• Amanda Olivo

In Conversation with Princess "Franny" Francois: Educator and Avid Travel Queen

Princess "Franny" Francois is an unapologetically Black educator and avid micro-cation traveler! She is the Assistant Principal of math and science at MESA Charter School in Brooklyn, NY and was most recently awarded the prestigious, national Milken Educator Award for her dedication and inspiration as a role model to her students. When she isn't working with her students ,she is not so easily found staying in one place, as she is jetting off to her next travel destination. She is truly the embodiment of #blackgirlmagic and #blackexcellence and I am overjoyed to have her as our feature interview for Black History Month!

Amanda O (AO): February is Black History Month! How has your background shaped the woman you are today?

Princess Francois (PF): My background has shaped every aspect of the woman I am today, particularly the intersectionality of identities. Very often when we think of background, we just consider race. However, it is important to consider gender, culture, socioeconomics among other aspects as well.

I am a minority in almost every way: Black, Black woman, a Black bi-racial woman, a Black bi-racial plus-size woman, a Black bi-racial plus-size, left-handed woman.

Notice the complexity of my identity, and as a result the challenges that come with these identities, continue to build as I add a layer. Those challenges become life lessons and has built a strength that is incomparable!

The most obvious identity that I have developed an unwavering confidence for is being a Black woman. We may be very often the most disrespected, the most unrepresented, the most neglected group in the United States. However, we are the most powerful as well. There are many ancestors and present black women to show for that including Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, Rosa Parks, Michelle Obama, and Oprah Winfrey. There is a reason for the coined term #blackgirlmagic. It is that #blackgirlmagic that helped me be unapologetic about my identity, it is that #blackgirlmagic that helped me be proud of my identity. That #blackgirlmagic is what has helped me be self-driven, has helped me to be resilient, has helped me to be unstoppable, has helped me to be ME.

AO: What does it mean to you to be an educator in the community you grew up in? What is the impact you hope to make for your students?

PF: Impact and representation are what comes to mind when I think about being an educator in the community I grew up in. There is nothing like having not just knowledge, but full experience of the many aspects of your students' lives -- from the bus route we take, the bodega we eat at, the music we dance to, and more deeply, the challenges we face. I am literally an example to them of what success looks like coming from the community. I was able to show my students that they can do it!!

Although I still teach in Brooklyn, I am no longer in the exact community I grew up in. However, a goal for me is to return as an educator to the community some day with an even larger impact.

I want my ultimate impact to be through living by example. I want my students to internalize that no matter the adversity thrown their way, no matter the stereotypes anyone may impose on them, that they got this in turning dreams into realities.

Their biggest competition is themselves. There is a lesson and purpose to every single experience, both positive and negative. Strive to thrive, and I think I am an example of this.

I want to be a part of their successes, however big or small that may be. For me, I view growth as their success: growth in academic learning, growth in social and emotional learning, growth in mindset. There is no growth without discomfort. Every student is starting at a different point. However, as long as they are progressing, they are moving towards the right direction -- forward. A perfect example of this is when a former student from my first two years of teaching recently tagged me on Instagram to express that because of me, he not only developed an interest in Chemistry and Anatomy & Physiology, but was also inspired to go to college. Before that, going to college, let alone, majoring in science was never on the forefront of his mind. He has moved forward and being part of their journey inspires me to do better.

AO: You have so many passions, how do you combine both your passion as an educator with your passion for travel?

PE: For me, I think that if you dig deeper, you would see that education and travel are very much intertwined. Education is my professional passion and travel is my personal passion. However, I find that these two interests intersect more than I would have thought, although I hope that someday they become fully intertwined. Travel IS education -- it is the best education that I will ever receive. Every travel excursion has added a layer of understanding to my knowledge of people, of food, of culture, of history. Looking at it from a different perspective, I am still an educator in the travel space. It may not be through teaching a class, but it is through speaking on travel panels, it is through conversations with adults and students, it is through blogging where I literally share tips and stories to educate and inspire others about travel. It is through exposure when I hang photos of my travels pinned to a world map or display artifacts from different countries and bring back souvenirs to show my school community that a person of color born from similar beginnings has a place in this traveling space and there is so much more to see than the radius of your neighborhood or school.

AO: What are some of your best tips and tricks for women solo travelers?

PE: This is something that I am constantly asked! I acknowledge that it is not easy for women to take that first step to travel solo. However, the best tip that I can offer is taking that leap of faith. As women, we are strong, we are powerful, we are unstoppable. Why should we be stopped by being our own company while traveling?

In terms of more practical tips, I am going to make a plug for reading my article, Clapbacks Making a Come Back: Reasons & Tips for Solo Travel” where you will find 5 excuses we often tell ourselves for not traveling solo and a clapback and concrete tip against these excuses so that we can turn these excuses into travel moves.

AO: How do you support and empower women in your daily life? Do you have a woman (or women) in your life that have supported and empower you?

PF: I think the support and empowerment is reciprocal when I think of the women in my life. The biggest supporter and cheerleader in my life is my mother. There are not enough words to describe how she has supported me and empowered me to be the woman that I am today. I continue to be in awe of her strength, her resiliency, her beauty, her intelligence, and her genuine heart that she exudes every day raising me as a single mother. She is truly my rock. I think I am a direct reflection of her, and I aim to be just even half the woman she is. I think that because it was just the two of us growing up, I have been her rock as well and we have successfully battled every challenge that has come our way.

Aside from my mom is my BGM(#blackgirlmagic) tribe. The energy among us is contagious. We may have different personalities and different backgrounds, but we have the common thread of being black women. We understand the beauty and challenge of our identity. However, no matter the space that we are in, we shine brighter than the rest when we are together. That only happens because we can have deep conversations about literally anything, but we can also laugh our butts off until we tear up with joy.

AO: What is your biggest challenge right now professional/personal?

PF: My biggest challenge is balancing my professional and personal life, as cliché as that sounds. Professionally, my career is very demanding and can be exhausting. I am currently back in grad school to get another certification so that, of course, takes up extra time. However, I enjoy learning. Personally, I am balancing wedding planning (which takes up a lot of time and money), transitioning to the next step of our relationship with my fiancé while also trying to provide quality time to my relationships with my mom and friends. On top of that, there are also my travels and blogs! These are all good problems to have, but it does not negate the challenge that I have with time and commitment, especially when I put my all in anything that I do.

AO: If there was just ONE thing you want people to fully understand about you, what would it be?

PF: Yes, I am that “strong friend” label from social media, but it does not mean that I do not need support as well. I am the person everyone comes to get advice, to vent, to lean on. However, that can become overwhelming sometimes. All I want to do is help, but then I heavily internalize people’s problems because I truly care, which then can weigh on my own emotional well-being. I may not show it, but I do become overwhelmed at times, especially on the days when 3 different people unleash their problems on me and expect me to be that solid rock. I cannot be that rock always, and do not feel offended when I cannot. Instead, remember to check on me too!

AO: What is your favorite lipstick or item that makes you feel most you?

PF: I love a ruby red lipstick. It makes me feel sexy, makes me feel like I can conquer anything. What makes me feel most like me is wearing T-shirts and sweaters with a purpose. By that, I mean wearing literal messages. My collection is quite expansive, ranging from dorky math and science jokes to inspirational quotes to prideful messages about my identity. #teeswithapurpose

To learn more about Franny and follow all of her adventures check out her travel blog "Franny the Traveler" and follow her on Instagram!

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