Today’s post is a quick little run down of the NYC Men Teach Mentoring Program. The city is looking to provide mentoring and support services for men of color interested in entering the teaching profession. I know they’re offering guidance on the multiple entry points someone can take to get into the field. They’re also linking up new male teachers with year-long mentors to help them navigate through their first school year successfully.
Guess what? I’m a mentor! Quite a few of my peers have asked me if I was going to participate in the program. It was kind of a no brainer for me to try to get involved. Mentors have been training since about April. We’ve been to quite a few trainings, and gatherings together to get an understanding of our role and the programs goals.
I even did some phone and email outreach to past teaching fellow applicants to encourage them to apply again for the Fellows Program. By the way, we were calling to notify people that the Fellows was looking for applicants for its December/January cohort they would be taking this year. The website doesnt speak of the application right now. BUT, if you’re interested dip over there and make an account. They definitely send email blasts when applications reopen. NYC Teaching Fellow Website.
I could go on and on about the benefits of joining the program. But if you’re here on this space, then you’re already participating in one of the biggest benefits gained. Finding my voice and learning how to stamp that shit into the space.
Can y’all believe I’m going to have mentees. I’ve always struggled with my mentorship. I just never quite feel like I give enough. I was at a training recently, and one of the recurring things was how many of the participants felt like the Black men in their lives didn’t show up! One place I know I’ve struggled to show up consistently has been in my mentorship. In college, I was a Big Brother/Big Sister. And… I just fell off. There’s been kats before that have asked me to mentor them and I tried, but just know it wasn’t enough. It honestly took me finding and beginning to foster my own relationships as a mentee needing guidance before I could really figure out how to start to be a good mentor! And i never feel like its ever enough. This time tho, I’m definiely tryna show up and show out!
My plan, its to not be too planned. I know the year will be ridiculous for everybody. My goal though is to create a space where they know there is a community of them, a community of us that we can depend on each other.
Group Txt– So you know we’re all only a txt away.
Group Facebook Group – So you know you can post and share media with the group with relative easy.
2 Meetings peer anchor (mentee) per month. My goal is to have one meeting be a community gathering. Bring us all together. The second can be an individual meeting. I’m interested to see what the group thinks about.
Some themes we can cover during our group gatherings are:
What do you guys think? If you were a mentee what type of support would you be looking for? To my master mentors out there are there any additional tools or services you think I should include? Lemme know!
A classroom and email conversation with two Black-Male students
I recently received an email from a Black male student asking me to explain life to him. He’s an older student and this is the first time I’ve taught him at the school. This was a first time I’ve had a student reach out for such poignant information. The following day, before I could respond, he told me that he and a friend, also in my class, were riding the train the night before talking to each other, and they kept saying the word Nigga.
Somewhere through the journey they confessed having made an older woman cry due to their reckless public vulgarity. It was then that I found out why my student had reached out to me about life the evening before.
Both students told me inconsistent stories about the events as they happened in real time, jokingly placing blame on each other, in a denial-deflection-comedic-confession with each other.
In the moment, there was work to be done, so, I expressed sincere dissappointment in their actions and inability to manage their behavior in context, and specifically with regard to the elder, then redirected them to their work with intentions to reply in detail via email.
The following was my email response:
What’s up y’all.
Ok, my bad that it’s taken me so long to respond. I wanted to make sure I sent something thoughtful back. Here’s some feedback.
Nigga Response –
It’s a dreadful word. It’s used to describe a group of people stolen from their land, and bred to be enslaved-captured people here in the American continents. The African people when I visited don’t call themselves nigga. The enslaved Africans were renamed Negroes by the European and other geographic people. It has been so ingrained that those African people have now taken to calling themselves Negroes instead of what they truly were and are. That’s why it’s a bad thing to hear so many Black/African people say Negroes/Nigga/Niqqa/Nicca. It’s a word of negativity and weakenss. The moment you stop calling yourself and your loved ones that word you start to get a stronger grip on the world, your history, and your role now in it. I hope that made sense. Here is a link to some phrases/meanings of negro throughout our recent history. I found this really useful for my own knowledge about 4 years ago.
Negro stereotype (the black brought over to be run over by society.)
I view y’all as so much more than niggers, niggas, you know all the spellings. In real life, I view myself as a young King. Everyday Paladin, the young King walks into the classroom. Everyday I’m greeted by young Warriors [Student 1] and [Student 2]. But as long as you’re calling yourself a nigger you’re never going to realize that. Nigger and King are opposites. Nigger and Warrior are opposites. Nigger and whatever you want to be known as are probably opposites.
