THE TRUTH SCHOOL IS FIVE YEARS OLD THIS MONTH! Can you tell from the bold upper case letters that I am excited? We are all so excited! A dream, an idea, a hope…then a plan, a structure, and a school. Five years. Created in the wake of Trump winning the presidency, the Truth School was once a reaction to the extremely disturbing news and the gut-wrenching sense of what would lie ahead in the coming four years. But the School is now so much more than a reaction to Trump–we are a vibrant and inspiring school-network-community connecting seasoned and budding activists with experts in movement-building strategies and we are helping to make change from the ground up. A frequent class participant called our School “my church,” and others have referred to the classes as “my lifeline.” Massachusetts State Senator Jo Comerford (a founding Truth School board member) calls the Truth School “…a very necessary miracle.”
We burst on the scene in January 2017 and here are some milestones and accomplishments since our inception:
* The Truth School has offered over 400 FREE TOTALLY FREE movement-building classes over the last five years;
* Since beginning five years ago, the Truth School has raised nearly $500,000 to pay our trainers, our staff, and all administrative and overhead expenses;
* In 2019, the School’s Board of Directors voted unanimously that all of our trainers would be people of color or biracial pairs, and that has changed the School in countless positive and important ways;
* The Truth School made a difficult but successful pivot to all online courses on Zoom when COVID hit, not missing a beat and continuing with strength, creativity, and pluck;
* Because of COVID, the School’s Zoom presence has meant that we have had class participants signing on from 31 states (and counting) and a dozen foreign countries;
* In 2021, the School hired our first Operations Manager, Amihan Matias, who has brought a new level of professionalism, administrative savvy, and organizational wizardry to our work–not to mention her enormous heart, and remarkable network of colleagues and friends old and young;
* My mantra for so long has been that the Truth School is spunky, scrappy, and successful. I am adding new words but there is no alliteration this time. The school is still those three things but I would say we are now also nimble, stable, and thriving. We are solid, and we are here to stay! This little gem of a School is going strong.
* The Truth School has a remarkable staff; a team of dedicated, talented and seemingly tireless volunteers; loyal and generous donors; and a growing list of grateful class participants. We also have foundations supporting us consistently, businesses giving ongoing financial contributions, and faith partners who have been with us since day one.
* Our Board of Directors is diverse, active, engaged, inquisitive, proud, and pushes the School to lead with courage and take risks with classes.
Thank you for being part of the extended Truth School family. Your notes of encouragement matter, your financial gifts keep us afloat, your participation in classes is what we are all about, and your ongoing individual work for justice, peace and environmental sustainability is making a difference in this beautiful but broken world. Keep up the good work.
Thank you for believing in the Truth School. See you in a Spring Semester Truth School class soon!
Ever onward and with enormous gratitude, Andrea
Thank you to the organizations and people who have so generously supported the Truth School!
Our Faith Partners
Alden Baptist Church, Springfield, MA
First Church Amherst, UCC, Amherst, MA
Congregation B’nai Israel, Northampton, MA
Edwards Church, Northampton, MA
First Churches of Northampton, UCC & ABC, Northampton, MA
Grace Episcopal Church, Amherst, MA
Northampton Friends Meeting, Northampton, MA
South Church Amherst, UCC, Amherst, MA
Unitarian Society of Northampton and Florence, Northampton, MA
50/50 Fitness, Hadley, MA
Broadside Bookstore, Northampton, MA
Franklin Community Cooperative, Greenfield, MA
Paradise Copies, Northampton, MA
River Valley Co-op, Northampton, MA
Solar Store of Greenfield, Greenfield, MA
The Beveridge Family Foundation
Collaborative for Educational Services
Hornor Skinn Charitable Fund
Living Springs Foundation
The Markham-Nathan Fund for Social Justice
Samuel Rubin Foundation
The TJX Foundation
Twin Pines Cooperative Foundation
The Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts
JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2022 CLASSES
For complete information on all of our class offerings, and to register for a class, visit Truth School or click on the links for specific classes below. All classes are EST.
