necessarily fully supported. But listening to you and feeling, you know, a sense of joy as you reflect and-- and thinking about, you know, if you did have that opportunity to have lunch with your father makes me sense that your father was really present in your life. That's the impression that I'm-- that I'm getting, which brings joy to me as I think about my own father who was also very present in my life. And-- and I would love to have another opportunity to sit down with him and much like you, you know, just unpack a bit more about, you know, his background, his culture is, you know the things that I don't know, right?
Zakiya Jackson 22:09
Yes. I have so many questions still, Roberto, you know. Like, I-I wanna know how he would respond to some of the things going on. We used to argue in a good spirit, in a good sense. Like, not like fight, but like debate. And it would be just really cool to-- to get into my work and-- and just life with him in that way. Yeah.
Roberto Germán 22:36
Zakiya Jackson 22:37
Now you wanted to mention a second person.
Zakiya Jackson 22:42
Roberto Germán 22:43
Zakiya Jackson 22:43
I would just love to honestly lavish her with love and flowers and joy. And not really pick her brain, but just kind of praise her, you know? And-- and thank her for how healing her artistry is. And how it just speaks to so many iterations of black womanness. I feel like there is aggression and there is tenderness and there's lots of humor. There is so much vibrancy. So I'd love to, you know, just do that, you know, black girl hype stuff with her and have lunch in that way and thank her.
Roberto Germán 23:29
I mean, what a brilliant writer to be able to like, capture folks in-- in all those different sentiments, right? I mean, a-a-amazing. Yeah. We should really give folks their flowers while they are here with us.
Zakiya Jackson 23:45
Roberto Germán 23:48
So what's the message of encouragement that you want to offer our audience as we wrap up here?
Zakiya Jackson 23:55
At Expectations Project we talk a lot about dreams and remembering what we're-- what we're doing this labor for, what we're striving for, what we're waking up early if you are a classroom teacher, especially why we're doing this. And so I wanna encourage us to remember to keep that dream close, to keep it close in our mind, even put it up in our space in the various ways. If you're a visual person or auditory person, whatever it is, keep the dream close because it's energizing, it helps build community, it helps us stay focused 'cause there's a lot to bring us down and there's a lot that's trying and-- and difficult. We can create the world that we want. I do believe that it's very difficult, but I do believe we can have better outcomes for students, that we can allow them to be children and to have joy and to thrive in their environments. And that-- that would be my encouragement. Just a reminder that-- that we can do this. And also a deep well of gratitude for especially educators and teachers who are stepping into classrooms every day for students who are stepping into classrooms and asking for what they want and need for community members, clergy, everyone who's coming around schools and children, I'm so grateful for-- for the work. And just kind of like-- like I've been embracing. I have 11, 12, 13 nieces and nephews, and I'm embracing the auntiness, and I just kind of wanna give a big auntie hug and say, "Thank you so much and I will continue to labor with you for the-- for the good things that we want for children."
Roberto Germán 25:55
Well, your nieces and nephews are very fortunate to have such an amazing auntie who is doing some great work, and I'm blown away by your family legacy. Wow. Wow. You-- you come from a strong line of brilliant minds and-- and we see it reflected in what you're doing. So thank you. Thank you for being here. Where can we follow you?
Zakiya Jackson 26:24
You can follow Expectations on Twitter and on Instagram. Instagram is Expectproject, and Twitter I think is Expectationsproject. You can also follow me on Instagram and on Twitter. Now, I didn't do this right, but my Twitter handle is almost my full government name. Zakiya Naema Jack. I'll give it to you so you can have it in the notes, Roberto. And my Instagram is just Ladyzlove.
Roberto Germán 26:58
Well, thank you, Zakiya. Folks, I wanna encourage you to follow up and connect with Zakiya. Follow The Expectations Project, doing some amazing work. Come in with your questions and curiosities, be willing to learn and grow. And certainly, there's-- there's much that we could take away from what-- what Zakiya mentioned in terms of how it is that faith communities could bridge the gap with schools and-- and in-- in the educational space by advocating, right? There-- there's this focus on advocacy and-- and trying to work towards creating greater balance, right? Equity making sure that all students have opportunities to receive a great education and-- and that we're pushing to as Zakiya just stated, create the world that we want.