The lady was probably mortified that y’all couldn’t edit the word out even if you tried. I get really sad too when I see kids out and they just can’t control it. We’ve been taught to say it. It has power over you. And that’s not good bro. But the good thing is it’s easy to stop. You just have to choose a different word to say. In college my frat brother started saying ninja, then we all started saying ninja. Then somewhere along the line I started saying homie. Now I even say bro. I say fam. I even say King. Choose something and roll with it. I try my absolute best not to call people that I love nigga.
Y’all ask me and I never really remember in the moment. I get a lot of stuff from thrift stores. My regular stuff is from Levis, American Apparel, Uniqlo, Urban Outfitters, stuff I see on Instagram, and sometimes the vendors on the streets. I normally check the sales. But will spend real money every once and a while for stuff that will last like jackets, bookbags, and boots. I rarely pay over 50 for a shirt or pants. Normally never more than 70 for shoes. Anything more prolly just isn’t worth it. Watch your money and save your money. A lot of my stuff is like 5 to 10 years old. When you buy stuff that fits well it lasts longer in my opinion.
Tutoring Time –
I’m available everyday during lunch:
Monday/Wednesday/Friday – [Location] – Lunch
Tuesday/Thursday – [Location] – Lunch
I also try to stay after school for at least 20 to 30 minutes trying to cool down and wrap up loose ends of the day. If no one comes I bounce. I hustle outside of work and get tired if I’m not on the move. Trust y’all are always welcome to tutoring and after school-time. Just come, and we’ll find something to do.
Y’all are smart. Y’all run the yard and I love it. But I need you both to step it up. You both set the tone for everyone else. I need you guys to work with me & [Co-teacher] in the classroom. Drive the attention to the learning. You aren’t horrible, but you aren’t hustling either. I need you both grabbing these knowledge points. Right now and even if you don’t have me anymore. You both have talent and like a team I need you to push your squad, and me and [Co-teacher], the coaches. Push your talents on the basketball court and in my classroom please. I definitely am trying to bring you my A+ work and I need y’all to help me be great by doing the same please.
1.Take risks– Pursuing your passion means making yourself vulnerable in every aspect. You must become emotionally naked, allowing yourself to make mistakes and risk being terrible. Even if you don’t desire fame and grandeur, pursuing your passion means that you want to be good at it. It means that you want to excel in it; and excellence only comes with de and re construction and you cannot be deconstructed without exposing and becoming vulnerable. Risk also involves opportunities; seizing every one that is beneficial to you and the pursuance of your passion. Read up on the stories of the people who excel in your passion, whatever it may be, and guaranteed that the level of success they achieved is almost directly associated with the level of risk they had to take to get there. Its not easy and can even be as serious as violating the values and priorities to which you adhere. But, it is necessary and it is ultimately this that distinguishes the difference between a hobby and a pursuance of passion. Do what no one else would and become what no one else can.
2. Remain Teachable- One of the hardest parts of being a human is pulling down your ego and learning from and listening to someone else. As hard as this is it is integral in pursuing your passion. You must be able to accept what you are not good at and listen to people you respect on the road to change and growth. Defense is an enemy; you must listen to criticism and be able to be broken down and take any criticism objectively and use it to your advantage; appreciate it. Now, there are people out there to whom you shouldn’t listen, as their intentions may not be genuine or they could be haters to put it plainly. These people are to be nodded and smiled at and their “criticism” taken in one ear and out the other. Discerning between them and true friends may be difficult, but with common sense and evaluation of character, they will be found out.
3. Make complacence your worst enemy- In your passion there is ALWAYS room for growth, always. Whether you grow vertically and improve on what you already do or horizontally and switch lanes to tackle something different or use a different approach to what you already do, growth is possible. With this said, it is most definitely ok to be happy with something and to leave it alone. When a song I have finished gives me that complete feeling, I leave it alone. There are times I even have to be told to leave it alone, but, nonetheless, I do. Sometimes things are perfect just the way they are; but, holistically, as far as my vocal ability and the way I sing and how my voice sounds, there is no limit to how much I can improve. It is easy to become happy with where you are and dwell on that but just know that you can go higher. If you’ve conquered a city, focus on conquering the state, then the region, then the country, and dare I say the world? And yes, the universe as well. It all lies in the balance of knowing your limitations and not having any at all.