Chris Mohn, Co-Coordinator of the Truth School Host Program
Chris (she/her/hers) is a retired middle school educator and a long time advocate for “justice for all” in our country and our world. Her passion and activism for fairness/ justice began when she was a teenager and college student in the 60s. Learning truths about her white European ancestors who settled in this country was another awakening along her justice journey. Becoming the mother of a Black son and now part of a multi-racial family provides constant and stark reminders for the imperative for change. She continues to challenge herself and other white people to explore and own the ramifications of whiteness, to understand our imperative to change the systems or any forces that perpetuate injustice and divisions in our country and our world. She is appreciative of her involvement in organizations like the Truth School that offer opportunities for learning, engagement, and hope for a better future for all, for E Pluribus Unum.
ivy tillman, Host
ivy tillman (ze/zir/zirs) is a retired IT professional who has a passion for social justice in the intersections we live in, and a voracious appetite for learning more about them. ze facilitates workshops for racial justice, is a member of a liturgical drama group, and is, slowly, beginning to experience and enjoy the “retire” in retirement.
If you have attended a Truth School Class, you have had the experience of being warmly greeted and supported by a Truth School Class Host. The Truth School would like to take this moment to appreciate the important and invaluable support our class hosts provide to our trainers and participants. The Truth School would not be able to offer such high quality and accessible learning experiences to our participants without their contributions. We are so grateful!
Chris Mohn and MJ Adams are the Co-Coordinators of our Host Program and ivy tillman is one of our Hosts. Here, Chris and ivy say a few words about their experiences with the Host Program.
Discovering The Truth School provided a wonderful and effective way for me to connect with all kinds of justice work and fabulous people when I moved to this area 5 years ago. I was delighted and honored to be invited to become a host for a class: to welcome and support the trainer(s), to welcome participants, and to represent (“be the face of”) the Truth School. I happily accepted.Currently, I am a Co-coordinator (with MJ Adams) of the TS Host Program. My hosting roles continue to provide me the opportunity to expand my personal passion/knowledge on various justice topics, to make connections with others, AND to actively serve the Truth School mission. Gratitude to our visionary leader Andrea Ayvazian, all our leadership folks, our trainers, our hosts, our participants!!! May the Truth School continue to evolve and grow.
Hello, I’m your Truth School host, ivy tillman. Welcome to your Sojourner Truth School for Social Change Leadership class,i love taking Truth School (TS) classes. As a wanna-be social change leader, i’ve found the classes informative, challenging, and useful. When classes were held in-person, i always admired the work TS Hosts did to welcome and settle us and keep us on track. As an introvert, i thought, “Nope, not me, not ever!” Then along comes Covid-19, Zoom and retirement! Suddenly, TS meant even more to me: during one calendar year, i think i took at least 40 of the 80 classes offered. i think it was in the last newsletter of Summer 2020 that a call went out for Hosts, and i thought, hey, i’m loving this virtual space: why not me? So i volunteered.Think the work is too hard? Nope! You only sign up for classes you WANT to host, and you can participate, too, depending on what the trainer needs from you. Needs? Well, you let people into the Zoom session, greet each of them, talk a little bit about TS, then hand off to the trainer. Sometimes–but not often–a trainer will ask you to do some Zoom things, like set up breakout rooms, do polls, manage opening music, a powerpoint, jamboard or a whiteboard.
OMG, ZOOMMM??? Noooo, no worries! We have excellent Zoom trainers who can school you or refresh you. The TS Host team is there for you–all of them–whenever you need them. And sometimes–most times, actually–the trainer likes to do all the hard Zoom stuff themselves!
WAIT, i have to give a talk? Again, no worries! There’s a script! You can read it as is, or you can modify it to fit your style.
i want you to know that this semester when i’ve hosted has been the most exciting yet. i love helping TS thrive in its–and my/our–work. i love watching folk have “aha” moments, challenge the trainers, jump into participation with their whole selves. If it wasn’t so, i wouldn’t be back, but you can bet i will be. Being a social change leader can be hard work, but Hosting trainings for social change leaders–sorta magic! Try it!
