Black History Month Special Part 1: SGA’s Louize Bingi interviews Black staff at Madison

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Hawk Talk Staff

As we celebrate the final day of Black History Month, we would like to highlight the stories and experiences of various Black staff members at Madison. The Hawk Talk is collaborating with Madison’s Student Government Association (SGA) to publish the transcripts of interviews conducted by Louize Bingi, current head of the Equality and Inclusion Committee at Madison. The first of these interviews is presented below:

 

Bingi’s interview with Tony Thomas, Madison Safety & Security Specialist:

Louize Bingi: What are some of your most memorable achievements in your life?

Tony Thomas: Having a family, getting married, having kids. Watching my kids graduate high school and college and becoming young men and women. And one of the achievements of becoming a police officer has been pretty interesting.

Bingi: How was your education journey into becoming a police officer?

Thomas: My education journey was interesting. Graduating high school, going to Virginia Union University, leaving there after two years and ending up coming back to NOVA and graduating from Northern Virginia Community College and then proceeding to go on to the police academy. I graduated from the police academy, and that was the start of my career.

Bingi: What made you want to be a police officer?

Thomas: I always wanted to do something to help people, and that was probably the best route to go. If I could do it all over, I would probably be a fireman, that’s a little easier than being a police officer.

Bingi: What is something you achieved that you never thought was possible?

Thomas: Probably doing 26 years in the police department and then coming back here at Madison and working as a safety and security officer. That’s something that would have never crossed my mind, but here I am 14 years later helping kids. 

Bingi: What made you want to work here at Madison?

Thomas: Well, I am an alumni of Madison. Madison actually helped me out a lot, so I wanted to come back and actually give back to my community. When I was in 11th grade, I was an athlete, and I was doing really well. One of our assistant principals asked if I was thinking about going to college; I said yes. He reached out to me and really pursued and helped me get my education due to college, and due to that I felt like I needed to come back and help other kids who had the same journey that I went through.

Bingi: What was it like growing up in Vienna?

Thomas: Growing up in Vienna, we’re talking like 60s and 70s which was when I was around, most of my family went to Louise Archer, which was the colored school at the time. Louise Archer was mainly for African American kids. As I came along, they did desegregation, so they actually took half of my neighborhood to Flint Hill Elementary. During my beginning of education, grades 1-6 were at Flint Hill Elementary because they were doing desegregation, so they moved us there. Then, I went to Thoreau for two years, and then I came to Madison. When I came to Madison, it was a great school, but we had some racial problems back in the 70s, so things were a little different compared to the way we see Madison now. 

Bingi: Was it hard going through these times or did you persevere through it?

Thomas: It was different. For myself, being an athlete, things were a little easier. But for people who weren’t athletes, they had a tougher time because they didn’t blend in to the school as well. Every year almost from the early 70s to the late 70s, there was racial rivalry here at Madison. Things were different, but everyone still got along.

Bingi: Tell me about your childhood outside of school.

Thomas: I grew up in a small house, probably maybe 1200 or 1300 square feet, four bedrooms and one bathroom. I had four sisters and one brother, so things were pretty tight. As far as my parents, they were blue collar workers and we didn’t have a lot of money, but we didn’t know the difference. We thought we were living well with no problems; anything we needed, we could get. So childhood wasn’t bad for me.

Bingi: Throughout life, what experiences have shaped you into the person you are today?

Thomas: Role models. I had great role models. First of all, my parents were great role models. My dad worked in the Town of Vienna, and my mother was a custodian, but still whatever jobs they had, they were great role models. Playing sports, I had great role models. But at high school, I think my assistant principal was one of the biggest role models I had because he was pushing education and made sure I was doing everything right so I could have a good life.

Bingi: What challenges have you faced as a person of color?

