Tag Archives: Carter G. Woodson

Capstone: Enquiry

Capstone: E  N  Q  U  I  R  Y 

I shouldn’t feel the need to apologize for my feelings or my thoughts… So I wont – The following is a synthesis of where I currently stand in regards to enquiry – henceforth known as inquiry. My understanding, again, has developed far beyond the scope of just the LIU teacher training program. This is actually a compliment to how much I’ve received in the short 2.5 years here through LIU and the NYC Teaching Fellows program. It is through this deep appreciation that I position the following comments as expressive, and not offensive to whomever may receive these words.

When I first started writing this piece, I welled up in angst. I’m extremely sensitive to the mood(s) people project into our combined space. Hence, with the end of this program nearing, my peers haven’t held back in their desire to be done with all graduation requirements. More than ever they’ve showed their disappointment in having to partake in a low-cost masters degree program that was requiring consistently rigorous work from them. I can’t say that I’m super excited to be tied to my computer everyday either, but it wasn’t until I felt the deluge of their cries that I, too, just felt like being over it. However, each time I think about inquiry, I can’t help but compare myself to my peers in evaluating my performance throughout this program. I’ve worked through the entirety of my years here to draw parallels between the student-to-teacher relationships and dynamics I experience in my 9 – 12 setting, and the very same thing that I imagine plays out between the LIU-Brooklyn staff and myself and peers here as graduate students. Even down to the day I saw the new LIU fellows come in and I had a slight feeling of upperclassmanship when I got a quick “Who the hell are these kids walking around my halls!?” thought bubble next to my head.

Normally, I’m not the type to draw comparisons between myself and others. Growing up, jealousy and envy were words we weren’t allowed to say in the SkoolHaze household. And thankfully so, because those concepts and that language has remained foreign to me. I’ve made it far in life trying to push myself based on my own aspirations. This has been increasingly difficult as it has called for the continued need to find mentor-like prototypes to help me craft my own goals and successes. However, if I were an LIU employee reading this very project, the inquiry question I would love to answer right now would be – what has the final positioning [of students] and the end products of this educational program shown me about this cohort of teachers, and my effectiveness in teaching and preparing them to “close the achievement gap?”

Inquiry:

Inquiry, to me, is the process of trying to understand something. It’s an active process. I don’t have any scholarly research to back this up, or any children to say I’ve learned from first hand. However, I would say toddlers/babies are in a constant state of inquiry. They’re constantly on the look out to find and play with something – play with for the sake of learning. Conversely, as adults/caretakers, we are consistently in a state of vigilance and surveillance – blocking what we deem as unsafe or hurtful experiences for ourself and others. I imagine babies are fearless in their desire to discover new ground. As adults, we often lose that drive to find what hasn’t been found before. This makes me wonder – What may I be preventing my students from experimenting with in my classrooms? How can I stay vigilant as I become more of an expert, to create space for exploration that I may view as unimportant? How can LIU as a teacher education program continue to incorporate new stimuli to enculture its students with? How can it be a self-sustained repository of innovative theory and practice development?

Observation as Inquiry:

As I mentioned in my Introduction to the Knowledge Claim, I’ve always been the type of person that tried to observe situations for what they were. What’s been helpful about being an observant person is that once you get a handle on what is taking place it’s fairly easy – if being honest – to see what is not taking place. Herein lies the power of inquisition. What is not happening in this situation? What can be introduced to shake things up? I’ve found that many times a slight reorganization/reprioritization can align situations to a more developmental/progressive state.

This need to question drives me as a professional and an adult as I carve my way through this world. To what end, I don’t know, but I find that by inquiring into the fabric of all situations I’m generally happy with the result. It’s nourishing to see myself think problems through as wholly as possible. I’m constantly stuck in this model of needing to find the answers to more questions as a means to employ this information into my professional and personal practice.

“The paradox of education is precisely this – that as one begins to become conscious one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated. The purpose of education, finally, is to create in a person the ability to look at the world for himself… To ask questions of the universe, and then learn to live with those questions, is the way he achieves his own identity. But no society is really anxious to have that kind of person around. What societies really, ideally, want is a citizenry which will simply obey the rules of society. If a society succeeds in this, that society is about to perish. The obligation of anyone who thinks of himself as responsible is to examine society and to try to change it and to fight it – at no matter what risk. This is the only hope society has. This is the only way societies change.” (Baldwin, p. 47)

Inquiry as Lifestyle:

Inquiry for me is a lifestyle, one that I was endowed with as a young Black boy growing up in this United States of America. Thusly, it leads me to my frustration with my peers and my academic leaders at LIU. My peers don’t see the need to question themselves, their motives, the world around them, and how they can be true allies and supporters of a “more perfect global union.” To many of them, this is a paycheck; a teacher training program fit to prepare them to teach our Black and Brown citizens the status quo. One that clearly isn’t working at its current state. [Think – Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, John Crawford III, Oscar Grant, Sean Bell. We even live in a world where the Black President of the United States isn’t safe, and this man is considered the leader of the free world.] I wouldn’t be realistic if I placed blame on them for experiencing this program as it was destined to be experienced by its creators and their institutional and bureaucratic leadership. My frustration with my peers stems directly from their comfortable, privileged seats, which have virtually remained unaffected throughout this process. Thanks in large part to the handlers of the LIU program. As a Black, I literally feel as though I have to question and reflect on every single move I ever make, in public, in my home, in my dreams, in my conversations, period. The result of me not questioning will undoubtedly leave me in a position of comfort or more realistically statistical failure and death.

