ASU’s Dr. Racquel Armstrong Leads Rio Salado Celebrate Juneteenth


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Monday, July 8, 2024
Slide on self-care from Dr. Armstrong's presentation

On Monday, June 17, Rio Salado College celebrated Juneteenth with a special event. The guest speaker for our Juneteenth event was Dr. Racquel Armstrong. A Presidential Postdoctoral Scholar at Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University, Dr. Armstrong is a dedicated and acclaimed educator who’s received numerous awards for her public service and research.

Rio Salado College President Kate Smith kicked off the event by highlighting the Rio library, urging folks who are interested in learning more about the history of Juneteenth to check out the many resources the library has to offer. She also explained the significance of Juneteenth’s date: June 19 marks the arrival of the Union Army to Galveston, Texas, where they enforced the abolishment of slavery and liberated the last group of people who were still enslaved in the United States. She invited Armstrong to share her presentation, in which the ASU educator weaved together several topics, exploring the parallels and connections that bring together social justice, self care, and self-preservation.

Armstrong started off by saying that Juneteenth is more than a celebration of freedom: it’s the celebration of the constant pursuit of freedom. She drew the audience’s attention to the Juneteenth flag and how its use of Pan-African colors (red, black, and green) alongside the stars and stripes represented a melding of cultures and worlds. She described it as “the curved arc around this idea of a new horizon.”

Quoting Audre Lord's "caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare," Armstrong talked about how the need to pursue freedom and hold onto it is a form of labor for Black Americans, and that self-care is essential to help people cope with stresses and pressures that come from dealing with systemic oppression and a centuries-long legacy of racism.

“Care in particular has not been something that has always been afforded to us,” Armstrong said. From the horrific experimentation of the Tuskegee study to more recent public focus around inequities in Black maternal health, the relationship between healthcare and Black Americans has been a fraught one. Armstrong discussed about how much Black Americans have had to self-sacrifice to survive in this system, and how embracing self-care can be a form of resistance to oppressive elements within our society.

Armstrong also shared a bit about her long history as an educator. She’s worked the K-12 system, as well as higher education, and said she’s experienced her share of racialized and gender discrimination on the job. That first-hand experience with discrimination fueled her research. She also talked about being a cancer survivor and highlighted how often Black women can experience chronic illnesses due to stress they get on the job. She cited a Brookings Institute study about how Black women school leaders are three times more likely to leave their field due to stress and “racial battle fatigue.” 

Armstrong said one of the aims of her research is to address this stress as a way to help increase retention of Black women in these roles. By exploring the intersections of how race and gender influence our definitions of self-care, Armstrong is hoping to find case studies and practices that can show how to best support school leaders before hostile work environments, racial microaggressions, and stress drive them away.

One of the findings her research uncovered was the importance of detachment as process. In order for women leaders to feel less stressed and experience true self-care, they had to be able to physically and mentally detach from their surroundings. Detachment as a process, Armstrong said, “leads us to removing constraints around the roles that exist.” It’s about juggling space, place, and time so they can all converge at the right moment and create windows for people to get those restorative experiences in.

“Self-care is a process of boundary-making,” Armstrong said. “Making the ability to say no, the ability to determine the priorities of the job and the way that you show up.” She said one of the biggest challenges to self-care is how people are afraid to advocate for themselves, that they’re afraid of being perceived as too demanding or challenging by asking for time off, for making their self-care a priority.

Armstrong closed her presentation by sharing a poem she wrote and took questions from event participants. 

“Black woman knows night but hopes for day,” Armstrong recited from her poem. “No fear, Black women. No time for fear: the world too busy preying on Black women. Black woman, mother, mothering Black women, nurturing earth. Only community grows from her.”

Watch the event on YouTube

Article by Austin Brietta