I dreaded the first days of school because I knew my teacher would have a hard time pronouncing my first name. It always started with the teacher nervously chuckling aloud while trying to pronounce my name. When they gave up, the teacher would ask, “What kind of name is that?” At first, I felt ashamed of my name, I remembered why my parents chose my name in the first place. I was named after Chief Jebbeh Ijay of the Vai People of Liberia. She was my great aunt. My father said Aunty Jebbeh was highly respected and well known throughout our nation. My parents told me that you name your child after someone who had played an essential role in your life in our culture. My father saw the reverence in his aunt in a nation where women were highly revered and respected (as they should).
“I was this little immigrant from Liberia in Minnesota in Middle School. I was the only black girl in my class with a name that my teacher couldn’t keep a straight face with. Can you imagine how our students feel? They are already nervous about their first day of school. They didn’t name themselves, but the people who did call their child that name for a reason should be respected.”
I have been an educator for well over a decade, and I’ve been to countless cultural competency and bias training with my colleagues. I’ve even trained organizations in both the education sector and governmental departments. Each time I teach others, it all boils down to one philosophy about how you can improve your classroom community with diversity and inclusion. Here it goes….”Assume nothing, learn everything.” If my teacher on that first day of the school asked me about my name without any assumptions and intending to know my name, it would have made me and other students like myself feel welcome.