Kelly Wickham Hurst makes some people nervous. All her life people have responded to her either by challenging her to reach her obvious potential or resenting her for exceeding their ability to control. As a youth, she was an athlete. Taller than her peers, she was faster than most, stronger than many and played every sport imaginable. Not only was she good, she didn’t mind telling others about her athletic prowess. She was a member of a neighborhood all girls football team. When a boy threw a rock at her sister’s face because he wasn’t allowed to play with them. The whole team chased him through the neighborhood to make him pay for what he did. Her sister came away with a scar near her eye. Kelly came away invigorated from having acted when someone “did something vile to a girl.”
She was almost sidetracked when she became a teen mother. People looked at her differently. Expectations diminished, she had “ruined her life.” Kelly shrunk a little metaphorically. She no longer bragged of accomplishments, she still had goals but kept them to herself. Kelly finished college, and more or less stumbled into her future career.
She didn’t originally want to be a teacher. She was an English literature major and one day drove a friend to a student teaching position. She decided that day what she wanted to do with all her knowledge was “give it back to children.”
It took her a while to begin speaking up in faculty meetings and offering opinions. Early on she was recognized as “brilliant.” A tiny bit of reinforcement brought back the bravery and confidence she had as a girl, withdrawn no more. She became known as, “that opinionated teacher,” and hasn’t held back since.
A district representative asked teachers if they wanted to pursue administration and earn a Master’s degree. Kelly raised her hand. During her second year, she responded to a question as to “why she wanted to be a principal” in this manner. “Leadership found me,” and she “wasn’t going to shy away from it any longer.” She had started down a path that was going to make some people nervous.
Kelly moved into administration in a desire to help more children than she could in the classroom. She also saw how students, particularly those of color were treated by administrators and other teachers. She witnessed the disparity of suspensions and expulsions. The inequitable treatment and offering of resources. She sat on committees, raised her voice, and made people uncomfortable.
Her personnel record was spotless. There were never any formal reprimands. When she made people nervous by pointing out the systemic disparities. They never reprimanded her. They moved her instead, more than once to hopefully still her voice. Instead of quieting her, she got louder as she began to attain a significant online presence. She wrote about education, life, and race. It was when she wrote about race she made some people most uncomfortable.
There were small victories. One year her position was scheduled to be cut and she was told she’d be moved. Magically, her position was not cut and she remained at the school. A year later she learned that parents of color stormed the administration center and demanded she be allowed to remain for their kids. Her blog, Mocha Mommacontinued to grow and in 2014 she won the Iris Award for “Most Thought Provoking Content.” She started getting speaking engagements. In 2015, she received the Inspire Award given by students in a 4-H Program. Her following grew, yet in her homeland of Springfield, IL. The prophet was without honor.
Photo: 5 minutesformom.com
By 2016, as a Guidance Dean at a technology magnet school. She ran the school’s Problem Solving Team that brainstormed on how to keep kids from falling through the cracks. She had served on the Curriculum Council and served on the Minority Concerns Council. She attended a Truancy Review Board meeting monthly where she heard the individual cases and couldn’t help but notice the disparate treatment of minority kids. The District sought her input which was duly documented, yet rarely listened. Springfield had been operating under a consent decree regarding their past policies and was very interested in the appearance of being responsive to minority communities. It seemed the appearance alone was sufficient.
As the school year 2016–17 approached. Kelly was being sent to a new position. One where she would have less interaction with students which was her whole reason for choosing her career to begin with. The monetary incentives for staying were high. The frustrations of speaking but not being heard were greater. Newly married, the impact of a significant financial hit made it a family decision. Backed by the knowledge they would survive the transition and she had their full support; she made plans.
Over the years as an educator and blogger with national renown. She had accumulated friends who backed her, none including Kelly herself the exact direction her new venture would take. Her Board Members include Luvvie Ajayi — New York Times Best Selling Author, Denene Milner — New York Times Best Selling Author, Kristen West Savali — Assoc. Editor. Social Justice. Culture. Education. The Root, Dr. Camika Royal — Co-Director, Center for Innovation in Urban Education, Loyola University Maryland, Jose Luis Vilson — Teacher, Author, Activist, and other big hitters. She resigned from her position with the school system on faith without an announced plan. When she resurfaced, she came out with Being Black At School!
Being Black at School has huge goals. They strive to, “utilize data and policy analysis to foster a movement for making schools safer and more equitable for black students.” Their approach is “data driven, grass-roots focused, and concentrated at all the levels of decision making. In the community, in the classroom, and in the statehouse.” Their movement seeks to:
- Advocate for equitable schools
- Promote learning environments and professional development that embraces multiculturalism
- Protect Black students from racially charged discipline measures
- Challenge government policies to accommodate the diversity of American classrooms
For 23 years she watched Black students and other students of colors being marginalized in a public school environment. Instead of being held down and having her voice smothered. Kelly Wickham Hurst stepped up, stepped out on faith, and followed her dream of giving back to children.
Kelly Wickham Hurst is a true Shadow Warrior although I suspect she won’t remain in the shadows much longer. Being Black at School now has a growing staff and is preparing to announce the first several city chapters of Being Black at School. 26 communities responded to their initial appeal. You can support BBAS by Staying In The Know ,or Joining The Movement, and of course you can Donate.
Kelly has a new granddaughter nicknamed “Mugsy” that has stolen her heart. Her Facebook page is filled with Mugsy pictures, reports, and tales of visits. While there might be some inclination to slow down and spend more time with family. Mugsy is yet another reason that Being Black at School must succeed. Kelly was always driven to help children. Now it’s become just a bit more personal.
Kelly is still making some people nervous. She addresses things head on they’d rather not talk about. She’s upsetting to comfort zones and demands change. The withdrawn girl begat the opinionated teacher that begat the confident administrator that begat the Founder and Executive Director of Being Black at School. Kelly Wickham Hurst… Shadow Warrior.
Originally published March 7, 2017