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Full Circle Blackness – She/Her/Hers

As I struggle to give voice to all the parts of me that yearn for recognition, I wonder how to become more of who I am authentically and somehow manage not to offend others, still desperately in search of themselves. Then, just as quickly as the thoughts come, to make myself palatable and creatively package all the components of me that the world might find digestible, I reject this assimilationist nonsense and conclude, I may always be “too much” for others. And what’s more is: that’s okay. Imma just sit with all this splendor and offer up my unique parts as a “take it or leave it/love me or leave me baby”, type deal. Yeah. Blackness-proud-unadulterated-unapologetic and full. Perhaps, X-Clan said it best “My science is deep. My Blackness is deep.”

A few weeks ago, I needed to find a baby picture for a virtual shower I looked forward to attending, to celebrate a friend/colleague and her partner in welcoming their baby in May. Here’s the catch: I have never really been a big fan of baby showers, especially of engaging in the seemingly endless games that accompany them. But recently, that all changed, especially considering that in the winter just before the pandemic it was my turn to host such an event for my own younger sister as she enthusiastically awaited the birth of my beloved nephew that January. Aside from the sheer challenge of hosting a traditional baby shower event – mind you my own baby shower two decades ago, was a creatively themed “MamaToto” or Afrikan-centered, mother-child celebration event, which totally matched my personality and value system in design and execution and ensured that zero games were allowed. LOL. Although they came armed with somewhat traditional gifts as opposed to engaging in gameplay, my own baby shower guests also came armed with personal stories of being (or having themselves become) mothers. As such, the real gifts of the shower, those most memorable 22 years later, were not the seemingly endless list of store bought blessings – for which they all received a personalized thank you card of heartfelt gratitude. As you can imagine, the true “gifts” were the stories of self and countless gems of wisdom as shared from women who had been where I was headed. How fortunate I was to glean from people’s unique maternal tapestry, woven together by their respective family traditions, but as eerily similar as is the Black experience.

Ours is that of a shared value system of nearly identical cultural norms – as the “inside jokes” on Black Twitter seem to prove more and more everyday. Blackness is not purely native African traditions because, well the Maafa all but ensured an erasure of that which we instinctively knew and held dear (or so they thought). And Blackness is certainly not American, because what is that? To conceive of yourself as antithetical to the myth of a white supremacist ideal, which has but a singular trait to unite the masses and enact its poisonous agenda, which is that it despises us so. No, Blackness is its own ideal and the rewards are as innately divine as is our irrevocable connection to God. It is the universal blueprint for all things creative. Because I Am, we are the progenitors of the earth. And as God’s first people forged in his/her image, our very nature is to create. Just like haters gonna hate, creators must create. And it is this enigmatic component of who and whose we are, that is impossible to annihilate. Infinitely appropriated, but alas imitation of the divine is expected and is, after all, merely a shameless attempt at flattery. Non-duplicatable. Unfuckwithable. Yeah. Blackness-proud-unadulterated-unapologetic and full.

To this day, I remain immensely grateful for those intentionally unique baby shower gifts that centered powerful traditions and cultural heirlooms, that were undoubtedly of great value to raising a uniquely well-adjusted, Black Nationalist child, in a thoroughly racist and spiritually devoid culture, which obsessively centers whiteness. Jendayi’s rich, full, innately affirming Pan-Afrikan, Nationalist upbringing was fashioned after me and my siblings own coming-of-age. What results from a full-scale immersion in your God-self and your Blackness as unadulterated by outsiders influence is and was astoundingly rich and memorable – a foundation needed to nurture greatness and to fashion an unconquerable sense of self. It is upon this solid rock foundation that I present myself and all of my parts to the world: full-circle, African Woman, possessing deep, deep Blackness. She/her/hers. but I digress . . .

It was not easy to put my hands on the baby pictures for which I sought. I am frustratingly and distressingly apart from both of my parents-who might have more easily put their hands on one of the faded, undoubtedly dated, 70s photos. An image featuring me with a knowing smile, and a contented, well nurtured-fresh from homemade peanut butter cookies look. I might have an afro, naturally reddish-brown and framing a heart shaped smiling face. Or me with two cornrows, one on either side, symmetrically feeding into afro-puffs. Perhaps photographed solo, but likely accompanied by one, or both of my brothers. Damon, with his handsome, chiseled features and huge grin. Or Stephen, with his pillowy soft skin, and rounded baby parts, grinning infectiously from ear-to-ear and being held by my gorgeous, afro-crowned, ebony faced mother and/or affectionately cradled by my handsome, bearded and reddish-brown, football playing father. Either way, my initial search turned up empty. And we, as a family, now separated by the miles and still secluded from one another as a direct impact of having lost (at least) a dozen family members, give or take a few, to this horrid pandemic…have yet to commune under the same roof. So locating baby pictures of Nikki, my affectionate childhood nickname, was admittedly pretty low on the totem pole of our collective priorities. Or so I erroneously thought.

All of a sudden, it was as if the entire universe conspired on my explicit behalf, so that I could put my hands on at least a digital copy of a childhood photo and somehow manage to show up as graciously requested, for Rachel and Jenna’s highly anticipated and ultimately intimate, lovely, and memorable animal-themed baby shower. I sort of casually mentioned to my sweet, revolutionary and fiercely family-centered, Queen Mother that I was having a bit of trouble attempting to comply with not the conventional, obligatory gift request to contribute the amount of your choosing to the Venmo group-gift pot. But in fact I was struggling to fulfill the seemingly routine request of submitting our baby pictures for a collage to be prominently displayed at this memorable, joint virtual party and baby blessing inspired event. Well unbeknownst to me, mom launched into action from her corner of the world (roughly less than 5 miles away from my own, secluded abode), and called/texted no less than 10 members of our huge extended family, to see if anyone in our collective midst, could forward a baby picture of Nikki-stat. Like whoa! 👀

