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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.

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Divine Timing

“The secret of life is to have no fear” -Kwame Touré

All of my heroes are Revolutionaries. They are thinkers, writers, teachers and especially activists. Like them, I believe that the secret to life is to have no fear. The comprehensive list of people is too extensive to share in this blog context, but their lives were and are a testament to the power of transformation. It’s from this long list of women and men that I find the strength and inspiration to have made some of my most meaningful life decisions. My own Mother (appearing in the feature photo in yellow), tops this list of powerful influences and great, Revolutionary Black Power movement leaders. And selfless men, like Kwame Touré, whom I have cited above (and was blessed enough to meet within my lifetime while still a young and impressionable college undergrad), have an admitted place of prominence among my activist exemplars. In fact, if I had to choose a common thread connecting across each of my significant influences, it would be their innate sense of fearlessness and the divine light and intention from which they chose to live their lives that I would glean the most insightful lessons. I am grateful for their models of God anointed, Black power centered and purpose driven lives.

In the same sense that you innately know which choice to make when you’re faced with pivotal, life-altering decisions – I think we all know what moves and choices to make in other areas of our daily lives too. The choice to wake up with intention and carefully plot out our days’ agenda, is an (oftentimes futile) attempt to control the external outcome. Then there are other times when we’ve all had a strong sense that a person, situation or encounter seemed off or just didn’t feel right and we wisely heeded an inner knowing that somehow saved us from irreparable harm. This is divine timing effortlessly fueling our intuition and working on our behalf. What I now know to be true is that we just need the strength to first recognize and then speak and finally to act upon the inner urgings of our beings when we are intentionally aligned to spiritual and divine order, to consistently be on path of honoring our uniquely divine life’s purpose. One of the ways that I personally ensure that the innate desires of my heart is in sync with the spirit is to make sure that my actions mirror the innermost truths of who I Am and flow easily from a place of peace, justice, reciprocity and service to humanity.

To an outsider, other people’s lives might seem to unfold effortlessly as they progress through the days, weeks and decades which are the inevitable promise of longevity. But ultimately, you never really grasp the depths of other people’s personal struggles and would do well to reserve judgment of those who might appear to have it all together. Perception can mask a multitude of pain. Each of our lives are a direct reflection of a series of small decisions, everyday choices and major shifts of consciousness that we have each made along the way. The recent passing of Chadwick Boseman seemed to catch our collective consciousness off guard with its heartbreaking finality. Yet he, his family and close friends made an admirable and purposeful decision to honor, protect his confidentiality and to respect the dignity of his decision to opt for privately in the last season of his life. The free will to live in certain areas of the world (not necessarily where we were born), and to divinely select our parents, mates, close family and friends with whom most of us will spend a lifetime, are intentional actions with lasting implications. And no doubt, there’s no secret about how heavy and difficult it is when some decisions we have made with our whole hearts and the best of intentions, have sometimes had to have been abruptly changed because of actions outside our control or the painful reality that the situations no longer served us and aligned with us living our best lives. Certainly, divine timing is not always about joy, the fulfillment of our selfish desires or the ability to live long and pain-free lives devoid of hardships and heartbreak.

I can honestly relate to the concept that the key to life really is to have no fear. Whether life divinely unfolds in a way which could be subjectively interpreted as good or bad, I have the maturity to release the illusion of control and to remain steadfast in my faith, despite the circumstance. It’s my heartfelt desire to always be so in touch with the divine source of life, the power of discernment, the wealth of my many blessings and with all good things, that I simply flow with and in the same direction as the tides of life and not to struggle against it. In fact, if life has taught me anything over my 40+ years, it’s that any/all resistance to change is futile. In order for me to tap into my divinely inspired path and minor (or major) next steps, I have recently gotten quiet enough and intentionally plugged in to my God source to know that change is on the horizon. And I’m okay with that. I feel the shifting of cosmic energy deep within my consciousness on a cellular level, before it ever manifests externally. This is likely a blessing of foresight and wisdom that comes with age and experience. In my 20s and 30s, I used to be anxious and even fearful when I sensed that change was imminent and have even been foolish enough to attempt to hold onto people, positions and life situations that no longer served me. It may sound hokey, but I now acknowledge and hold to the adage that when one door closes, 2 or 3 doors of opportunity really do open and they often work more in my favor, than I could have even imagined. If my forties have taught me anything, its that a transparent series of especially tough life lessons were far from proving that my life was over or even that my blessings had shifted to misfortune. On the contrary, countless unavoidable obstacles did not block my blessings, but rather forced me to enhance my perspective and shifted my focus in life. I’m sure that my own life is not unlike yours in demonstrating that God has indeed blessed us immensely, but that we must also effortlessly accept and be seamlessly aligned with the divine timing and plan for each of our lives in a way that complements our new knowledge and experiences. When changes are pending and I am able to innately sense this deep down within, I need only to stay spiritually connected to my source to know which turns to take next on my divinely guided path.

