JOYCEFEST 2022: celebrating black educators

Joyce Garrett Earl, Ms Earl, Joyce to some, Aunt Joyce, Grandmommy, Mom would have been 91 today. February 25th is always a sacred day to us. She would always claim the entire month as Joycefest.

My mother taught in the Atlanta Public Schools for decades. A graduate of Paine College in Augusta, Georgia, she completed a master’s degree in education at Indiana University.

Today I’m thinking with the many Black educators who are working diligently to uplift Black students. I’m reflecting on the photo below. It was taken most likely in 1964 or 65 at Collier Heights elementary school in Atlanta. She’s at the far left, second row, in a white dress, lips pursed, there’s a small person holding her hand — that’s me. I went on to attend Collier Heights, taught by some of the teachers in this photo. Mom by then had moved on to another school.

Ms. Earl, second row far left and the other primary school teachers at Collier Heights, mid 1960s, Atlanta, Georgia. Do you think any of these people would have put up with any anti-Black, anti-CRT nonsense?

What she and the other teachers at Collier Heights, Burgess Elementary, King Middle School, and other places in Black Atlanta imparted to their students was an uncompromising belief in themselves, love — a praxis of centering Black students in all of their ways of brilliance. Hope. The embodiment of liberatory education.

Mom was fond of saying “Keep hope alive.” She lived it, always imparting encouragement to anyone lucky enough to be in her company. With each year, her love became more unconditional — if that were even possible.

As we celebrate her this year, I am meditating on her embodiment as an educator and the many Black women educators she was in community with. How they created and sustained excellence, nurtured genius as a lifetime of resistance against a larger society that still wants to erase Black people.

In her memory — or rather as an offering and renewal of the spirit she embodies — I have some suggested readings, curated by my partner Dr. Gayatri Sethi

The Spirit of Our Work: Black Women Teachers (Re)Member, Cynthia B. Dillard
Black Lives Matter at School (Jesse Hagopia & Denisha Jones), Cultivating Genius (Dr. Gholdy Muhammed), We Want to Do More Than Survive (Dr. Bettina Love)

The titles and insights in those books reverberate as prayers of remembrance and commitment to the work of my mother and her comrades.

Mom loved her some Paine College, if you want to honor her, here’s their donation link. Mom loved her some purple. Her poet of choice — Dr. Maya Angelou. Her go to food — chocolate. So feel free to curl up tonight with Dr. Angelou, some hot chocolate under your favorite purple shawl and let her spirit guide you.

In solidarity and uplift, happy Joycefest 2022.

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