Tiffany Jewell wants everybody to be an anti-racist—and she’s doing her part to make it happen. Jewell is a Black biracial author, and anti-bias anti-racist (ABAR) educator. Her titles include This Book Is Antiracist: 20 Lessons on How to Wake Up, Take Action, and Do the Work; The Anti-Racist Kid: A Book About Identity, Justice, and Activism; and her latest, Everything I Learned About Racism I Learned at School. PW spoke with Jewell about the early roots of her activism, her anti-racist focus in her teaching and writing, and the first step we all can take to become anti-racist.

Can you tell us about your teaching? What does it look like and who has been your greatest influence?

I started teaching when I was in college and I’ve always taught with an anti-bias and anti-racist lens. I studied abroad in London and had such an amazing time teaching in a primary school—a class of nine-year-olds—that I was sold. I knew that I had to work with young kids! When I came back to the States, I did some tutoring and preschool teaching in Philadelphia. And, after that, I became a certified [lower elementary Montessori teacher] and taught six- to nine-year-olds for 15 years in a school in western Massachusetts.

With the Montessori method, we teach lessons through story; so I’ve been able to tell stories of community and justice, among others. I talk with kids about the history of racism and anti-racism, about socioeconomic differences, immigration and migration, and that’s how I grew comfortable doing this type of work. Now, I do more grant-funded work that allows me to work in different schools teaching lessons to kids focusing on identity, justice, and activism. I am also supporting teachers who are doing this work, too. I’ve found that educators need somebody to let them know that it’s okay to talk about our differences, because they’re really beautiful things.

My greatest influence has been, and continues to be, my students. They are clear on what is fair, just, and important. By trusting and listening to them, I’ve been able to simplify and clarify my teaching goals. These include helping to promote love and safety so that everyone in society is able to be themselves without any fear of violence or repercussions. As my kids put it, “Everybody deserves to have a home, to be loved, and to have a stuffed animal—which to them means to feel safe and secure.”

How did you start writing and publishing books?

One day an editor saw some of my posts online, and asked me if I ever considered writing a children’s book. I thought it was some kind of joke because I had considered it, but I never thought it was really a thing for me. But, once I emailed her back and talked with her, we realized that working together would be a really good fit. I had already done a lot of anti-racism lesson development and activities with my students, so the first book, This Book Is Anti-Racist, practically wrote itself. It turned out that my work with younger students also worked for older students, too.

Soon after, Kwame Alexander reached out to me through a mutual acquaintance, and expressed an interest in working with me. He told me that what I was putting out there was important, and that the world needed more of me. After that, I sold two books to Houghton Mifflin imprint Versify, [where Alexander was a part of], which is now part of HarperCollins.

Can you share some details about your books?

My first book, This Book Is Anti-Racist, is a guidebook of sorts and it’s direct in tone. It doesn’t have to be read from beginning to end. If you have a burning question, you can just look for that one question and get your answer. It’s written to navigate the reader through a process of learning about oneself, the history of racism, and becoming an anti-racist. The next book, The Anti-Racist Kid, is really a conversation with all of the students I have taught or known in my life. It addresses many of the questions they’ve asked over the years. I hope that both titles will spark more questions and answers, and stir a desire to do more.

Your latest title, Everything I Know About Racism I Learned at School, which is part memoir, part history and essay collection, also had an interesting start. Can you share where the idea came from, what the book’s premise is, and why you chose to write it?

I was doing a virtual keynote for a conference put on by “TheEdCollab” [a K–12 literacy professional development provider and think tank] and I was talking about my schooling. At one point, I paused and said, “You know, pretty much everything I know about racism, I learned in school.” It was just one of those moments, and we were all like, “Yes, that is true.” From there, I started thinking a lot about how as educators we don’t really learn about the history of school—especially the history of the schools in our communities. So, I decided to write about my own schooling, did a deep dive on the history of America’s schools, and invited others to write essays on their experiences. Some are similar and some are slightly different than mine.

I think that the more we know about our schools’ histories, the more we can ensure that we do not repeat what has happened to students or keep on having the same conversations. We need to move ourselves forward, center learners, and make schools better places for all. I also want people to know what has been and is now happening in schools. On top of this, I want today’s students to know that they are not alone, and there are many actions they can take from the book to become an anti-racist and fight for real change.

What are your hopes for your books and readers?

I hope that my readers can use the language in my books so they can talk knowledgably about racism. Because when we do this, we can become more competent and confident in helping to abolish racism. Then, and only then, can we live in a world where we can all feel safe, secure, and loved, where there is justice, fairness, and freedom, and everyone can be free to be their whole selves.

Where did the roots of your own anti-racism activism begin?

I was the kid always questioning things, critically conscious and thoughtful, and not afraid to say things people might not agree with. My mom used to call me a “contrarian” because I was constantly questioning people when they would ask me to do something. I was also always concerned with justice, too. In elementary school, I wrote a poem about how our perceptions of Christopher Columbus were wrong. And in seventh grade, I chose to do a science fair project on sexism in the classroom. Through the years, I’ve learned that activism can take many forms—speaking up and standing up—and that it’s different for everyone. Maybe protesting isn’t your thing, but you could write to your congressperson. Teaching and writing are my forms of activism. We can all do things to act and to make society better.

What’s one step that we could take right now to become an anti-racist?

That would be joining forces with people in your community who are ready, willing, and able to get to work, and who share the same vision you have.

So much of our society is based on individualism. Whenever we can collaborate and connect with other people, we discover that we are stronger and more powerful together. This also helps us realize that we’re part of something bigger than us. Together, this feels simple... and possible.