I’m quiet about my profession. Outside of this here blog. I rarely volunteer that I teach. Or that I’m a special education teacher. Or that I teach students in Brooklyn. Or that my students are all Black and Latino. Or that they’ve had a few academic failures in that pathway to my high school’s door. Or that they can be… rambunctious to the untrained eye.
That media, they sure is good at what they do! Every single time someone finds out I am a teacher, the first thing they comment on is my patience to work with those crazy kids, or the fact that they could never work with bad ass kids. Everytime. It always makes for an awkward introduction. I’m normally compelled to contextualize black-adolescent behavior in historical context for my new comrade real quick. It always seems to bring the other person to a hard stop when I completely reframe the conversation about how bountiful my students are in every which way and how I wish everyone could teach so they could enjoy the same feeling.
I mean, when I tell yall that there NOTHING better than teaching a classroom of my kids I mean it. They are such amazing vessels to be surrounded by. My kids burn off energy and brilliance like its been out of style since style was style. I love working with young wo/men that are developing into our nation’s newest and brightest minds. Everyday my mind is blown from their ability to spontaneously combust into catastrophic clashings sometimes of joy and other times out of terror. Everyday I learn something new from my kids. Each day I’m humbled with their knowledge and understanding of the world. Each day, their resilience reminds me of how easy I’ve had it in my life so far. Each day they push me to come with my A-game to even share the same space with them. Honestly, and I could drop the fuckin mic right here. These kids have me on my fucking A-game. Everything I wasn’t in track and field, I am for them. Nothing in my life has made me want to succeed as bad as these kids.
Everyday they suckle on every last piece of energy and knowledge that I have to bestow upon them. And each day I feel like I gotta reup and find some new shit to feed them. If I’m not nourished, in the traditions and the virtues and spectacle of my own being, then how can they be? They show me more respect than I feel like I’ve earned and deserve. Each day, they welcome me into their midst when they don’t know how raunchy and pathetic I may have been the night before. They accept me, and expect me! Even when I come home and struggle to accept and expect myself!
These kids fight-fight everyday against a society that has already fucked them so over-over-over that they great grandkids’ futures are probably already on some statisticians desktop being plotted and pointed for gross profit-propagandalization. And the real shame is n****s prolly great-great-great-great-quadruple-great grandkids have already literally been accounted for. We’re livin in a world where we’re all statistics. Period. And even still my hittas hustle for opportunity and perspective that the layman takes for granted. Everyday I see my kids cast out into the depths – hungry for knowledge and a success that even I struggle to envision and create for my damn self.
I know I can’t pay it justice. But… there’s absolutely nothing like walking into a room of people 9 years younger than me – and trying to give them every piece of me that I have so they can do great things in this fucked up world. These kids feed my soul. Oh my god. Its so insane. Knowing my seats are filled with stardust, blazing bright and high in the sky.
I don’t need no fucking book to say it. No fucking body to say what I know I can say.
I love teaching my little Black kids! And don’t nothin feed me more than being in a class with these Black kids! They the real ones with soul.
Meeting with my fellows fellows, older fellows, and baby fellows… I’m able to see clearer that everyone engages in this work (teaching) through their own space, their own lens, their own context. Variation is the only constant. I think it really easy to forget that there’s value in variation. Yes, I’m the Black guy that teaches whose hair matches some of the students. And, yes that (my Blackness, not necessarily my hair) gives me certain entry points that serve as advantages over my peers. But, we all have entry-points at our jobs that can be taken advantage of. Not only is there value in knowing yours, but there’s value in being able to harness other peoples’ entry points as well. I’m still too deep into trying to really figure out my own advantages to have identified others’ yet. But, I do think that will be a focus of mine in 2014.
This is why I share my experiences. When I read Baruti Kafele’s manuals I feel like I get to live through and learn through his life as a successful school leader. I’m only hoping that my words inspire that same person now or later.
Big ups to everybody out there just living their lives everyday and making it happen! There are so many lessons to be learned and it’s a shame we can’t just learn at will whenever we wanted to. I’m pushing to be receptive to seeing other people’s entry points into whatever work they do, and figuring out how I can incorporate this knowledge into my own life. Sometimes I walk around thinking that even if I don’t know the answer, I (alone) can get to the answer with a little bit of brain power and a pad of paper. I often times have to check myself from being so mentally egocentric. Because in reality it would be virtually impossible for me to be successful at my job if I can’t to all of the people and signals around me. Everyone has something to give. The question is am I receiving it?
I’ve decided that when everyone listens the result has to be harmony. When we listen we are called to adjust. When we are called to adjust, we react.