4. Research and analyze- As a musician I no longer listen to music, I analyze it, unconsciously sometimes.When a song enters my brain I almost automatically hear harmonies, tone, technique and how the singer hits the notes, and everything in between. A passion consumes you and you cannot be afraid of that. In whatever your passion is you must research and analyze the best of the best. It is necessary to get yourself familiar with what makes the greats great. Watch their interviews and how they work. Research their stories and their history. In an age of ubiquitously available information, you have your passion at your fingertips; take full advantage.
5. Don’t be afraid to be great– An unknown fear of greatness is what I believe hinders us all. There is comfort in mediocrity and people don’t realize how limited their mentality is and how they hinder people from their own greatness. In short, Mothafuckas are haters and in most situations their hate is a reflection of their own limitations, doubts and fears. I used to be afraid to say I wanted to perform like Michael Jackson or I wanted my vocal tone to be as pure as Whitney’s in her prime. I used to be afraid to have standards higher than those around me for fear of standing out. In pursuing your passion you have to have the confidence to RESPONSIBLY associate yourself with the greats. I say responsibly because we all know someone who LOVES to do whatever it is they love to do and claims they’re the best at it, but in actuality they suck, morbidly! If you’re a painter, set Van Gogh or Warhol as your standard. If you act, aim to be as good as Meryl Streep. If you are a film director, be Michael Bay and nothing less, but do it responsibly and in your own manner of course and know the work that’s set out for you to be that great. Above all, prove it! Don’t just talk about it. Greatness speaks for itself. Know internally what your standards are and claim them commandingly. Know that you are and can be THAT GREAT and let the work speak for itself.
Back 2 Music is the motto. Hailing from Baltimore, Md currently living in Boston, Ma, Antoine is an independent artist bringing back real music one song at a time. His style mixes so many inspirations and genres alike. His versatility and appeal as an artist sets him apart, making his style unidentifiable, but his music and performance an identifying unmatched signature in itself. Working to make every record and live performance an unprecedented experience Antoine is sure to entertain and inspire, one note at a time. Be sure to check out Antoine’s latest video for his song Make You Love Me.
Of course, I wouldn’t be taking my own advice if I focused on the deficit. I’m excited to be back, I’m inspired by the new year, and all of the new experiences I’m about to encounter. My focus this year now that I feel more comfortable engaging students is to focus on solutions to the problems I encounter in the classroom. What I’ve found is that they’re available if I want to make the impact in the way(s) that I know are necessary and possible. But, I must research them! There’s business in poverty, ignorance, and arrogance. If we don’t search and strive toward creating our own solutions then someone will always be ready to use us to further the depression that is going on.
My personal suggestions would be for people to –
Seek out mentors (in AND outside the classroom/home and community/ and programs)
Always express compassion in our actions with our youth
Research and reading books from multiple perspectives, or at least some that will purposely challenge your thinking
Positive thinking/living/and being. I’m certain that what we do undoubtedly rubs off on those that watch us
In realizing that there is a large problem with the current mechanism(s) that maintain American society. I’ve also realized that I as an individual have immense power to impact that mechanism and alter it and make it work to develop my community. As I stated above, the changes I make will undoubtedly rub off on the people I know. The changes they make will undoubtedly rub off on the people they know.
Money is nice and we all need it to cover certain expenses. However, there comes a time when the want for materialism outpaces the needs of our communities. That drive to secure our own needs at the rick of others pushes people away from their service, mentorship, and fellowship that helps us build up our communities. Make sure there is balance. When you let money (selfishness) rule it will always derail your plans. Nonprofits fall for this all the time. Young professionals entering Corporate America fall for this all the time. Politicians fall for this all the time. Don’t let the money blind you to the one on one/in human contact that is the service we all relied on.
I recently fell into a conversation with a young Black professional and HBCU graduate who was the……… Account Executive for Commercial Relations for BET. Basically he worked in advertising. When he found out I was a teacher the conversation exploded from silence to a full blown debate about how our kids don’t want to do anything with themselves and they want to be lazy, etc… Of course I always respond, to the tune of how are Black students aren’t really taught to preservere through their challenges especially academic, and to ask them to do it on their own is unimaginable. People always put the onus of student’s failure on the student and perhaps his parents. It’s like people miraculously forget that these are minors. I wouldnt’ be fair to say that they don’t know what they want, but at 16 I only knew what my parents, peers, and community knew about the world. Luckily those three groups were comprised of people that only supported my development. I hadn’t experienced enough of the world to truly know what I wanted for myself. why do we continue to argue that children who do not have the most positive support system must navigate this world on their own.