Thomas: You always feel that you have to do better than the next person. When people call you names you have to think about how you’re gonna react and how those words make you feel. So growing up as a person of color, anywhere in the United States, you feel that you have to do better than the next person. You cannot afford to let your guard down. You have to strive to be the highest and the best that you can be at all times. 

Bingi: What changes do you want to see in inclusion of people of color?

Thomas: Probably, I would like to see the people of color at Madison start to get involved in more stuff like SGA, book clubs and stuff like that. The change has to come from within, then we’ll go school-wide. I just don’t think the kids of color are really getting involved with too much at Madison. We just don’t have too many kids that want to participate in stuff like that. And it’s sad because it’s a great learning tool, and it helps you to deal with people of a race. 

Bingi: What goals do you have for yourself, for Madison, for your family or anything you want to get accomplished?

Thomas: Well, I would say all of my goals have already been set because I did 26 years as a law enforcement officer and that was a big goal. I got both of my kids through high school and they both have their master’s now so I’m definitely happy about that. I guess my goal is to see my grandkids pursue their education once they get old enough, and the goal is to see each kid here at Madison, not just as people of color, but all kids to do the best they can and I’ll be here to help them as much as I can.

 

Read Bingi’s interview with Madison Counselor Ashley Anderson.

Louize Bingi: What are some of the most memorable achievements in your life?

Ashley Anderson: As cheesy as it sounds, it would be graduating from high school and graduating from college. The reason those are so memorable is because my father did not have the opportunity to. He did eventually receive his high school diploma but not in the traditional way. I am a first generation graduate, so for me, being the first older sister to graduate from college was a big deal for my family. I was the first one on my dad’s side of the family to graduate from college so definitely one of my most memorable moments. I just remember, in college, we had a ceremony called Donning of the Kente. We got a kente cloth when we graduated and my mother was present for that. Being able to see how proud she was of that accomplishment and her being a part of that was very very impactful for me.

Bingi: How was your education journey and what was that like?

Anderson: I am a military kid, so I started out in Hawaii for my education. My first three years were in Hawaii, and then we moved to Virginia and have been in Fairfax County Public Schools since. I went to Flint Hill Elementary. Then, I went to Thoreau Middle School and then ended up at Madison High school. It has been very much similar to what we have now. I went to college, took some time off, definitely regretted that, and then went back and got my master’s in counseling. But, I am a lifelong learner, and I’m sure I will be back in school at some point. 

Bingi: Could you tell me something you achieved that you never thought was possible?

Anderson: I like to be involved in things. I was involved, not so much in elementary school and middle school, but definitely high school and into college. I was a little fearful of putting myself out there. I didn’t always take advantage of things I had, even in high school. I remember telling myself in college I wasn’t gonna allow that to happen. One of the biggest achievements that I got to be a part of was I was in charge of our homecoming board for a football game at Virginia Tech. That was so cool to be a part of that, navigating the different clubs that had put forward a homecoming king or queen. There is a lot of history behind being a part of that process and working with different groups on our campus and supporting them. I had to talk in front of tons of people, something I never ever thought I would be comfortable doing. It pushed me out of my comfort zone and allowed me to get involved with so much more as I went through my years in college.

Bingi: What drove you to work at Madison high school?

Anderson: In all honesty, I think for me I was really blessed to be able to have a choice, because, in my grad program, we had to look at different options. When I heard that there was an opening in Madison, yes, I was really excited, but what really drove me to work at Madison was being able to be an African American woman at Madison. I had that in someone at Madison, but I knew there still weren’t enough Black faculty members at Madison. That really was one of the reasons I came back, because I wanted kids to see more people that look like them. I didn’t see that at Madison, and it is absolutely one of the reasons I applied and met the Director of Student Services at the time at Madison. 

Bingi: Could you tell me a little about your childhood?

