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Ifeoma Nkemdi

  • Ifeoma

    Newberry Math and Science Academy

My story

I have been concerned about equity issues since I was a little girl. It has been there  as a bi-cultural child of Nigerian and African American parentage. It has always been at the center of my life, living in two worlds. Living in  the villages of Isele-uku ,Ogwashuku, Kaduna and the cities in Nigeria , as a child  led me to understand deeply the beauty of my African heritage and the depth of this history. I was surrounded by love, through my time with different tribes of African children and people.  I learned ,at a heightened level, at the educational institutions there.  There was a power there that I somehow inherited,  that has been my driving force. I have an outlook and perception that has been shaped by my travels as a young 5 year old back to my father's country. My  father, well- educated, driven individual  has overcame so many obstacles to travel out of Africa to London, then to America to study at Universities. He took us back to Nigeria to run two corporations in his hometown.  I was just a little girl, crawling under desks listening to business deals and carrying on. The greatest lesson I  learned was that money and capital do not dictate gratitude and authentic power. It does not dictate the ability of the mind's will.  It gives access and resources, but humanity and grace does not come from it. Those values can be there with or without large sums  of money. The people I encountered were not rich, but they are and still today are the wealthiest people I have ever encountered. I say this because of the volume of their kindness and gratitude. At 12, I began my journey back  to the U.S to the South Side of Chicago with my Black American mother. This taught me a rich lesson in  inequity overtly pressed against Blacks in  American and other groups. Here I learned that a sense and origin of equity permeates first within .It is rooted in the stability and rich  sense of your identity and where you come from. I understand the distinct difference of having a lived culture experience through a community that dates back to centuries- and a culture that has oppression at its core. This  is the critical  cruelty of the inequity of systems in operation here in America for the Black American. Knowing where you come from and having a lived presence within that , has been stolen.  Education is critical to gapping the bridge and dismantling inequity, we have to reimagine education to this purpose. That is what my work is rooted in , through teaching and through my aesthetic.

Why I do the work I do

I  have been teaching for over 16 years with CPS, within that time I have taught various subjects, Theater and Dance with culture and expression at the center of the teaching. I was nominated for the Teacher Advisory Council in 2017-2018 on the Cultural Responsive Committee. I worked on the Instructional Equity Work group in 2018-2019 and began working on  Change Idea  which was an Equity Toolkit  to  be utilized throughout the district as a pivotal resource for this work. I was able to take part in a summer meeting with  Lori Lightfoot, The Mayor of the city Chicago, on an Educators council on Equity in the Summer of 2019. 2019-2020 won The McDougal Foundation Grant for Change Idea Media Toolkit  film project. The Goal is to highlight student voice, staff and community voices centered around their experience  with  race and racism within the district , highlighting the necessary changes that need to happen. I have always understood the significance of just listening and allowing people to give voice to their journey/story. This is crucial in understanding individuals. It is also very powerful to tell your own story, control your narrative and hear yourself share to a wider community testimony to your life. I want to capture these moments on film.  I believe this enables one to be fearless. This fearlessness is definitive of accessing and resourcing Equity.  Stories have the power to change lives, at least move them in a way that is remembered.

What sustains me when equity work stalls, how do I stay motivated when the work gets hard, and how do I push myself and others to advance equity

What sustains me with the work is to give voice and power to those that have been disenfranchised. I feel that it is a duty, and must be done.