Recruiting New Hosts
We are looking to expand our pool of class hosts. We are hoping to recruit more BIPOC folks and young people and look forward to welcoming them to our Truth School family.The Truth School has decided to offer hosts a stipend of $50 per class as a way to recognize and compensate them for the important work they do.
Please use your networks to spread the word. If you know of people who would be interested in hosting classes and are committed to the vision of the Truth School, please let Chris Mohn know at firstname.lastname@example.org
This is a big fat major shout-out to the foundations supporting the Sojourner Truth School for Social Change Leadership. Now don’t stop reading or drift off into a state of MEGO (my eyes glaze over). Please keep reading, this is actually exciting.
We love our funders…NOT just because they love us and support us financially. But also because they HEAR us. They actually listen to us, AND respond respectfully and thoughtfully.
Here’s the scoop. Foundations usually want nonprofit organizations like the Truth School to write grants that request funding for the newest thing—a flashy new project, a creative new initiative, a “needed” new program…you get the point. The key thing is NEW. Too often foundations want to support the next new thing—same old, same old does not get funded.
But the Truth School does the same old, same old really really really well. We have printed our mission right on the cover of every single catalogue we have published for the last five years. Each and every semester, the cover of the catalogue says the same thing:
“We do one thing. Well. We teach movement-building skills. Class after class, week after week, month after month. We prepare social change leaders to win movement struggles. Join us.”
During the past 12 months when we applied for foundation support, funders asked what new thing we were doing, and we said, “Nothing.” We aren’t doing anything new. We are getting better and better and better at doing exactly what the Truth School was created to do: we hold classes, we teach movement-building skills, we support activists, we connect people. We told funders the truth: we are doing what we have always done. But we are getting better and better at it. Please fund our basic mission, we have nothing new, glamorous, cutting edge or flashy to offer you.
And funders said FINE! They said: do what you do, do it well, and here’s a grant. One foundation doubled the money we had asked for and decided to fund us two years in a row (no need to re-apply). Another funder (new to us) met me for coffee and said, “I really like what the School is doing, ask me for money.”
This past September, we held a Donor Appreciation Party for some major donors and family foundations here in Northampton, MA. When thanking the group for their generosity and giving them a Truth School update, I told them the truth! “Thank you for paying for stamps,” I said to them. “Thank you for helping us meet payroll. Thank you for covering the cost of Board insurance, making 2,000 hard copy catalogues, and paying for the many social media platforms we use.”
I was honest with that group of donors. “I have nothing sexy, exciting, and NEW to tell you we are doing. We need you to continue to cover the expenses of keeping a wildly successful movement-building school afloat. You are paying our trainers. And that is the heart of our work.”
So here’s to telling the truth. Here’s to funders who listen. Here’s to donors who say, sure we’ll buy stamps. Whatever you need. Here’s to a School that knows how to use every dime and stretch every dollar. Here’s to the same old, same old….when the same old is empowering grassroots organizers, supporting activists young and old, teaching skills necessary to win movement struggles, and giving voice to those on the margins of power and wealth. Here’s to the Truth School! And thank you to our funders!
We hope you remember the Sojourner Truth School for Social Change Leadership on Giving Tuesday!
Thank you so much!
DECEMBER 2021 CLASSES
For complete information on all of our class offerings, and to register for a class, visit Truth School or click on the links for specific classes below. All classes are EST.
Gwen Agna was the principal of Jackson Street School in Northampton, MA for 24 years and retired as of summer 2020. Throughout her career, Gwen has been committed to providing a child-centered, equitable, and empowering education for all.
Tiffany Jewell is a Black biracial writer, anti-racist educator and consultant, and mama. She spends her time baking, building LEGOS, watching detective shows, and dreaming up ways she can dismantle white supremacy. Tiffany currently resides on the unceded traditional land of the Pocumtuc and the Nipmuck with her two young activists, her partner, and a turtle she has had since she was nine years old. She is in her 15th year as a Montessori educator and nearing two decades of work in schools with young folks, families, and educators. Her book, This Book is Anti-racist, is her first book for children and young adults.
