Busta’s Person of the Week: Every teacher, student and parent should know Dr. Dawn Tafari

Dr. Dawn Tafari teaches her class at Winston-Salem State University.

Busta’s Person of the Week: Every teacher, student and parent should know Dr. Dawn Tafari
March 21
01:20 2019

By Busta Brown

Natural beauty, down to earth, real, raw, extremely intelligent, passionate, kindhearted, and loves to teach – this is how I describe one of my newest heroes, Dr. Dawn Tafari. Let’s get to know this strong sista from the Bronx.

The first question I asked Dr. Tafari was about one of her publications entitled “I can’t hug the kids.” When she told me what inspired the publication, it broke my heart and nearly brought me to tears. As a man and now teaching a radio and public speaking class, I see students who need an encouraging and comforting word and a hug. Not a fist bump or high five, a hug! Dr. Tafari interviewed some black male elementary teachers and they shared how they just want to love on the children and they care for children. They became teachers because they love children. And in this country black men are vilified, because if a black man says ‘I love children,’ the world looks like, ‘what’s wrong with you?’ But women can say ‘I love children’ and it’s okay.”

The latest news about some of our black male celebrities can make this topic extremely uncomfortable, but keep reading. Dawn is onto something absolutely beautiful. “One of the teachers I interviewed had a child in his second grade class who was crying. He went to hug her and his colleague said, ‘you better not hug that little girl.’ He asked why. The female teacher said because it can be misconstrued. It led to a meeting with the superintendent and he was told he had to be very careful and don’t ever touch the children. Fist bump or high five is how you show your affection for these children.” She became emotional and said, “I wanted to cry because I thought about me as a teacher, if I could only fist bump or high five children who need me. Some of them don’t get affection at all.”

The Winston-Salem State assistant professor started smiling and then jokingly demonstrated how she hugs her college students. “I give them a hug and say ‘how are you doing’,” as she mimicked a patting on the back hug. She continues, “It shouldn’t be reduced to a fist bump or a high five.” She asked the gentleman what’s the one thing that you don’t like about teaching and he said to me, ‘I can’t hug the kids.’ And I just wanted to cry, and I wanted to cry so bad for him. He loves children, he loves being around them. He said. ‘they make me feel alive and I just want to show them that I care and sometimes they just need a hug.’” The black male teacher said some of the children come to school hungry, upset and depressed and he can see they really need a hug. Someone to just love on them, but he told Dr. Tafari, “I can’t, I’ll lose my job and be accused of being a pedophile.”

I’m tearing up as I’m typing, because I have sons who need a hug sometimes when I’m not around to do it. I hug my sons daily, when we part ways and then when they get home. I remember a little boy at the school where I teach asked me to hold his hand as I was walking him to class. He said, “Mr. Brown, can you hold my hand please,” and I was honored to do so. As we were walking down the hall, I could see him smiling. I could tell he was feeling safe and knew that I cared about his feelings. It was a sweet, yet powerful moment. There have been many days when my students came to me and gave me a hug and I really needed one.

Another one of Dr. Dawn Tafari’s publications touched on women. It’s entitled “They laugh because they assume I’m in prison, but in reality, they’re locked in.” “That’s a line from MC Lyte’s, “Lyte as a Rock.” That piece is about Hip-Hop Feminism,” Dawn said. Go to the winstonsalem Chronicle YouTube channel to see more about that publication. It’s deep and extremely inspiring and thought provoking.

Dr. Dawn Tafari is an assistant professor at Winston-Salem State University, where she teaches a class she calls “Advancing the Academic Success of Black Males.” In her class she uses Hip Hop lyrics to spark dialogue with the students. “I created this class because I saw how the black male students and teachers were treated in school buildings. The male students were always sent to the principal’s office and often labeled ADHD, or referred for special education. I took the time to get to know these young men. They just needed someone to tune in to them, somebody to care and show them we are there for the long haul, and I saw the change in these young men.” She said if black students failed, it wasn’t that they didn’t know how to do the work, “they were failing because you were boring them. They were bored to death.”

She shared a line from one Rap artist, J Cole’s song entitled “Wet Dreams.” It was clear she loves Hip Hop music, because she began smiling and became very passionate while telling the story. “J Cole is telling a dream about being in a math class and he’s thinking about a girl. Does anybody pay attention to the fact that he was in math class and all this stuff is happening in his mind between him and this girl? He’s not paying attention to math class. All these things you would know if you build relationships.”

When she did research on the crisis affecting black males in P12 schools, like the higher dropout rates, suspensions at a much higher rate than their white counterparts, she found that there’s a lack of diversity in the school system. “Black boys don’t see school as a safe place. Because when they sit there and look at the teacher, the teacher doesn’t look like them. As soon as they misbehave, they’re sent out of the classroom. Why would you want to spend time in a place that you’re constantly getting kicked out of?”

In her class, Advancing the Academic Success of Black Males, she uses Hip Hop music as a tool to build one of the most important parts of a relationship with our young black males: Trust. Go to our winstonsalem Chronicle YouTube channel to hear more about Dr. Dawn Tafari’s class. It’s one of the best and most effective in the country. She’s doing some phenomenal work with our young black males.

She also touches on how black male teachers were often relegated to becoming the resident disciplinarians and were treated like servants rather than equals. “I would see faculty members ask the black male teachers, carry this or that, and could you go to so and so classroom. This was something throughout my career that remained consistent.”

Dr. Tafari also goes in deep on how to affectively teach kindergarten to 12th grade and the importance of teacher and parents working together. “When the students know you have a relationship with their parents, they know you care, and if a student knows you care, they’ll listen and do the work.”

Dr. Dawn Tafari is proud to say she’s from the Boogie Down Bronx in New York. She earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology with a minor in anthropology from Hofstra University; her master of arts in teaching with certification in elementary education from The Johns Hopkins University; and a post-baccalaureate certificate in women’s and gender studies and her Ph.D. in educational studies with a specialization in cultural studies from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro. She has served as an elementary school teacher in Brooklyn, New York, and in Baltimore, Maryland, and as a curriculum facilitator in High Point, N.C. Dr. Tafari currently serves as an educational consultant for Guilford County Schools and as the interim coordinator for the Birth through Kindergarten education program in the Department of Education at Winston-Salem State University. Dawn is also co-founder of the Greensboro Kwanzaa Collective, a grassroots organization that organizes Greensboro’s citywide seven-day Kwanzaa celebration.

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