What power does YOUR variation bring? What specific skills do YOU bring to this just because of who YOU are and what YOU’VE been through? What is the power of the variation YOU are exposed to everyday? Are YOU listening to and learning from the variation(s)? Specialization is key, but YOU’LL never know how you can specialize if YOU can’t identify the power of the vary.
There are so many varied experiences here. There’s value in all…
Over the past two years I’ve been very purposeful in what I’ve consumed as inspiration, also known as the background noise that I fill my vessel with. This letter turned project is perhaps the manifestation of watching the Jean-Michel Basquiat documentary Radiant Child. Part of the film highlights Jean’s unique note taking style. I was always amazed at how different his notes were, they reminded me more of a newspaper than… an artist’s notebook. It’s said that he liked having his notes like this because it helped him cross pollenate his ideas. I think that’s a word I stole form my nonprofit days by the way. Cross-pollenation is when two completely dis-similar things (we’ll say ideas here) come together to create a baby. Most of the time the end result would be non-sensical rambles. But in the rare occasion that the lines meshed the result would be utter brilliance.
*First 5 minutes suggested*
Throughout the years I’ve talked about some of the different types of inspiration I’ve consumed and learned from including life-coaches, mentors, books, historical figures, my students, my peers, my family, art, the list is never-ending. I’ve actually started using audio versions of motivational and commencement speeches to give me that extra boost in the mornings or when I’m feeling sluggish. There’s nothing like an Eric Thomas or Oprah Winfrey speech to give you some clarity on why you’re doing whatever the hell you’re doing. The Purge, as an #Artsperiment, as I’ve deemed it, is the subconscious result of all of the stimuli I’ve consumed intentionally and not.
This project is probably a sum total of things I’ve seen from Basquiat, Beyonce, Kanye, Kendrick Lamar, Eric Thomas, Jullien Gordon, W.E.B. DuBois, Dr. Boyce, Dr. Ivory, Dr. Jawanza, Baruti Kafele, Oprah, Pharrell, Mark Ecko, Malcolm X, artists and writers alike around the world. This collection is a sort of manifestation of historical letters I’ve fumbled through time and time again by scholars from around the world. I see specks of Kanye – God symbolism, bits and pieces of Malcolm’s homemade education theory and hopefully molecules of his passion as well, packaging and audience consideration courtesy of Beyonce and my PR Professors, and definitely fragments of motivation and inspiration from Jullien and Eric Thomas.
The project itself germinated from the need to express myself, but I also am really interested in this idea of viewing myself as a vessel that projects the energy I consume.
Like a star, that energy radiates bits and pieces of what it consumes. Your mind, as the great canal, controls the gates to what comes in. Have you thought about what your gates have been accepting into your system? It’s empowering and a bit freaky to see the remnants of my inspirations present in my thoughts and ideas.
How can you use this to help you achieve your goals and desires quicker?
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
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.
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.
I don’t know what to call this one… I was trying to think of a fancy title, but I really just carefullychoose 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.
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.
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.
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*
Much of our work this semester in grad school has been focused around the idea of inquiry. Observing a student for who they are. One class has been focused on identifying potential behaviors that are limiting the child’s academic success, another is focused on identifying who that child is as is. In essence, once you can identify the child, you can better figure out what you can do as their teacher to support them in the academic environment, if they need your support. I’ve decided to observe Student A described here: Challenging students or challenging environment
Over the past two months I’ve really been fortunate to be able to observe him in almost all of his classroom settings. Part of the observation process is to try to describe your child as is, without assigning values to what the child does. A few of my peers in the program have found that relatively difficult, which to me speaks to a perhaps a larger issue with teachers being unable to see their students as young people without trying to describe why they engage in the behaviors they do. When you think about it, its pretty dangerous to try to describe why a student or any person engages in a particular behavior when you in fact have no idea how true or false your opinion is. Especially given that often times the way these behaviors are being described is from a negative/deficit perspective. It speaks to the often overlooked power dynamics that come into play as a teacher who is entrusted to protect and develop the young people you serve.
Anywho, I wanted to share a piece I wrote up about myself regarding my own interests and preferences. The assignment is attached below. The goal was to deeply review one of our own interests and think about how deeply it influenced our own identity as a person. We’re being asked to do the same thing for our students we’re observing later in the semester.
Track and Field
Describe the different ways this interest has shown itself as you grew up or the different forms this interest/preference has taken at different times in your life. In this description, describe:
how you came to know you had this interest or preference
what you did with this interest as a child
whether you pursued this interest on your own or with others; how others supported or showed interest in what you were doing; how others knew you had this interest
I had the benefit of living on a block where there were long stretches of road and sidewalk that somehow became racing posts for my neighbors and myself. When I was young, I remembered racing was always the activity/sport/game that I enjoyed the most with my friends. There was a solid group of us all within the same 3-4 year age range who would often congregate in our cul-de-sac to play games or just be kids. Fast-forward to the future and many of us became star/active players on many of our high school’s sports teams. My sister – soccer, Tiara – track, Darren – basketball, Ranard basketball and football I think, and myself track.
