Meet Brianna Baker,
Servant. Educator. Juvenile Justice Advocate
1. What do you think it means to be a good girl?
Before I answer this question I first want to acknowledge that I love this question because of its complexity. Every time someone is asked this question, I get a new way to understand and consider what it means to be a brilliant Black woman. There is no right, no wrong, just diverse approaches to articulating what it means to uniquely and unapologetically epitomize excellence.
Now.. for me, being a good girl is about redefining “good”. a good girl to me is so focused on defining goodness to herself, for herself, and journeying to wholeness. A good girl is self aware, self loving and empowered to be the absolute best her… For me, being a good girl is not about fitting into this box of modeling myself after what men say is “good” or “ladylike”- its about knowing myself well enough to know what is good for me, or in other words what God has for me. Its about unapologetically chasing that goodness- God’s goodness.
I’m a “good girl” because I am the manifestation of all that is good-and that doesn’t mean that I’m perfect or that I never make mistakes.. It means that I acknowledge all things work together for my “good.” I am able to acknowledge that I am both under construction and a masterpiece at the same time.. I am consumed with my journey to wholeness and unapologetically concerned with becoming the woman I was called to be
2. What's essential to me?
I’ll try to narrow it down with three specific necessities:
1. God- Its essential to me that I acknowledge that my purpose is greater than myself. This belief gives my life meaning. My self love is rooted in my belief in God. For me, self love and recognizing my capabilities have nothing to do with recognizing/praising myself.. it instead recognizes the wonder of my creator. Operationalizing self love then becomes humbling because I function on the pretense that its not about me but about manifesting my purpose.
2. Family- This is my support system. Its crucial to me that I recognize that I accomplish nothing alone. One of my fav quotes by Malcolm X says “When “I” is replaced with “we” even illness becomes wellness. This quote is so powerful to me. For me, my family is my wellness. I am because they are. I can always count on them to push me to be my best me.
3. Space- I am so particular about the physical places I spend large amounts of time in because I believe that space has power. My space has to make me feel good. I was so finicky about the makeup of my bedroom because that’s where I’m able to decompress everyday.. New York is so chaotic to me, I have to be able to come home to something that counters that experience.. My room has to be my calm, my safe space. My space also has to make me feel loved. I am equally as particular about the people I allow in my space. If you challenge my positivity or self love, you cant be in my space.
3. What's a saying that you live by?
I’ll narrow it down to three again. These three ideas originated in Ghana, West Africa and keep me inspired as guiding principles created by my ancestors:
Sankofa- “Go back to fetch it”- A reminder that the past must be a guide for the future. We must return to the source, retrieve and remember what has been lost or forgotten, in order to know who we are, to make wise decisions and to be spiritually fulfilled.
Akoma Ntoso- “Linked Hearts- symbol of agreement, understanding, shared or common purpose.” Although each person had to be as strong as possible individually, all knew that their collective strength came from unity of understanding and collective consciousness.
Epa- “Handcuffs” You are the property of the one whose handcuffs you wear. Do not let this happen to you, is the warning embodied in this symbol which is also the symbol of justice and equality of all persons before the law.
*This ideology is the drive behind my life’s work. In honor of the revolutionary documentary 13 th Amendment and its ability to illuminate the ways that mass incarceration is the current manifestation of years of state violence against black bodies- I am able to understand the ways that Blackness has this deep & durable relationship with bondage. This principle keeps me inspired to fight for Black liberation.
4. I know you love to read, whats your top 5 books that you would suggest the good girls to read?
The nerd in me got so excited about this question. I LOVE to read, but with the stress of grad school I don’t get to read the texts that I would like to read as much as I would like. What I love about books is that they don’t go anywhere.. even if it takes you a long time, commit to reading, commit to expanded understanding, commit to enlightenment. These are a few texts that I loved, that nurture the spark in me.. They are largely focused on social injustice and I truly believe that they provide hope and empowerment while acknowledging the ways systems of oppression operate against Black and Brown bodies.
