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"Black Narcissus: The Role of the Suburban Othermother" by Kel Hughes

Kel Hughes

Why Do You Want A Sabbatical Beauty Scholarship?

I would like to receive a Sabbatical Beauty scholarship in order to interview my subjects for my dissertation and to code the data. My project is centered in Black Feminism and will give voice to a marginalized group of people, which I believe aligns with the Sabbatical Beauty community.

"Black Narcissus: The Role of the Suburban Othermother"

Research Statement by Kel Hughes

I am an African-American female teacher in a diverse suburban district, where I have been employed for nearly a decade. I teach 7th grade Science and ESL (English as a Second Language) Science at a middle school in the district. The art of teaching is something I learned from my upbringing. My mother is a retired teacher, my aunt is a retired principal and my cousin is an assistant principal. As a child, I listened to stories of my mother’s students, helped out in her classroom when I could, and watched her give anything she could to help those under her care succeed. The suburban elementary school I attended only had a few African American teachers at the time, and one woman in particular stands out. The position of power and respect she gained through the years is quite phenomenal, and to this day, we still have a high regard for her in the community. When I examine myself, an African American educator in my mid-thirties, I cannot help but see how Black women teachers shaped my practice and pedagogy.

In recent decades, suburban communities and public schools have become more integrated (Diarrassouba & Johnson, 2014; Frey, 2003; Irvine & Irvine, 2007; Logan, 2003), which one could interpret as a success linked to the 1954 ​Brown v Board of Education​ decision. However, as suburban demographics change, African-American students are still at an academic disadvantage, facing an achievement gap (Chapman, 2014; Irvine & Irvine, 2007; Kafele, 2009; Ogbu, 2003). As involuntary immigrants, African-American students often feel alienated in school settings where they are the minority (Fordham & Ogbu, 1986; Ogbu, 1990 & 2003; Ogbu & Simmons, 1998), and have a need to connect to the learning environment. One way to increase this connection is through hiring and retaining teachers of color, but through the years there has been a decline of African-American educators entering the profession (Ingersoll & May, 2016; Irvine & Irvine, 2007). Many Black female teachers who have been teaching a number of years are part of a phenomenon called “othermothering,” in which they care for children that are not blood relatives in a lovingly firm way (Case, 1997; Collins, 2000; Guffrida, 2005; Kakli, 2010; Lindsay-Dennis, Cummings, & McClendon, 2011; Loder 2005; Wilson, 2010).

Through qualitative methods, my study examines the role of Black female teachers identified as “othermothers” in suburban settings with three questions -- what is the experience of the suburban othermother; what is her essence; how does she see herself and her responsibility to her community? By the end of August, I will have completed my initial interviews, shadowing and focus groups of the subjects in my case study. It contributes to the goals of the Sabbatical Beauty community giving a voice to those who are marginalized, and placing Black women at the center, with hopes to liberate all. It will help others to not only understand the plight of Black suburban teachers as othermothers, but will help to bring equality within school systems in regards to closing the achievement gap and retaining Black educators.

Case, K. I. (1997). African American othermothering in the urban elementary school. ​The Urban

Review, 29​(1), 25-39.
Chapman, T. K. (2014). Is integration a dream deferred? students of color in majority White

suburban schools. ​The Journal of Negro Education, 83​(3), 311-326.
Collins, P.H. (2000). ​Black feminist thought.​ New York: Routledge.
Diarrassouba, N. & Johnson, S. (2014). Responding to demographic change: What do suburban

district leaders need to know?​ NCPEA International Journal of Educational Leadership

Preparation, 9​(1), 1-17.
Fordham, S., & Ogbu, J. U. (1986). Black students', school success: Coping with the "burden of

'acting white'". ​Urban Review,18​(3), 176-206.
Frey, W.H. (2003). Melting pot suburbs: A study of suburban diversity. In B. Katz & R.E. Lang

(Eds.) ​Redefining Urban and Suburban America: Evidence from Census 2000​ (pp.

155-179). Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.
Guiffrida, D. (2005). Othermothering as a framework for understanding African American

students' definitions of student-centered faculty. ​The Journal of Higher Education, 76​(6),

Ingersoll, R. and May, H. (2016).​ Minority teacher recruitment, employment, and retention:

1987 to 2013.​ Palo Alto, CA: Learning Policy Institute.
Irvine, J. J., & Irvine, R. W. (2007). The impact of the desegregation process on the education of

black students: A retrospective analysis. ​The Journal of Negro Education, 76​(3), 297-305.

Kafele, B. K. (2009). ​Motivating Black males to achieve in school and in life​. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Kakli, Z. (2011). Doing the work: A portrait of an African American mother as an education activist. ​The Urban Review, 43​(2), 175-195.

Lindsay-Dennis, L., Cummings, L., & McClendon, S. C. (2011). Mentors' reflections on developing a culturally responsive mentoring initiative for urban African American girls. Black Women, Gender + Families, 5​(2), 66-92.

Loder, T. L. (2005). African American women principals' reflections on social change, community othermothering, and Chicago public school reform. ​Urban Education, 40​(3), 298-320.

Logan, J.R. (2003). Ethnic diversity grows, neighborhood integration lags. In B. Katz & R.E. Lang (Eds.) ​Redefining Urban and Suburban America: Evidence from Census 2000​ (pp. 235-255). Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.

Ogbu, J.U. (1990). Literacy and schooling in subordinate cultures: The case of Black Americans. In K. Lomotey (Ed.), ​Going to school: The African American experience​ (pp. unknown). New York: SUNY.

Ogbu, J.U. (2003). ​Black American students in an affluent suburb.​ Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

Ogbu, J. U., & Simons, H. D. (1998). Voluntary and involuntary minorities: A cultural-ecological

theory of school performance with some implications for education. ​Anthropology Education Quarterly, 29​(2), 155-188.


Wilson, C. (2010). Other mothering. In A. O'Reilly (Ed.), ​Encyclopedia of motherhood​ (pp. 957-957). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications Ltd.

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