Soon, pictures of me at all ages (one as young as 3; but many from my teens and early adolescence), began flooding in through text. Funniest was when my own Mama, who birthed me as the second eldest fruit of her blessed womb – sent me a beautiful photo of my own, one and done, peacefully sleeping baby girl (ha!). Meanwhile , members of our family I never imagined would be solicited on my humble, baby-picture-needing behalf, shared of their collective bounty and reasoned that most of all family pictures were likely to be in the possession of a singular, oft-time photo-hoarding Auntie in particular. But alas, an immediate call to her turned up empty. Then, there was a bit of hope when later, one of her two daughters admitted that she had once had in her own possession, many of our family pics (that she had gotten from her mama), but that they had sadly been destroyed in a flooded basement some years ago. The other daughter of my beloved, picture hoarding aunt, convincingly hinted my mom that she would soon make a visit to her mom’s house in accordance with her frequent, pandemic style check-in’s and that she would keep her eyes on the lookout for any such baby pics of yours truly. In fact, it could be that during one such visit, my sweet , community activist baby cousin soon unearthed a long lost family photo of many of us surrounding our beloved family and extended family matriarchs, including my own maternal grandmother, famed Detroit City Council trailblazer Erma Henderson, and legendary freedom fighter, Rosa Parks. Yeah – that part! But ultimately, it was the sheer “all hands on deck” nature of the baby shower inspired, baby picture of Nikki, all-encompassing search that endlessly affirms and otherwise speaks to my indescribable yet deep well of gratitude and appreciation for the fullness of my Blackness. Non-duplicatable. Unfuckwithable. Yeah. Blackness-proud-unadulterated-unapologetic and full.

I will end this baby shower story with the proverbial happy ending that I did, in fact, show up to this animal-themed, virtual baby shower in accordance with the animal theme: gasp-I was wearing a skin-tight, cheetah printed, move something dress, with a plunging neckline (thank God that Zoom covers up a multitude of sins!). But most importantly, I was confident in reflecting both my 1970s version as juxtaposed against this inappropriately dressed 2021 version. I was admittedly relieved, proud and grateful to have sent in my earliest recovered toddler-aged picture either on, or surprisingly maybe even before, the appointed deadline. As such, my collective family project artifact was somehow unassuming and neatly situated within what turned out to be a diverse and beautiful collage of my closest educational warrior-colleagues; within which a long-legged, pajama clad and distinctly poised George literally stole the spotlight from all of our adorable pics. As his striking beauty and camera readiness is the unmistakable focal point amongst a bevy of beauties. Except that my baby picture had an entire narrative of the Black experience behind it and in its representation I was and am eternally blessed to have been in the midst. It is of little consequence that the honorees, and other shower attendees were thankfully none the wiser for the collective sacrifice my entire beloved family (and especially my mother), made to ensure that I was represented in my self-assured state of full-circle Blackness (she/her/hers).

Though it was telling that some of my adolescent and teenaged photos were only notable in that they were absent my trademark smile, from my earliest childhood depiction to my current, unapologetic iteration – it is me in unapologetic and full formed Blackness. And I am proud. In perhaps the most touching spirit of brotherly love, just yesterday my big brother shared an open-mouthed, gleeful photo of my younger sister and I when she was clearly a teen and I was in my early twenties. I appreciate this representation as well, because I had already morphed into the self-assured, well read, Pan-African Nationalist named and fully formed woman I am proud to have embraced. I will conclude this love letter to my family, ode to our Blackness and perhaps way too personal blog post, by sharing a representative few of the photos discovered, in our collective quest to ensure that my own, rich and deeply immersed Black experience might be shared with others. I am immensely grateful for I Am because We Are. Asé

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At the Intersection of Black and Woman is Power

February has, rather quickly, come and gone. March is upon us and for some, brings the familiar promise of spring while for others, NCAA Madness. But somewhere at the intersection of our rightful centering and celebration of Black History Month + Women’s History Month there is the delicate balance of beauty and power that is the Black woman. In this hallowed, Dr. Kimberlé Crenshaw coined space of Intersectionality, we respectfully pause and pay homage to the truth of the power of The Black Woman.

Ours is an inheritance of birthing all of humanity and giving divine light and love to civilization. We are at the same time God/Goddess, Mother Earth incarnate, giver and sustainer of life and from our very ample bosom flows the coveted milk and honey, from which all people derive nourishment. We are: Mother, daughter, sister, souljah, she/her/hers and in us is every woman, “Its all in ME, anything you want done baby, I do it naturally” ala Nick Ashford, Valerie Simpson, Chaka Khan AND Whitney Houston. In a word (or two, or three): I. Am. Bad.

And as my favorite poet, Nikki Giovanni so poignantly stated, “I’m so hip, that even my errors are correct”. I mean, I’m so aligned with the creator and source of life – God – that even the Black woman’s thoughts wield the divine power to grant y’all the presidency (ala Stacey Abrams), or to strip unearned power, whenever and wherever warranted. And since we have effortlessly blessed presidential eras with our anointed words, commanding inaugural podiums in unforgettable and patented, Black woman style, with inter generational, poet laureate energy – let’s just take a few moments to deconstruct the ways in which we have read your thoughts from A to Z while casting spells and mixing special brews to put fire inside of you. From adeptly weaving America’s bloody, historical past with an optimistic, hopeful nod to the future in the Clinton era with Dr. Maya Angelou’s “On the Pulse of Morning”. To the impactful, spoken word science and socially conscious, sober acknowledgement of “The Hill We Climb” in Amanda Gorman’s inaugural poem . . . it is Black women’s words that have symbolized a mic drop simultaneously heard and felt around the globe.