The debate carried on for a solid 15/20 minutes with the BET guy talking about how people don’t take advantage of their chances, and I continued to talk about how all of us at the table as college graduates did in fact take advantage of the chances we were given. But again we are viewing this from the top end of the spectrum. Why is it always acceptable to view this debate from the “successful” person’s point of view? Why aren’t we ever called to give and do more for our communities in an effort to help those that weren’t able to make it through to “success”. I began suggesting that he, and his channel needed to take responsibility and show more positive examples to our young black people to follow. He said that didn’t matter, and that he did mentor young boys. I told him it did matter, just today I had to completely switch my Speech lesson in the middle of class because my students weren’t engaged. I did that by cueing in on their favorite musicians. Drake and Meek Millz. I had told them that I had heard of Drake, but hadn’t heard any of Meek Millz songs. If they were going to write a persuasive speech using one of the two what were some of the points they would use. Some students talked about how Drake was versatile, some talked about Meek using grittier lyrics, some talked about Drake being their boyfriend, some talked about they would persuade me to listen to their own music instead.
He then went on to say that BET wasn’t even owned by Black people anymore, so it wasn’t their responsibility to support their community, they were supposed to make money. I countered that regardless of who owned the station, they positioned themselves as a station that developed content geared for black people, in some ways they had a responsibility to provide a diversity in their programming. And he as a professional had a responsibility to work to develop his community and not just himself. He began to talk about how busy he was and that what he was doing was enough, he had to make sure he was set before he could give anymore. This was the sentiments of everyone at the table. They all, college graduates, and all from prestigious HBCU’s by the way (Hampton and Morehouse) felt that their stability superseeded the stability of the community they were coming from. At this point in my I was definitely feeling my happy hour buzz, and realized it was time to step back and just continue to challenge my table participants to find ways to give back and support those younger than them. Regardless of how stable they felt, they could always find someone who needed their wisdom, knowledge, and guidance.
I don’t remember exactly what said, but at this point he continued to shift the blame back onto students not wanting to be successful. To which I continually asked him why he thought it was OK to require a 14 year old to 1) create an awareness of his place on the globe, and 2) maneuver all things in his life to make sure that he grow up to reach his success, when 3) Black youth, especially boys, in reality control almost no parts of their lives outside of what their parents and mentors see them to. There have been numerous stories in the news as of late of young Black boys whose lives were taken from them because of what someone else thought about them.
Anywhom this post isn’t about that. Its about personal responsibility to make a difference in our community. Too often we push the blame on to someone else, or don’t believe we ourselves can make a change.
Thinking for ourselves/Group think (stereotypes, misinformation, doubts, )
Talents into service. For me, my talents are best used teaching, writing, learning to better help myself, my family, and my students.
A few closing notes I’ll leave you with:
We all have talents, and can turn those talents into services for other people. For me, my talents are being used to teach, write, and continue to learn ways to help myself, my family, and my students.
Group think is a horrible disease that affects 95% of the population. Are you a knowing victim, even worse are you a silent carrier who doesn’t even know they’re a host? Group think has been used to push stereotypes, misinformation, self doubts… Reflect to see where you stand on this.
Do something different for yourself!
Purposely lift someone up everyday.
Read a book, it opens your consciousness.
Save the hate and push for your purpose!
Work to actively build a community wherever you are (work, school, home, groups, etc…)
The media works to make money, not show you positive images of black people. I recently attended a community event where Dr. Imani Perry said that watching television makes Black people feel bad. Think about all of the negative that can be consumed through media images. Whether we believe what we see or not, the constant consumption of negative media images affects our subconscious. White males on average are the only ones who feel better about their personal image after watching tv. Additional Source – Black pathology is big business
Educators, stop thinking that the world is in irreversible downward sprial. WIth that mentality of course its not going to change. It takes blind faith in our devotion to our craft to help make those incremental differences that lead to larger scale change.
Get off your ass, and make a difference NOW in your family and community. It’s as simple as giving a banana to the hype that you make fun of everyday.
Deflecting the blame onto others, ensures that the “problem” will continue to happen. Find a solution, keep expanding that solutoin, and share it with others.
Stop helping people for a paycheck, OR relying on the people that do help people for a paycheck. You can be the one to bring change to the world. Don’t be the haystack, be the needle that everybody is looking for.