We had 4 different racecourses that we would use. For quick sprints we could use the 70m of sidewalk around Tiara’s house, or the entire length of the cul-de-sac and back in front of our house. For longer sprints we could use the long hill that all of our houses sat on. Ranards at the very top, passing Tiara’s house, our house, all the way down to Darren’s. I would say the hill had to be about 200 meters long. And then finally the long course of running the Sullivan Lane, Hickok, and Blackhawk Drive which was possibly a half-mile long.
Running had always been my passion from early on. I could play basketball all right, and did a season of soccer my freshman year following my sister’s footsteps. But there was something about the black and white competition of running that I loved more than anything in the world. It was competition that everyone could see and everyone could understand. I loved that I was always one of the fastest kids on the block even though I was a skinny scrawny non-athletic looking kid for most of my life.
As a child I couldn’t do much with this interest but continue to race people on the street. I didn’t know about AAU leagues or the USATF yet. I was probably in middle school when I first started to pay attention to track meets on TV. I couldn’t wait to join track in high school as it was the first thing I’ve ever felt confident I could be good in.
I’m not quite sure how others supported me running. I have a tendency to live in a world of tunnel vision. Off top I would say my soccer coaches and teammates, cross-country coaches and teammates, and family supported me in varying and actually competing ways. My mother, infamously made me quit the track team early on my freshman year because of a bad grade I was getting in math. Around this time (approximately 2 weeks into conditioning) I was actually really frustrated with the team. I hadn’t imagined how exhausting and difficult training would be. The practices and training were so much harder than I had experienced in soccer. I don’t know what I would have done, but I believe had I not been made to quit I would have fallen off the team to my own accord just given how difficult it was for me.
Luckily, I had to spend an entire year listening to people tell me I sucked at running which is why I quit. It really made me furious because I knew I was fast, and knew that my speed was the last thing I was worried about. Luckily sophomore year came around and I went back out for the team, and became an instant contributor to the varsity team.
Describe briefly how this interest/preference lives in your life now.
I don’t run anymore. I actually haven’t watched a full track meet since I left NCAA Nationals as a senior on my college’s track team back in 2007. Track became and still is a bittersweet experience for me. It paid my way through college, and serves still today as the impetus to every opportunity I’ve gotten in life. Any leadership position in college, and in my professional life stems from the experiences and status earned through track and field. Even my closest friends, rivalries, and enemies stem from track and field. At one point I was a college roommate with two of my biggest rivals in the state in high school. My frat brother/big brother was also a member on my track team. My close female friends were members of the team as well. All of whom are still in my life.
Through track I grew into my body. I remember graduating high school around 5’8 weighing 123 pounds. I was extremely skinny and lanky. I graduated college at 5’10 around 145. And now weigh around 159 pounds. 165 around my heaviest. I say this to show that through track I grew into the physical man I am today. Which may sound superficial or unimportant, but as an athlete it plays a huge part into who I am to the outside world, and most importantly to myself. Track made me healthy, it made me look healthy, it taught me how to keep myself healthy and in shape. It is through this lens that I constantly critique my health, fitness, form, mental state, and appearance for others and myself. To translate – because of my 9 years as a semi-professional track athlete, I feel chained to keeping myself healthy and in shape. I don’t run anywhere near as much as I should, but I do maintain a pretty active and consistent space in LIU’s gym and Planet Fitness. (As as I’ve mentioned before on the blog, when I’m not in the gym my entire life seems to spiral out of control.)
Describe what you may have learned from pursuing the interest and the satisfactions you may have gained from it.
Track has taught me the art of competition. I was a natural winner that relied totally on natural talent for the entire time I ran. My largest lesson from track is failure. I relied on talent so much that I can see in hindsight how much further I could have gone had I understood what it really meant to push myself. I made it to nationals and was ranked in the country off sheer talent, and wavering interest. Similar to an early Serena Williams, but of course not as great or iconic. Had I been in the weight room, been training at my peak at all times, rehabbed seriously, and worked with my coaches more effectively I could probably still be running right now professionally for a living, as I see some of my college peers doing via Facebook.
I take these lessons and apply them to my everyday life. This is why I try to go so amazingly hard in grad school and teaching. It’s the first opportunity I felt I’ve had since, that I could really push my own boundaries and train for excellence as though I was back on the field.
On the surface, I gained a lot of medals, friends, accolades, records, experiences, travels, money, and headaches, and frustrations from track that I would never return. But this understanding of success and training is the most important take away that I feel I’m able to apply better now than I could 6 years ago as my time as an athlete came to an end.
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
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!