In the space of afterthought, one comes to the realization that fear, of anything, is really the true reason we don’t jump, lean in, risk it or amplify. Being fearful allows us the opportunity to avoid, procrastinate and pretend. The space of fear intersected with the hope of liberation and freedom in our lives, throughout the years and across the spaces and times, reminds me of the brilliance of Dunbar’s words about the masks we wear that “hides our cheeks and shades our eyes.” Fear is a mask. Fear is my mask, and if I’m being honest, Pain is it’s cousin.
Having lived through and survived much, I’m finding that as I deconstruct my fears and understand the whys, my pain provides the answers to the questions that rise to the surface as I work to manage and heal while learning through it, and true liberation lies in aligning my heart with the UNmasking of what initially makes me fearful. Paul Laurence Dunbar, in “We Wear The Mask”, (one of my favorite poems) always inspires me to do better, be better and make everything better in my life. Dunbar speaks of bleeding hearts, grins and lies; which brings up the whys of it all. I read the poem often as a judgment space and rubric as to how I’m coping and doing with my masks as well as reading it for the beauty we sometimes we find in the cycle of fear, pain, healing and wellness.
As we educators inhabit the space of National Poetry Month in April, countless American schoolchildren recite poems, carry them in their pockets and battle it out using hip hop rhymes in celebration of the genre, expression and love. I too, celebrate poetry and am thankful for the freedoms it offers me, especially as I continue to contemplate how I, and we all wear yet dismantle our masks and work not to shade our eyes.
For a classroom activity related to this poem, please see Trevor Aleo's Go Poems post found here.
Juli-Anne Benjamin is globally-minded educator who currently works as a vice principal in Newark, NJ and is a founder of both @EdCampBROOKLYN and @EdCampNewark(NJ). Her background includes teaching experience in South Africa and India. She serves on the Board of Directors for the International Literacy Association (ILA) and is a tireless advocate for teacher leadership, social justice and equity work, access to technology, and excellence in literacy instruction.