Melyssa Barrett: Welcome to The Jali Podcast. I’m your host, Melyssa Barrett. This podcast is for those who are interested in the conversation around equity, diversity, and inclusion. Each week, I’ll be interviewing a guest who has something special to share or is actively part of building solutions in the space. Let’s get started.
Ara’s Education Consulting, LLC doing business as Just Like a Mom is owned and operated by Dr. Wicondra Stovall and was inspired by her three children. Dr. Stovall is the product of a single mother household and is most passionate about parental engagement in African-American families, as she believes it was her mother’s dedication to her schooling that made the difference. While this ultimately led to the completion of her dissertation on Black Othermothering as a framework for cultural brokering for African-American students and families in April of 2022, Dr. Stovall’s research would lead her to a much more expansive lens of parental engagement and exclusivity of systemic structures that directly inhibit success in not only Black students, but minority students. Her research also considered the ability for other ethnic groups to provide a cultural connection with students of color, as well as the impact of minority professionals to have a positive impact on all students.
Dr. Stovall is a former corporate trainer and a K through 12 principal, and also possesses a master’s degree in learning technologies from Pepperdine University, a bachelor’s degree in human development with a concentration in adult development in gerontology from California State University, East Bay, and an associate’s degree in liberal studies from Contra Costa College with a focus on African American Black students, Just Like A Mom places culturally responsive mother figures within schools to provide cultural brokering for underserved students and families with consideration to the pedagogy of Black teaching. Just Like A Mom utilizes three of the five pillars of othermothering; advocacy, relatedness, and care and concern to be there for students, just like a mom. When surveyed, this service was desired by 92% of Black parents and validated as a method of increasing connection with underserved populations by teachers. It is my pleasure to have Dr. Wicondra Stovall join The Jali Podcast.
I am so excited that you are joining me this week. Dr. Wicondra Stovall is an amazing, amazing woman, and I’m so excited that I finally get to actually speak to her, not only about what she’s doing in the world, but even her dissertation is just amazing, and I love bringing information to people on all these great people are doing in the world. So thank you so much for being here.
Dr. Wicondra Stovall: Yeah, thank you for having me. Super honored.
Melyssa Barrett: Maybe you could just tell us a little bit about how you even got to where you are and the road that you traveled to even be in this space.
Dr. Wicondra Stovall: Yeah. I feel like I’m one of those people that have always been a mom. So even before I had children, I was the one, before I even had a sibling, outside my children were ladybugs and little rollie pollies that I’d bring into my mom. I always enjoyed playing house. I was always the mom of playing house. My first job was working in a daycare before and after school. I think I was 14 or 15. I would volunteer, which then eventually turned into me gaining employment in that capacity. So I’ve always just really embraced, I guess, the nurturing me that God has just put in me maybe even from infancy, I don’t know. But as far back as I can recall, this has been the road that I’ve traveled.
Despite my love for children and even education, I never wanted to be a teacher. I have mad respect for teachers and principals, but I’ve wanted to be a support. So as a PTO mom, as I began having children, I would volunteer at my kids’ school and support, just as support for my kid to make my presence known on behalf of my children and to be that advocate for them and to just be engaged.
So some years had passed and we began worshiping at a congregation that had a school associated with it. Coincidentally, at that time, probably just God’s design, no coincidence. But at that same time, I was contemplating if I would pursue a master’s degree in healthcare administration because I had been working in healthcare and training and development for some time, and it just seemed like the next best move considering where I was placed, or would I go after my heart’s passion for education? So I got accepted into Cal State East Bay’s Healthcare Administration program. I declined the acceptance because I just wasn’t sure. And then I also applied for a doctoral program in education at that time as well, and rescinded my application because I was just so confused. I didn’t know what to do.
So some time had passed and I found myself worshiping at this congregation that also had a school associated with it. I received an email from Sac State’s Educational Leadership Program stating that, “Congratulations Wicondra. You have been selected to be interviewed for our doctoral program. We’d love to have you.” They set the date. And when stuff like that happens, I don’t question it. So I just accepted the invitation. Later told my husband, I said, “Babe, I was invited to interview for this program that I didn’t apply for. Remember, I rescinded my application.” Like a year or two prior, I rescinded the application. And he was just like, “That’s nothing but God. Go, and we’ll figure it out.”
I can’t recall if right before the interview or right after I informed the administrator that I hadn’t applied. It was before, because they said, “Well, Wicondra, you’re right. You didn’t apply, but you’re already on the schedule. Just come.” So we came and in my interview, I talked about being a mom. I talked about being a PTO mom and really just wanting to engage African American students and having additional African American parents to be advocates and involved and visible and all this stuff for students. And eventually that, I don’t know, a couple of months later resulted in them accepting me into this program.