African-American men need to recognize how a little concern and attention paid to boys may make the difference between becoming a man or remaining a boy. America’s propaganda is quick to sell us on blaming the victim, and to determine the system exempt. We are quick to argue, “I had to pull myself up by my bootstraps.” America’s propaganda, and specifically capitalism, has developed a game where ten people play, but only one wins (the prize can only be big if there are fewer winners). If the nine players ever assessed their situations, and either did not participate or changed the rules, the game would end. A sophisticated marketing apparatus continued to provide the illusion that at some point you will [win]. Why would we allow ourselves to play a game that theoretically has more losers than winners? (Kunjufu, 1985, pp 28 – 29)

Dr. Kunjufu’s words speak to the reality of what it means to be a Black man walking this Earth. As I’ve grown, I specifically feel as though I’ve witnessed my peers be tugged away as we all tried to walk the same journey. I constantly feel as though I’m the last one standing from my immediate peers in what began as a gloriously bountiful race for personhood 28 years ago.

Questions for LIU:

Through consistently asking more developed questions – I’ve developed a deep understanding of my role as a classroom teacher, but also the systems that interact and affect my teaching inside and outside of the classroom. As a result, I’ve grown increasingly frustrated with the theory and pedagogical practices used to imbue my peers and me. One of the questions I’m asking myself in the moment is, why would my “urban” teacher education program allow my peers and I pass through – to completion – if we have not demonstrated dexterity as classroom leaders, specifically with regard to for Black and Brown students, and/or students with disabilities. My frustration stems from the realization, and unfortunate acceptance, of the fact that although I have sought to enlighten myself outside of the confines of this program, I would assert that my peers have not, and have skated through having done exponentially less reflection of themselves, and most importantly the broken systems that govern this country, specifically the academy which we have been encultured through LIU to perpetuate.

“In my particular view, my frustration comes from the reality that the school still does not address many of the lived problems that our students face. In casual conversation with other African-American male teachers, it’s a pretty ubiquitous sentiment that we’re here, we’re working hard, but at the end of the day, the life chances and the outcomes of our students aren’t where we’d like them to be and that’s in part because it’s bigger than a person. The system seemed ill-designed to seriously and immediately ameliorate what our students are experiencing and their future outcomes in terms of employment and education once they leave secondary school. The larger questions aren’t being addressed sufficiently and that leaves some frustration at the ground floor.” (Brooks, “How To Increase The Number Of Black Male Teachers In Boston Public Schools”, 2014)

I’m eternally grateful for the education I’ve obtained through LIU’s bidding. However, that education has caused me to cast a doubtful eye on the very institution that served to give me such powerful wings. The Malcolm X in me says, “Why aren’t more issues of race, culture, classism, lack of effort, effective teaching practices from Black and Brown scholars being purposefully and excessively used to help educate my peers and I? Using a theoretical lens, I understand most of my peers and educators are White. Therefore, culturally relevant resources for them would be something that mirrors a more mainstream, White-flavor. Could this be why students haven’t been challenged to look deeper than surface level and labels to identify how their specific practice can be revolutionary to the practice of education? Probably so. The public relations professional in me would spin my question to read, “How, specifically, are we going to address the issue that this LIU program [and truly teacher education programs in general] is under-utilizing educational research reflected from African, Latino and Disabled scholars?

Carter G. Woodson called for similar pedagogy almost seventy years ago. He extolled teachers in 1933 Mis-Education of the Negro to teach African –American students not only the language and cannon of the European “mainstream,” but to teach as well the life, history, language, philosophy, and literature of their own people. Only this kind of education , he argued, would prepare an educated class which would serve the needs of the African-American community. (Delpit, 2006, p. 162 – 163)