Tell Flex to drop a bomb on this shit/So many bombs, ring the alarm like Vietnam in this shit
So many bombs, make Farrakhan think Saddam in this bitch/One at a time, I line ’em up and bomb on they mom while she watchin’ the kids
I’m in a destruction mode if the gold exists/
I’m important like the pope/I’m a muslim on pork/I’m Makaveli’s offspring, I’m the king of New York King of the Coast, one hand, I juggle them both/The juggernaut’s all in your jugular, you take me for jokes
Live in the basement, church pews and funeral faces/Cartier bracelets/for my women friends I’m in Vegas
Who the fuck y’all thought it’s supposed to be?/If Phil Jackson came back, still no coachin’ me
I’m uncoachable, I’m unsociable/Fuck y’all clubs, fuck y’all pictures, your Instagram can gobble these nuts
Gobble dick up ’til you hiccup, my big homie Kurupt/This the same flow that put the rap game on a crutch
I’ve seen niggas transform like villain Decepticons/Mollies’ll prolly turn these niggas to fuckin’ Lindsay Lohan
A bunch of rich-ass white girls lookin’ for parties/Playin with Barbies/wreck the Porsche before you give ’em the car key
Judgement to the monarchy/blessings to Paul McCartney/You called me a black Beatle, I’m either that or a Marley
I don’t smoke crack motherfucker I sell it/I’m dressed in all black, this is not for the fan of Elvis
I’m aiming straight for your pelvis, you can’t stomach me/You plan on stumpin’ me?/Bitch, I’ve been jumped before you put a gun on me
Bitch, I put one on yours, I’m Sean Connery/James Bonding with none of you niggas, climbing 100 mil in front of me
And I’m gonna get it even if you’re in the way/And if you’re in it, better run for Pete’s sake
I heard the barbershops spittin’ great debates all the time/Bout who‘s the best MC? Kendrick, Jigga and Nas
Eminem, Andre 3000, the rest of y’all/New niggas just new niggas, don’t get involved
And I ain’t rockin no more designer shit/White T’s and Nike Cortez, this is red Corvettes anonymous I’m usually homeboys with the same niggas I’m rhyming wit’/But this is hip-hop and them niggas should know what time it is
And that goes for Jermaine Cole, Big KRIT, Wale/Pusha T, Meek Mill, A$AP Rocky, Drake
Big Sean, Jay Electron’, Tyler, Mac Miller/I got love for you all but I’m tryna murder you niggas
Tryna make sure your core fans never heard of you niggas/They dont wanna hear not one more noun or verb from you niggas
What is competition? I’m trying to raise the bar high/Who tryin’ to jump and get it? You better off tryin’ to skydive
Out the exit window of five G5’s with five grand/With your granddad as the pilot he drunk as fuck tryin’ to land
With the hand full of arthritis and popping prosthetic leg/Bumpin Pac in the cockpit so the shit that pops in his head
Is an option of violence, someone heard the stewardess said/That your parachute is a latex condom hooked to a thread
*Another facebook snatch, thank you to whoever I got this from*
Elijah’s classmates only wanted better for themselves and their families. What happened to paying it forward, and giving back?
There are no role models in their neighborhoods right now. All of the “successful” people leave the community and never return. They’re taught to leave the community.
When will be begin to combat the selfishnesses WE ALL have been taught and unconsciously display?
What is the common thread between Mother Theresa, Ghandi, and MLK Jr?
They all had an extreme love for people and fought for them even when they didn’t want their help.
Allow our students/mentees/family/friends to be angry, BUT direct their anger to the fact that someone taught them it was ok to behave like that (hurting other people). Direct their anger to the fact that someone taught them that its ok to think that it’s every man for themselves.
The people that put them (us) down, were put down. The people that hurt them (us), were hurt. When are we (you) going to take personal responsibility to change this?
I’ma change that! You need to too!
Teachers, instead of making sellouts, we need to realize that we’re the main people who can change the community, by building its leaders. Yes academically, but more-so spiritually, socially, and emotionally.
The world doesnt have to be every (wo)man for themselves. We can have everyone fighting together and set on one goal. That goal is to make our communities better for the people coming up after us.
Teachers job is of extreme importance. Are you sure you know and are pushing for the full scope?
It’s bigger than me, it’s not about me. But I can change that.
I believe in you
And don’t give up
Tags: Video, education, Teachers, Teach For America, Baltimore, Elijah Miles, Higher Education, Public Education, Teaching
Here is another paper I turned in for one of my graduate classes earlier this summer. Thoughts and comments are welcomed and encouraged below.