And as further evidence of who (and whose) we are, Black women are equally poet/Goddess and conquerers in our everyday resonant context. We. Are. Bad. And every Black woman in America who survives (and ultimately thrives), does so in spite of an oppressive duality which seeks to upend our ethereal spirits and progenitor humanity. In fact not one, but both aforementioned poet laureates, equally exist as powerful testaments to our predisposition to overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds. From Dr. Maya’s transformative coming of age triumphs over so much including: her parents’ divorce/abandonment; a victim of childhood rape; one well versed to both courageously exercising and then intentionally withholding the power of her voice; to a teenaged mother whose son Bailey was the divine blessing which resulted from merely her first, consensual sexual encounter-explored as a means to willfully define her own identity, against the backdrop of adolescent bullies who erroneously asserted that she was a lesbian. It is as important to chronicle Dr. Maya Angelou’s brief stint as a sex worker and madam, to which she proclaimed “I had managed in a few tense years to become a snob on all levels, racial, culture and intellectual. I was a madam and thought myself morally superior to the whores.” -Dr. Maya Angelou, Gather Together in My Name as it is to celebrate her countless honoraria and international esteem because she authored her own narratives as inspired by her brother friend James Baldwin to both mourn the murder of her friend Dr. Martin L. King Jr. and to accomplish the huge undertaking of writing her own autobiography as literature. This self-named, intensely self aware and fiercely outspoken Black woman of Stamps, Arkansas would later emerge as one of the most prolific, highly awarded and celebrated literary giants/philosophical thinkers of our times. Asé

And little sister Amanda, gifted with a spoken word artistic flair reminiscent of an innovative and legendary hip-hop era which precedes her birth, but is her righteous inheritance as it was born of the beauty and genius which is Black people – we have one who is as transparent about grappling with a childhood diagnosed auditory processing speech impediment as she is forthright about her intentions to run for president in 2036. Righteous indeed. A native of Los Angeles who had already named the first, national youth poet laureate of the United States in 2017 (at the tender age of 19), the recent Harvard graduate notes that it was her stutter that drew her to poetry in the first place. She told the Los Angeles Times “It’s made me the performer that I am and the storyteller that I strive to be. When you have to teach yourself how to say sounds, when you have to be highly concerned about pronunciation, it gives you a certain awareness of sonics, of the auditory experience.” The naturally beautiful and stunning, 22-year old phenom recently signed a modeling contract with IMG Models. And while some erroneously proclaim that she ‘landed both a modeling and a Super Bowl gig’, Black women the world over smile and even laugh subtly, because we know that it is the divine power of the inimitable intersection of our Black womanhood that gives others the permission and privilege to elevate your brands through our very presence, endorsement and existence. You’re welcome world . . .

I Am/We. Are. Bad.

Asé

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How About We Don’t Return to In-Person Schooling?

Given the overarching, national priority to return to school, as if educators have not been literally working ourselves to the bone since the onset of this global pandemic, there’s a clear public perception that if schools are not physically open that learning is not in progress . . . Well, teachers would beg to differ.

How bout you (meaning all y’all – outside education) consider that teachers’ and students safety is more valuable than the free childcare you clearly valued schools for in the first place? How bout you consider that the reality of learning differently: across a remote/virtual platform at a differentiated pace and with varying degrees of success, based primarily on social stratification and proximity to white privilege/resources/personalized learning access, does not equate to not learning at all. Honestly let’s say for the sake of argument that even if remote learning isn’t working as a model of success for most students – let’s be clear that the ONLY students for whom these results dictate your collective action do not look like me – thus, your rush to return still rings hollow for those of us for whom school was always a means to social advancement and freedom from oppression and not as merely custodial care of underaged children. You see, education has never been equivalent to childcare for oppressed people, even if it afforded the opportunity for working class people to assume employment, narrowly escape poverty and to assume our respective roles in a societal structure. Of course now that everyone is universally suffering and restaurants, brick and mortar stores, airlines and movie theaters/entertainment giants alike are suffering widespread bankruptcies, here’s a list of 67 such companies, you naively insist that schools rush to re-open. Oh really? Yeah, okay. See, it’s not lost on educators that President Biden and so many others have made re-opening schools such a priority not because everyone all of a sudden got a conscience or justifiably concluded that education is a universal salve to what ails us in the midst of white supremacist, government led coup’s and chemical/germ warfare killing hundreds of thousands of people. No, indeed. School is priority #1 because it is seemingly a sole means to ensure that Black, Brown and working-class white parents and families return to the subservient class of laborers to (once again) service your varying needs in this reprehensible model of an inequitable, capitalist society.

At some point, we must come to the inescapable conclusion that perhaps, the inequities laid bare by school in its current form as it now occurs in your living rooms, truly always existed and in many cases were only intensified in our previous, physically intimate form. So, a mere return to what was irreparably broken, unfit, insufficient and failing is no more logical than taking a collective bath, followed by an en masse fine dinner meal/movie trip (all without wearing a mask), simply because we miss it so and cannot afford to do without it. How about we don’t ever return to in-person schooling at all? How about educators not just in Chicago, but the world over simply say to clueless Mayor Lori Lightfoot and others: “no”, “not I”, “no más” and/ or “I quit” en masse? How bout y’all suggest, demand or even attempt to legislate that we do and we simply don’t, especially given the reality of working on the front lines in an apparent war against human sensibilities and the very sacrificial lives of educators, which is unlike what those outside of the profession could scarcely imagine. What’s inhumane in your asking, especially without consideration for our input you might wonder? Well, where to begin: there’s the dealbreaker in the reality that U.S. schools are overwhelmingly outdated, dilapidated buildings with air filter systems ill-equipped to halt the spread of a deadly virus. There’s the knowledge that classrooms are lifeless, soulless, institutional spaces that teachers, support staff and administrators have always somehow managed to bring alive through the combination of our own sweat equity, personally financed accoutrements and enthusiastic zeal and energy for life and for our poorly paid and yet beloved careers as educators. Mind you, none of these prior realities are conducive to our present-day nightmare so how bout showing teachers and school districts (especially urban ones) the money? How bout educators, students and their families are (scarcely) surviving a pandemic too. And many of us have heard the deafening whispers and mentions of countless colleagues, family and friends who have lost their lives to this deadly virus and we would never dream of, much less be moved by any external threats to putting our lives on the line daily, for an insufficient return to business as usual. Especially when doing so is clearly a means to merely ensure the semblance of this economy’s norms, through our free, poorly paid labor. How bout y’all have pushed us to the brink of extinction this time and teachers, support staff, administrators and countless critically thinking parents (who have now witnessed the farce known as the failing education system, up close and personal), simply say NO to the return to the norm you are now in pursuit of?!