Anderson: Like I mentioned, I am a military brat and diversity was always something I have been surrounded by in multiple ways. Whether it be an ethnic perspective or religious, or language or economic status, you see a lot of that as you travel and as you get to build that non biological family that you have. For me, a lot of my childhood was being around different types of people all the time. I value that, and what I’ve always been taught is family first. People who know me really well know my family because I talk about my family all the time; that’s just really important to me. Even with the way I take my job, it’s just as important as my family. I should be taking care of it and presenting myself in the sort of way that would make my family proud. That was the gist of my childhood, being very family-oriented. 

Bingi: Throughout your life, what experiences have you had that have shaped who you are today?

Anderson: I say experiences, but I really think relationships. There have been people who have taught me so much about finding my own identity. There have been people who have taught me about the importance of safety in my life. I, unfortunately, was at Virginia Tech when the shooting was there, and that’s something that was really important to me as well. People feel safe in their educational environment. I can honestly speak to faculty members, whether it was in high school or college, who I could easily talk to and consider someone who I trust and relied on when things were difficult. I had those experiences or relationships that have really impacted me. In a way, that has taught me that I can always do better. I can always work harder and all I’m seeking is that respect, because that’s all I want to give back to you. 

Bingi: What was it like growing up in Fairfax County?

Anderson: I talk about diversity and being around it; it’s a different type of diversity. Even as a kid, I’m the older sister and I was sort of like the homebody and was very aware of the financial differences around me. I’d say one of the things that really kind of opened my eyes and I was constantly conscious of was how much would my mom have to spend for this. For me, I had friends, and I would spend time at other people’s houses, but I always lived with my aunt. It’s not like it was my mom’s house. That was something that was always in the back of my head with my experience in this area, because I was not living in Vienna, especially since I didn’t drive until my senior year.

Bingi: What challenges have you faced as a person of color in America?

Anderson: I’d say that one of the biggest is constantly having to prove myself, whether it be implicit or explicit. I find this need to help people understand that I am capable of whatever is put in front of me. I had a teacher one time that told me “don’t be like them” and that was something that at the time I took as you don’t want to be the negative stereotype.” I was too young to understand how wrong that was, and so it was very difficult as I got older to realize wow that was a stereotype that I shouldn’t have been tied to look at as a negative standpoint. One of those was just the challenge of constantly having to prove myself. Even working at Madison when I first started, if I didn’t say I worked at Madison, I don’t know how far I would have gotten in conversations with people. My life has been threatened before, just for being Black. My college friend had just graduated medical school and had rented a room at a really expensive hotel. As we were leaving, it was still daylight, we were getting into a friend’s car. This woman, who was also getting into a car, threatened us with a gun, saying she would hurt any of us if we approached her. We weren’t even going to approach her. We didn’t even realize she was there. That’s happened to me before. I’ve also been ignored in stores often and it still happens, especially if I’m dressed in a way I feel more comfortable being dressed in. It’s the everyday little things, but those are some of the biggest ones that stood out to me. I’ve feared for my life when being pulled over. I’ve feared for my brother’s life when he was pulled over. I watched it happen, and I always really think about it. 

Bingi: What change do you want to see in our community including people of color?

Anderson: I think for me, the change I want to see in general would be real acknowledgement and affirmation of voices of people of color. I think that there’s so many decisions made about people of color without people of color being part of those conversations. I think that is one thing that I would love to see, not just from a Madison perspective but from an overall concern about inclusion and the voices need to be heard more. I don’t think that is happening across the board, and I don’t just think this is a Madison issue. I think, in general, there needs to be a space for that. I’d love to see more involvement in things, especially with a community like Madison where students of color are just as common to be seen in these areas as students who are not of color. 

Bingi: Are there any goals you have in the future?

Anderson: One is to go back to school. I want to get more experience in education. I’ve often thought about getting additional education in diversity and inclusion but also to work at different levels at schools. My other goal is just to do more of this. Not just about Black history but like Hispanic heritage, Asian American, and I loved that video of the different languages represented at our schools. I want to see more of that in so many different ways.