I recently had the opportunity to interview two amazing educators at the Providence Academy Middle School, Andreana Thomas and Phoenyx Williams. This is the first part in a two-part series of interviews that will take you on a journey through black joy, black culture, educational struggles and more using film, poetry, and education as the tools for success.
Andreana Thomas is the dean of motivation and investment at Providence Academy Middle School.
Damont Combs (Motif): What does black joy mean to you?
Andreana Thomas: Literally the word joy just spreading throughout the black community in a positive way.
I think that sometimes, our communication, our community can be deemed in like a negative way or the type of music that we listen to, but we bring so much more joy than that. We contribute our culture, and our culture is actual joy and it allows people throughout the world to connect. So yeah, that’s black Joy.
DC: You’re working on a documentary. Can you tell me more about it?
AT: We’re working on a showcase for black history month and the theme of it is black joy — just bringing out that black joy, finding people in the Providence community who are doing things within their community to show that black joy and excellence. We have had many events throughout the black history month, paint and sips, yoga sessions, panels, wellness Wednesdays.
We’ve done a lot of different things to bring black joy into our school building regardless if we are virtual or if we’re actually in person. It’s been able to connect, not just the black community, but all communities within the school. To come together and just learn more about the black culture in a positive light.
DC: What is black excellence?
AT: When we go above and beyond. When we go and do different things that one does not expect us to do as a black culture. Being a principal, being a dean, being a poet and doing things for the community, being a producer, being a president and being vice president is going above and beyond the ordinary that they put us in the little box to be.
DC: I know that COVID has been very challenging on teachers and deans and school staff. How can we help our youth’s educators and encourage teachers during this time?
AT: Yeah. I think that people don’t really recognize that teachers are essential workers as well. Teachers have probably one of the most underpaid jobs yet. It takes a lot of their personal time and investment. This is different. It’s a different atmosphere. It takes a lot of partnership with families. It takes a lot of connection with families to really bring on that idea of that.
It takes a village to really, you know, raise a kid and provide them with the right education that they need. I think that teachers need support during this time from people because we’re human beings too. And we have days when we’re upset or it’s hard for us to get through. We’re going through our personal things.
And I think that people just always expect them to show up with a smile on their face and just get the job done. But this is more than a job. If you’re in this field, you want it because you care and you love the kids and you want to see them do great things. So just making the space for teachers to like mentally be supported through this process is huge.
DC: I met you through Phoenyx Williams, a wonderful performer and is also a fellow teacher here at this wonderful institution. How is poetry used in education here?
AT: Yeah. So Mr. Phoenyx brought a great program here, hip hop and poetry. Kids are allowed to join in the class, different trimesters.
So he gets a different rotation of kids, so they have the different experience. They do things like make beats, and then they learn about the different types of poems and then they end up doing a final project on what that poem is. We also have a writing unit based off of poetry.
I do think that we can do more, as far as like poetry slams and things like that for the kids to allow their creativity to come out more rather than it being so much structured. But I think that as a school, as a charter network, we have the freedom to do things like hip hop and poetry and create those type of courses for individuals.
DC: What positive change can you make right now?
AT: Use your social media platform. Use it in a positive way. Build your community. Don’t break them down. Continue to use your voice because your voice is powerful. No matter what age you are, continue to use it in a positive way.
Please check out Andreana Thomas’ amazing documentary called BLACK JOY here: youtube.com/watch?v=bxE5EVi5zyA&feature=youtu.be