Has anyone outside of education ever even considered the toll of your choices as imposed on our human reality and very real possibility that a return to business as usual in in-person school settings can/will never be retrofitted to meet the needs of a post-pandemic reality? Have you paused to consider that your vision of a widespread, nationwide return to in-person schooling will never happen at the pace or at the very least operate in the same underfunded and overpopulated manner in which it did in pre-pandemic form? Well, you had better start listening to teachers on public social media spaces, in our documented pleas in districts across the country as each of you (outside of our ranks) conveniently decides what uniquely works best for those of us in the rank and file. Perhaps the greatest testament to the failure of education in 2021 is that so many of these decisions are still driven by levers outside of those who matter most: the teachers, parents and students of the very institutions you are making large-scale decisions on behalf of. It would be utterly disastrous for K12 education to get to the point of an even more exacerbated state of emergency whereby certified teachers/admin, substitute teachers, students (the poorest most underserved in our midst, who you would like to see driven like lambs to the slaughter) are few and far between and/or not to be found in significant numbers at all to fill the quotas of your seats and positions and empty promises of normalcy. If we, the people, should decide that a return to business as usual is no longer feasible to US – and trust me it’s the us in educational decision making that counts – there had better be an alternative to what must happen to address the reality of post-pandemic education. Whatever schooling looks like from now to its future iterations, must of necessity include ALL stakeholders at the decision-making table and will never be legislated from outside our ranks. Otherwise, there’s a good chance that Chicago is merely the tip of an iceberg of Titanic proportions, IE: you ain’t seen nothing yet.

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Educational Abuse of Power

Something which has really nagged me about education since I was myself an innocent student subjected to the faulty logic of perhaps a well meaning, yet no less abusive teacher and an issue that still bothers me to this day (except to a much greater extent), is the rampant abuse of power consistent with our profession. Though power imbalance is prevalent in nearly all disciplines, the abuse of power in education is so commonplace that it makes one wonder how/why there aren’t more scandals tied to schools, teachers, psycho principals, pompous professors and self-serving district leaders/school board members who regularly abuse our collective trust.

Honestly, in an industry where the customer is effectively children – it baffles me how there can be so much incompetence routinely swept under the rug or kept out of the public’s purview (like each school’s “dirty little secret”). When in actuality the stuff that we have all witnessed in educational spaces would give even career criminals pause, for its brazen disregard for humanity and decency. Let me not just speak in general terms here though . . . this blog post could honestly be an embarrassingly long testament to malfeasance – and that alone speaks volumes. But, I will attempt to keep my examples here short and specific, to allow for the welcome possibility of a more hopeful counter narrative to this practice. My fear though, is that others are likely to share eerily similar reflections of schools and educators abusing their power, which means that we must all strategize ideas for how to transform this muck and mire in a timely way. It’s high time that we invite another model of excellence in education that can ideally complement a fresh start across today’s seemingly less invasive, virtual platform.

The first realm to be called out for an abuse of power in education is also the most obvious, inescapable dynamic because it lies at the feet of teachers and operates at the high-priced expense of our students’ collective wellbeing. For so long, teachers themselves have been individually allowed (I daresay encouraged), to operate with impunity and utilize their classroom as their own, independent universe in which they, alone, rule supreme. In no other profession is one afforded such free reign of methods, content, rules, best practices and rewarded for results which go against the grain except for the teacher evaluation based, competition driven school environment. In these otherwise dictatorship-ruled spaces, the word of the teacher, far too often the only adult in the room, is absolute law. And their beliefs, ideology, idiosyncrasies (no matter how warped, racist or flawed), are held up as a model of simply “the way things are”. Students literally have no viable escape from the potential abuse of power which can (and in the case of Black and Brown students), often does occur.

Here’s several cases in point: An elementary homeroom teacher once labeled me a troublemaker and behavioral problem, because I didn’t sit idly by after completing my work early (like some of my peers). Typically, after I finished my too easy assignments early and began buzzing about the classroom to help other students struggling with their own work (while my teacher, a young, white woman commenced to permanently cementing her behind to the chair behind her teacher’s desk), my initiative was labeled via a deficit lens of problematic. The novice teacher’s belief that peer-to-peer academic engagement and critical thinking is in fact misbehavior, was undoubtedly fueled by her own bias and otherwise limiting; especially in an inner-city Detroit school with a 100% Black student population who equally required much more stimulation than her brand of passive teaching could provide. This insidious level of unpreparedness is akin to the countless cases of dated enslavement re-enactments and other reprehensible projects which crop up, every year in schools across the country within which racist, white teachers impose taboo assignments (which later require reprimand or apology), simply because there are no existing checks and balances on subjective micro aggressions causing students harm. Finally, in a similar case of lowered expectations, one of my high school English teachers, a meticulously manicured and seemingly highly educated middle aged, Black woman; would perch herself upon her desk and inappropriately cross her long, high-heeled stockinged legs as she proceeded to engage in daily lectures about which of her 9th grade English students would or would not “make it” in college and/or life based upon our work ethic, dress, socio-economic status and/or speech. Her inappropriate, elitist mantra was: “I’ve got mine, so you get yours” and she would regularly dismiss latecomers to class because her particular brand of perfection was the unrealistic ideal upon which we were all expected to aspire to and attain. Certainly, in her alternate world of a classroom, where only the use of the Queen’s English dare cross your lips, there was nothing worse (to her) than operating on CP time – please use your imaginations here. So she punished us unmercifully for what she deemed her duty to prepare us for the “real world”. As you can imagine, rebellious students like myself began skipping her class, 3 out of 5 days a week, because being subjected to her daily tirades of judgmental proportions, appeared to us to be a unique form of punishment. Later, after I was individually reprimanded for the misbehavior (skipping) and shared my rationale for missing class very candidly with both of my parents – who were admittedly strict. My mother then arranged an unscheduled “pop up visit” to observe the class in session and when the teacher inserted her trademark judgmental commentary into instruction, Mama immediately enacted the proper protocol to complain and have me transferred out of the class, effective immediately. The result is that I was upgraded to a much more challenging and developmentally appropriate, advanced placement English class. However for many of my peers the ineffective teacher was neither corrected nor reprimanded because she reportedly continued on with her daily lecturing/non-teaching routines unfazed and was clearly never appropriately held accountable for her actions (thus contributing to the gross mis-education of high-performing scholarly students for multiple years thereafter). In each of these distinct cases, the teacher’s unique ability to wield with absolute power, resulted in a literal atmosphere of hell on Earth for impressionable students. This translates to 6-8 hours per day in an elementary school setting and/or accounts for 1-2 unbearable hours per day in the high school setting. Either model of an abuse of educational power, is unacceptable.