As the flood gates open, please keep in mind that these questions stem from a genuine desire to see my students, and people like them, aka people like me, prosper, and grow outside of the confines that have been unfortunately taught by the mainstream education scholars leading these efforts to date. Personally, what has helped me remain sane, and highly effective [<self evaluation] has been my independent desire to seek out resources from African-American scholars who could better speak to my own strengths and views inside the classroom. When meshed with the mainstream resources provided by the LIU program, I know that I’ve grown into a well rounded and highly capable educator. However, I’m increasingly distressed at the blatant disregard for people of color and their contribution(s) to society. Educators generally code this as culturally relevant education. However, few programs, including LIU, seem to truly saturate their theory, practice, and students with relevant and culturally diverse education theory. One could make a strong argument that the other sciences and practices suffer from the same staleness, and I would probably agree. To be more direct – it’s evident to me that teacher education programs are implicitly racist as they aim to teach equality, diversity, and justice, yet struggle themselves to incorporate it in their curriculum packages. The resulting omissions are glaringly clear examples to all students that respect for the rainbow variation of cultures and experiences is frivolous in comparison to the almighty mainstream (read: White) scholarly gospel. If I understand this as a new member of this industry, why then would my professors, administrators, deans, presidents of colleges, government, officials, and all others far more experienced and knowledgeable than I… allow this to continue to happen? How then, as an institution of academic quality and integrity, is LIU going to respond to this frightening evidence (Cohort 23’s Teaching Fellows) that they are playing their part, well, in producing lemmings programmed to push forward the continued obliteration of urban and engaging communities?

{{[“If we happen to be members of the same organization, and the illiterate man tries to embarrass you, do not become disgusted, but remember that he does it because he does not know better, and it is your duty to forbear and forgive because the ends that we serve are not of self, but for the higher development of the entire race.” (Garvey, 1967, p. 49)

As Elder Garvey points out in his speech Shall the Black Man be Exterminated, I’m frustrated with the current situations we find ourselves in as a practice. However, I love my brothers and sisters that I am on this journey with. Therefore, I find it partly my duty to help inform and problem solve to a better tomorrow, and that practice must always start by reaching for a better today.]}} Re-read!

If you’re following the root of this piece, you’ll know that it started with wondering if I could think and reflect on my teaching practice. Quite obviously yes, as will be demonstrated in my interpretation of each claim. More importantly, right now I’m focused with finding out how I can continue to invest myself in a system of state mandated education, when so many of my peers and leaders don’t care enough to authentically research and address any of the issues facing the marginalized communities they seek to teach. How do I move in a world that is set up for robotic compliance of all, and even less than for its colored people? Scholarly works I will quote speak most directly of White people and their explicit and figurative power over people of color. But, its actually quite deeper. The very same people in power at these institutions are moving through life robotically themselves, too ignorant or scared to provoke the exercises truly needed to move this world.

“To what extent do you find this true in your own writing, in terms of the self consciousness of being a Negro and a writer, the polarity if it exists.” Well, the first difficulty is really so simple that it’s usually overlooked. To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a state of rage almost all of the time. And in one’s work… and part of the rage is this, it isn’t what is just happening to you. It’s happening all around you, all of the time in the face of the most extraordinary and criminal indifference. The indifference of most white people in this country and their ignorance. Since this is so, It’s a great temptation to simplify the issues under the allusion that if you simplify them enough people will recognize them. I think this allusion is very dangerous because its not the way things work…(Baldwin, 1961, [Radio broadcast])

As I can speak about inquiry forever, I will move forward. In closing, I think I’m leaving this domain as someone who questions abundantly. I love the push and the drive to continuously uncover more. My quest to inquire is bound to my drive to acquire more knowledge as well. It’s difficult when your quest to find out more is not pushed and supported by your peers or your program of study. To me its a sign of completion and transition. I’m enthralled by my growth and ability to seek out truth and change. Equally though, I’m disheartened by the realization that my peers, my program and most everyday citizens, are less so interested and aware of the power we hold as classroom/community leaders and historians.

To make a final comparison I draw on a textual source used in this final capstone course. In what began as a truly compelling text scraped to a halt as we’re introduce to the author’s strong language detailing the benign burden of double-consciousness:

“I realize that the idea of a teacher within strikes some academics as a romantic fantasy, but I cannot fathom why. If there is no such reality in our lives, centuries of Western discourse about the aims of education become so much lip-flapping. In classical understanding, education is the attempt to “lead out” from within the self a core of wisdom that has the power to resist falsehood and live in the light of truth, not by external norms but by reasoned and, reflective self- determination. The inward teacher is the living core of our lives that is addressed and evoked by any education worthy of the name. Perhaps the idea is unpopular because it compels us to look at two of the most difficult truths about teaching. The first is that what we teach will never “take” unless it connects with the inward, living core of our students’ lives, with our students’ inward teachers.” (Palmer, 1998, p. 16)