I no longer worry or fear what the future holds, but I warmly and enthusiastically welcome the changes to come. In my best version of myself, I am like my beautiful and wise Queen Mother and the ever focused and committed revolutionary ancestor Kwame Touré in that I have a justice driven, purposeful calling which requires me to divinely plugged in for strength, direction. How blessed I am to be able to channel the powerful, infectious energy of yet another hero, Fred Hampton, as I unapologetically declare “I Am a Revolutionary” . . . and present myself as open and receptive to significant change. Asé

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We Wear the Mask, COVID Reprise

“We wear the mask that grins and lies,

It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—

This debt we pay to human guile;

With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,

And mouth with myriad subtleties.

Like Claude McKay said, we have always worn the mask. That part of our lives is not new. Only now, it seems that all of humanity wears an external, tangible mask-not just an eerily symbolic one. It’s true that the whole world is donning a mask right now. But your masks still ain’t like ours. We are not the same. When you take off your masks you can breathe deeply again. Fill your lungs with oxygen, expand your chests and breathe life unencumbered by suffering. While all the while . . .

We literally and figuratively: Can. Not. Breathe. We wear the mask 24-7. We wear the mask eternally. We wear the mask and yet, still – We are dying. We are not allowed to mourn or to bury our dead. We attend drive through, virtual or nonexistent funerals for the countless Black lives that have been lost to the pandemics of racism and Coronavirus and we suffer silently. We mourn inwardly, cause we have to work and don’t have the time or capacity to heal. We mourn inwardly because y’all can’t stand to see our pain. We cry intermittently and out of necessity we work, serve, teach, pray, move, sing, dance, pretend, play and all the while . . . we are grasping at breath and dying slow, miserable deaths in alarmingly disproportionate rates to everyone else. We. Wear. The. Mask.

Why should the world be over-wise,

in counting all our tears and sighs?

Nay, let them only see us, while

We wear the mask.

To suddenly see people everywhere wearing a mask should be startling, an anomaly to our very spirits and souls. But somehow it makes sense that the truth of the guile of humanity should be partially hidden in plain sight. As for me… I don’t want to see your smiling faces when your wretched souls harbor such hatred for Black lives. To see Black people wearing masks so faithfully, while others fight to go without and declare their rebellious right, indignation to live freely without them; should be evidence that we are simply not the same. What means life or death to us, is truly a nuisance to others. Your privilege absolves you from the losses of life, agency and joy that this global health crisis has uniquely inflicted on our lives. You seem to only know the inconvenience of Black people and other people of color from faithfully and willingly serving you. While we know all too well the very real toll the violence of dual pandemics of racism and its sister global killer, COVID can and will continue to wreak on Black lives.

Empty streets. Economy at a standstill, sane school systems engaged in online instruction. And yet, the vast disconnect between those who want a swift return to business as usual and those who want a reimagined future (without your oppressive foot on our necks), is only widening. Assault-rifle armed Klansmen, women and children protest at state capitols to demand a return to business as usual. Their efforts encouraged by the demented, unfit madman at the helm of the country who increasingly ridicules, berates, poisons and kills at will in the name of a vast, white supremacist version of America’s greatness as their driving force. And sure enough, slowly but surely, states buckle under the pressure to begin to open (but slowly, in stages), so that they can once again be “served” as Black lives and those of others low on the priority rung, re-assume their essential (read expendable), lives and duties continue to engage in the performative preservation of the status quo.

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries

To thee from tortured souls arise.

We sing, but oh the clay is vile

Beneath our feet, and long the mile;

But let the world dream otherwise,

We wear the mask!”

Meanwhile as cities burn and mass protests ensue the pandemic lingers on to encompass a new normal and way of life. One in which there are no more illusions of power, democracy or social justice and order. The masks on our faces only reveal the long term stratifications and intersectionality of identities, layered beneath the surface. Teachers, nurses, doctors, certified nurses assistants, orderlies, maintenance staff, service employees and restaurant staff have now become the essential fabric and components to a society that cannot function without us. America seemingly can’t abide the round the clock, 24-7 realities of life with their own children and families in their own sprawling homes, communities and living freely on their own expansive plots of land. Indeed, from tortured souls arise the cries of a crumbling economy and the disintegration of an age-old facade of a global superpower, now uncovered to be the sordid, broken infrastructure of a vile, racist and rotten to the core cultural framework.