Dressed within the Cloak of Privilege
Throughout my life I’ve seen that it is uncommon for black men to receive their bachelors degree, hold self-sustaining employment, pursue a graduate degree, and understand their culture in a way that pushes them to give back in a focused and direct way to their community. Being a special education teacher for a high school with a 55% Black and 45% Latino student body, I see younger versions of myself each day. It’s empowering and devastating all in the same breathe. My students come to me older than the average high school freshman. Most enter my school as freshman at 16 years old, two years behind their age peers, many years behind academically, and are expected to earn their high school diploma at 20/21 years old. Approximately 50% of our students have Individual Education Plans (IEP’s). Most students I have come across present as learning disabled, emotionally disturbed, and many struggle to maintain regular attendance.
The student I chose to focus on for this project is the son of Jamaican immigrants, and moved to this country himself at a young age. I’ve taught Keanon each trimester this school year and have been frustrated, disheartened, amazed, inspired, and humbled by his ability to make a fortified stand in various situations. The once standoffish young man has come into his own and begun to play with knowledge and academics in front of my eyes. I see Keanon anywhere from 1-3 times each day throughout the week, so I benefit from getting to observe him frequently and often.
Growing up in the midwestern version of the Cosby house in Chicago’s south suburbs afforded me countless opportunities that my peers didn’t have. My father, is a retired Illinois State Police Officer, part-time community college professor, two-time small business owner, and nonprofit volunteer. I fondly remember watching my mother, a devoted Illinois Department of Children and Services social worker, sit glued to the dining room table into the wee hours of the morning where she completed schoolwork toward her two masters degrees in Social Work and Education. Being first generation college students completely shifted the trajectory of my parents’ lives, and resultantly the lives for my sister and I. Growing up I was told I was going to college. This expectation, so heavily ingrained in my adolescence, makes me feel unaccomplished even today. Earning my first graduate degree serves as the first major accolade I will have conceived and achieved on my own accord.
Understanding how class, sometimes known as privilege, can unfairly shift one’s trajectory of life is a common realization in the black community. It is apparent to the individuals that find successful ways to enter and flourish through class mobilization, the family members they leave behind, and most importantly both groups’ children, which is where I myself fall.
I’m from South Central, LA, a place that’s historically impoverished and pretty marginalized. I come from a low-income family, I’m a first-generation college student, and I’ve kind of seen how just by the fact that I left for school, in another neighborhood, I got access to all these other opportunities, and just sort of had had a different trajectory. And I’ve known that both, from on the ground level and becoming a researcher and understanding the policy level, sort of the higher level. That there’s sort of a system that’s in place that works against what it is that you would want everybody to be able to obtain, which is success. So, the way that I’ve kind of framed success for my own personal use is the ability to influence and impact that system from a lot of different vantage points. (Gordon, 2013)
The blazing contrast between my childhood, neighborhood, and education compared to those of my cousins is etched in my memory. Each time I went to visit family members we departed on an hour-long excursion out of the suburbs, past the large ominous rows of government housing (projects) as they cast down shadows on the expressway to my family members’ homes. That exit out of, and entrance into – always triggered my senses in a way that was foreign from my suburban haven.
I cannot guess what goes on in Keanon’s head. However, he is a proud Jamaican, first, and American second, if at all. He describes Jamaica as 3rd world, but pulls strength and energy from his heritage. It is a badge of honor for him; and it empowers him socially, which helps him push for achievement academically. Keanon, as many of my other students, doesn’t believe he can trust people. In fact most of my males felt as though they couldn’t trust people. Growing up, I never knew a world where I didn’t feel safe, largely because everynight I went to sleep with a police car parked infront of my house. The privilege of growing up in the middle class has in many ways blinded me to the strife and challenges the many black young men must overcome to succeed. This thought repeatedly plays in my mind as I create my teaching identity.
I am the product of gifted/honors/and AP program at my school. It was there that I was exposed to class disparities in education. Obvious to me then were inequalities in rigor, expectations, and the resulting productivity of general education classes as compared to more challenging courses. I was one of the few Black representatives from 4th grade, and watched subconsciously as each year fewer minorities filled the classes with me. One of my most memorable experiences occurred during my 9th and 10th grade years in high school. I decided, as a young adult, that I didn’t feel like doing math homework every night anymore – a staple in the honors math courses. My unrelenting rebellion caused me to fail Honors Algebra my freshman year, and half of my sophomore school year. The administration and my parents moved me to a general education algebra class. I was shocked at the culture of low expectations, rowdy behavior, and slow pace of the class. Here, I sat, having bought into my label as talented and bright and I still struggled to pass a general education course several times less rigorous and structured than my otherwise full load of advanced classes. I ended up going to summer school to earn my math credit through an insultingly elementary computer program.