I am excited to attend your workshop and learn from you about how we can all participate in raising anti-bias children. Truly supporting children and families means moving from activities to practices. Can you start by telling us how you came to develop these practices?
Tiffany Jewell: This work has been a part of the journey of my lifetime. My lived experiences as a Black Biracial cis woman, growing up in a working class poor single parent home… everything has helped me to grow into developing myself as an anti-bias, anti-racist (ABAR) educator. Working with children, as an educator for eighteen years, learning and collaborating with many, many other Educators of the Global Majority and White accomplices, listening to the brilliant people who have really laid the groundwork for us to understand racism and oppression and justice and liberation– everything has brought me to doing this work today.
Gwen Agna: I was raised by anti-racist parents in the 60’s in Yellow Springs, Ohio. They were active in the civil rights movement and allowed me, as a young child, to join them in their work with friends locally and in the region. They welcomed a young man to our family from Farmville, Virginia so he could complete high school in Yellow Springs. He and other Black Americans were shut out of their town’s high school which closed rather than integrate by court order. They were tremendous role models for me and my siblings, as was the culture in Yellow Springs.
As an early childhood educator, I studied the Anti-bias Curriculum by Louise Derman Sparks, a seminal work in the ‘70s and 80’s. It is still in print and relevant. I was fortunate to begin my teaching career in a school that was fully integrated – race and class – and taught and worked in similar settings for most of my tenure in education.
I recently retired from the Jackson St. Elementary School in Northampton, MA. I was its principal for 24 years and oversaw substantive change in the inclusion and celebration of all students who were enrolled. It has a diverse student population, reflective of the diversity of Northampton, which is sometimes not apparent on first encounter with the community. Before my principal position, I was the Early Childhood and Equity/Civil Rights Coordinator for the Northampton schools. Among my responsibilities was to monitor racial balance in the schools and provide professional development for the educators in equity, bias, and inclusion.
What is the framework for this work that grounds your practices?
Tiffany Jewell: I always look to the frameworks of Anti-Bias Education (ABE) (Louise Derman-Sparks and Julie Olsen Edwards) and the Liberatory Consciousness Framework (Dr. Barbara J. Love). The first goal of ABE is we want children to love themselves. It’s so beautiful and really helps to keep us in the lifelong work of knowing who we are.
Gwen Agna: It is a mix of my lived experience and my education, both using the Anti-Bias Curriculum and also my undergraduate experience living and studying for 4 years in the UK. In the ‘70’s, I witnessed sea change in that country as immigrants from the “colonies” came home to roost and required attention and integration into a mono-culture.
Please tell us about some experiences you have had in your professional work as examples?
Tiffany Jewell: When I worked in a classroom/school, we focused on identity work and building community. If the learners weren’t connected with one another, they couldn’t trust each other or themselves. We also spent our time together learning about the history of racism and resistance, exploring the story of community and justice, and creating a plan for economic justice in our community. Gwen and I will definitely be sharing more stories from our years as educators and caregivers in our workshop!
Gwen Agna: One of the major challenges in schools is authentic inclusion and integration of difference. To do this at Jackson St., we worked together on language (not making assumptions about family structures, backgrounds, the dominant culture). Inclusive words like “caregivers” rather than parents, family traditions rather than dominant culture holiday celebrations, conscious and intentional efforts to understand and include everyone who is in the room.
How have you seen these skills make a difference?
Gwen Agna: Yes, I believe that they have. I always cautioned our educators, students, and families that we were a work in progress and needed to be open to feedback, concerns, and dismantling assumptions.
What are some common entry points to engage children in these issues?
Tiffany Jewell: Books. Folks often use books as an entry point into ABAR at home work. Books can be such an excellent way to bring stories and people into the home and classroom that are not currently there. People often start and end with books, forgetting that books are a tool, a great start, but not the end of the work.
