Dr. Kennedy’s Blog

Two Bound Copies, Hood IEP’S & One Diagnosis!

My Mom calls me Dr. Kennedy, and my Dad calls me Dr. Toy.

I call myself Dr. “Granny nem baby.”

Yesterday two bound copies of my dissertation were delivered to my house. They arrived a month after I received a precise diagnosis from a licensed psychologist concerning my learning disability. 

I have spent the last few years of graduate school examining documents my Mother saved from my time as a special education student and a teenage runaway. 

Summer 2021 Data Coding For Dissertation

My Mama saves everything y’all!

As a student in special education, you don’t always get a precise diagnosis. I know this not just because of my own experience in special education but due to working in the K-20 system for 18 years as an educator and being a student of the field of education for 12 years.

Black girls in the hood don’t get to be autistic or neurodivergent.

 We are often just labeled angry or emotionally disturbed. We spend much of our lives masking our disability.

 As little girls, we are not seen as little girls. We are seen as grown women or adultified and shamed for not living up to folks projections.

As little girls we don’t get to say that we are having an ADHD meltdown or need some coping skills for both shame and Dyslexia when called on to read aloud.

 We are just labeled lazy, disrespectful or simply pushed out of school!

This book changed my life and career! Thank you Dr. Morris for your work!!

While having my diagnosis allows me to access tools and resources in order to

  • examine my struggles, strengths and brain
  • strengthen my personal life and relationships
  • support me as a independent scholar with knowing best ways to work

….I would be foolish to ignore the Hood scholars and prophets that helped this special ed baby obtain

  • a high school diploma as a teenage runway who at one point had no high school credits (Shout out to Street Academy)
  • a bachelors degree (Saint Mary’s College Of California)
  • two master degrees (Holy Name University & Mills College)
  • and as of recent my doctorate (Mills College)

People often assume I share these things just to flex. I don’t.

I share because of the the people I met in Chicago, New York, California & Nigeria.

I share for those who planted seeds in me back when I was a teenage runway. Back when all I had was a metro cell phone and beauty supply slippers.

Back when all I had access to was myspace, facebook, childhood trauma, homelessness, and some brown prostyle gel.

I share because so many people have given me chances to show up when I could have easily been looked over or judged.

As a child of southern Black migrants who continue to migrate back and forth between the south and other US cities, my access to my family around the country has come from having access to social media. I share because I can not believe how far I have come, how much work I have put in

and most importantly how many hands have helped to get me to this point…

It takes a village….

I’m from the holiness storefront church type. Spitting on brooms cause “you swept my foot” type. The hoodoo with a dash of superstition type. Thats my village.

Without an “adequate” IEP…

I had dope hood educators, scholar activist, allies, pastors, prophets, Iyas, Babas and mentors who pushed me to see my gifts and my lifelong responsibility to learn…the best way for me to learn!

My DIY-Hood IEP may have not been the most academic according to SPED (special education) scholars, however it always included community and giving back what was given to me.

Grandma’s Prayers

Before my dissertation arrived in the mail, my Dad randomly sent me a photo of my Grandmother dressed up for her junior high graduation.

Grannies 88th heavenly bday was last week

I wish in Jr high I had a clear diagnosis for my learning disability.

So much trauma, abuse, misunderstandings, scars and family pain would have been avoided I assume.

A diagnosis paired with my Hood IEP would have truly been a dynamic paring for me in Jr high.

While looking at the photo of my Grandmother back when she was in jr high, I pretended her image came to life and said, “I’m dressed up and ready to celebrate with you baby.”

Granny & Daddy

I imagine her wishing to explain how her prayers have traveled far with me. Wishing to explain that I was a recipient of her prayers. 


I was born three months early. Not long after my Grandmother passed. 

My mother says my journey in special education started due to my brain not being fully developed when born. My Dad says my name “Toynessa” comes from me being so small that I could fit in his hand like a small Toy doll.

My new born journey was spent in the hospital as a preemie baby.

Though conceived in Mississippi I am the first of my Mother’s four children born in California. 

I believe before my Mom boarded the bus pregnant with me with two small children at her hip, all three of my Grandmother’s prayers had knocked on a few doors for me. 

My Baba/Elder might say that my Grandmother’s spirit has followed me and protected me.

Maybe she was the first one to sign off on my Hood IEP!?

This…I believe. 

This….I trust.

Photo by @pinkvudu

My minister father would say, “Toy, you come from a strong line of women on both sides, call on them and their prayers when you need them, and you will get help.”

This…I believe. 

This…I trust.


