Being Black at TMC

As an African American female, I often feel I have a heighten awareness of how I relate to the world around me. To be more specific, I have a conscious thought of the places I go, who I may encounter there and whether or not I have to enter said place with my guards up. Being an African American female in the south makes this awareness even more potent.

It’s important to know that I grew up in the suburbs of southern Maryland with a diversity group of people, I never attended a predominately minority school nor did I attend a historically black college or university. With this said, I have been aware of my blackness and it’s relationship to my world literally all my life.

I’ve made my own conclusion about life. One in particular relates to my attendance at Twitter Math Camp 2017. I concluded that by attending this conference, I’d be one of few black people there. This thought seemed very normal to me. As an educator, I’ve been in many professional learning sessions where I was the sole African American “representative” in the room. I’ve grown accustomed to it, making it my duty to represent my race and culture with dignity in those rooms.

So when I walked in the Dining Hall of Holy Innocent Episcopal School along with around 200 other participants, I wasn’t surprised to see like 4 or 5 other brown skinned people. But that evening I received a DM from another participant which read, “Where are all the black people?”

In that moment, reading that message, I realized it wasn’t my role to be the sole representative. It isn’t supposed to be normal for me to be the only black face in the room. I had to ask myself some really hard questions. Jenise, what have you done to engage your African American counterparts in this forum? What message are you sending when you don’t question why there aren’t more African Americans in the room? And the toughest one, what’s your role in this discussion?

Attending TMC was on my professional bucket list. I so desired to attend that I even wrote about it around this time last year in a Global Math Department article. When I shared this wish of attending with a good friend of mine, his response was, “To be honest Jenise, if you want to attend, you need to present.” I immediately felt disappointed, with my first thought being, “I don’t have anything to offer.” But my desire to attend weighed so heavily upon me, I pulled up my big girl panties and submitted a proposal.

Fast forward to #TMC17, completely geeked up from the opportunity to learn from people I admire, I walked into something for which I was not prepared. Days leading to the conference, I received messages of encouragement from other #tmc17 participants when I expressed presentation gitters.

Walking into the Dining Hall, smiling faces greeted me and offers for seating invited me. Conversations were easy, many happening as if I were talking with an old friend I hadn’t seen in a while.

To take things a step farther, opportunities for deep and vulnerable conversations about the art of teaching math occurred in multiple sessions. I found out quickly that I did have something to offer, and it was more than I expected.

Which brings me back to my tough questions. Could it be that many of my African American counterparts are not in these math communities because they’ve yet to be informed through a simple invitation? Is it because they feel they don’t have anything to offer? Or do they feel our ways of teaching math are so drastically different that others wouldn’t understand their perspective?

I don’t have an answer to those questions. I know that #TMC17 has made me a better math educator with one conference. I can only imagine how I will continue to evolve as I attend more TMCs in the future. So I’m changing my #1tmcthing to speaking up and out about the underrepresentation of African American teachers in #tmc and #mtbos. Not speaking up as if these organization have purposely caused an injustice. But speaking up to inform, empower and educate African American teachers how to #pushsend and join the conversation. You have a lot to bring to the table and your voice deserves to be heard.



  1. Jenise, thank you for this. As a white, straight, middle class male who grew up in small mining towns comprised mostly of people who looked like me, I have made a conscious effort to learn as much as I can about how to be as inclusive and uplifting as possible.

    I was initially drawn to you by your risk of tweeting out that your presentation was done and that you were nervous (which took courage just to tweet out, so kudos), and your post has confirmed that I was right: YOU HAVE A TON TO OFFER THIS COMMUNITY.

    We need people who can push the community to grow, to be better, and to invite others in. If you let me know how I can help, I will. For the longest time, I have sat back to listen, to learn, to see how others respond, but I’m willing to do more.

    Thank you for your courage to step up and say/do something.

    • John, it’s as if you know me deeper than you actually do. Every time we have an exchange, you speak my love language and fill my tank!

      As a math teacher, it can be intimidating to express your areas of growth or areas of weakness. But you are the type of person that makes it easier to take the vulnerability leap.

  2. Thank you for taking the time to share your experience and thoughts. I started thinking more about #TMCsowhite this year too (it’s a real hashtag someone used and other people joined in briefly). I was glad that questions similar to your tough questions came up at the flex session about TMC registration and diversity. Although I’m not good at coming up with *answers*, I was so glad at that session to hear other people share great suggestions and viewpoints.