How ironic that as America hastens to its inevitable demise and irreconcilable doom . . . You too, wear the mask.

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When Words Fail Me, Life Takes Over

Words have failed me for so long now. The first half of this year launched me headfirst into the depths of fear, loss, anger, despair, relentless work ethic and longing for the familiar escapes of faith, family, nature and self care that have sustained me through the years. Here I am photographed in my outdoor armor (even in summer), as I placed a neck covering shawl over my maxi dress, and tied an African wrap over my nose and mouth, with my mask firmly in place underneath. The few times I’ve ventured out to run essential errands my survival instinct has been kicked into high gear, because I’ve lost so many family and friends. I have wanted and even tried on many occasions to commit pen to page and just write. But so often, words failed me and life (in the time of Corona) simply took over. Writing for pleasure has been nearly an impossible task since the onset of this dreadful pandemic. The novelty of this coronavirus and my people not just feeling, but actually being, under attack since February, 2020 has taken its toll. So the things I have always done effortlessly (breathing, writing, introspection and deep thoughtful activism), have been limited to going through the motions and doing just what was needed to survive.

For six months (and counting now), I have kicked in high gear in a major way, in virtually every area of my life. To God be the Glory! And if I’m being completely honest, it has certainly taken its toll. I have done my level best to cultivate the joy and gratitude I have for each day to maintain a peaceful solace and stability in our admittedly peaceful household. I have felt immensely blessed by the presence and quiet, unassuming yet indomitable strength of my creative, brilliant and thoughtfully beautiful adult daughter. She brings me joy, hope and abundant blessings as she weathers this difficult period of life’s trajectory with the exploration and enjoyment of the arts, music and painting especially, and in crafting brag worthy culinary feasts. Meanwhile, I have somehow begun to rise to the occasion as a leader in my immediate and extended family -by enthusiastically convening weekly family connection calls since March, which have now (thankfully and admirably) morphed into bi-weekly business meetings which have united us in a collective desire to forge ahead undaunted by fears of gloom and doom. In addition, I have spearheaded the near all-encompassing immersion of my entire church family and membership into the 21st Century age of technology as we now surpass snail mail totals with our online PayPal business account for the submission of our tithes and offerings. Also, we have been blessed and spiritually nourished via our now routine weekly Zoom worship services – which are streamed live in the true spirit of unity. These joint family and community initiatives have been a labor of love to be sure, but no easy task to maintain as it has meant an increased commitment of time (over and above my already busy work schedule). Most importantly, I have also been intentionally prayerful and even more intimately connected with my own mother – my best friend, confidante and a revered elder in both our family and local Black Nationalist and activist community alike – to ensure that as she has been routinely pulled in countless different ways and called upon to minister, give unselfishly of herself in leadership as a tenured professor or a retired elected official and grassroots community activist leader, that she continues to thrive physically, emotionally and mentally and that ultimately she counter her physically active days and nights, with a more predictable “shelter in place” norm which ensures that she is healthy and whole. This has been an especially important priority for me through this time of crisis. As she has lost an inordinate amount of peers to this tragic virus and as the eldest daughter, I consider it both an honor and my absolute responsibility that all of my Mother’s needs are met (despite her continuing refrain that “she’s got it”) ❤️. As such, nothing has given me more satisfaction than to have my Mom and honestly every other member of my family within my immediate (or technology savvy reach) be as: healthy, centered, happy and most importantly the picture of wellness as they can possibly be; our people overall are under attack in experiencing the acute impact of pain and loss during this horrific time in human history.

