Andrew Maraniss on Race

The other day I was scanning Twitter and ran across a provocative thread of posts from an attorney, librarian and writer named April Hathcock.

“Ok, friends,” she wrote, “We’re going to stop talking about “diversity & inclusion” when what we’re really talking about is race, racism, and whiteness … We’re going to stop talking about “diversity & inclusion” when what we’re really talking about is queer hate, trans hate, heteronormativity…We’re going to be intentional about the oppression and violence about which we speak. We’re going to be intersectional but also specific … We’ve been using intersectionality as an excuse to use feel good euphemisms. We’re going to stop doing that.”

I was intrigued by April’s reframing of the subject because not only does it appeal to the activists among us, in its specificity it can be used to disarm the cynic who dismisses diversity and inclusion efforts as unnecessary, liberal, PC mumbo jumbo. Let’s get real, April is saying.

In 2014, I published a book called STRONG INSIDE, a biography of Perry Wallace, the first African-American basketball player in the Southeastern Conference. Wallace played at Vanderbilt University in the late 1960s, and as he made history on the basketball courts of the Deep South, Wallace feared for his life. He’d ask himself what’s the worst that could happen, and in his mind, he imagined being shot and killed somewhere like Starkville, Mississippi or Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where he was routinely harassed by fans with threats with lynching or castration. Back on his own campus in Nashville, Wallace was kicked out of a white church, his best friend was addressed by the N-word on his first day of English class.

A few months ago, I converted STRONG INSIDE into a young readers’ edition, aimed at kids 10 and older. With concern over the sensitivities of some readers (or more accurately, their parents), I debated how much of the derogatory language to keep in this condensed version of the book. In the end, I opted to keep all of it. The truly offensive thing, I decided, would be to whitewash history and let the racists off the hook by sanitizing their words, and in so doing minimizing the hostility and discrimination Wallace encountered and so courageously overcame.

So, I appreciate that this isn’t international diversity day. It’s the International Day for the Elimination of Racism and Discrimination. And this year’s theme isn’t “Celebrate (Insert Diverse Name Here) Culture Day.” Rather, the theme is “Racial profiling and incitement to hatred, including in the context of migration.”
This is the kind of real language April Hathcock was calling for. And a reminder that sometimes being careful about the language we use means telling it like it is, not cleaning it up.

About the Author

Andrew Maraniss Headshot Andrew Maraniss is the New York Times-bestselling author of STRONG INSIDE. The original, adult version of the book received the Lillian Smith Book Award for civil rights and the RFK Book Awards’ Special Recognition Prize for social justice. The Young Readers edition has been named one of the Top 10 Biographies for Youth by the American Library Association’s Booklist.

Follow Andrew on Twitter @trublu24, and visit his website at

Strong Inside Cover
Order his book!

Being Deaf Does Not Mean We’re Broken


Webster’s dictionary defines deaf as: “lacking or deficient in the sense of hearing.”

We’re not broken.
What people may not know is, behind the meaning of the word “deaf,” is a beautiful and rich culture, complete with its own traditions, language and people. “Deaf” may be seen as a negative occurrence because hearing loss, or hearing impairment, is often seen as disabled.

As a community, we believe the complete opposite. People who are deaf do not see themselves as broken or as a disability. We believe we do not need to be fixed because we are immersed in an amazing culture that has shaped our identities and given us a way to express ourselves. We do need to be respected.

Being deaf is part of our identity.

Just as the hearing community is made up of unique individuals, the Deaf community is, as well. Not all people who are deaf use sign language, there are people who are deaf who can speak or can use both voice and sign. Some people who are deaf go to deaf institutions while others go to public schools with an interpreter. People who are deaf might use hearing aids, have cochlear implants or not have any hearing assistance at all. Each person is an individual and unique in their own way, just like a person in the hearing community.

The definition of deaf is much more appropriate to use when describing someone who is older and who is losing their hearing. These people usually are not involved with the Deaf community and do not know Deaf culture or the language. One of our goals is to expand hearing people’s perspective of people who are deaf. Being deaf does not mean you are broken. Deaf individuals are just as capable as hearing individuals.