Parker Palmer, a seasoned White-male educator, challenges us to step outside of ourselves and search for the truth and for leadership out of whatever current state society has us locked within. I remember fondly in Inquiry I (TAL 830), the fierce push back many of my White peers gave when they learned they were being called to think about the act of teaching as they taught their students. To them, this was an impossible feat, to reflect – while in the act of doing something. [Neverminding that we accepted the responsibility to teach, train, grow, develop, and really accelerate these young Black/Brown bodies here.] I tried, half-heartedly, to explain to them that this phenomenon was not new to humanity. Famed American sociologist, and perhaps the most academically revered African-American in history, W.E.B. Dubois, introduced the world to his concept of double-consciousness long ago as a process of necessity for negro survival in this American land back in the early 1900’s. Surely, if marginalized communities must live daily, from inception, with the burden of “the veil”, we too their teachers, and as their entrusted instructors, could partake in a similar process to authenticate our own teaching, and to give us a more personal connection with the contextual frames that our students bring with them into our classrooms from the outside world. Needless to say, they weren’t impressed:

…the Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world,–a world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness,–an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder. (DuBois, 2003, p. 9)

Perhaps it’s only clear to me, but Dubois’ introduction of double-consciousness, is a direct ancestor to its modern offspring known as code-switching, personal/teacher inquiry, urban socialization, urban education, and various other layers that affect and teach to minority/[casteamerican] identity. Yet, my peers, and most troubling perhaps, my instructors, don’t know of his value to this craft. This is the most disrespectful piece of trying to authentically take part in a program claiming it is preparing me to teach students of color, and actually makes me want to evaluate what our teacher education programs portfolios of academic integrity and standards should look like… What compelling evidence would/could such an urban education program show… if it can’t even show respect for American scholars of yesteryear who simply don’t represent the White/Western/European iteration of education theory. If I had my way, I would take part in the accreditation boards that review and certify such institutions just so I can have my opinions be heard. But I know that’s not necessary. I, unlike most, attend a prestigious, reflective organization. One that I have faith in, as a teacher education program to hear the cries of my peers and my students and push to make the consistent, although drastic, changes necessary to make Elder Toni Morrison’s scowl go away once and for all.

The Negro author is no exception to the traditional rule. He writes, but the white man is supposed to know more about everything than the Negro. So who wants a book written by a Negro about one! As a rule, not even a Negro himself, for if he is really “educated,” he must show that he has the appreciation for the best in literature. The Negro author, then, can neither find a publisher nor a reader; and his story remains untold. (Woodson, 2012, pp. 81)

Remember Momma Morrison punching us in the face with her diatribe about racism? I can’t help but see the author, dangling her Pulitzer, Nobel, and Presidential Medal of Honor for all to see, holding her brazen truth onto the table, daring us to act as though we see otherwise. Here we are in 2014, still unapologetically raising a White man’s projections to guide a staggering number of White teachers how to teach children of color. Meanwhile, the more effective and powerful argument written over a century ago by the pre-eminent Black scholars of modern history, W.E.B. Dubois, goes unnoticed, unappreciated, and really more audaciously missed as a true and authentic “urban education” teaching opportunity. Yet here we stand, still having to answer inquiries as to why our citizens, students, and their semi-professional teachers alike don’t see the value in education.

Where do we go from here? How do we move forward?Why are a founding father’s scholarly tributes being overlooked, ignored, when they’re so clearly central to not only education, but to the proper and strong development of all individuals in this society? How and why have my instructors at LIU let this continued omission take place? As a Black, what am I to take from this animalistic show of disrespect for my culture? More importantly, what indirect lessons are my less conscious European brothers and sisters pulling away from displays such as this? Program leadership’s choice to enculture we students with the offensively simplistic and barbaric texts seems like malpractice that I dare not mimic in my own classroom, for my own even more impressionable high school youth. See – “Tal 854 Reading Response 1?” [<<not linked]

This pushes me to ask – Who then is serious with their claim to nurture us into capable and knowledgeable educators, moving swiftly to the front lines of the public school battle grounds?

Still… I stand impressed by where we have traveled as a peer group. We have moved far from where we began in 2013. But all of us on the leadership spectrum have light years to go if we are to really call ourselves a group of effective educators in these urban(warfare) classrooms.

How do we move forward to begin effecting a better today?

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Sources: 

Baldwin, J., Hansberry, L., Hughes, L., Hentoff, N., Kazin, A., & Capouya, E. (1961, January 10). [Radio broadcast, Retrieved from http://www.digitalpodcast.com/items/868536]. New York:

Baldwin, J. (1961). Nobody knows my name: more notes of a native son. New York: Vintage Books.

Baldwin, J. (1963, December 21). A talk with teachers. Saturday Review

Kunjufu, J. (1985). Countering the Conspiracy to Destroy Black Boys. Chicago: African American Images. (Original work published 1985)

Brooks, A., Chakrabarti, M., Bristol, T., & Frederick-Clarke, H. (2014, July 10). How To Increase The Number Of Black Male Teachers In Boston Public Schools. How To Increase The Number Of Black Male Teachers In Boston Public Schools Radio Boston RSS 20. Retrieved July 16, 2014, from http://radioboston.wbur.org/2014/07/10/black-male-teachers-in-boston

Delpit, L. D. (2006). Other people’s children: cultural conflict in the classroom. New York: New Press :.

