Sunday, June 22, 2014

Who Are We? Defining ourselves telling our own story

I had the pleasure of spending two days in Oakland with super smart and passionate people. One of our tasks in the small group I worked with was to answer this question from an organizational standpoint: Who are we? Now, my first thought was that this is a highly intellectual and philosophical question. Who are we? Who am I? Why are we here? The longest un-answered question ever right? So what a great opportunity and honor to be able to answer this question for purposes of our work. We had over 200 responses from others and our task was to synthesize in order to present to the leadership team and peers. We began to discuss the commonalities and listed them out on chart paper; however, it soon became clear that the responses begged to be organized into a series of values (i.e., empathy, trust, flexibility, etc.) rather than some other set. Since we didn't want to loose the flavor of the philosophical nature of the question, the presentation begged that we simulate a Slam Poetry format to use rhymes and flow as a way to share. I'm currently reading a book by yoga teacher Baron Baptiste entitled "Being of Power" and he suggests that "we don't actually 'figure out' who we are," and suggests that such is "a quest for finite answers." He suggests that the way we come to understanding who we are is by giving up what we are NOT. Maybe this is too deeply esoteric but is there something that might apply to our work in communities serving mostly people of color in the U.S.? Might we peel back the layers like an onion to reveal our true selves (which doesn't always have to be a return to Africa?). So asking ourselves this question must not be something we answer but a poem that we continue to write and draft over time. 

Friday, May 30, 2014

Attempting to Prevent the School-to-Prison Pipeline, Kinda

The United States incarcerates more people per capita than any other country in the world. There are now more black and brown men in prison than in college. The White House has announced a new initiative aimed at curbing this trend. We now have approximately two million people of color on lock down in this country. It's no wonder that there is a renewed interest in investing in education to properly empower all young people with the skills and knowledge necessary to life a healthy and happy life. Furthermore, we know that a high school education is not enough. A recent article, in the New York Times, title, "Is College Worth It?" shows the income gap between those who have a four-year bachelor degree versus those who simply have a secondary diploma. However, with many schools challenged with supporting students social and emotional needs, our communities are often not equipped to deal with students lure for street life and dysfunctional home lives. How do we support students who do not want to do school? Those who simply are deviant and refuse to listen to anyone in the school and they are empowered by their parents to fight those who simply lay their hands on them? Furthermore, many youth believe that quick fame and fortune will come through sports or quick money of the streets. Today for me was an eye-opening experience. Here was a young man that was most definitely headed in the direction of incarceration. As I spoke to him about why he got suspended, he displayed little remorse and as I continued the conversation, he simply said to me, "You're wasting your time, I don't really care." He went onto to say that he didn't care who laid his hands on him (this included the principal, other teachers, etc.) that he would fight them. 

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Holla' If Ya' Here Me: Black Male Teachers Now!

Ask any youth what they want to be when they grow up and the answer is unlikely to be: "a teacher." It's even less likely for a brown or black youth to also want to do so. So its no wonder that less than two (2) percent of the teaching population is people of color. There are certainly more well paying positions that are available. Perhaps, it's not just about the money here. 

Sunday, April 6, 2014

White Privilege, Race, Power and the Bigotry of Low Expectations

Over the past week, I've had the pleasure of being on a panel as a guest speaker at the University of Detroit and at the Detroit Food Policy Council's Race to Good Food Summit both in the World's Greatest City. In preparing for my guest speaker conversation, I had a revelation: many of my experiences around race have been repressed and pushed out my memory. As I began to unpack my own experiences, being told I was "sun-tan" by my white mother as a child or being nearly arrested while sitting in the passengers seat because "I fit the description" of someone the police were looking for I thought deeply about the ways in which I was forced into notions of race, privilege and identity. I asked myself "Who else has pushed such memories aside and what can we learn from each other?" There were great questions from our UDM brothers and sisters such as "Isn't race more entrenched in ideas of power?" and "How much of race has to do with conditioning?" I was honored to share space with two Ph.D's who were well versed in the topic but I've had some lived experiences that sometimes trumps academic credentials. I shared I never necessarily chose to enter into notions of race and class and growing up I frequently had to answer the question, "What exactly are you?" Those questions birthed my life-long quest to answer questions and identify my passion for serving people in so-called marginalized communities. How does this notion of race and power effect our schools and our students? How do these notions effect our food system? I'm only beginning to understand how I might begin to answer each of these questions; as our food and schooling systems depend upon our work to create equity and justice. 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Black History Year: A Tribute to Tray'von and Jordan

"The more things change, the more things stay the same." This post is a tribute to two young brothers who lost their lives way too soon for no reason other than the color of their skin: Tray'von Martin and Jordan Davis. How does our K-12 educational system either support or remove these acts of racist violence occurring in our country? How are we preparing today's educators to confront notions of race and to break down stereotypes that have been prevalent since blackface and the minstrel show? We need to attack and de-mystify the images that we the people believe to be true. I propose that our schools become places to educate and eliminate these ideas. One year I was fortunate to teach a summer course with a group of young black men from our high school. It was amazing how much power and hope and love that group of young men had. Our courses in school can't just be about how every one is equal which is certainly a notable and honorable way of introducing primary year students into this notion. However, how are we getting young people active in eliminating these barriers while many still worship this thug lifestyle and outlook which so often gets associated with black people. I will share more thoughts on this later but right now lets all take a moment to honor these two young promising and honorable young men that left us too soon.... 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Starting with the Heart: Crucial Conversations

What I've learned in doing values work in both communities and schools is that there's conversations that were not having that determine the culture in which we live and work. These crucial conversations shape our lives and even in some instances can take someone's life. As a child of the 1980's perhaps no bigger event shaped my life than the Challenger Space Shuttle explosion where seven men and women lost their lives. The "faulty o-ring" was the part of the wing that could not withstand the temperatures in the atmosphere. As a result the Challengers wings caught fire and burst the entire shuttle into flames.  Upon further investigation NASA engineers had known for months that the o-rings were faulty. The obvious question becomes: why didn't the engineers simply say something about this? Well, at the time the engineers were afraid of questioning those executives and leaders that were higher up in authority and feared raising their concerns might cost them their reputation and their jobs. This is just one reason why we must have these crucial conversations in our organizations, with our loved ones, in our schools and communities; so how do we have these conversations when emotions are high, the stakes are even higher and there are opposing viewpoints? Stay tuned!