So fast forward, I guess now two years out, I was working as principal now at this school thinking that I could matriculate through the program and learn the job of a principal, because that’s not my background. I’ve been around principals, I’ve been around teachers, but I hadn’t studied it, but I thought that I could learn it and facilitate the role at the same time. The school board agreed, and they hired me for life. I thought that I would be at this school for the rest of my career. I thought that my children who were also attending the school, once I accepted employment there, would be there for the rest of the foreseeable future. I grew up in private school, attending private school from preschool through 10th grade, and then my last two years were in a public high school. I’m like, “God is just working it all out. My babies can go to private school [inaudible 00:08:29].” Three months in the writing was on the wall, and it was very clear that I needed to leave the role. It was not for me long term.
And just to protect that institution. I won’t go into details as to why, because God has a purpose for everything. But I will say that that experience really caused me to start looking at some of our systemic structures that have historically had a negative impact on African American students and families. So it was from that role that, I’ll say it was a springboard into, on July 2nd, 2019, I formed Ara’s Education Consulting.
Ara’s Education Consulting has been doing business as Just Like A Mom for the past year because people were like, “What’s Aras? Is it A-R-A? Is it Aras? Is it this?” It’s the initials of my children’s names is where I came up with Ara’s. And that has remained my official legal name with the state of California. Just Like A Mom was more applicable to the research around othermothering. It also enables people to understand some idea of what it is that I’m doing by the way of my business name. So thus, the change was necessary. But that’s how I got here.
Melyssa Barrett: I love it. I love it. I really was excited that you actually posted your dissertation.
Dr. Wicondra Stovall: Yeah.
Melyssa Barrett: Because I know a lot of people I talk to about their dissertation, which I mean, it’s such an amazing body of work, and then you can’t find it.
Dr. Wicondra Stovall: Yeah.
Melyssa Barrett: So I love the fact that you posted it. And it’s called, for everybody, Repairing The Fractures: Steps Forward in Building Bridges Across The Racial Divide.
Dr. Wicondra Stovall: So that’s not my dissertation topic. That was a journal article that I decided to submit with the International Journal of Psychological Studies with two of my [inaudible 00:10:35].
Melyssa Barrett: Nice.
Dr. Wicondra Stovall: So that’s a journal entry, but my dissertation should be on my website. And the dissertation title was, Yes, It’s For Us: An Examination of Othermothering as a Framework For Cultural Brokering For African American Students and Families.
Melyssa Barrett: Yes. And I love the fact that you are focused here, not only on the fact that it’s African American students, but that you also connect the dots to other BIPOC students as well. So kind of the othermothering as a cultural relation. Maybe I should take a step back. Let’s talk about what is othermothering first?
Dr. Wicondra Stovall: Yes, yes, yes. So othermothering, it was critical to the pedagogy of Black teaching. And it actually spawned from a researcher by the name of Patricia Hill Collins. She talks about othermother work is what she talks about. And then Lynnette Mawhinney, who is my [inaudible 00:11:41] in this field. I actually got a chance to meet her at an academic conference in Chicago earlier this year. I had straight fan girl vibes. She then came up with this concept referred to us othermothering, and she defines it in five ways. So it consists of a pedagogical commitment to students. So we’re ensuring that Black students are learning. Second, sometimes there’s a financial commitment. Sometimes we have to give money or buy things for our students. Thirdly, we have to advocate for our students. Number four, care and concern. Or it can also be summed up as a physical touch and hugging of our students, which of course in our system it’s not designed for that. It’s a very hands offy [inaudible 00:12:26] students, maybe even well natured. But anyway, care and concern.
And then lastly, utilizing the ability to relate. So relatedness is the last component that sums up what othermothering [inaudible 00:12:40] them into their classrooms. And it has been utilized as a place of belonging for African American students at school. My work has teased out that othermothering component and placed it in non-Black teachers. We have our own independent role that relies on this othermothering structure to collaborate with the primarily white teaching population since Black teachers only make up 7% of the teaching population nationwide.
Melyssa Barrett: I know in the article that you wrote, you also talked about how that can even relate to retention of teachers. So just being able to relate to kids in a specific way and the benefits of that with the teaching population, which is pretty astute when you think about what people want to give. Because I think all teachers, the masters that they are, want to be a good teacher, but unfortunately sometimes they don’t always have the skills with different cultures.
Dr. Wicondra Stovall: Correct.