Garvey, M., & Garvey, A. J. (1967). Shall the Negro Be Exterminated?. Philosophy and opinions of Marcus Garvey or, Africa for the Africans (2d ed., ). London: F. Cass.

Palmer, P. J. (1998). The Heart of a Teacher Identity and Integrity in Teaching. The courage to teach: exploring the inner landscape of a teacher’s life. San Francisco, Calif.: Jossey-Bass.

DuBois, W. E., & Griffin, F. J. (2003). The Souls of Black Folk. New York: Barnes & Noble Classics.

Woodson, C. (2012). The Failure to Learn to Make a Living. The Mis-Education of the Negro (47-48, ). Buffalo: EWorld Inc.. (Original work published 1933)

Capstone: Knowledge and the Opportunity Paradox

Knowledge and the Opportunity Paradox

I’ve been an observer since before I could remember. Academically, this skill has helped me take quality notes that pushed me through many a test. Being observant has helped me shield my way through life to get to where I am today. Now, and embattled with my former self, I am far more assured in my knowledge. To be particular, I have better control over my ability to use my knowledge to lean in most instances toward the side of action.

Many times I find myself having to be the first to make the movement amongst my peers. I prefer to think of this movement through a leadership tinted frame. I haven’t had to kick any doors in just yet. But, I am normally the first to grease myself up to meet a problem head on, and have found a cosily anxious place for myself in doing so. Earlier this year, I watched a panel discussion hosted by the New School titled “Are You Still a Slave?” featuring activists and authors Janet Mock and bell hooks. In it Ms. Mock powerfully states, “this little space that I have in this world, is mine.” (Mock, “Are You Still A Slave @ 27:00 mins”, 2014). Janet lets us know that she has control of the space she inhabits, and whether or not we accept it is an issue she’s not concerned with.

Feeling empowered, and in control of my own space and trajectory in life is an extremely fortifying feeling. Janet shows us that it’s ok to take ownership of the space we individually control in this world. As a minority, taking ownership of that space professionally and academically constantly puts me in situations where I’m left feeling exposed and erosive. The unwanted texture is also apparent in many of my long running personal relationships as well. Its something I’ve battled with as I’ve come to understand and play with knowledge, thankfully at this more receptive stage in my life. I’ve tried to make it clear to everyone that my aim is to engage in this fellowship and get every last drop of worth out of this personal investment that I’m embarking through.

What else but a controlling emotional “devil” so blinded American white intelligence that it couldn’t foresee that millions of black slaves, “freed,” then permitted even limited education, would one day rise up as a terrifying monster within white America’s midst? The white man’s brains that today explore space should have told the slavemaster that any slave, if he is educated, will no longer fear his master. History shows that an educated slave always begins to ask, and next demand, equality with his master. (X, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, 1992)

The battle between dynamic confidence and neutral observance is perhaps the current zone of proximal development for me. This space is ideal for my role as an educator, academic, and burgeoning activist. What space does one who appreciates education occupy, when they have tried so earnestly to use the tool of education to enlighten and empower himself? The pull, for now, has eroded my surface, exposing pores filled to the bristle with newly molten passion seeping out and messing everywhere I move. I’m at a state where I feel I’m constantly exposing my knowledge and leaving its unwanted residue behind in my daily interactions. Nonetheless, these interactions serve as evidence of my growth as a man over these past few years.  Even now, my observing eye, casts a frictious gaze upon my words – calling me back to the rubric tasked to assess the credentialed value of my scholarship. Yet with every word typed I feel lured further away, allowing for a freedom of space to let my piecemeal stories tell their tale as personally and satisfactorily as possible.

At this point in my life, passion is the pheromone that greets my peers before I even step around the door’s edge. I feel, on right now. My navigation and GPS are perfectly targeted at the moment. I don’t exactly know what that means, but I have progressed, I can feel it, and that’s a powerful bath that I want to bask in for the moment. It’s difficult to craft words clear enough to explain my concepts of teaching and learning. For me, it’s far easier to find words for these situations once I’ve removed myself from the context for a while. Only then, am I fully able to benefit from the experiences, activities, cognition, metacognition, emotions, interactions, etc… that contributed to my growth in that moment.

Knowledge, as a concept, is boundless. It’s almost crippling to be tasked to boil down what I’ve learned into words for this analysis. To be concise, knowledge can be represented through infinite numbers of schema that we lay on top of each day, like maps. These schemata allow us citizens to interact with, and maneuver through, the institutional landscapes of our societies to meet our daily needs and wants as we please. There are probably more schema than there are grains of sand on the globe, but some examples may include: privilege, high fashion, urban education, gender, gender-bias, poverty, opportunity, etc…

I wouldn’t define knowledge via claims, see common core standards, explainable through definition, always accessible through current assessment, or self-stimulating. The closest I will come to defining knowledge is the process in which an individual lives an experience where skills are gained, understanding of something is accomplished, and/or curiosity for more interaction with said experience is demonstrated in any combination of social phenomena. I also want to make the declaration that knowledge is contextual in that societies deem certain knowledge as meaningful and others as less so.

