Dr. April Bee
The Wounds of the Glass Ceiling - Supporting Chalisa Fain, J.D. and Black Women Leaders
Updated: May 6, 2021
Chalisa Fain, J.D., is the current Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for Midlothian ISD in Midlothian, Texas. Fain has worked in civil rights since 2007 and worked extensively with the City of Dallas Fair Housing Office to investigate and address inequities and discrimination in housing. Fain has also worked with the Texas Workforce Commission investigating discrimination complaints of employment. Due to her skillset, experience, and educational trajectory, it can be implied that Fain has ample experience in mediations, facilitation towards solutions within highly professional settings, and the mindfulness of all parties involved.
Like many other black women, Fain took on a role that serves as a transitional impact for the Midlothian community. As Midlothian carries a historic narrative of racial disparity and overt microaggressions, the service that Fain provides to the Midlothian school district not only impacts the trajectory of the future of Midlothian, but it provides restoration and development upon reshaping the historic, racial narratives.
With this, comes a price.
Recently, Chalisa Fain was targeted for her comments on social media regarding supporting black businesses and other measures of promoting a black business, personally. This raised red flags for a vast amount of people within the Midlothian community, as this is seen as discrimination towards white people and white business. It also led to opinions about teaching ideology within the educational setting and its lack of necessity. Such dismay has led to a circulation of a petition, asking to take action in removing Fain from her position. Below are some of the comments regarding Fain and her approach on addressing diversity, equity, and inclusion:
“I'm signing because no child should be made to feel "less than" because they were born a certain race. This fight has already been fought once. We should not have to fight it again.”
“We had to move because of the stance the school took and my children were scared and concerned due to the lack of grownups protecting them...”
“JUSTICE FOR WE THE PEOPLE. STOP THE INDOCTRINATION IN THE SCHOOLS. FREE AND OPEN AMERICA”
Circling back to the price paid to step into such a role—there were a few things to point out as a consistent pattern that occurs when instances like this arise.
-In the petition, Fain’s first name was never addressed. Although it was lucky enough that she was referred to as “Mrs.”, there was no mentioning of her full given name. In addition, there were no references to her title, J.D. For those who may not know, a J.D. is a Juris Doctorate, also known as a law degree. As this is a high-level degree to earn, it is dismaying to see that her title was not referenced in the petition. This commonly happens to women, and especially to black women. This is a form of creating inferiority (whether conscious or sub-conscious) and creates a level of dehumanization by not even addressing their full name at least one time. It is quite difficult to dehumanize someone when you address them as J.D. So, their titles, and even their names, can be removed from discussions to comfortably criticize the person.
-The very educational ideology that Fain is providing within the district (which is the call of concern) is the very educational ideology necessary to prevent such a petition. The author of the petition put “Diversity” in quotation marks to imply that Fain is promoting an alternative agenda that is not considered diverse to the source. Additionally, the author termed “white privilege” as being extremely offensive and that she only promotes the black agenda, which is perceived as a lack of impartiality. Lastly, it was requested that topics such as “BLM (Black Lives Matter), homosexuality, and immigration” should stay out of the classroom. To know that there are people who perceive learning about the sociological experiences of human nature as something that is not for the classroom may reflect the rationale of why our current social climate is so divided and misunderstanding of one another. It is quite a blatant representation of the urgent need of such “ideological education” for the upcoming generation so that broadened, and more informed perspectives are explored and implemented.
-Black women in such high-level positions are taking a daring risk but are highly necessary. It is almost seen as a sacrifice if you will. It is a calling for one to step into a role in efforts to break a glass ceiling that once served as a barrier to those who came before. The concern—once black women break the glass ceiling, the glass then falls on their face. It cuts them, get in their eyes, and causes more wounding. Black women are then faced with the decision if being injured by the glass measures to the impact of ensuring that no other person has to endure such a ceiling. Simultaneously, Black women are scrutinized for taking time to get the glass out of their eyes, put peroxide on their cuts, or even scream from the pain of such wounds. Meaning, as black women naturally respond to the impact of their revolutionary work, they are also scrutinized for a difference in poise, tone, or posture in professional situations. For some, it forces black women to continue to work with glass in their eyes, open cuts, and painful wounds to maintain their meaningful position and ensure that the job is fully done to pave the path for those who come after—while still be scrutinized.