Melyssa Barrett: I love that. Now, you also talked about, I think, the Black achievement gap and being able to close that gap by using this othermothering. I know Just Like A Mom, you’re providing services to K through 12.
Dr. Wicondra Stovall: Yeah. We serve as a partner. Just Like A Mom hires site moms, is the role title. We place them. The sites that have collaborated with us, give us a room at their school site, and it’s devoted to the site mom. So the site mom has a space, and students are able to come in as they deem necessary. They get one-on-one support academically. They get emotional support. Some of them are getting rides from home to school. If their mom, true story, got a job out of town, could no longer bring your kids to school on time but because she had a relationship with the site mom, they worked out something for her to pick up her son for the rest of this past school year.
Melyssa Barrett: Oh, wow.
Dr. Wicondra Stovall: We keep snacks in our room in case they’re hungry, if they want some water. We are their extended parent while their parent is away.
Melyssa Barrett: That’s pretty cool.
Dr. Wicondra Stovall: Yeah.
Melyssa Barrett: But I mean, how does that even work with the schools these days?
Dr. Wicondra Stovall: I mean, the school has to want it. It’s highly political. There are times in school, we talked a lot about… We had a professor, a policy professor, who spoke a lot about the policy window opening and shutting. So case in point, after the murder of George Floyd, there became all this funding. There’s a huge opportunity available for organizations like mine that were seeking to specifically support African American students. And you couple that with Covid and there was funding and principals were like, “Yeah, I want this. I have this grant. I want that.” And then slowly over the past three years, the policy window has shut a bit and now all of a sudden there’s no funding. Yet, we know that school districts spend funding money on things every day that don’t work for students. But now it’s almost as if people are getting tired of our Black Lives Mattering linked to fund it in the way that they did previously. So if a principal wants it, he or she will find the funding to support it is bottom line.
Melyssa Barrett: Yeah. That’s awesome. I know one of your posts, I think said something like, “Your slip is showing.”
Dr. Wicondra Stovall: Yeah.
Melyssa Barrett: I love that. Because I was like, “I remember hearing that.” I don’t know if it was from my grandma or somebody. We know what you can do now.
Dr. Wicondra Stovall: You see it.
Melyssa Barrett: Yeah. And now it’s about what you want to do.
Dr. Wicondra Stovall: Right.
Melyssa Barrett: So that’s awesome. Because you say the school has to support it, but do the teachers also have to provide some support, or what happens if they’re not supportive or how does that work?
Dr. Wicondra Stovall: I mean, it’s really important to me to have teacher buy-in. There are always teachers that don’t completely understand it. And frankly, there are often African American teachers who are like, “Othermothering?” And then they learn about it. It’s like, “Well, I’m a Black teacher, so why are you here?” Well, there’s still not enough of us. So there’s always the group of teachers, Black, white or different, that don’t necessarily understand it and don’t support it. But I think if given the opportunity for them to actually partake in trainings about it, which we’ve done to combat this kind of illusion around us coming in and serving as helicopter moms or trying to critique their work in the classroom, then that eases their discomfort. That we are here to support students ultimately and to partner with teachers, not to take their roles or to undermine them as teachers. We are here for our students. We don’t have enough representation for us.
Melyssa Barrett: Yeah. No, that’s so true. Are there success stories that you can kind of highlight? You talked about being able to pick up kids and really be that extended mom. But what is it like for the people that are now on campus as that site mom, and what kind of benefits do they see out of it?
Dr. Wicondra Stovall: I think this role, it’s hard. It’s good work. It’s hard work, but it’s really emotionally draining because the role… I mean, if you can imagine your mom, you see your kids. I have a five-year-old and everything could be fine. Just fine. But if I walk through the door, then she’s screaming bloody murder. She’s like, “Oh my goodness,” crying, “I miss you. This is hurting. That’s hurting.” And that has been sometimes our experience at school where you approach a playground and you see your kids playing, and then once they spot you, the world is ending. As joyful as it is to be there, it can also be taxing. We also have to be very clear about how we’re not psychologists. We’re site othermoms. We offer navigational support to be able to direct families and students to where they need to be and to be that face and that warm space for students.
But some of the work becomes out of scope, or sometimes things are shared with us and we have to report it because we’re mandated reporters. Then we risk losing the trust that the student thought she or he had with us. But because now they’re in danger, we have to report it, which severs, and it has severed some of the relationships, which is hard. I think the sweet moments are like Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day when site moms are getting cards, and they don’t have any children at all, but kids view them as their mom, their support.
Melyssa Barrett: That’s awesome.
