Smuggling Black Truths: Blackcrit Sensemaking Amidst the Disruption and Expansion of Black Liberatory Educational Possibilities
Karla Thomas

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



Northwestern University

Primary Discipline

Black Education
Black education has been a fugitive project since its inception. New pernicious barriers to a just Black education are willfully set in motion every time a modicum of progress is made. Black parents and Black teachers have been educators, political organizers, and architects of Black spaces for learning even as resources are intentionally withheld. Following a 2020 executive order to eliminate "divisive concepts in schools," 44 states passed anti-Black education policies, limiting discourse on race, in particular, African American history. This study focuses on Florida, the state implementing the most restrictive educational policies. Through three interrelated studies, my research traces the process by which Black parents and Black educators make sense of anti-Black education laws and conceptualize their role in response to the restrictions. This work is timely and pertinent to the state of Black education as these intentionally vague laws, along with the criminal, employment, and violent consequences of resisting, aim to curtail progress made toward a more equitable public education in the US. Three research questions guide this work. First, How do Black caregivers interpret and respond to Florida's anti-Black educational policies? Secondly, How do Black Florida teachers make sense of Florida's new anti-Black education policies? Finally, have Black Florida teachers modified their educational and pedagogical practices due to Florida's new anti-Black education policies, and if so, how? This interdisciplinary research introduces Blackcrit Sensemaking as a theoretical contribution to the literature on racialized sensemaking and liberatory education, particularly within the context of Black fugitive pedological practice.
About Karla Thomas
Karla Thomas is a Critical Race Scholar and Ph.D. candidate at the School of Education and Social Policy at Northwestern, where she researches parent, teacher, and community acts of resistance, defiance, and dream-building in the face of anti-Black and anti-LGBTQ education policy. Her dissertation, " Smuggling Black Truths: Blackcrit Sensemaking Amidst the Disruption and Expansion of Black Liberatory Educational Possibilities," interrogates how Black parents and Black educators make sense of and resist Florida's regressive education policies while also expanding opportunities for Black education. Karla is a member of the Edward A. Bouchet Graduate Honor Society, a recipient of the Multidisciplinary Program in Educational Science Fellowship, and a member of the inaugural cohort of ARIS Scholars for Social Justice. Her ongoing collaborative research efforts explore the invisible ways Black parents and communities participate in the struggle for a just Black education through activism, political advocacy, and educating educators and communities on issues of race and racism. Karla’s work has been published in the ACM Transactions on Computing Education Journal. Karla is also a former executive with 14 years of experience in data-driven Global Operations Management. Her operations background spans many functions within Industrial Manufacturing, Global Supply Chain, and Six Sigma Continuous Improvement. Karla earned two master's degrees, an MA in Education – Human Development & Social Policy from Northwestern and an MBA in Management & Organizations and Business & its Social Environment from Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management. She also earned a BS in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Mississippi.

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