“There’s no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you.” Maya Angelou’s quote was my reminder that I had stories, many stories. I desired to write in the fictional genre as well as inspirational works. However, creating the time as a wife, mother of 4, and a full-time educator seemed impossible. I resolved to journal and kept a list of topics and ideas. Then, the pandemic opened the doors to I Ate the Cake: A Journey for Justice. The timing was impeccable. With my journal, electronic and hand-written, I hung to every minute that came available.
I Ate the Cake: A Journey for Justice is a non-fiction memoir crafted with fictional elements. It describes a nine-year trek seeking help from district leaders and various government entities for workplace harassment and students’ protection. Hostile work environments can be undetectable. Supervisors appear to act within their range of responsibilities. After witnessing those who attempt, fail repeatedly, and are not protected, employees are often afraid to report. For Black people, it is more challenging, mainly when environments are controlled by “the good ole boy system.” It was challenging for me because I had not experienced such covert racism. I am from Leland, Mississippi, a small town. My only remembrance of being disliked as a Black person was in third grade when a white friend stated she could no longer play with me because I was Black. However, two mutual White friends came to my defense.
So here I am, one of the five Black people hired as middle school teachers. Those recently employed were aware that we were the quota. The campus maintained a predominately White presence with educators, counselors, and administration my entire five years despite many minority students. Encouragement from White and Black educators to hire more minorities fell on deaf ears.
Black Americans realize that change occurs over time. We are not surprised when we are the minority. We anticipate a little discomfort. Never did I expect to become a quota in workplace harassment after 14 years as an educator. The district, whose name was changed, was the most oppressive environment I experienced and witnessed the poor treatment of Black educators and sometimes students.
As one of the few Black educators, I could not expect the other Black coworkers to speak up and rally my case. Sure, they supported me as best as possible privately, but everyone has bills to pay. Educators are not in a lucrative field, so having a solid portfolio to fall on probably is not available. The options we see as the “quota” Blacks are to accept the abuse until you find other employment. The first year in Lowland I.S.D., I wanted to quit. I share how one of my spiritual struggles was giving in and running away from problems. With the encouragement from coworkers in private, I stayed the course. Later, the continuous harassment forced me to take a stand in both schools.
Seeking to create change was also my journey of walking with God to develop a change within myself. My personality and previous experiences guarded me with self-preservation and doing things my way. I took the lead; God followed. Wrong order, but God protected and taught me through those formative spiritual years. Readers experience the emotional struggles of applying spiritual lessons. I Ate the Cake: A Journey for Justice is an inspirational book in that it calls on all Christians to follow the path of Christ for social justice.
The book highlights broken systems that do not protect the marginalized. There is no “right legal way.” It takes money and influential people to make the laws work for everyone. Without an attorney, the evidence and my efforts became futile even with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (E.E.O.C.). I released I Ate the Cake: A Journey for Justice on September 30, 2020. Sadly but not appalling, in April 2021, U.S. Today Newspaper released an article about Black workers in E.E.O.C. enduring racism. The system created to enforce laws against workplace harassment oppressed their own. The same director who signed off my “Dismissal and Notice of Rights” is identified in the article as one who mistreated the employees. My understanding of why I did not receive assistance after the district legally admitted to racism came full circle when I read the article.
We are in a society where others can admit to workplace harassment and racism in writing. Yet, the oppressors maintain their titles, positions, and salaries, often receiving promotions. The marginalized receive years of trauma, reduced pay, and, if affordable, therapy. I could not allow this to be the end of my story. This ending darkens the path for others. This ending hinders my children and your children’s future.
Writing I Ate the Cake: A Journey for Justice gave me some justice. Those who decided to create and sustain the abuse needed to see what that environment entailed. It was my tool of helping others hopefully understand why Blacks and other minorities are screaming for help. More importantly, writing gave me the freedom to share the gospel in the application of today’s environment and encourage others to maintain and contend for the faith. I do not march in crowds nor shout from podiums. However, I will stand over and over again in the way I understand best, living the truth of justice wherever my feet land.
As the pandemic continues to allow fewer restrictions, I plan for traditional marketing such as author discussions, book signings, and continued writing. The Author’s Lounge invitation to share my memoir encouraged me to refocus on marketing and sharing the story. We are in a racial climate where all Christians, regardless of ethnicity, can take the lead in bringing people together. However, we must realize that change occurs at the core: our homes, churches, and work environments. If no one fights for social justice in these areas, we all suffer the consequences and fail to thrive as a nation and people.