In the case of leadership, in my 20s I once served under a male principal who rather harshly told a scantily clad 3rd grade teacher to “go home for the day” because of her unprofessional dress code. Then later in my 40s, I worked with a male principal who had a sick penchant for sleeping around with countless teachers, support staff parents and even administrative assistants, all while Bible thumping and giving meaningless voice to “family values” especially when his dutiful wife (also an educator), would show up on the school site from time to time. Certainly, both men exerted their leadership power in ways that might be deemed unorthodox from an external albeit feminist point of view, but you can likely guess which school leader ultimately left a powerful legacy of service, commitment and high expectations governing the school in which he founded and the one who is now universally deemed a pariah and is routinely walked out of/released from more administrative positions than the law allows. Speaking of the law, immoral sexual deviance became one of the trademarks of the school led by the imposter leader/preacher in the three-pieced suit. In this school the educational environment became one consistent with rampant gossip, innuendo and sexual harassment lawsuits became the embarrassing norm as countless adults began engaging in clandestine affairs with one another much more openly. No doubt this unhealthy climate was spurred by the flagrant abuse of power at the top – and before long, one of the longtime, highly respected teachers (who was known to have had an affair with a fellow colleague though he too was married), was soon cited for inappropriate relations with many of the underaged girls under his watch. Needless to say, no one suffered in this school atmosphere more than the 450 students under our collective watch who were the unsuspecting victims of the deleterious impact of a focus on everything else BUT their quality education. Smdh . . .

I’ll end with the mention of unforgivable abuses from upper level administrative, central office and school board members, as they are not immune to harsh critique, though somehow these policy makers appear to be sheltered from proper oversight and regulation. In multiple schools, I have been a parent or have worked in, I have had the misfortune to witness such egregious abuses of power from the top, that I began to regard mis-education as much as an inside job as it was a function of institutionalized racism. These abuses have been consistent with damnable misuses of funds and the widespread double standard of the “family and friends” program in which those connected to leadership benefit from the countless contracts, positions, perks and paychecks which each school subjectively wields. One might wonder how board members could engage in such questionable, conflict of interest in explicit ways without checks and balances. But I venture to say the abuses allowed free reign in any given school can almost always be tied to poor oversight from the seemingly independent governing body. Examples of power trips here include board members and administrators who take long-distance, overnight, conference adjacent business trips but who never actually appear in any of the sessions or even bother to register in person. This common pre-pandemic scenario ultimately rendered a school-sponsored educational investment to the meaningless level of a personal vacation for persons misusing the public trust and I have never been more appalled at the wastefulness of it all. There’s also the popular tendency to ensure that the board is armed with enough of your colleagues, extended family and friends – so as to ensure the on-paper legitimacy of votes for policies and contracts in favor of your own people. Meanwhile, such blatant inconsistencies with the limits of the law are modeled in government politics on the regular. Perhaps considered a harmless abuse of power by many, I was also heartbroken to observe a superintendent (who hand-picked the vast majority of their administrative staff), then begin to systematically deem others on staff as undereducated (read Black, male/female teachers), and start to attack them via a highly subjective progressive discipline practice, based solely upon their bias, internalized oppression/racism, and/or favoritism. Teachers nationwide have noticed the trend to replace tenured, higher paid, veteran educator positions with lower paid, inexperienced Teach for America, novice level salaries – and we collectively call foul on this seemingly common abuse of power.

Decisions rooted in an abuse of power have always been in opposition to best practices and often disregard the unique, high integrity needs of Black students and other students of color – who disproportionately suffer from mis-education – but they persist nonetheless. Adding insult to injury, now after having worked in the misnomered “hallowed halls of academia” for several years now, I am also painfully aware of power abuses on this educational platform as well – as underpaid Black and Brown adjuncts bear the brunt of carrying the academic course load while higher paid, tenured professors paint a white, male portrait of privilege that so many other institutionally racist industries mirror. I’m almost certain that others must have similar stories of such legendary abuses of power in educational contexts . . . who is willing to share their horrors? Sadly the dirty little secrets within education will persist until we each regard equity as an action word and disrupt the systems which fail us.

