Ragan Ross works for IJAG (Iowa Jobs for America’s Graduates) She is in her third year at United Township High School, teaching upperclassmen. IJAG a program that helps students prepare for after high school. Its main focus is to make sure students are employable.
I am from Davenport and graduated from Davenport Central High School and Iowa State University. Going to school of course, obviously it is mostly students who are not of color. I have always been one or two persons of color in class.
It’s challenging at times being an African-American woman because I always want to make sure I give 110% because of preconceived notions that some people do have. I felt like I always have to give a little bit more to prove myself. So that is the biggest thing with being an African-American woman.
I have not had any run-ins with police. I have gotten pulled over and have gotten a little anxious when I’ve gotten pulled over. It would be as simple as a traffic violation or one of my lights being out. I haven’t had a bad interaction with a police officer but it does make me nervous and I do have a little anxiety from what I have seen going on with especially young black men.
As far as my career, I have been very vocal about the issues that the black community faces. One thing is I just try to advocate for all of my students. And as far as for myself, I haven’t had too many challenges. My biggest challenge is just to make sure that my voice is heard and advocating for my students.
My social life as far as race relations, I keep a close-knit (group) of friends. My social life as far as race relations, the biggest thing for me is making sure that where I am teaching that my students are aware of race relations and that they understand the racial issues that our country and community faces. One thing I do wish … I only know one police officer and that is my friend, because he is a close friend of mine. Other than that I can’t name a police officer by name mostly because there is a lack of relationships within the black community. To foster that community, there needs to be more neighborhood policing. There needs to be police officers that are going to get to know the youth, the students, the families that are within those neighborhoods. I know my dad growing up, he would say if he got in trouble, the police officer would say, ‘hey, I know your mom and dad.’ I don’t know if I see that a lot here.
Currently, we talk about race within my classroom, we focus on civic and social awareness. One thing we do is we will ask the students about how they feel about what’s going on within our community, what’s going on in the world, the racial unrest.
Some students are confused. The students are very aware of the differences that they have. My job is to make sure I come from a standpoint of being practical. Each student would be able to talk about how they feel. But at that point, we then will discuss it. It’s important that I continue to keep a safe environment in my classroom so that students know that they can talk about race and be able to foster through those differences that we all possess but also be able to learn from it as well.
Currently, we are working on a project called the LOVE Project. Lifting Our Voices for Equity. Through that project we have been able to talk about race relations. We have been able to talk about the differences that my students do face. Students do struggle with talking about race. When we have a conversation, I ask them if they ever talk about race in other classes. They say, ‘No, not really.’ So then I ask them, ‘Do you think it would be beneficial if we start to have these conversations more often we might have better police officers. We might have people who are in healthcare positions and may not have these pre-conceived notions about each other?’ So talking about race the students have been able to know the differences between each other but also be able to understand it.