1. The New Jim Crow- Michelle Alexander
2. Pushout- The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools- Monique Morris
3. Nobody- Marc Lamont Hill
4. Between the World & Me- Ta-Nehisi Coates
5. Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching- Mychal Denzel Smith
5. What's your stance on the PWI vs HBCU debate
As a graduate of Spelman College and now graduate student at Columbia University’s Teacher’s College, everyday I become more thankful for my HBCU experience. I needed my HBCU, and there are so many Black youth that need HBCUs. There is no where else that calls on the Black intellectual, the Black voice, the Black perspective first when considering a point of inquiry. Historically, Whites did not believe that Blacks had the capacity or the cognitive ability to read, nonetheless understand, nonetheless articulate, nonetheless analyze. What does it mean to be educated in a system that does not truly believe in the intellectual competencies of the Black student? Along with that, the mainstream curriculum deliberately suppresses the Black experience, and disregards Black culture and history. HBCU’s counter this deprivation in a way that’s truly remarkable. In 4 years- these institutions redefine Blackness for the Black student. HBCU’s empower Blackness in ways that the mainstream schooling experience has not. My HBCU strengthened me with a sense of self that prepared to excel in any space. There is something so special about being in spaces validated by Blackness.. these spaces [HBCUs] are necessary to building a community that will truly appreciate Blackness and not just appropriate Blackness.
6. Do you agree that women wear “sexy” or revealing clothes for attention?
I am always thrown off when people offer that I get dressed for men, or because of male attention. I get dressed for me. Its something considerably wrong with a society that sees a woman looking “sexy” and assumes that she is dressed to find a man. This notion is pretty powerful because its not just when a woman has on something revealing/sexy that she gets that response. Whenever a woman looks “glamorous, or especially “put together” she is asked if “she’s looking for man.” We are assuming that when a woman gets dressed and puts effort in pulling herself together that she is doing it for a man. Not only does this place the supposed desire and wants of men on a pedestal but it undermines the woman’s desires for herself. Why are the decisions of women constantly seen as a response or reaction to men? Why can’t the woman make a decision inspired by herself, for herself? Further, when thinking about this question I cant help but consider the viral debate sparked from #teacherbae. When questions of “being sexy” or “seeking attention” come up I am forced to consider how my Blackness and my woman-ness situate themselves in the discussion. For years, the bodies of women of color have been over-sexualized and exploited in ways that stripped women of color of sexual autonomy and humanity. Why is it that because of curves we cant dress the way that we want to? Why does the Black women’s body offend so many people? Why does society think its their place to police God’s masterpiece? There is no mistake in our curves nor is there is a mistake in the beauty of the woman’s body. All in all, I love a form fitting dress. I also love wearing that perfect suit and there is nothing wrong with that. I celebrate women that look sexy; I celebrate women in business attire. We can do both, We can do it all.
7. I saw on your IG that you are creating lesson plans for your students about being “Pushed Out, Over policed and Under protected” Can you tell us more about that?
Sure! I love teaching 12th grade government in East Harlem because I get so much freedom to discuss things outside of the mainstream curriculum. With PUSHOUT, my students and I are working together to understand the role of girls in understanding carceral schooling, criminalization, incarceration and juvenile justice. Here this text is centering the experiences of girls of color in discussions around institutional inequity, systems of oppression and schools that serve as dehumanizing spaces. My students are becoming critical thinkers, and learning to be critical of our society and larger world. I’m hoping that these lessons inspire them not be agents of the state but change agents that are revolutionary and unwavering in their attempts to better our world.
8. Describe yourself in a song?
This question was so hard for me because its so hard to pick one song. Were all so nuanced.. Some days I’m a Jazmine Sullivan ballad, the next days I’m sipping Bey’s lemonade.. the next I'm crying over my ex with Drake.. and moments later I’m rocking with Chance. But right now… in this moment, Private Party by India Arie speaks to my permanent commitment to loving myself wholly and completely everyday. I love listening to it while taking a bath and just having some cute me time with a glass of wine.
9. Everyone is an activist in their own right, whats your participating in the Black lives matter movement?
For me my participation in the BLM movement looks like exploring the relationship between education and juvenile justice and standing in that gap. I am especially concerned with the phenomenon popularly recognized as the school to prison pipeline and the ways that Black youth are disproportionately excluded from the mainstream educational experiences and funneled into prison. I am fervently working to support larger efforts that interrupt this pipeline. I am an activist for Black youth and fight daily to ensure that they have the educational experiences they deserve. They too deserve educational experiences focused on curiosity and not compliance. My activism looks like disrupting a system of oppression designed to degrade and restrict youth of color to this box that will marginalize their latent capabilities.
10. Whats your ultimate goal?
Ultimately, I aspire to become a Chief Judge at a Juvenile Court that crafts a curriculum uniquely designed to cultivate youth involved in the juvenile justice system. Aside from my career goals, I aspire to never stop learning and never stop loving. I aspire to always find the beauty in life by committing to happiness. I aspire not to become discouraged by things not being what I thought they should be, but always making the best of what they are… by fully understanding that things don’t happen to me but for me. I aspire to live the live I was designed to live.
Thanks for reading and allowing me to share apart of myself with you!