Being deaf is an identity.

Communication is just as essential for someone who is deaf. Remember communication is not dependent on one’s ability to hear; it’s on one’s ability to receive information and express oneself.

The majority of communication is nonverbal, nonverbal communication involves actions, body language, gestures and facial expressions. Deaf culture depends fully on visuals and gestures, better known as American Sign Language.

American Sign Language (ASL) is a complete, grammatically complex language; it is NOT the same as the English language. Just like someone who is hearing would not say, Chinese is the same as English. As mentioned earlier, methods of communications for the deaf can include either speech, sign language, or both. When a person tells you they are deaf, do not panic or run away. If they speak to you, speak normally and face to face. If they use paper and pen or a phone to communicate, write back. If you know some sign language, do not be afraid to use it. People who are deaf can be patient and willing to help you learn sign language. Deaf people will appreciate your efforts to communicate with them in a way that is not normal for hearing people. Lastly, please ask questions, no matter how silly it may seem. It’s better to educate yourself then to assume.

Here’s a much better definition of deaf, provided by Gallaudet

If you feel so inclined to learn some sign, check out our Deaf Teaching Hearing Series on YouTube.

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Not Enough Parents Are Learning Sign

Not Enough Parents Are Learning How To Communicate With Their Kids

Not enough families are learning how to communicate with their kids.

According to Gallaudet research, 90% of children who are deaf are born into hearing families and of those 90% of hearing parents only 23% of them learn American Sign Language. This leaves 77% of children who are deaf in isolation within their home. Imagine spending every day in your home in silence. Looking around the room and seeing everyone smiling, laughing, crying, angry, but having no understand of why. Imagine not having a way to tell your mom you are hungry or hurting or if you have to use the restroom. Imagine not being able to bond with your siblings because you can’t talk to them.  Children in this situation can feel isolated, frustrated, and often depressed.

This will also result in an academic delay. When a child who has never been exposed to language arrives in the school system it is the first time they are exposed to any language. They have to start with the basics; the alphabet, colors, numbers and just understanding that everything around them has a name, even they do!  It takes them years to catch up on basic language skills so these children spend most of their time academically behind and often have to repeat early grade levels for their basic language skills to develop.

So why do many parents not learn sign language? Often it is a matter of resources, time, money, or parents feeling overwhelmed with learning a new language. It’s not that they don’t want to learn, it’s just difficult to figure out where to begin.

However, these days there are plenty of resources that are available and free.  There are organization that teach sign language classes to parents, computer classes, and even phone apps. Here is a list of wonderful resources to help parents not only learn sign language but connect with the deaf community!


STARS- In-home sign language classes for parents.

Bridges-Free sign classes for parents of deaf children, interpreting services, case management for deaf, youth program for deaf and hard of hearing children, events.

Hands and Voices– Support group for parents who have a child who is deaf or hard of hearing

Gate Communications– Sign language classes, interpreting services, events, workshops

Library Services for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing-Sign language books, videos and other resources. Click on “connect’ for a full list of resources.

Online resources:

STARS Deaf Teaching Hearing Series

Phone APPS for Iphone and Droid-


Sign Language dictionary ($4.99)

The ASL App

Help STARS continue our vital work by becoming a monthly donor or making a one-time donation.

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STARS Literacy Programs 2016

Research shows when an activity is fun, we tend to perform better. At STARS, we believe, we can make reading a fun activity and impact the community by improving reading proficiency!

Services for Students who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing (DHH) – Literacy Program

Thanks to funding provided by Community Enhancement Fund, STARS was able to develop a program focused on Literacy for the deaf and hard of hearing students we serve. STARS DHH – Literacy program works individually and in small groups with students who are deaf or hard of hearing to improve their reading comprehension, writing skills and sign language proficiency. Additionally, we work with teachers and parents on best practices to assess and support the students in these areas.

The program currently provides services to 12 deaf and hard of hearing students in three different schools: Hillsboro High School, West End Middle and Eakin Elementary School. Using the Fairview Literacy program, we meet with each student weekly, either individually or in a small group.  The program focuses on improving reading comprehension, writing skills, sign language proficiency, bridging multiple meaning words and conceptual signing of topics and items translating from English to American Sign Language.