Keanon like many of my students has low math computation skills. At 17, he again like many others, struggles with his basic times tables, mental math, number sense, and confidence with identifying and applying key pieces of information. My co-teacher and I try to keep an orderly classroom, but our more expressive students work their magic and ignite nonstop disturbances that must be managed and extinguished throughout instruction and independent practice. I can imagine this having a negative effect on Keanon and his peers. This trimester we have covered factoring, factoring and graphing, trigonometry, area, perimeter, and volume. Keanon is one of two students set to pass the course this cycle. However, deficiencies in his basic arithmetic are still present, and are being addressed in a separate computer math course that I also teach for Keanon.
As I develop my teacher identity I rejoiced at having built a connection with a student like Keanon. His strength, curiosity, steadfastness, and nobility emit from him each and everyday. Earning his acceptance has made me feel validated within my own self. He and I both respect what it took to grow our relationship to where it is. I am older, but I view Keanon as my partner and equal. In my mind we are currently in a space where we share knowledge and beliefs with one another. Keanon has begun sharing why his Rastafarian spirituality is so important to him. He allows me to respectfully receive his message, which in turn seems to make him even more comfortable being himself, and testing his own skin.
There must be a meeting of the minds if educators are to play an influential role in the development of their adolescent students. This meeting can occur around formal social interactions, depending on the goals for the “meeting.” They key is that the educators’ thinking be made as transparent as possible in order for students to access and connect with it or for them to contest and reject it in an informed manner. (Nakkula & Toshalis, 2010)
However, I can’t be blinded by Keanon’s social transformation in the school. His math skills still require serious development for him to enter this world fully suited to succeed. As a teacher it’s disheartening to know that throughout the school year we never created the opportunity to develop many of our student’s subpar foundational skills on top of their functional skills. Framing this positively, I feel empowered knowing I can use these growth areas to develop more specialized understanding of my craft including new and targeted instructional methods for next school year.
My parents made sure that I grew up with a strong foundation in humility and servitude. We understood that we experienced privilege. However, there are many people who do not, like my family members, many of my peers, and the foster children and families my mother often exposed us to. The fact that it is a rarity of African Americans to have consistent exposure to supportive educational, social, and class privileges such as these is mortifying to my soul. This serves as the primary motivation driving why I must always try to build others as long as I’m able. To many, this may seem disconnected, unrealistic, or too kumbaya as I like to describe. However, for me it is the foundation for why I am an educator, and the doubts serve to reinforce my fortitude for the craft. My life experiences have brought me to a place where I am knowledgeable, both theoretically and experientially, about privilege as a member of the minority group in observation. Through school and work experiences I can guess how those more closely positioned to the dominant class experience and are blinded by privilege. I know first hand how difficult it can be with and without a solid education for minorities that are expected to navigate their way, successfully, through institutions that fortify such privileges by luck, grit, and pulled up bootstraps. I try not to judge, but I do wonder how others, more heavily layered in privilege come to develop their own understanding of this issue, and whether it festers within their souls as it does mine.
Now, as an educator, a huge chunk of my identity is tied into my own experiences and benefits from privilege. I therefore see and weigh a lot more of my performance with my students based on the person I am to them and for them, on top of the role I play as their academic and social educator over the next few years. In many ways, as is evident with Keanon, I’ve learned that I have focused more so on my students’ social development, than their academic development. Keanon himself has shown that even with his natural gifts for leadership, compromise, and inquisition, he still needs the basic academic skills to navigate the modern world, successfully, and out of harms way. As with Keanon, my own identities often shift between student of education, professional educator, and that same little black boy that absorbed so much inherently from my surroundings in Chicago.
Currently, I feel like I must show all of my students and peers that I/we can accomplish anything we set our minds to. I frequently identify the links between them as high school students, and myself as a graduate student. I show them my frustration and unconditional love for them in the classroom. I let them know when they’re letting me down and vice versa. I show them what difficult assignments and work looks like for me, and discuss why its important that they persevere through their own complaints about scribing as little as a paragraph. I explain how my job and life intertwines with theirs’ and how the 10 years they view, as a separation in age is more of a proximity that should be explored and utilized to their advantage. I definitely use them to foster my own growth and knowledge development.