Dr. Wicondra Stovall: Yeah.
Melyssa Barrett: You said it’s hard work. I know when I was talking to one of my friends, she worked in DEI for a long time, and she talks about the head, the heart, and the hands all the time, because the work requires all three. And there are people that do one, all three. There’s combinations of them, but there’s so much work to do, but you have to make sure that you’re embracing all of that. So it’s pretty awesome that you guys are able to do this. Where is your geography?
Dr. Wicondra Stovall: So I reside in Fairfield, California. And the students in schools that we partner with are in Sacramento, California presently. Of course, I’m always looking to expand and looking at other cities. But presently, it has been Sacramento since late 2019, going to next year.
Melyssa Barrett: Fantastic. Yeah. This is awesome. And it’s so funny because I know in my area, I live in San Joaquin County, we have a lot of interest now in creating Black Parent Collectives so that there is an ability at least to make sure that there is a focus on students and making sure that they’re getting what they need. So we’re seeing that trend where they’re in different schools, they’re creating these Black Parent Collectives so that there is a voice, but it’s hard for parents that are working right to do all of that work. And it feels like, in some cases, it becomes all on us. But there is a need for us to participate in a lot of ways.
Dr. Wicondra Stovall: Yeah. It makes me think of, even just in the research about othermothering and just Black teachers and burnout, and to represent Black folks, Black teachers, Black authority figures at school, people then start to depend on you to provide all of the diversity, equity, and inclusion training, all of the conversations around race and all of the conversations around when something happens in our communities. Can you speak on it? At a certain point, we become traumatized because the acts are conducted towards us, but then we have to also out how to guide you through helping us when we’ve been victimized. It just gets to be too much at times. Which it’s good work, but then it’s needed. I’m not trying to leave them either. I’m not going anywhere, but I have to push back and say like, “Look, no, I’m not a trained diversity, equity and inclusion trainer. My specialty is othermothering. That’s it. But I can get you one. Just because Black doesn’t mean I know things all Black.”
Melyssa Barrett: Everybody thinks we know. Everybody knows each other, right?
Dr. Wicondra Stovall: Yeah.
Melyssa Barrett: Yeah. It’s funny though, because I had that similar experience when I was working in a corporate job. After George Floyd, there was a lot of focus, like, “Okay, we want to listen. What’s your experience?” There was this shock and awe like, “Your life is so different than ours.” I’m like, “Yeah.”
Dr. Wicondra Stovall: We’re trying to tell you this.
Melyssa Barrett: Right? It’s like it hasn’t been hidden. We felt that, and it was such a burden. I mean, it continues to be. You talk about being traumatized. It’s like this constant traumatization. It doesn’t end. It’s like generational trauma that kind of keeps going. Trying to move this needle, it takes so much work and so much effort. I’m so grateful for all the things that you’re doing in the world.
Dr. Wicondra Stovall: Thank you.
Melyssa Barrett: So what else? How can people find you? Are there things that you want to talk about in terms of what you’d like to provide or what you can provide so that people can reach out to you if they’re in other areas looking for expansion?
Dr. Wicondra Stovall: Yeah. I’m new to Instagram, but that’s where I have a tendency of posting more consistently. I think people can learn more about my personality there versus just the business content, which is posted on LinkedIn and Facebook at least once a week. Folks can reach out to me by email at Wicondra@JustLikeAMom.com. I think there might be interest in people who may not necessarily want to hire Just Like A Mom for service and have a person at their school site. But I did just finish writing a children’s book entitled My School Moms, and I’m working on a teacher handout to where they could use the handout to as a guide, as to how to utilize the children’s book. It’s really just a lighthearted way of instructing teachers or providing them with methods of engaging their African American students and really calendars my own experience with othermothering as a preschooler through really my first college degree. That might be another way that folks may find a quick way to access tools. And it’s also available on Amazon as well.
Melyssa Barrett: I love it. And the name of the book again?
Dr. Wicondra Stovall: My School Moms.
Melyssa Barrett: My School Moms by Dr. Wicondra Stovall on Amazon. Everybody buy it. I think what’s interesting is there’s a lot of school districts and schools that are now putting DEI, equity advisors, whatever they’re calling them into place to make sure that everybody has access to information. And I love the fact that you are such a compliment in so many ways to the educational system because it needs a lot of help, especially in the public schools. Private school is different, but public schools need a lot of help. I think it’s awesome what you’re doing.
Dr. Wicondra Stovall: Thank you.
Melyssa Barrett: Thanks for joining me on The Jali Podcast. Please subscribe so you won’t miss an episode. See you next week.