Anti-Racism is not a new fight to Dr. Ronda Bullock. She has made a continuous impact on people, specifically children, on the importance of disruptive peace. Being a Black woman in the predominately white, small, rural town of Goldston, NC influenced her experiences with racism, igniting a passion for social justice at an early age. Graduating from UNC-Chapel Hill’s graduate program of policy, leadership, and school improvement (’04) is one of Ronda’s many accomplishments.
She is the co-founder and director of we are (working to extend anti-racist education). The central purpose of the organization is “to equip students, parents, and educators with the knowledge and skills necessary to understand the complexity of racism and to extend anti-racist education with the ultimate goal of dismantling systemic racism.” The ideas for this establishment started curating spring of 2015, and it has grown to make an astonishing impact on many generations.
How would you describe where you grew up?
In Goldston, we did not have any stop lights or chain restaurants, but we did have local owned eateries. It was predominately white, and we had a significant number of Black families and eventually Latinx families, as well.
How did your identity shape your approach to diversity work?
My identity as a Black woman shapes my approach to diversity and anti-racism work. My first experience with racism was at five years old. We were sitting at round tables, and one of my white female classmates went around and invited everybody at our table to her birthday party except for me. I was the only Black person at the table. I said something like, “I noticed that you invited everybody at the table to your birthday party except for me. Why did you do that?” And she replied, “You can’t come to my birthday party because my dad said Black people are not allowed in our home.” I didn’t really understand what that meant. But I remember going home and telling my mom the story. Her response was, “Well Ronda, we don’t invite ourselves to other people’s birthday parties.” Although I didn’t believe that was what I had done, I let the conversation end. My mom’s answer was sufficient until it happened again in second grade, when I was with my Girl Scout troop. That year, I was the only Black girl, and we were doing a community service project. I noticed the group was circled up, and I walked up to join them. Upon my arrival, everyone stopped talking. I went to my closest friend in the group and asked why everyone had grown so quiet. She looked at me and said, “Ronda, please don’t be mad at me, but I’m having a birthday party today, and my dad said that you can’t come because you’re Black.” All of my experiences, beginning at age five, continue to shape who I am and push me to better understand racism and how I can use my gifts to help cultivate healthy, anti-racist identities, particularly in children.
How would you describe your role as a University Office of Diversity & Inclusion (then called Diversity & Multicultural Affairs, or DMA) graduate assistant? What were some of the highlights and challenges?
I worked with the Carolina Millennial Scholars Program (CMSP). I helped co-create and facilitate programming for first- and second-year male students from marginalized backgrounds. I also served as a mentor for them, helping to ensure they matriculate through undergrad. Working with the students and the DMA staff was truly a highlight of my time as a doctoral student. I built community, felt affirmed, and was able to pay that love and support forward. My greatest challenge was juggling all of my work. I was a wife and the mother of a three-year-old and three-month-old when I started my doctoral program. I had an assistantship with DMA and another small job through Duke’s Master of Arts in Teaching program. Plus, I had to take classes and complete my coursework. I was doing the absolute most, and it was a lot to handle. But by the grace of God, a supportive family, and awesome friends, I successfully completed my program.
What were some of the highlights working with DMA, and what were some of the challenges?
Some of the highlights were doing ropes courses with the cohort at the beginning of the semester, visiting the International Civil Rights History Museum in Greensboro, hosting Tar Heel Preview Day for middle school students, and volunteering at Northside Elementary for Read Across America. I also really enjoyed building relationships with all the students connected to CMSP and DMA. The staff was great to work with too, and I made lasting friendships.
At what age did you begin having deep conversations about race with your children…and why?
I started talking to my children about race when they were five years old. My son was the youngest kid to attend our anti-racism summer camp. My daughter was supposed to attend this past summer, but she couldn’t due to COVID. My husband and I started early because we know that young children perpetuate racial biases early, so we wanted our children to be armed, so to speak, against it. We also know that racial biases form early on, and we wanted our children to have a healthy love of themselves as Black kids and a healthy love of others.
How would you define being Anti-Racist to young children?
I define being anti-racist to young children as the thoughts, actions, and beliefs of a person who believes people should not be treated unfairly based on the color of their skin. Being anti-racist means fighting against racism.
Did you have a mentor throughout your undergraduate and graduate programs?
Yes, I had several mentors who supported me and pushed me to move forward. Dr. Dana Thompson Dorsey was my dissertation chair. She supported my work, was a staunch advocate for me as a doctoral student, and she helped me develop my critical race theory lens. As a highly educated, Black woman academic with a PhD and JD, she embodied #BlackGirllMagic. Dr. Marco Barker was my supervisor with the CMSP program. His professionalism, leadership style, and mentorship helped me navigate through my doctoral program.
What made you choose the policy, leadership, and school improvement program for your doctoral degree?
I chose this program because I wanted to learn more about how to create systemic change. Policy is one way to do that.
How did we are (working to extend anti-racist education) come about?
I began the initial brainstorming for we are in the spring of 2015. Multiple events had transpired that increased my pursuit for racial justice. George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watchman, followed and murdered Trayvon Martin, an African American teenager, as he walked to his home carrying an Arizona Tea and a pack of Skittles. George Zimmerman was later acquitted of killing Trayvon Martin. Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi formed the Black Lives Matter movement in response to the tragic injustice. And many in the country were still shocked and angry over the death of Michael Brown at the hands of Officer Darren Wilson.
In addition to these key historical events, it seemed as if every week another Black life was being taken at the hands of state-sanctioned violence. In addition to this, I started thinking about my own children and what their experiences would be as Black kids growing up in America. I wanted to contribute to making the world better for them and for other kids, as well.
So, in the spring of 2015, an amalgamation of racist life experiences coupled with a passion for racial justice and the current racialized climate in our country, I felt a calling to do more, to take my anti-racist efforts to another level. I needed to do anti-racism work both at the interpersonal and systemic level; thus, we are was conceptualized. I shared my ideas with my husband, Dr. Daniel Kelvin Bullock, who is a co-founder and UNC grad. I also reached out to several people who I knew had an anti-racism framework. Some were doctoral students with me in the school of education, one was a DMA employee at the time (Sharbari Dey), and one was my former UNC professor.
Is there a reason you purposely lowercase “we are”?
Yes, our graphics designer, Shannon Bass (also a UNC alum) suggested using all lowercase letters because our mission, logo of the apple with the black power fist, and our organizational name were all bold statements. She said that since we wanted to work in education, it might be helpful to balance our messaging with lowercase letters, and I agreed.
How would you describe the transition from teaching for almost 10 years to currently running a nonprofit?
The transition has been interesting. I was formally trained to be an educator. I was not formally trained on how to run a business. The learning curve is sharp, and I have been growing in my understanding along the way. It helps that I have a supportive team of people surrounding me who make the work easier. It also helps that we are is directly connected to education. So, I am doing what I love and what I feel is very important work. I’m just not an educator in the traditional sense anymore.
What does Diversity mean to you?
Diversity means de-centering whiteness to create more culturally inclusive spaces.
Written by Casey P. Jones