On a professional level, I have experienced a perceptible shift in the scope of my primary work as an Instructional Coach working directly with select school districts across the country to ensure that equity is leveraged as an all-inclusive priority. Despite the in-person closure of districts, I have ramped up my work on a global, virtual platform to ensure that I am instrumental in the development of our collective capacity to lead as administrators, lead teachers and ELA subject area practitioners. This meaningful work has been largely fueled by my life’s work and overarching mission to dismantle oppression and mis-education in such a way that the needs of Black students, in particular, are met commensurate with the unique genius, culture and exemplary humanity we bring to the world is similarly acknowledged in educational spaces. Well, in this time of unprecedented chaos and given the potential for substantive change, one of the ways I have certainly stepped up the very real challenges of meeting the wide-ranging needs of our youth leadership (aka students), has been by using news articles to design rigorous, Common Core curricula aligned lessons that were inclusive of close readings, text and life experience-based analyses, oral/written critical reflections, and formative evaluations. After fashioning an intentionally engaging high school distance learning curriculum from scratch (with only a unit theme and the accessible Newsela site as a guide); I then commenced to connecting virtually with students via a digital platform and hosting daily videos in a pre-recorded series of lesson accompaniments designed to at least mimic the sort of seamless, caring, engaging instruction my teaching might otherwise offer in person. The resulting immersion in student facing, content creation and a coveted opportunity to counteract trauma and otherwise contribute to an integral part of their abrupt, post-school closure/early onset of the pandemic daily lives, became as much of a soul-enriching blessing to me, as I pray it was to each of them. Admittedly, this work was highly fulfilling and close to my heart over the course of the 10-12 weeks duration in which it was produced. Since then, I have been committed to consulting an increasingly extensive body of research to determine the ‘best practices’ of an equitable school restart plan which would empower us to essentially reimagine school on a solid foundation of Revolutionary promise which would capitalize upon the spirit of the day and prioritize the needs of students. However, over time the challenge has been to fulfill my own personal, self care centered goals with my trademark of excellence…as the death toll increased exponentially in my own personal life and as the world was literally falling apart all around me/us. I’m sure you can more clearly see how/why blog writing took a seat wayyy in the back of life’s priorities.

During the interim period in which words and my love of writing failed me, I did manage to write a very therapeutic, narrative poem as a sort of ode to Paul Laurence Dunbar’s classic We Wear the Mask. But it laid bare so much raw pain and revolutionary fervor that I opted not to publish it at the time it was written as a means to maintain the public facing integrity of this educational blog. In retrospect, if I have stepped up either personally or professionally, in ways that did disappoint, it truly was not my intention to do so. As I progress through my forties, showing up as my authentic self means that white supremacy norms and unattainable dispositions towards perfection are no longer feasible. I am unapologetically me. In fact as if the aforementioned jobs were not enough, because I have always been a multifaceted high achiever, the noted primary work obligations were uniquely complemented by my ongoing and very active vocations as: a college graduate professor (to a host of truly brilliant and selfless educators), and an online international ESL language teacher to a small cadre of brilliant and highly motivated Chinese students (but, only on the weekends, given my expanded schedule and professional obligations since November of last year). Lastly, as a small business owner I have suffered significant lapses in clientele and company growth/expansion with the overwhelming constraints of conducting business in a post-pandemic and failing American economy. Essentially, through all this admitted busyness, I have scarcely had time to breathe, sleep, eat, exercise, meditate and pray. So writing: my self avowed first love (only rivaled by my loves of reading, being immersed in loving relationships and enjoying and loving life overall), had been forcibly thrown to the wayside in the hierarchy of priorities. Having honestly admitted these heartfelt truths is therapeutic for me. I must say how grateful I am for the faithful blog supporters who stuck around and hung in there with me, through lengthy periods of absence and the literal deafening silence which had come to be the reality of this beloved blog in the time of Covid.

In conclusion, I wish I could say that things would be back to normal soon, whatever that means, in terms of post pandemic life and our collective new normal. Sigh…but sadly, the death toll here in Detroit had only falsely appeared to dissipate and it now seems to be back on the rise with no end in sight. Also, the pivotal work of dismantling oppression in education is especially needed right now and does not appear to be slowing down anytime soon. While I am due for a coveted and long awaited week long vacation – that I hope to soon schedule and enjoy – I can only commit to keeping myself, the health of my family and friends and my life’s work uppermost in my priorities for the foreseeable future. I would LOVE nothing more than to write like my life depended on it, (because really it does), and to once again think deeply, rest sufficiently and experience joy without limits. Alas, the reality of this dual pandemic of COVID and racism means that my survival (and that of those whom I love) is truly not guaranteed and thus, the world turns in such a way that duty calls. What I can promise is that when I do get an opportunity to pour out of myself on this very public platform, I will do so authentically and somewhere within the unique intersectionality (thanks Sis, Kimberlé Crenshaw, #CiteBlackWomen), of Black woman, Mother, Scholar-Educator, She-Her-Hers, my health and wellness, fighting on the front lines of liberation and education. Until then, please be well! Asé ❤️✊🏿