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Poet and educator Taiyon J. Coleman's essay collection, which arrives in stores June 4, is summed up by its subtitle: "Essays From a Black Woman Trying to Survive in America."

Opening with a piece that recalls London subways' "Mind the gap" signs and ponders other sorts of gaps, "Traveling Without Moving" includes essays about the St. Catherine University professor's childhood, the beauty of poetry and encounters with racism in classrooms, while trying to purchase a home in Minneapolis and elsewhere.

The following is a chapter titled "Sometimes I Feel Like Harriet Tubman":

I was invited to speak at a Twin Cities area school, and it wasn't until I arrived at the school that the administrator asked me to discuss the immediate challenges facing parents and children in education in Minnesota.

Initially, I was hesitant because I didn't know if I wanted to take a personal risk with the topic. Sure, I could talk about literature, culture and creative writing, but K-12 education in Minnesota is a sensitive topic freighted with anger, shame and blame on all sides. And with my own three kids attending Twin Cities area schools, I have skin in the game.

According to the New York Times, "Black students [nationally] are suspended three times as often as their white peers; in Minnesota, it is eight times as often." Another report pointed out that while Black students are 41% of the student population in Minneapolis, they make up 76% of the suspensions. Even the best quests for solutions on this issue are mired in the fact that racial disparities in Minnesota are some of the starkest in the nation.

A Brown parent, a mother, at the back of the room stood and asked, "Can you give an example of implicit bias that has affected your own child in school?"

Her question forced me out of the autopilot zone that most professionals slip into when our hubris is set on high.

"That's a good question," I said, buying time.

Looking at the mother, I recognized that her mother body, like many weary parent bodies in the room, was seemingly at ease but conditioned to brace at any moment for the dreaded expected unexpected. I recognized my own mother body and experience inside hers. This is what it feels like to be the parent of a child in Minnesota schools who is the victim of implicit bias. Powerless.

I told the audience about my Black children who attend schools in the Twin Cities. Like their momma, they have dark brown skin with beautiful tightly curled hair. They are physically bigger than their classroom peers, and their speech reflects a confidence and experience beyond their years as they hear two different languages at home. Natural leaders, my Black children are kind and charming, and like their Tanzanian Bibi (grandmother) who is a lawyer working for the rights of women and children, my Black children are intelligent, smart, competitive, analytical and protective. They have a keen sense of fairness and speak up if they sense inequity.

Traveling Without Moving
Traveling Without Moving

These unique qualities that make my Black children great are the very same qualities that are perceived by some teachers and administrators as aggressive, adult, disrespectful, loud and defensive.

I laughed and told the mother that as the parent of children experiencing implicit bias, I often feel like Harriet Tubman on the Underground Railroad, trying to help my marginalized children get free, get educated. I added that my husband and I feel incredible fear and guilt at the recognition that our own educational success does not protect the Brown bodies of our children from the consequences of implicit bias within Minnesota schools.

"Yes. That's just how it feels," she said to me.

In that moment, with those amazing and hopeful parents who had cared enough to show up, I had no choice but to do what most well-meaning professionals in education fail to do: validate the experiences of non-White students and their parents, so we all know that we are not alone. We are not the only ones struggling with this very real educational and human rights crisis. And there is strength, hope, and healing in telling our stories.

Excerpted from "Traveling Without Moving: Essays From a Black Woman Trying to Survive in America" by Taiyon J. Coleman. Published by the University of Minnesota Press. Copyright 2024 by Taiyon J. Coleman. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Traveling Without Moving

By: Taiyon J. Coleman.

Publisher: University of Minn. Press, 151 pages, $18.95.

Event: 6 p.m. June 4, Moon Palace Books, 3032 Minnehaha Av. S., Mpls. Free.