Asking one’s student to frame his own knowledge while still inside of that context is a bit oxymoronic to me. To contextualize in Big Bang fashion – I will provide a starting point to frame my knowledge development:

In February 2012, approximately 2.5 years ago, I officially received word that I had been accepted into the New York City Teaching Fellows program. I used the remaining four months to pack up my Boston life. It wasn’t long before I was stuffing my two large suitcases underneath the Bolt Bus and heading full steam ahead to New York City for the beginning of the Cohort 23 Fellows orientation. It was at that point that I decided that this would be my very own modern day hero’s journey. I’ve never made a clear version of this lens, and to do so now seems inauthentic. How would I handle this situation if I were an ancient African Prince charged with empowering and protecting my citizens? Through this lens, I’ve worked to soak up everything from my surroundings. Using words to describe the knowledge I’ve gained feels limiting and abrasive compared to how I’ve worked to view this process. However, in service to the program, I would say that the LIU coursework has taught me to consciously engage with my environment in the following ways:

Cultural/New York City – being purposeful and optimally navigating transactions with systems and institutions, proactively aligning energy to support my workloads, exposing myself to globally and geographically diverse cultures, flowing with the developmental power of competition.

Academic/Professional – Theory: African American education theory, Popular/Mainstream American education theory, academic-social-emotional disabilities, prejudice, privilege, various cultural institution(s) of American society. Skills: thinking of and creating thoughtful/scaffolded lessons, units, and individual education plans. Defining a research focus, scavenging for and analyzing resources, implementing changes to my practice through these resources, and analyzing the effectiveness of these changes through my target’s measured performance. Differentiation of materials, Professional and Academic self-reflection, productivity and time management.

Personal – Resilience, Confidence, Empathy, Love, Passion, Strength, Self-value, Self and Cultural Exploration, Personhood, Belonging, Leadership. Networking, Mentoring, and various other social and emotional development skills.

Needless to say, I’ve learned a lot during my two years of treacherous teaching, gregarious graduate school, and nouveau New York City. It’s scary to admit, but I’m not the same Paladin I was two years ago. I mean… I loved who I was, a beaming 26 year-old coming into the fellowship, freshly clipped wings flapping freely and growing strong in my protected Boston shell. Finding comfort in being a different version of myself is probably the force that has been making my personal relationships so texturally different as of late.

I’m a confident person now, and I say this from a humble place, but also having recognized the need to congratulate myself for the growth I have lived through and witnessed. Let me say now, my mission in life is to always be true to that humble, grateful, altruistic boy nurtured in the Chicago suburbs. But, I am not him anymore, and that’s ok. Not long ago my friend from undergrad received her Master’s in School Counseling. One of the first things she said when I called to congratulate her was, “Homie you can’t tell me nothin, cuz Bitch I got a Master’s!” I died laughing… and hopefully you will too.

However, it wasn’t until recently that I’ve realized I can laugh with the phrase as opposed to at it. To be clear, it’s not that having a graduate degree is a status symbol proving to the world that I’m good enough, though for many it can be, as it’s definitely already on my resume. It’s that through this rigorous process I’ve experienced and learned more than I could imagine about this world, this country, its people, their customs, and the ways I can measurably think and produce around through and to these entities. This schema, fortunately brings immeasurable value to the ways in which I can continue to add on to the positive and productive canon that supports our development here on on Earth.

I’ve learned so much through this program. With LIU’s support I’ve gained an understanding of, and first hand practice with, structure, bureaucracy, education, work ethic, creativity, historical pedagogy, Paladin, and of course my own teaching practice. One of the crucial pieces of knowledge I’ve gained, and have tried to infuse into all of my interactions since, has been that opportunity is ever present! I don’t know how I came to this revelation, as we’re not taught not to see opportunity. We’re taught to go against opportunity. We’re taught to be afraid of it and to wait for someone else to give it to us. Those that take opportunities are seen as maniacal and cunning individuals. This understanding of the Opportunity Paradox has helped me push myself to accept all incarnations of opportunity into my life, and to create it where at first there is none. To me, that is the truest realization of knowledge that I’ve come to hold in respects to this graduate program.