Gwen Agna: Picture books, carefully selected, are tremendous tools to use in instruction as well as in opening up conversations about race and class. We held monthly assemblies during which I read a selected book, always with a theme of race/class/inclusion and would project the images of the pages on a large screen. We sang songs of freedom and peace and had presentations by grade level groups on what they were thinking and learning about. I also think that mediating conflict is a great opportunity to raise the issues that might be underlying some of the problems. I am not suggesting that this always be explicitly stated but identifying children’s differences of opinions leading to conflict can also raise awareness of their identities and experiences.
Have you had to take professional risks to implement anti-bias work in your workplace?
Tiffany Jewell: Absolutely. You can’t authentically do ABAR work without taking risks… in my book, This Book Is Anti-Racist, I share a story about when I spoke up and called someone (and an institution) out. I was one of very few Teachers of the Global Majority in a very White space. Every day I was taking a risk in being myself and being authentically me.
Gwen Agna: YES! When I began my work in Northampton, I encountered established beliefs and ways of teaching that were, I felt, obstacles to anti-bias work. Change occurs over many, many years, and I was in it for the long haul – and it WAS a long haul!
Are you concerned about the current divisions and political fighting over what can be taught and how?
Tiffany Jewell: Most definitely. This is a HUGE problem and… it’s not a new problem. Currently, this is the attack on anti-bias, anti-racist truth work in schools, the attack on our stories and BIPOC authors, and the misunderstood attack on Critical Race Theory are massive, unnecessary, illogical distractions. This is, hands down, one of the most difficult years for educators and students in schools. We need to stop fighting against the loudest voices that make absolutely no sense and start fighting for an equitable distribution of funds and resources in our public schools. It’s ridiculous!
Gwen Agna: I am but I also have to believe that presenting facts in a clear, respectful, and not demeaning way, can be effective in defusing the fighting. I love Loretta Ross’s work in the calling in/calling out cultures and agree that so much calling out is not productive.
Can you share a few ideas you have for caregivers on how to take steps to learn these skills? We all witness and hear children say all kinds of things, but don’t know how to address it comfortably. Is fear of doing it wrong a limiting factor?
Tiffany Jewell: I’m going to recommend that White caregivers and educators stop talking– stop talking over and through People of the Global Majority and actually listen. Stop and listen! Work on yourself– know who you are and know you are working alongside your children. You are in this together. White folks, make space!
Families/Caregivers/Children of the Global Majority, take up space! Fear is limiting for sure– and, people need to get over that fear because freezing from fear gets us nowhere. Fear won’t get us free, it won’t liberate us, it won’t end oppression.
Gwen Agna: Caregivers must engage in conversations with their children about race and class, and every other protective class (isms). It is difficult and scary, but children are so wise and willing to help adults in these areas. What I mean is that children are open and observant and want to understand their world. Squashing conversations about why someone’s skin is a different color, or why their hair is not like their own, or what language is being spoken that they might not understand will only contribute to “otherness” and prejudice.
What is your vision for how families can best learn these practices? You both have experience in schools and working with families. Are you able to see how the schools and caregivers can work together?
Tiffany Jewell: Don’t make assumptions about what’s happening in your children’s schools– ask questions. Work collaboratively, not antagonistically.
I am excited to attend you workshop and learn from you about how we can all participate in raising anti-bias children. Truly supporting children and families means moving from activities to practices. Can you start by telling us how you came to develop these practices?
Gwen Agna: Being a caregiver myself (of 37- and 43-year-old women and two granddaughters), as well as a long-time educator, I am convinced that families and schools can team together on supporting children’s growth into anti-bias warriors. I’m sorry to use the term warrior, but unfortunately now there is still a fight on for true equity and inclusion. Enlist the children in this and give them agency in how they will change the world.
Columnist Andrea Ayvazian:
‘An honest, from-the-heart list of thank you’s’
Last November, as Thanksgiving approached, I wrote a column that included a rather random list of things I was grateful for. I usually do not respond well to those kinds of lists, often found on Hallmark cards, so I tried to make my list authentic, not sappy or sentimental.I am grateful for many, many…