    Hopefully TMC (and the math teacher profession as a whole) can become a place where the attendees diversity can reflect the diversity of the kids we teach. As someone on the committee who helps organize the conference, I appreciate your thoughts. And if you have anything else you want the TMC committee to think about, especially in terms of outreach, please don’t hesitate to let me know and I’ll pass it along to the rest of the committee! (My email is samjshah at gmail.)

    • I love that the conversation started about this immediately. Friday in the Equity morning session, a participant who was not a person of color brought up this very topic.

  3. Thank you for sharing this Jenise!
    Your courage and strength continue to make me a better person. Your thoughts really resonate with me and definitely make me ask questions of myself. I need to be more purposeful and intentional in inviting people (that don’t look like me or outside my circle) to this community.
    Kaneka Turner had an amazing ShadowCon Talk that mentioned this very thing and that was almost 2 years ago!
    I guess I still have lots of work to do.
    PS….and you thought you were too shy for the shy button

  4. Thank you, Jenise! It’s is definitely true: #tmcsowhite. Nicky and I actually counted on our drive back to the hotel after the flex session on tmc attendance and diversity. Unless we missed something, there were four black educators there.

    It took someone personally inviting me (multiple times) to get me to #pushsend on twitter and then to start a blog. I imagine others need those invitations, too. And it’s not just on you to do the inviting to black educators. We all have a responsibility if we want to change the representation. I’ll do my best to join you in that.

    • Thanks for reading Annie. I am planning to use the same as what brought me into this community, share my ideas and invite others to join in by sharing theirs.

  5. We were truly blessed by your presence and contributions to the equity sessions. Thank you for your bravery and thoughtfulness.

  6. Jenise, thank you so much for sharing and #pushsend “ing.” Yours is a necessary voice. After Grace’s talk, it reminds again how important context is. I am usually disappointed by the white math department at my HS, with our student population being 37% Hispanic. And felt for a long time, that having so many teachers on staff born and raised in the same area was a detriment to student advancement. Now I am rethinking some, that at least, most of the teachers get the context of their student body and yet, and yet, and yet, I want to see BROWN math teachers (and science and english and…) (Even all but one of our Spanish teachers are white!)

    Keep sharing with us, keep pushing send, your voice and words and contributions are not just important and helpful, they are vital.

    May your journey here be fruitful and enjoyable!

  7. Hi Jenise,
    Thank you for writing about your experience. This gives me some helpful entry points into difficult conversations around hiring and retaining faculty of color. “Simple invitation” can mean so much and I’ve seen it make a difference in so many different contexts.

    • My principal my 3rd year in the profession explicitly she wanted me because she wanted someone to be impactful with the students of color. It made me feel valued and a necessary part of the teaching and learning community.

  8. What an amazing and selfless post! I didn’t attend TMC17 nor have I been to any…on my bucket list too😊 You bring up really important questions about inclusion particularly about how to reach others. Hard to do if those we hope to include don’t participate (or at least lurk) on Twitter. Do your colleagues of color tweet? If not, that might be a place to start. What I ideas do you have to reach others? I can’t get my department, school or area colleagues to join in. The fear factor is great and I think time is an issue too. Twitter can conumerous your life if you’re not careful. Thank you for a refreshingly new topic and honest reflection. Have a wonderful year.

  9. Hello. It is so interesting how I landed on your blog. I am a black math teacher in Chicago who has wanted to go to a TMC for year at least 3 years because all the great resources I found through blogs and Twitter.
    I literally, within the last hour, thought to myself are there any black math teachers that have attended TMC? I then began looking for anyone who looked like me that used #Iteachmath and I found you and read about your experience. Now I know in order for me to grow as a teacher I have to attend the next TMC and invite my colleagues, as well.

    • Kelicia,
      I’m so honored that you would be moved by my post. With the conference being in Cleveland in 2018, I hope you are able to attend and be a part of the infusion of TOC.

      Thanks for reading!

  10. Hello Jenise! Thank you for sharing your story; I recently was talking to my husband about ‘launching out’ to a new level in my career. As an educator of 17+ years and a librarian of 6 years, there are not many African-Ameican females in this specialized education area. I never thought I was experienced enough to present or have a platform or voice. Your blog post has encouraged me that the decision I recently made to start a blog is the right one. Even though I’m frightened by the unknown direction of this future adventure , I am also super excited about the possibilities. Thanks again for being genuine.

  11. […] But the flex session made me realize we are not that anymore. We can’t be that anymore. Because the conference is real and sustained and impacts people. That’s it: we were responsible because we were putting things together and what we did impacted people. And it was clear that for all our work to be welcoming, we weren’t always being successful. Jennifer Sexton wrote in 2017: […]

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