One unique aspect of this program is the lessons are specifically customized to meet the students at their level of learning, as well as incorporate their individual interests.

Kids on the Block – Literacy Program

Kids on the Block (KOB) is excited to partner with Shwab Elementary in piloting a six-week literacy program focusing on reading as a fun activity. Based on over 30 years of experience in classrooms, we believe this new literacy program will help bridge the gap for many young people who feel intimidated by reading.

During the six-week pilot program, KOB will take groups of Tier 2 students and work with them to help increase their reading scores. We will begin with an educational puppetry presentation for the entire group of students. The Kids on the Block presentation helps children understand choice in the reading process as well as the social and emotional aspects of the difficulties of being a reader that is behind their peers. The students will work in small groups, as well as pair up, to read with each other. At the end of the program, the students will walk away with two books chosen for them, and a third book of their choosing, as research shows when a child chooses a book in which they are interested, it increases their chances of being a better reader.

So, with the use of puppets, educators, hardworking kids and a lot of compassion and enthusiasm, Kids on the Block is working to help students in Middle Tennessee to have bigger and brighter futures!

Compassion: The Antidote to Trauma

Do you ever feel overwhelmed by negativity?  Turning on the news you see a stream of violence, drug abuse, scandal and scary statistics.  The weight of our social ills, mental health issues and rates of physical disease can make many feel helpless…or even worse, cynical.

Compassion: The Antidote to Trauma

One research study has begun to transform the way people think about these issues; instead of feeling overwhelmed, they feel hope.  The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study was conducted by Kaiser Permanente and the Centers for Disease Control in the mid 90’s.  Surveying over 17,000 patients, they found a strong relationships between childhood adversity and later development of disease, disability and social problems.  From crime to cancer, from academic failure to alcoholism, high rates of childhood trauma was the common denominator.

Fifteen years later, scientists have found that toxic levels of stress hurt the developing brains and bodies of children.  Specifically, toxic stress from trauma changes the very architecture of your brain, kills your cells and even changes the way your genes are expressed. Getting deep beneath the skin and putting cracks in the foundation for lifelong health and wellness.

Why would this knowledge create hope?  Because now, we better understand how to meaningfully solve our most enduring problems with one approach.  Since ACEs are the root cause, we need to decrease and alleviate childhood trauma.

When a child is displaying negative behavior, it is often due to stress hormones surging through their bodies which put them in fight, flight or freeze mode.  This is a natural survival response.  When kids come from traumatic backgrounds, they frequently experience this survival reaction.

The CDC’s recommendations for driving down rates of ACEs are safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments.  It may seem overly simple, but empowering coaches, teachers, pediatricians, parents and mentors to understand how childhood adversity impacts health and behavior creates a powerful response which is the antidote to trauma.  Suddenly these adults change their question from “what’s wrong with you?” to “what happened to you?”

Science shows we heal child trauma and promote resilience through trauma-informed, or compassionate care.  When hurt and reactive kids are met with calm and safe adults, they can begin to learn these skills themselves.  The brain continues to grow and develop through 25 years of age.  This means adults can help kids build neural connections to combat trauma and improve functioning simply by modeling the behavior they want to see.

Many adults are highly motivated to help and support youth but they become burned out because they deal with challenging behavior, they don’t understand on a daily basis.

For example, when a child curses you, it is difficult not to take it personally.  When these same adults recognize what is happening in the brains and bodies of these children and adolescents, they can respond in a compassionate way that doesn’t worsen trauma symptoms but begins to heal them.

Programs that treat families and youth break the cycle of physical disease, health risk behaviors, addiction, violence and mental health issues.  Realizing the deep impact of trauma, recognizing signs and symptoms, and responding in a way that reduces symptoms are the keys to trauma informed care and a healthier society.  By doing what is morally right for children, we are doing what is logically and fiscally right for all Tennesseans.   This science provides hope that we can move from marginal to massive results in addressing our most burdensome problems.