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Speak Up Director Megan Brand Says Chicago Is Vibrant …

Written by on January 30, 2020

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Megan Brand, MS Ed, NBCT is an educator, organizer, parent, and community builder.

Megan is the founder, facilitator, curriculum developer, and volunteer director of SpeakUp Chicago. She has spent the past 20 years working alongside children and families from all walks of life to raise the bar for racial justice, both through schools and community organizations. As an early childhood teacher in Chicago Public Schools (CPS), Megan created anti-bias and culturally responsive curriculum.

Megan Brand chatted with Jill Hopkins about antiracism, Edgewater, and working towards collective liberation …

 


 

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Where in the city did you grow up? Where do you live now? 

I have lived in Edgewater for about 10 years and I absolutely love it. Edgewater is a really vibrant and diverse community along the lakefront. When I think of my neighborhood, one of the first images that comes to mind is my friend Kenny who is always out doing Tai Chi at Ardmore Boardwalk on the beach. He’s kind of like this angel bringing together all the various energies of the place and making the mental one song.

When I walk along the beach I see all different kinds of people and hear different languages being spoken. My two favorite restaurants are also in Edgewater, Ras Dashenand Más Allá Del Sol. Everything I need is within walking distance and there are great parks. I have a three year old and a five year old and we bike everywhere. My oldest goes to our neighborhood school Peirce Elementary, which is a really wonderful caring community. And I’d rather it feels like a small town within Chicago.

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What has it been like living in Chicago?

Chicago is such an inspiring city. There’s so much radical activism and organizing going on here. There’s also a lot of pain, political corruption, and struggles. It’s so racially segregated and drastically inequitable. Even within Edgewater’s diversity there’s division. I’m really motivated by these challenges, though, and there’s so many amazing organizations here doing great work and the activist community is so welcoming and supportive.

I feel like living in Chicago has transformed me many times over. I spent six years teaching PreK through first grade in Chicago public schools, and I taught children from so many different backgrounds. There was one year where I had over 12 languages spoken in my classroom. And I realized that I was really more of a cultural interpreter. I ended up offering monthly parent workshops and had over 90% of my students’ families in attendance each month. We built a really strong community together, it was really beautiful.

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What do you love about Chicago?
 

When I became a parent, about six years ago, I stepped back from teaching and got more involved in antiracism, organizing. I started spending a lot of time with young black organizers in the city through groups like the Let Us Breathe Collective. I kept hearing over and over again that white people need to be organizing their own communities and at the same time, I’d be at playgrounds In Edgewater, talking with other white moms. When I talked about going to Black Lives Matter demonstrations they would just freeze they, they didn’t know what to say. I realized that many white people in the US grew up learning that it’s impolite to talk about race. People don’t realize that that there’s no such thing as non-racist. Racism will continue unless we take anti antiracist action by dismantling systemic racism that is so intricately woven into our society.

It was a reality check for me to realize that my kids would be growing up alongside many other white kids whose parents weren’t talking to them about race. And I had to let go of my judgments of other people and realize how much we all need each other. It kind of became my personal mission to love other white folks into the movement for racial justice. And what better way to do that than to start a course on how to to talk with our kids about race. Many parents and teachers don’t know that the research is that early childhood age, zero to eight really is the best time to influence children’s racial attitudes. Even when parents aren’t racially biased, their children internalize dominant racial biases by age three. Studies show that white preschoolers when asked who they want to play with will pick a set of images of other white preschoolers. Children of all races will associate negative stereotype language with images of people of color, and the only thing that research has proven can disrupt this racial learning process is explicit conversation about race and racism.

So that’s kind of how Speak Up started and we teach people not just to talk about race, but also how to take antiracist action together as a family or a classroom community. We want antiracism to be embedded in people’s family and school cultures. We aim to disrupt the cycle of racism and white supremacy by building antiracist families and schools. In the two years since we started, we’ve had over 180 parents, teachers and community members take our course. It’s a seven week course, that’s co-facilitated by a white person and a person of color. We’ve had participants who’ve never spoken the word race aloud before, as well as participants who teach college courses on race. What they all have in common is that they’re willing to be vulnerable and open wherever they may be on their antiracism journey, and they understand that this work is ongoing and collaborative and want to bring their children up in an antiracist community.

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At the end of the day, what would you like to give back to the community?

I’ve so much love for the people of Chicago and big hopes for our city. I hope that my work with speak up helps to grow the movement for racial justice. I want everyone to see that we all have a role in dismantling racism and to engage in this work from a place of love, mutual respect and solidarity.

I long to see a diverse and vibrant Chicago where people of all races and identities have equitable access to resources and opportunities. I dream of a Chicago without hierarchies where no one has to depend on someone else’s charity to survive and thrive. That’s what collective liberation means to me. There are so many wonderful groups in Chicago working towards this goal and I won’t settle until we’ve achieved it together.

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What does Chicago sound like to you?

 


 

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Shot by Thomas Gavin

Audio produced by Fyodor Sakhnovski

Edited for Length and Clarity by Seamus Doheny