This summer, my challenge is to strengthen how I stimulate and support my students academically. Similar to Keanon, I enjoy the feeling of being roused into action. I enjoy the idea of constantly polishing myself into an even better teacher. This year I’ve seen Keanon go from being extremely closed-minded to being prophetic about the importance of school, teachers, and learning. I’ve tried to make the connection for my students that they are role models for their younger brothers, sisters, and cousins as I undoubtedly am trying to be for them.
My students are creating and experiencing foundational events that shape their adolescence and will guide their adulthood. I am no different, even at the current stage of my life as a young professional. As students and teachers, we are co-creating our identities. Interestingly, I view myself as the student, or rather, feel that even as a teacher, I have a need to be educated and nurtured by experienced veterans and mentors. I am a teacher, and I teach everyday as my profession, but my role in life is that of the student. Like Keanon, I am challenging assumptions and learning how to create an image of myself that most closely represents my idea of self.
In short, adolescents [and adults] are in a near constant state of constructing their lives. Far from assuming or growing into a particular stage of development or simply adapting to an environment that determines development possibilities for them, [people] are actively creating development itself. It is largely this process of creating [oneself] and the worlds [we] inhabit that we call the construction of [life]… Ultimately the meaning [you] make of [your] experiences is [yours], regardless of how it may match or conflict with ours… Given the magnitude of the consequences involved in self-construction, especially as [you] come to be realized in schools, the constructionist perspective is anything but academic or abstract. It is, rather the real-life heart and soul of [life] itself. (Nakkula & Toshalis, 2010)
– We often focus on our challenges, but have you taken a second to think about your privilege(s) and how they shape your view of the world?
– Privilege is just that… a privilege, something that not everyone is privy to. I’m not saying you should feel bad for the privileges you’ve attained or been born into. But, I do believe that it’s our duty to create a space for other people to benefit from the “access” our privileges have afforded us.
Be purposeful with your privilege(s), pay that shit forward!
The Creative Dreamers Award has been funded! We’ve met our goal of $3,000. I have a call next week with our liaison on campus to discuss next steps in regards to communicating the scholarship to the campus, alerting the selection committee, and figuring out how we can start building an actual endowment or if we should continue to go the yearly route. In hindsight, it took far more time to get the actual scholarship paperwork complete than it took to raise the total amount of funds. Proof that its not that difficult to do your own if your interested. Hopefully my subliminal hints aren’t so subliminal…
As we all know, the world works in very mysterious ways. I recently stumbled across an article about another young creative dreamer doing his part to spread positivity, push himself, and completely dominate the game. Meet JeShaune Jackson, a 26 year old, business owner, graduate student, philanthropist, and mentor. [He sounds a lot like me, or at least what I want myself to become.] JeShaune recently delivered his first Jeshaune D. Jackson Scholarship to a young African American male student at his alma mater Bedford High School in Ohio. Even better, JeShaune introduces his scholarship winners and runner ups to black physicians and scientists, and develops his own mentor relationship through consistent check ins and relationship building activities.
With his scholarship, JeShaune plans to build black youth by providing them the much needed one on one mentoring and role modeling they will need to support their future successes. JeShaune himself earned a bachelors degree from Bowling Green State University in Premed and Biology. He’s currently pursuing two masters degrees from Case Western Reserve University – Entrepreneurial Biology and an MBA in Design and Innovation, and wants to add a medical degree on top of that.
Donate directly to JeShaune’s scholarship:
JeShaune D. Jackson Scholarship to Treasurers Office
Bedford City School District
475 Northfield Road
Bedford, Ohio 44146
JeShaune is a philanthropist, scholar, and also businessman. He created the business/nonprofit organization BioComm. The organization brings together graduate students from diverse academic backgrounds – medical, law, engineering, business, and other fields – to build proposals for science and medical innovations. Participants gain valuable entrepreneurial and business experience working across fields and with real world clients. With the help of the students, JeShaune’s BioComm looks to bridge the gap between science innovation and consumer. You can watch a video proposal featuring Je’Shaune and BioComm at the Johnson and Johnson Be Vital Challenge website.
As we can see JeShaune is an ambitiously inspirational player on the scene. Its humbling and invigorating to see him accomplish his goals. I love the vision he has carved out for himself and his endeavors. He is leading from the front! Think of it as front-row leadership. Being different and resultantly impactful with your leadership. What are some ways you lead from the front? Leave your ideas in the comments section below.
Find out more about JeShaune, the scholarship, and BioComm: