Episode 37: Corbrae Smith: Forged Through Fire

Corbrae Smith is a middle school art teacher by day, dope afrofuturist illustrator by night. Based in Oakland, CA, he is active in the local art scene and has created and contributed to many murals in the Bay Area.

He spoke passionately about teaching and how he makes an impact with his students by continuing to push forward with his art career. We talked about critique, both in the classroom and with our own artwork, the struggles of juggling these two careers, and making your own opportunities while also defeating your ego.

Corbrae also talked about how anti-racist teaching is different for Black teachers and how exhausting it has been to educate white colleagues and help us along. He shared how he’s so often been students’ and even parents’ first experience with a Black person in real life and has consistently faced and stood up to damaging stereotypes. He has to fight for the humanity, the complexity of being human that is just a given for white folks. Corbrae expressed it all better than I can, so listen! And white educators, we NEED to step it up. Keep doing the work of confronting your biases and pushing the other white people in your life to do the same. Keep doing this work even when it’s uncomfortable – lean into your discomfort.       

One big reason why I am doing murals is to show my students that you can absolutely impact your community with art. There is nothing more empowering than you messaging your truth to a whole city. During this time of unrest I felt like it was my responsibility as an artist to make sure mine and my peoples’ voices were heard! Black lives matter…resist power structures that don’t serve us!!! Your art is a tool for change!

~Corbrae Smith @hellafutures
Collaboration with Saman Qadir (@thesamaniist)

I loved Corbrae’s idea of using expert groups in the classroom to encourage students to share work with each other, give more autonomy to students, and offer opportunities for advanced students to showcase and improve their knowledge while helping struggling students. There’s just so much to this method!

Here are some helpful words of wisdom from Corbrae:

There is nothing like being in a classroom, a space you created and cultivated to invite safety. Nothing like being in a room of 20 kids you are tasked with helping grasp their own futures, nurture their interests and care for emotionally. Nothing like being around adults who are mission driven and will go to war to make sure they are serving their community. There are some teachers who can do distance learning and are thriving. I’m the type who needs to be in the classroom… giving off/feeding on energy, hunting kids down who need to finish their work or repair harm, giving hugs, offering my shoulder, playing games to show them you are never too old or too cool for tag. I am mourning the loss of connection. I am in mourning for the kids who needed those 8 hours away from home. I’m mourning the loss of learning. I’m mourning those teachers who create impact best in the trenches and are feeling like they aren’t being effective. We can’t control this pandemic and we have to change with the times as educators, but it is okay to miss what you had.

~Corbrae Smith