The Dream Giver
Updated: Oct 25, 2020
Torchbearer: Maniya Jules-Miller — Haitian. Washington, DC.
"The journey in my career & personal life has been difficult. It has not been smooth. It has been a lot of work!”
A school administrator and an ambitious mother of three; Maniya was born in Haiti and although her family moved to the US when she was young, the influence of her Haitian roots held strong.
“I was raised in my home as if I was in Haiti. Growing up my parents instilled our Haitian culture as an important influence. My father had many jobs but was still a social activist… I had friends of all backgrounds but my parents made sure my friends understood we were Haitian, and knew our culture and tasted our food.”
She was originally in denial about following her passion to work in schools. After college she had a job at Chrysler’s corporate office, which paid great money but she hated it. That same job allowed her to volunteer as a tutor and the rest was history…
“I come from a long line of educators. My great aunt and grandfather were teachers in Haiti. My father was an acting coach and also did theater. I had educators all over, but I wasn’t doing it. They were just too strict and I didn’t want to be that person, I wanted to be free…but I was having too much fun tutoring those kids.
Even now I have several aunts that are teachers. My cousins are in the medical field are teaching classes. My own son has decided to go into education!”
Maniya’s goal, educational equity…
“We’ve been taught that what you end up doing as your career is just a vehicle for social activism.”
While working as a teacher, Maniya had ideas to improve schools and her boss believed in her vision. This eventually led her to being a school administrator, managing the day-to-day operations of a public high school. As a school administrator her job includes resolving parent/teacher conflicts to enforcing or alleviating disciplinary actions on students. She has been in this role at several high schools and middle schools.
In my family we’re all social activists. We’ve been taught that what you end up doing as your career is just a vehicle for social activism. You can’t just be an educator or engineer. You can’t just be a manager or doctor.You have to be a professional who is then giving back to the Haitian community and to other communities — working for those who cannot afford. If you’re a teacher, if you’re running a business — how are you giving back? Your career path is just a vehicle for the greater job, which is social activism.
I remember when I was a student they only allowed five of us [students of color] into the ‘Talented and Gifted’ program — it was like a quota. In high school I remember realizing this was so unfair. I’ll never forget my friend, Mike Brown (who is a black male), everyone knew he was brilliant, even the teachers knew it. A group of us challenged the Administration to accept him into the program.They told us he didn’t qualify because he wasn’t identified for the program in the THIRD GRADE!
He had to call his parents and we kept pushing him to fight to get into an advanced class. And he finally got in.That was the beginning of me really understanding inequity.
How can you be a social activist at work?
I ask the difficult questions. In my school I look at our data and share research that some people don’t want to address, so we can focus on equity. It means looking at whether certain students are given more support than others and who is being given disciplinary referrals and for what reasons.
I’m now okay for people to be a little uncomfortable but it takes a bit of time. You can’t just — jump out there. If I invest the time [in our relationship] and you know my heart, and we’re getting along. Then I can say, ‘Why did you say that?’ or ‘Can you help me understand?’ Ask the questions.
In the middle of a demanding and thriving career, Maniya was faced with many familiar life issues: financial challenges, depression, caring for an ailing aunt, divorce — all while raising three sons…
As a Mom, there are times when you come home from work, and your energy is zapped. You just don’t feel like taking care of others. Luckily for me, my village is VERY supportive and outspoken. I have my family and a group of women I call my Soul Sistahs. They’re women of various ethnic backgrounds who know me, and call me out in a hot second. They will tell me, ‘We understand if you’re not home as much, and you’re having these other issues. Then we need to focus on how to protect the boys and get them through these rough times.’
When you’re stuck you keep your head in the sand. I remember internalizing my emotions. And that’s when you get into destructive behaviors. It’s okay to say ‘I’m depressed’. There’s going to be those seasons when you’re going through it, and it’s okay. Because now you have to get the resources.
Appearance and Authenticity
I was not able to be authentic early in my career. I moved from the Washington DC suburbs to a small town in the South. I was told I was too formal. Therefore I had to soften; speak softly, sit down when I was speaking (Maniya is 5’10), and wear more dresses — pant suits would scare people! People were saying I was intimidating, and I knew I wasn’t. That was their implicit bias.
I would interview in a straight weave but then on my first day, the braids would come out. That was my protest — I’m not conforming! It took years to not conform. Now, I’m me. I’ll wear whatever I want to. I’m no longer a people pleaser — a lot of that has to do with me becoming more mature and going through a divorce. After that [divorce], I’ll be my authentic self for the rest of my life, no matter what.
Experiencing how much appearance mattered at work bothered Maniya and took her back to a lesson from her grandmother:
My grandmother helped build my self-esteem. She’d say, ‘you’re just representing your family being well put-together. I don’t want you being known for beauty, you did nothing to earn that. If I just hear about my granddaughter being pretty, I would be insulted. I need to hear all the other things about you. Like how intelligent you are, your love for God and what great character you have.’
Develop Your Whole Self
I remarried in 2016 and my husband very much wants me to be a healthy me. We’ve both been through divorce and we’re very focused on personal development. We’re use to doing professional development, that’s the easy part! It’s so much more emotionally taxing and challenging to do personal development. We’re both okay with saying that we’re working on ourselves. We have our own groups of friends and therapists that are helping us in our journey. We’re using all of our resources to make sure this relationship works. It’s freeing when you’re grown!
I do think that since I’ve been so successful professionally, it does make it easier to invest more time in my personal development. My daytime work is rocking, it’s a skill set I’ve been developing for 20 years.
The Dream Giver
My parents were very much social activists. My family came to the US from Haiti pursuing the American dream. Then when my parents got here they helped other immigrants do the same. There were always people at my house. I ALWAYS had to share my room. There was someone ALWAYS coming over to eat. As a kid you’re selfish, but then when you grow up and you have so many people that invested in you — pay it forward.
It taught us that when someone gives you the opportunity to pursue your dream, you have a REQUIREMENT to help other people. It’s the moving of the American dream. You’re a dream giver.
— Maniya Jules-Miller
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