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Checking the Pulse of THIS Revolutionary Generation of Leaders

Having recently had the privilege, joy and absolute honor to engage in intentional, purpose-driven conversations with each of my young cousins (pictured), over the course of this pandemic – I have been blessed to occupy a front row seat to their keen insights along with the full breadth of their divine light/beauty, effortless genius, rejection of all things mediocre and a stunning Wakandan reminiscent, futuristic (and uniquely grounded) approach to the future. The unspoken security they possess with respect to their own pivotal place in the world, is certainly counter to the mainstream narrative of our young people’s academic deficits, of their all inclusive selfishness or of the supposed tragic loss of their potential. Quite remarkably, and this is undoubtedly no surprise to other educators, the biggest takeaway we can all be blessed to walk away with following our daily work and intimate engagement with young minds . . . is profound hope. For the record, it’s worthy of note that these are not your private school educated, affluent or white privileged adjacent young people. To be honest, the most impressive amongst the wealth of our most charming, self-assured and promising group of young scholar-leaders is our regular degular, garden variety, home grown and unassuming Black students who have not (and will likely never), be irreparably broken by this abhorrent, racist and institutionalized system designed to break them.

My own personal and professional resolve to engage in the arduous work of dismantling mis-education has been strengthened by having targeted, close interactions with THIS Revolutionary generation of capable leaders. Namely, I spent the first few weeks of the pandemic engaged in reaching out to both my immediate and extended family from right here in Detroit to as far away as: Alabama, New Jersey, and Florida as we collectively resolved to stay in touch via Zoom across the miles and then routinely immersed ourselves in weekly wellness check-in’s, needs assessments and engaged in various milestone celebrations and/or mourning of family happenings and rites of passage. In fact, over time our weekly family meetings were so successful, that they later morphed into a series of oral (and now a permanently recorded) history of our warrior/abolitionist rich ancestry, heritage. We even launched into more action-oriented goals as we began engaging in entrepreneur, family legacy styled business meetings and pursuits to actualize the intentional pooling of our resources to invest in viable business, venture capital opportunities for our collective future. Despite the fact that I was initially elated that such a strong, steady contingency of our family seemed to regularly agree to check in with one another via my own enthusiastic coordination and small Black business anchored initiative and Zoom account – what was admittedly disheartening and seemingly an abysmal failure was the lack of enthusiastic intergenerational representation on our weekly calls. Save the occasional appearance of our resident WNBA young adult superstar baby, the coveted presence of my own recent college graduate young adult, a couple of our beloved HS/college aged cousins from Alabama or young parents and working-class cousins from here in Detroit – for the vast majority of the youth in our family – it was clear that the virtual method of connection had fallen flat.

Clearly, our carefully orchestrated family meetings would never garner the enthusiasm or stamped approval of either the Millennial Generation or that of Generation Z (22 and younger) – because even my own daughter would matter of factly proclaim “Mom, please…your weekly check-in meetings are corny and just how long did you say this mess was gonna last anyway?” Needless to say, I was humbled by the sting of her trademark youthful candor. But praise God, I was soon to be pleasantly surprised and unexpectedly affirmed by the promise that the universe had other, decidedly more promising, intergenerational connections in store for our pandemic imposed reality. Namely, it wasn’t long before I did inner somersaults after my “frontlines of the BLM protest lines; beautiful, bad-assed, and multitalented” cousin in her 30s asked me to use my educational, small business expertise to work with her daughter, my baby cousin Courtney. As destiny would have it, before long Court and I were connecting regularly in an unscripted one-on-one format, to collectively devise of a curriculum to strengthen her money management and admittedly areas of weak or otherwise low-interest core curriculum skills. As such, even as school was indefinitely in hiatus as a result of the as a rising death rate of the pandemic, given this organic bond with family and my then ongoing work of bringing a high school ELA curriculum to life via a series of weekly, asynchronous recordings-my life was purposefully thrust into the realm of my divinely inspired calling to teach, learn and share space with the bouquet of beauty that is humanity. Seemingly overnight, my great fortune to be blessed with meaningful, anti racist work as an educator and position of engaging with this brilliant baby cousin of mine, is credited for solely saving me from the slow decline and death toll that this pandemic had in store for Black people. Courtney inspired the tapping into my own, innate teacher spark of light, purpose and creativity and I sat in awe of her teen wisdom, impressive small business owner acumen and the meticulously well thought out plan she had already plotted for her future, even as a HS junior.

As Courtney (far right in the photograph), and I commenced to re-connecting as beloved family and began delving into our collaboratively forged, weekly module of core curriculum and budgeting webinars/Excel worksheet companion lessons – she began to clearly, yet ever so optimistically share of her exciting plans for her future. By her own admission, the pandemic was boring af but otherwise ‘no big deal’, because tbh, she was sick of school anyway. What she absolutely loved (and seemed to miss the most), was the social camaraderie that school had naturally provided via daily access to her countless friends and ROTC peers. Over our weeks of working together, Courtney definitively admitted that she intended to soon forego college and enter her preferred branch of the armed service instead (this path runs in the family), even as she sought to amass wealth and the continual expansion of her small business. As a young entrepreneur, her leisure time pursuits as a (not yet licensed, but extremely naturally gifted), hairstylist occupied the bulk of her time outside of school. I was impressed and very well aware of her skills and attention to detail as she had long been credited with maintaining my own locs hairstyle (even before the pandemic) and was known for making house calls, upon request, on behalf of countless family members, friends and a growing list of clientele. So in other words Courtney seamlessly juggled school, active extracurricular involvement and a growing base of paying customers in her early teens no less. As if that resume were not impressive enough, she then later hinted that she wanted to follow in her successful Mom’s footsteps by being a young homeowner (sometime in her 20s) and though she planned to leave Michigan, as soon as it was financially feasible to do so, she couldn’t wait to explore an entire world of possibilities further. Before our collaboration came to a natural closure with her subtly expressed disinterest and an increasing obligation to engage in her high school’s distance learning program, she revealed that she ultimately intended to settle internationally and would enroll in culinary school (as this was her hidden passion and intended path for at least the past several years). The vivid transparency with which this recently turned 16-year old #Scholar #Boss outlined a clear visual to the next several decades of her life, left me utterly speechless with an incredible amount of pride and admittedly awash with joy and heartfelt admiration for her keen ability to wield such exacting insight into manifesting her best life. This was especially so since despite the fact that I may hold a doctorate and appear somewhat accomplished right now in my late 40s, all I was doing at age 16 was trying to convince my hardworking mother to significantly invest in sponsorship of my Janet Jackson “Rhythm Nation” inspired and Pleasure Principle themed birthday party at our family’s favorite Mexican restaurant in Greenwich Village, NY. Sheesh! Clearly there was no bar of excellence for future fixated goal setting in the 90s, beyond my/our generation’s immediate needs to feign independence and agency through Jackson family aligned fantasies. Alas, this generation has the remarkable distinction of exercising agency even in the right now midst of a Covid laced, oppression encumbered reality of marginalization. The central narrative of Black children is abject failure and a widespread lack of preparedness to speak the language of and navigate the new world order. When in fact, the inescapable truth is that in mis-educating and brow beating them so thoroughly with the reality that their Black lives amount to less than human in the eyes of the world – they are positioning themselves to show y’alls unbelieving asses that there really is NO ceiling for their potential to succeed and they’ve got their own Black lives and futures well in hand.

