JFK center college educator honored with civil rights award

Published: 05/05/2021 9:13:10 AM

NORTHAMPTON – Mareatha Wallace, an educator at JFK Middle School, has won the Massachusetts Teachers Association’s Louise Gaskins Lifetime Civil Rights Award.

The award is named after Gaskins, who is described on the association’s website as “a pioneer for the inclusion of women and people of color in education”. Award nominees should “embody the qualities of humility, leadership, and tenacity of Louise Gaskins has brought with her wherever she has served. “

“Was I really excited. But also kind of like why? It’s exactly what I do,” Wallace said when he received the award. “I am honored and humbled that my colleagues thought I got this award earned, but I think I’m not doing this for the award. I’m doing it because it’s the right thing. And there’s never a wrong time to do the right thing. I believe in the wrong isms and the wrong Interrupt phobias. “

Wallace has been a Paraducator in middle school for five years and currently works primarily with sixth graders. She heads the Students of Color Alliance and has written the school’s Black History Month curriculum.

The curriculum used to focus on the civil rights movement, Wallace said, which includes information on the black history of rock and roll and jazz.

“Black history is so much more than just that snapshot … let’s present it all,” she said.

When it comes to civil rights, “I am talking about all of these smaller leaders, if you will so that children may not know,” Wallace said. Students have usually heard of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr., but they don’t usually know much about Malcolm X or Diane Nash, she said.

When Wallace was working on school bulletin boards for Women’s History Month, Susan B. Anthony was featured, but not prominently, which annoyed some of Wallace.

“Once she got her rights, she didn’t turn around and helped everyone get theirs,” she said of Anthony. “Yes, she did things … but she did things for white women. Not for all of us. “

Wallace put women like Ida B. Wells in the spotlight and wants to help students understand that “there have been more women who have helped us achieve women’s rights than just white people,” she said.

District Teacher Kieran Slattery is one of the colleagues who nominated Wallace for the award.

“Mareatha was telling the truth to power long before the term became fashionable,” Slattery wrote in an email. “Behind the scenes with no fanfare, she is committed to helping JFK students find their voice and use their own strength. Mareatha really does go for a walk and at the same time remains one of the gentlest, nicest and most humble people I know. “

Greta Jochem can be reached at [email protected].

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