As a sophomore in college, I have memories of getting an opportunity to go to Chicago to volunteer at a school with primarily African American students. I was told by a woman who was visiting my university for a summer conference “You will travel to Chicago. Here is my number. Do not lose it.”.

I lost it.

She came back the next year for the same yearly event on my campus and we connected again. I was so excited to tell her a few months later that I was on my way to Chicago to volunteer with my university and that I had to connect with her and her church.

I was a super devoted member of a charismatic tongue talking holiness church at the time, and my first stop in any city had to be a church or a revival.

At the time I was attending a private PWI (predominantly white institution).

Going to church in college gave me access to Black people from a similar background. It gave me access to the rituals, faith, miracles and southern culture I was raised around.

So while I came to Chicago to volunteer Monday-Friday. Sundays and evenings were for church, fellowship and feelings of home.

My Grannies.

It was my first time ever seeing snow. Hours after arriving in Illinois and getting my flimsy California idea of snow gear ate up by Chicago January snow, I entered a store front church. 

While participating in the service, the pastor of the Church points to me in front of everyone and says over the mic loudly.

“Who is your Grandmother?! Who is she? Whoever she is, You have her eyes in the spirit. Your Grandmother wants you to raise your GPA and…..”

He went on to tell me who I would marry and much more. 99.9 percent of the things he said came to be.

This word from that pastor in that Chicago church included steps. Steps like those I would get from my resource specialist as a kid in special education. It was just more southern, churchy, and hoodoo-ish with a side of the hood.

His instructions reminded me of the steps given by close girlfriends when they gather you all the way back together..  

Just like instructions given by an Elder in Cuba, Nigeria, or Brazil.

I felt guided, supported and connected.

Illustration by Wura-Natasha Ogunji

I was raised by women who attended holiness churches like the one in Chicago.

I was raised by worldly women who did not attend a church often or at all….but could read you from top to bottom. 

I was raised by women who left the south and set up shop in East Oakland.

Women who have discerning eyes and sharp tongues.

Some were blood, most not. They would find me on college campuses like the woman who told me I would come to Chicago.

They would find me on the bus or on the subway. And they would add notes to my Hood IEP. They would read me, uplift me and send me on my path.

In Chicago I got support, community, encouragement…and courage even though I was deeply afraid, lonely and unsure.

They had no idea I was close to dropping out of college and my gpa was hardly a 2.0. This was not a scam. I did not have money to give. I just came to get my Hood IEP signed.

I enjoyed my time volunteering at the school in Chicago. I continued to think of the things I was told in that church and agreed in my heart that I would finish school and serve as I was served in my community.

On my last day in Chicago, elders, church mothers, neighbors, and some of their kin circled around me in a church member’s house.

They grabbed a tape recorder and spoke over my life-aka told me what this past decade of my life would be like and beyond.

I still have close online friends that I met in that small Church on that snow packed January in Chicago.

I returned several times to visit, fellowship and build relationships.

I share often, because they spoke it out.

I walked it….

and its here today.

Paintings from NYC, College friends, Oakland artist, & Self. Clips, notes and even framed socks worn in Nigeria. All collected on my journey! All collected to remind me that this all really happened. I did not get here alone!

My time in Chicago, and my friends in California who endured hearing me play the recordings from Chicago over and over like a mantra, are one of the many reasons I became an autoethnographic scholar. 

I post, document, and often share because I have memory after memory of being given plans, clues, tips and help from Black folk, Black faith, and allies from all walks of life.

When I have not always felt seen, they have seen me. When I have been harmed and when I have harmed. They saw me. Read me.

And put me back on my path.

While you might not find me at a holiness church today, you will find me as a student of


Black faith

Indigenous spirituality


Ancestral practices

and Black migration. 

I see connections between the display of diverse faiths I saw in Nigeria In 2017 and the complex display of denominations and spiritual communities I encountered during my trips to Chicago. I saw and experienced the same while living in New York, and growing up in California. 

Chicago, in my heart, is one of the most spiritual places I have ever been to in the US.

Most importantly, I know Chicago to be where I got some real focused Hood IEP notes. Its where I got a plan on how to navigate the K-20 system with an undiagnosed learning disability. 

While often pushed out of schools

My community, elders, allies, and examples…

My former high school principal. Ms Pat Williams.

They have covered and pushed me right back into the spaces I felt most rejected and unseen in with a note pinned to my shirt reading,

This Granny nem baby.”

Two bounded copies of my dissertation came in the mail today. 

I look forward to leaving one on the altar for my Grannies.

Look what the Lord has done Granny; it is marvelous in my eyes.’

Dr. Kennedy

Contact: toynessakennedy@gmail.com

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