As if this affirming narrative could be even more convincing of the overwhelming promise of our ready for the Revolutionary cadre of youth, my brilliant, extremely well-read and academically high-performing cousin Gabe and I have similarly been blessed to engage in a depth of socially relevant and riveting conversations over the years which would rival that of any I have been blessed to have with peers outside of my own cerebral, activist inclined friends and educator colleagues. I mean this young scholar cousin of mine is swift. And given that he is not unlike his peers in being prone to zone out from the hip-hop laced soundtrack, gender roles stereotyped and sexually exploitative display of Grand Theft Auto styled video games. His hobbies are merely akin to the troubling pattern of brainwashing and desensitizing young Black men that they are solely criminals or fit for menial, soul depriving activities rather than nurturing their innate genius and natural readiness for leadership that they possess as a birthright. At first sight Gabe, like countless young Black men, might appear as average. Truly, be not deceived by the façade of normalcy that Black youth often outwardly present themselves with because for the record, we have been conditioned to bury our greatness under deep layers of armor, in order to ward off the inevitable targeting that systemic oppression routinely weaponizes against Black power. On the contrary in his presence, just like the thrill of engaging with other Black youth whose divine light has yet to be stomped out by the crushing power of uniquely American profiling and policing, reveals that their innate African genius is not readily discerned within our men. Gabe, as do many of his multitalented and still maturing Black scholar peers, can (and often does) think rings around the average adult on any day of the week when given the authentic opportunity to express himself without reprimand. He is deeply introspective, a critical thinker blessed with a laser sharp wit and his rather quiet unassuming demeanor is disarming. Yet, all the while he is capable of commanding any room and/or ideally leading the critical thought processes of the people in that room. As he is much more suited to quietly strategizing, not mindlessly responding to the expectations of a society built upon his annihilation despite being at the start of his life given his tender age. As a 17 year old bright, well-spoken and poised young man standing at (or above), 6 feet since his early teens, he has long grown tired of others’ stereotyped presumptions of his hoop/football, athletically endowed prowess or aspirations. Gabe has never been one for sports outside of swimming and he would much rather hang out in the comfort of his own home with his mom and twin sister, than take up space on anybody’s basketball court or football field – though this is not a slight upon those who aspire to do so. Gabe is like most of my former students and each of my beloved Godsons, in that he is a gifted scholar with a limitless well of potential who has a calling to be much more than anybody’s stereotyped ideal of the criminal minded, shiftless and all-around no account modern caricature of Black man. No, not hardly. After having been blessed to be his middle school principal throughout Gabe’s adolescence (smile), I know all-too-well the little known gem that he has been reading on the 10th (then after just a few months at our school- on the 11th grade level), since he innocently entered our institution as an already gifted since birth, and humble 5th grade, Black male prodigy. Upon his arrival at George Washington Carver Academy, Gabe immediately thrived under the warm, capable auspices of his Black man led classroom and in spite of never quite fitting in with his growing list of academically uninspired adolescent peers, he would soon go on to attend the highest performing, magnet high school in the city after testing off the charts on his entrance exam. Truly, my cousin Gabe’s future is only as limited as the artificial restraints that this society perpetually imposes upon our beloved Black men – in other words: save their own impending doom at the expense of valuing the sanctity of Black lives, the limit does not exist. Not surprisingly, in the storied tradition of the genius demographic of other young, Black men and women who master so many distinct areas that it makes it nearly impossible to self-select the divine, right path – it’s not yet clear whether Gabe will opt to follow in the well-worn family tradition of enlisting in the service (as did several of his uncles), or opt instead to bless our people with the long and similarly well-respected record of public service. Either way, I support him in opting to mirror the career path of his beloved grandfather who has long assumed a leadership role as a high-ranking law official, occupying the forefront of defense against homegrown terrorist acts of violence or in creatively forging his own path to greatness and distinction.