Recently one largest insurance companies selected for special training in this line fifteen college graduates of our accredited institutions and financed their special training in insurance. Only one of the number, however, rendered efficient service in this field. They all abandoned the effort after a few days’ trial and accepted work in hotels and with the Pullman Company, or they went into teaching or something else with a fixed stipend until they could enter upon the practice of professions. They thought of the immediate reward, shortsightedness, and the lack of vision and courage to struggle and win the fight made them failures to begin with. They are unwilling to throw aside their coats and collars and do the groundwork of Negro business and thus make opportunities for themselves instead of begging others for a chance. The educated Negro from the point of view of commerce and industry, then, shows no mental power to understand the situation which he finds. He has apparently read his race out of that sphere, and with the exception of what the illiterate Negroes can do blindly the field is left wide open for foreign exhibition. (Woodson, 2012, pp. 47 – 48)

I appreciate that I’ve gotten to a place where I can freely posture, virility exposed and all, thanks to my ability to view all situations through this opportunity context. Being able to create this confident and asset-based frame at-will feels almost dangerous to yield. I wish we all could imagine what this world would be like if more of us were able to view the world from this constructive frame. The more tactile strands of my knowledge have shown me that I can maneuver myself in and out of situations, and when we show up… it pays to be engaged. With this powerful weapon at my side, I am confident in my ability to use my values, skills, and gifts to make something happen for me in this field, and to bear the positive change I so desperately sought during my ignorant beginnings of this journey as an urban educator.

Sources – 

bell hooks – Are You Still a Slave? – http://youtu.be/rJk0hNROvzs

Autobiography of Malcolm X 

MisEducation of the Negro – Carter G Woodson

SkoolHaze’s 5ive Sources of Inspiration

SkoolHaze’s 5ive Sources of Inspiration

inspired banner skoolhaze

What makes me tick? Well, there’s a large combination of things that keep me focused and help me push even when I don’t feel like being bothered. Oprah has her yearly favorite things, I figured I would share my Inspirational Things for anyone interested in diversifying their own sources of inspiration. I have allowed these things to have power over me in a way that is a bit fanatical in the sense that they give me the one-track mind that I feel has helped me get to where I am today. That’s not to say that on the surface I agree with everything that is presented here. But it is to say that on a deeper level, these things continue to push me to question my own motives and actions toward those motives and goals on a fairly consistent basis.

Black Scholars and Historical Figures

Thurgood Marshall Skoolhaze

From Booker T. Washington to Thurgood Marshall to Malcolm X to Carter G. Woodson to Dr. Juwanza Kunjufu to Marva Collins to Barute Kafele to Lisa Delpit – there is nothing more enthralling to me than learning what these Black scholars and, in my mind celebrities, have to offer. I can honestly say that I didn’t know anything about Malcolm X until perhaps 4 or 5 years ago when in one of my nightly Youtube trances I stumbled upon some of his speeches. From that moment on I was captured by his eloquence and capacity to string a lethal combination of words together that clearly conveyed his non-restrained message. I don’t know if it’s the fact that Black history and knowledge is in a way hidden from mainstream grasp, or that the characters involved are filled with the same blood and roots that I am that empowers me so. But, all in all, I love finding new pieces of information and knowledge left by my predecessors. Most of their messages, warnings, and predictions are still quite true today, decades and even for some even a century after that fact. I’ve actually amassed a personal library that far exceeds my capacity to download and process the information contained within the pages. Part of me wants to one day be one of those books on someone’s bookshelf that made them think more critically about the world and their responsibility to change it.

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Life Coaches and Motivational Speakers

Over the past 3 years I’ve worked with, or at least connected with 3 different life coaches/motivational speakers. I’m drawn to people that are go-getters and have the ability to remain positive all of the time. I like to think I’m a glass-half-full kinda guy. But I absolutely don’t think I would be where I am today had it not been for these particular people in my life. About 2.5 years ago I somehow ran into an ad by my frat brother Darius Gant who was looking for new clients for his life coaching business. At the time I knew that change was in order and that my days at my non profit youth development job were numbered. Working with Darius on a weekly basis helped keep me accountable to clarifying my goals and finding the doors that I once thought were hidden from me. I looked forward to our phone calls, the homework he would assign me, and the ability to just talk my plans through with another motivated young professional. To date, I’ve run into quite a few similar characters who have helped me in varying ways keep my eyes on the prize when it comes to my own success as a person and professional. If you’re at a crossroads, or just need some extra motivation to see your own goals through I would definitely look into life coaching from a peer OR searching through youtube and Google to find easily accessible motivational tools. I actually am still benefiting from the residual connection(s) with these individuals and hope to one day show them that I was serious about finding my own way to success.

www.dariusgant.com – Darius Gant’s Website

www.sidehustla.com – Jullien Gordon’s Goal Coaching website

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Specialized Media Consumption

