STORIES OF SERVICE | Tasha Ina Church and the Meaning of “Different”
It’s no coincidence that I first met Tasha Ina Church in the flesh during a trip to Maui. The island’s volcanic hills and idyllic coastlines are both life-giving and infinite—just like Tasha’s love for teaching and learning.
A daughter born to a multicultural family, with two parents who are teachers, Tasha holds education as sacred. And while she was expected by those who knew her to be a teacher in the traditional sense of the word, Tasha decided to forgo a classroom of her own. Instead, she has leveraged more than a dozen educational platforms throughout her career.
Tasha studied seven disciplines of martial arts between the ages of 18 and 25. She combines this period of study with her own personal experience to teach self-defense at her newly-launched women’s empowerment organization, Elle.Live.Action. Tasha also teaches life skills to children with autism through Hawaii Behavioral Health. Between 2012-2014, she coordinated the first Undoing Institutionalized Racism Workshops for the city of Tacoma through the Vibrant Schools Tacoma Coalition in Washington. Tasha served as a grant writer and volunteer from 2009-2013 at the youth-led non-profit, Fab-5. In addition, she wrote and illustrated a children’s book on cultural awareness called We Are One at the Falling of the Sun in 2011. All of these professional experiences are just a taste of her contributions to the field of education.
Tasha pursued her own teaching path after feeling unsafe in her own skin as a child. Standing out from her peers with her multicultural background, she admits that she struggled to find herself “in a world where ‘the other’ is stigmatized and segregated.”
She believes that kids of all backgrounds learn to see differences as dangerous—including differences of race, culture, body type, intellectual ability, and mental health. Studying the research of Briggite Vittrup, Ph.D., an expert in education and child development, Tasha discovered that children discriminate before they even learn to walk. The preference for the familiar and prejudice towards the “other,” particularly other races, are ingrained in children long before high school by their peers and the media.
Children of color, as well as kids who have medical diagnoses, are heavier than their peers, or express interests that conflict with those of their parents—to name a few—are at risk for being labeled as “other” or “different.” Children labeled as such may be bullied. Or, they could face more subtle forms of alienation from their mainstream peers, like being ignored on the playground. Either way, these kids experience a pervasive sense of inferiority and powerlessness.
When children become aware of being different, it’s all too common that they feel unworthy of the love and care they desperately need.
How do we help kids navigate the pressure to be other than what they are?
How do we put the power to thrive back in children’s hands?
From the dojo to the library, from the youth havens of her community to the pages of her first children’s book, Tasha embodies the fact that “we teach best what we most need to learn.” And what Tasha teaches best is that we can only love and care for our children when we learn to to love and care for ourselves. This means that it’s up to every parent, guardian, and teacher to embody healthy self-acceptance. According to Tasha, self-acceptance is defined by the ability to own our differences as strengths, to nurture ourselves, and to grow from our mistakes with love—not shame.
From this foundation of self-acceptance, we need to connect with people who are different than we are and then encourage our children to do the same. Twenty new connections per month is Tasha’s recommendation, including three one-on-one conversations.
Like a good immune system exposed over and over again to foreign substances, children immersed in a diverse environment will grow stronger and more resilient when encouraged to embrace the differences that surround them. They will also grow to appreciate their own uniqueness.
When it comes to embodying self-love and self-care, Tasha truly stands out. She has leveraged years of pain, shame, and vulnerability to become a radiant example of what education really means: practicing what you preach. Tasha practices the lifelong discipline of fully honoring who she is, leading communities of people who create opportunities to connect and thrive through their differences.
Tasha’s story raises a vital question: How can we teach our children to embrace differences—and themselves—by learning to do it with them?
To explore Tasha’s work and connect with her, visit TashaInaChurch.com.
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