Lastly, over the past several weeks of the pandemic I have worked especially closely with the last of my three baby cousins, pictured above left, as she navigates the increasingly intricate precollege terrain of: submitting the Common App; crafting multiple, compelling college entrance essays; soliciting a solid number of teacher/advisor recommendations; aligning her burgeoning professional skills and past summer camp leadership experiences into her (already impressive) resume template. Ultimately, it has been my absolute pleasure and delight to otherwise assist Gabby in taking a slow, but deliberate stroll through her glorious adolescence and teen years as a relevant precursor to her greatness to come. Engaging with her has been an equally enriching and immensely rich experience in collaborating to unearth and document the countless gems of her own worth. As we have attempted to capture a fitting narrative of her readiness for leadership and capture her overall esteemed, scholarship worthy profile of excellence – the only challenge thus far, has been my helping my beautiful, brilliant scholar baby to see the glaringly bright mirror, of her own inherent worth and infinite potential. For me this is a practiced art, cultivated in years of teaching in exclusively Black schools and working with an all too often, written often K12 population to overcome the low-performing expectations of the outside world. You see while other people’s children have the benefit of wealth, privilege and even parents willing to risk a scant amount of jail time to pay their way into a charmed existence (humph) – Black parents and jegna’s (mentors), have the most frustratingly arduous task of holding up the mirror of Black excellence to our own gifted youth who have been educated and nurtured by a steady diet of being reminded that we have little to no self-worth. For Gabby to need such a salient boost in self-esteem, she still knew enough to call out the mediocrity in her own distance learning model. Despite being so disillusioned by the isolation, grief stricken and oppressed state of our family’s own pandemic imposed reality, she casually pointed out the inconsistencies in her own academic offerings in this, her senior year of high school. In a rather effortless manner, she calmly recounted the incredulous dysfunction she encounters everyday in her own high school, as merely one of many youth struggling with this newfound reality of a public school system which seeks to maintain student engagement in a distance learning model which places traumatized students in front of underpaid, overworked and equally traumatized, overwhelmed teachers. With further probing, Gabby then explained just why she struggles to get out of bed most mornings to even face the screen-fatigued malaise of the post-pandemic school reality. It seems that her supposed college preparatory high school in Detroit has seen fit to enroll her in only 2-3 courses since the onset of the 2020-2021 school year. That alone wouldn’t be so bad if it were aligned to the need to limit screen time or instruction to meet the students’ needs. But it seems only one of the three courses she is currently taking online was a core subject area between: AP Computer Science, pre-Calculus and music, SIGH. You might think that most kids would be happy at the lack of substance and simply keep quiet about this overt mis-education. Yet, her own admirable pre-med pursuits to contribute in countering the health disparities that disproportionately impact the Black people she knows, loves and calls family/community, propel her to greatness and prevents her from accepting the status quo of unfit educational offerings. So this prompted both her mom and I to launch into a joint email/phone campaign to secure her courses reflective of her need for true college preparatory courses aligned with her future goals. To her credit, Gabby’s own extensive work experience, National Honor Society membership and pre-pandemic advanced placement course enrollment (and the fact that she has always tested well even on historically racist, high-stakes assessments), affords her the coveted position of a guaranteed slot in any one of the colleges of her choice. Ultimately, Gabby, Gabe and Courtney are proof positive, that our future is well in hand under the auspices of an informed, outspoken, visionary and inspired generation of leaders. So I am moved to document and share this affirming news of their collective readiness for the war against their Black lives that this country has unleashed, if for nothing else but to counter the predominant narrative of deficit, lack and Coronavirus tied gloom and doom where our young, gifted and Black scholars are concerned.

While education insists on providing a universal gallery stage of windows into other people’s (read white) privileged universe of unearned opportunity and Black labor, manifested as white wealth; we literally spend the bulk of our time using mirrors to undo the damage imposed by a society that refuses to value or even see our Black lives. Thus, we methodically engage in the practice of ensuring our children that they too are America, and are worthy, capable and infinitely prepared for such a time as this. Teaching Tolerance in its brief, critical lens upon the significance of literary windows and mirrors sums up the impact of a balanced anti-biased education in this way “Seeing their identities mirrored in texts can foster positive social identity development in students by increasing their pride, confidence and healthy self-esteem, and recognizing traits of the dominant culture, their home culture and other cultures (Identity).” Of course, it goes without question that given the incessant presence of windows into the single, white privilege aligned lived experiences and social, political, historical context of one’s oppressor only statistically guarantees the perpetuation of lack, marginalization, internalized oppression and disenfranchisement for Black youth like my exceptional cousins. Newsflash: It is neither our job, nor intention to reinforce your deficit narratives of our children’s worth. We will not partake in endlessly recounting the woes of this generation supposedly lost to a global pandemic or to even pretend to project the overarching theme of their more pronounced risk, due to the interminable end of business as usual in this nation’s schools. Hell, traditional school wasn’t working for us anyway, so good riddance to your sham of an educational system which otherwise served as the scene of the crime of the age-old institutionalized imprisonment of our Black genius.

Clearly, whether enrolled in traditional in-person settings or unenthusiastically languishing in front of impersonal screens – what is neither lost on this generation or unclear to those of us who know and LOVE them is the fact that their worth is neither limited nor confined by external studies, statistics and predictions. Their future is not tied to an age-old ingrained, white supremacist norm that seeks to ascribe the many ills of their racist, crumbling society on what they deem to be this sad lot of poor and pitiful youth. Instead, I/we irrefutably place the ownership and recurrent blame for the decades old opportunity gap (not an achievement gap as misnomered in status quo circles), as born of the systemic inequities uniquely prescribed for our Black and Brown bodies. I/we reject the notion that Black and Brown students who have suffered from disparate educational opportunities by design since their birth, should through no fault of their own, now be casually regarded as the unwitting cause and effect of the impending decline of America’s doomed economy and of a GDP inextricably tied to the failures of a right-wing, extremist imbecile who would sooner blame his irrational ‘Fear of a Black Planet’ on Critical Race Theory (CRT) and anti-racist ideology than he would his own virulent racist, pseudo militant, Nazi proud boy, Klans member inheritance of psychosis. No, even those of us who are well-meaning educators, irrevocably saddled with our own inheritance of racist norms (or limited by the oppressive constraints of our own levels of internalized self-hatred), should opt to retire, resign or simply get out of the way of these babies who as demonstrated, have their own futures well in hand. If we, who are called to teach in such a time as this – are not fit to empower this next, Revolutionary generation to lead – then we have an obligation to simply walk away from them. We should neither preach, correct or even insert our own wisdom into the lives of this impressive, visionary and formidable generation of leaders . . . but rather we must simply agree to act as the affirming mirrors of their own natural frequency of innate brilliance and light.