Black consume media skoolhaze

I don’t know what to call this one… I was trying to think of a fancy title, but I really just carefully choose the media and messages I allow myself to consume, consciously and subconsciously. There is power in the messages we hear and surround ourselves with on a regular basis. As the old adage goes, if you tell a child they’re stupid long enough, they will eventually believe you.  Better yet, if you’re never exposed to success then you never quite understand that it is always possible. Donald Trump once said that in order to become a successful business executive you first have to visualize yourself flying around in your private jet closing million dollar deals. If you don’t visualize it, then you’ll never work hard enough to make it happen. That’s not quite the life I want for myself. But, I am crafting my version of success, and in order to do that I purposefully surround myself with media that either agitates or develops my mind toward that direction. I don’t want to come down on people that watch TV. But, I’ll say this, an overwhelming majority of the images that are on tv aren’t positively framed images of people of color. Somewhere I read a study that said the only individuals that can watch tv for X amount of hours and come away feeling better about themselves are White males. If you’re going to spend your time watching tv, you also need to supplement those messages with more positive and developmental images and messages that represent characters that look, think, and feel like you. Below are some of the links I visit regularly.

http://addicted2success.com/ – Website filled with motivational content for everyone

http://atlantablackstar.com/ – Black news outlet with Buzzfeed-like content

http://abagond.wordpress.com/ – Blog that posts critiques of history from different vantage points.

http://www.yourblackworld.net/ – Black news outlet headed by Dr. Boyce Watkins

http://thegrio.com/ – Online Black News Magazine

http://theroot.com/ – Online Black News Magazine

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Personal Excellence

It’s sort of a gift and a curse, but I’ve always been the type of person that wants to be the absolute best at what I do, whenever I do it. I can remember early on in grad school people I knew would say that at some point you just have to find a balance between getting enough done to survive and doing a good job. For the most part I feel like I’ve done a pretty good job at trying to push for excellence in every action I make with teaching, graduate school, and my personal life. Of course excellence isn’t always what is achieved. (just ask my supervisors) But, I do appreciate the little engine in me that expects to go all out every time I’m called up to bat. I’m not quite sure what process I went through to make this happen. But I’ve gotten to a point where it is ingrained into my system to go hard and don’t go home. As I mentioned in a previous post, being an athlete I learned the difference between coasting and training. Now, I purposely try to direct my energies toward things that are difficult or that don’t immediately peak my interests. The practice of doing what I can’t do and don’t want to do is the sure fire way to make myself grow into a better and stronger person. When I was younger and first starting to understand what growth truly meant I likened it to being a robot, and not having any weapons to fight with. However, the more experiences and challenges I go through in life, the more I weaponize my person into someone who is more capable of handling and conquering grander situations.

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Community Development

inspired to inspire skoolhaze

All of this work would be pointless if I was only doing it for myself. Realistically I am indeed focused on being the absolute best version of myself I can be for myself. But, in reality the benefit to pushing for the best version of myself will, or rather should, spill over onto the communities and individuals I come into contact with each day. For that reason they serve as a huge source of inspiration to me. Its difficult to quantify how much my students, the neighborhood(s) I represent, my family, peers, etc… get from the work I do. But, the driving force for me is to be so good at what I do that the people around me benefit through proximity or through more direct influence and actions I have taken for those individuals. There’s nothing like being tired, exhausted, upset, drained, whatever, and thinking about how my audiences rely on me to deliver a purposeful and quality product to them regularly. I think people often feel they’re too small to truly impact their communities, but I don’t agree. I do have an actual impact on what people believe they can do and achieve. And much of that belief is ingrained when I keep pushing even when I’m ready to say Fuck It.

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BONUS: My Peers and their projects

Looking back, its amazing to see how peers groups work together in unison and in conflict to move themselves forward. For instance Martin and Malcolm were peers who for the most part stood on opposite sides of the same coin. But part of what makes both of them so great is that they in a way worked together to help bring change and revolution to the world. Booker T. Washington had George Washington Carver and W.E.B. DuBois. Even Michael Jordan had Scottie Pippen on his side, and people like Magic Johnson across the aisle. I’m not quite sure who my peer group is as of yet. Its something that I’ve searched for and haven’t quite found yet, which is irritating to say the least. But, I do appreciate that I have found some figures out there who are doing some amazing work in their own communities. At the very least it shows me that I could be doing a lot more than I’m doing now. And for that I respect them!

Brandon Frame – Founder of TheBlackManCan.com, and author of The BlackManCan Presents: A Guided Journal for Black Boys and Men. Brandon a former teacher has his hands full with his Black Man Can Institute that has made stops in Baltimore, New Haven, Atlanta, and New York City. While I’m struggling to wake up on time for work Brandon is working non stop to educate and empower youth of color… in multiple cities. *Respect* Check out The Black Man Can’s facebook page.

Aaron Mallory – I actually went to school with Aaron way back in the 90’s. He was a few years younger than me. But I remembered him because his mom was a substitute teacher at our school, and his family lived across the street from the school. Since those years Aaron has become a motivational speaker, author, graduate student at the prestigious University of Chicago, and has even built great community organization for the Chicago community – Guide Right Organization. *Keep it up homie*