-Black women often take on bold positions as such to make revolutionary change. Because black women are perceived as more palatable than a man, but possess just enough edge to push an agenda, black women are often highly admired for such a role. The issue is such a role is a target. Black women are criticized for their words, dress, opinions, personal life, and then somehow discredited for their developments within their respected work because of the discomfort the implementation may bring. Black women work extensively to balance upon a fine line of being seen for their poise and intellect while utilizing their internal grit to truly make an impact. This fine line often leaves Black women isolated in such roles because those who are uncomfortable with her demeanor in white spaces are not comfortable supporting her work, and those who are uncomfortable with her audacious work of making radical changes that hold them accountable will attack her work.
That stops now.
There are so many black women as teachers, administrators, managers, attorneys, directors, senior leaders, and in other positions of high power. It is rarely discussed on the internal impact of such a position and how it plays a role in the wellness of the black woman. There is a multi-layered barrier in place that allots for this situation to happen far too many times without much scrutiny, opportunity for education, and support for the black women in such a role. Therefore, here are a few suggested steps to addressing this phenomenon, supporting black women in such leadership roles, and how to care for yourself as a black woman in a difficult leadership position.
If you are a black woman in this role:
-Thank you for your sacrifice.
-Allow yourself the permission to value your personal wellness over the needs of an organization, business, or any entity.
-Asking for help and support does not make you less able or adequate. Do not let the subconscious, non-verbal, ideological perspectives communicate such to you.
-It is strong, brave and wise to stay in such a role. It is strong, brave, and wise to talk away from such a role. The value does not come from the accolade; the value comes from valuing you.
-For the negative responses towards your hard work, there are many who are celebrating for you and grateful for you. Keep record of those texts, emails, gifts, and other forms of appreciation as your evidence that you are doing great things.
To support a black woman in this role:
-Send positive emails, letters, and texts. Be specific on their impact. The support will truly fight through Imposter Syndrome.
-Advocate for supportive roles within your workspace. Often, black women are taking on more roles than one to fill a position. Advocate for internships, assistantships, personal assistants, or departmental delegation. It will truly ease her load.
-Step into an empathetic space for the emotional experiences of black women in such a position. Often, she may not even have the capacity to recognize her burnout because she is working towards her goals and may not know what she needs to pour into her wellness. Therefore, check in on her, offer her support, and empower her to care for herself as well.
-Choice of vocabulary is essential in empowerment; therefore, diversify encouraging words to use towards black women in such a position. “Strong” can hold as a compliment and obligation, as it can box black women into feeling powerful for staying in the position and guilty for leaving. Strong also masks the human emotional responses that black women endure and leaves little space to process. It can also trigger feelings of weakness of the weight of the position becomes a bear. Try out compliments that empower the specific work they are doing and its benefits while also complimenting moments when they are caring for themselves.
To address the systematic patterns of black women and other revolutionary leaders in such a role:
-Research about the position to provide direct and specific feedback that is beneficial for empowering black women in their roles. This will help the wave in educating others about their position who may not fully understand their work.
-For employers, co-workers, and managers: take time to learn more about work dynamics and the impact of each role. It may not directly affect you, but it could heavily affect someone else who impacts your work.
-Take time to understand black women in their role. Try to extend from just focusing on their work performance and instead invest into their holistic well-being in such a role. Also, take intentional time to understand their demeanor, internal thoughts, actions, and decisions. Allow them to be human, too.
-Continue in education on internal biases. Ask yourself what leads you to perceiving a black woman in such a role in this manner (positively or negatively). Then, unpack how your perception impacts the support and the well-being of a black woman in this role. This helps to liberate her from isolation and increase your awareness to connect on how to support.
-Share the positive things black women in leadership roles are doing. The representation matters.
-Refrain from just rewarding the groundbreaking things that black women. Their voice, insight, wellness, and personal sustainability should be celebrated just as energetically.
Collaboratively, there is power in standing alongside of those who are in such high-level, revolutionary positions. For those like Chalisa Fain, we must remember to not only celebrate in gratitude for their efforts but ensure that we support their journey in this position. Such work can be a treacherous road, but we can support those who are doing audacious work to enhance our community.
To support keeping Chalisa Fain in her position as Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for Midlothian ISD, click on this link and sign the petition below. Be sure to share this petition with others as well as the story of a black woman making daring, positive changes in her community.