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The Right to Literacy

Let’s just say this at the outset: despite what you heard about Black folks’ support of state government and the swell of popularity a certain elected official has unduly benefited from (at the hands of a non-voting, yet vocal minority of talented symbols of youth pop culture), in this COVID era pandemic; #BigGretch is not worthy of praise and is still NOT invited to the proverbial cookout. #Period. In fact Black women, educators and an overwhelming majority of Detroit parents in particular, call upon Governor Gretchen Whitmer to finesse and harness all of her useless task force creating energy to finding her voice and to finally taking a stand on behalf of the marginalized masses of students in this state, who undoubtedly have a right to literacy. Failure to utilize a prime opportunity to expediently settle the #RightToLiteracy case has been a pronounced area of grave inequity and political legacy crushing inactivity for Michigan’s governor. Please understand: inactivity is silence and silence is complicity. Justice delayed is and always will be, justice denied and on this pivotal platform it is clear that you’ve chosen to be on the wrong side of history.

For Michigan’s Gov., Gretchen Whitmer, to come under such presidential fire as of late and yet still make a conscious decision NOT to take a stand on behalf of the children of Michigan’s inalienable right to literacy is tantamount to a willful betrayal of countless Black lives in the state’s largest school district – DPSCD. The degree of selective tone deafness is maddening. So just so we’re clear…you’re tuned in enough to hear your praises being uttered in rap form and wise enough to rebuff the mindless, crowdfunded Buffs from said artist but don’t know enough to do what’s right on behalf of Black students right to literacy? Yeah – okay.

COVID-19 has the Black community on the ropes and in a literal fight for our lives, so I’m far too emotionally exhausted by oppression, despair and the actual deaths all around me to detail the lengthy, sordid history of the many ways in which years of legislative decisions have been synonymous with justice denied for several generations of Michigan’s Black students, who have suffered mis-education in every conceivable form since white supremacist oppression reared its predictable presence in the emergency mis-management, rape and pillage of our once glorious public school system. People are encouraged and welcome to exercise their own free will (and Google) to unearth the reprehensible, true story of educational malpractice of the highest order which has already happened in this state. In addition, I’ll not spend any time connecting this egregious history to the very existence of this historically relevant right to literacy case, to which I have referred throughout this blog. What I will share and have the energy to unabashedly announce is that we’ve seen this before. My people have sadly grown accustomed and are admittedly tired of the white men and women who brazenly leverage privilege and white fragility, when convenient, from empowered elected official seats and other positions of power, while willfully dishonoring and confirming your relative disdain for Black lives when it comes to our: water, schools (Benton Harbor High School) and now via this selective, deafening silence in the 6th Circuit Court case #RightToLiteracy ruling. This is common practice in the playbook of institutionalized oppression.

May I remind you that it was misguided Black folks who joined liberals across the country in coming to your defense when #45 sicked his legion of armed, right wing, white supremacist, hate spewing factions to your doorstep in the states capital – not once, but multiple times – and with undoubtedly more rabid dog, screaming protests yet to come. In spite of this, you still have yet to find your voice on behalf of Black children and their right to literacy. I’m confused. Wasn’t it you who made ill-advised, profanity laced pronouncements that you would “fix the damn roads” and promised to ensure funding and advocacy for education the whole time you deceptively campaigned across the state? Hell, why not fix the damn schools instead – now is your chance. Honestly, even if you were to decide to settle this landmark case, in this, the final hour of decision making relevance . . . It would still be too little, too late. We see you 👀.

We, as people of good conscience, long memories and even more powerful voting blocs and records of holding people accountable for doing what the hell they claim they’re gonna do, were merely admonishing this governor to keep a campaign promise SHE made. It’s cool though. Your trademark white supremacist adjacent silence and inaction has been duly noted. It’s now incumbent upon us to respond accordingly. Lastly to this point, Black ppl need to stop giving weak excuses, political cover and begging others of us to exercise patience and grace when it comes to inequity (especially when it comes to Black students’ education). It’s our collective responsibility to cease and desist in affording points or credit to this or ANY elected official when they have only earned our scorn (after having unjustly solicited our votes). From now on and forever more, just get accustomed to holding all people in positions of power accountable to doing their jobs and, perhaps more importantly, to keeping their word. Our children are watching. And they deserve better. 💯

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Embracing The Loss of Business As Usual

I have been in mourning. Deep, unmistakable and heartfelt mourning. I have had trouble focusing on work (essential educational work being done from home), and significant trouble sleeping. I have shed tears intermittently (as various losses have been experienced), but then quickly recovered in a sincere effort to maintain focus on the work related tasks at hand or to keep up a brave face for my immediate family and friends. Of course I realize that putting off my grieving until a time in which it will be more convenient is damaging, but honestly this has all been almost too much to bear and it may be healthier to process grief in smaller doses, over time.

Educators have always been heroes and exist among the greatest of all those who serve the needs of others. Now more than ever, educators are essential workers who have a unique obligation to let our lights so shine, so that our students/families might know that they are valuable, protected from harm, appreciated and loved. I am an educator to my natural core and yet for the past several weeks I have only been able to go through the motions and perform the most basic components of my job. Nothing feels quite real anymore. The entire Coronavirus and COVID-19 reality haze seems like a Sci Fi nightmare . . . except that it’s painfully real. Far too real a nightmare here in Detroit. People are sick, suffering and dying in astronomical numbers and there’s no question that nothing will ever be quite the same.

I know how important writing is for me. Despite this it’s been useless trying to process this level of grief in a coherent, written form. For me, writing has never been a chore, it operates like an essential form of therapy – a sort of soul, spirit outpouring – which allows me a healthy avenue to express what’s inside – no matter how raw and unfiltered. Except that since early March, there’s been so much foreign matter inside that I’ve had no means of processing it (much less attempting to express myself in writing). I admire my fellow blogging comrades and colleagues who I’ve seen churn out piece after piece, as a sort of testament to the strength of their health and the benefits of this craft. For me there have been no journals, no blog posts, very little human interaction (by both choice AND force) and it’s literally been all that I can do to just find the simple joys in each day. I look for something, no matter how minuscule to celebrate and give thanks for in each day. I have done this for my own well-being and sense of normalcy. Because it’s my very nature to be joyful, optimistic and give thanks even for the small rays of sunlight in a dark, cavernous pit. Except that in my 40+ years, nothing has ever been quite so dark, so endlessly cavernous and so very depressing without the slightest hope of relief or the healing warmth of the sun.

Work has been harder than ever. I’m still able to teach (online) and somehow creating curriculum and sharing the innate joy I have always had for teaching and learning is still easy for me, even at this most difficult of times. Teaching has been a wonderful, welcome diversion and like second nature; a healing balm and a blessing indeed. I pray that our collective work (as the rank and file front line of educators, who are still working from home), has been equally fulfilling while somehow serving as an inspiration to our students who are still very much entitled to benefit from the endless joys of learning. But at the same time, the thought of being anything other than our glorious, authentic selves at this pivotal time is truly unthinkable. The thought of being anything other than somber, angry, sad, grief stricken and wounded has been virtually impossible in the presence of and in collaboration with those around us who still somehow seek to perpetuate an illusion of superiority and power. Sigh . . . I welcome an end to all play acting and the abrupt halt to the collegial facade which dictates that people in power have a right to abuse such powers as a means to wield punitive measures and systemic harm all while masking their own insecurities and lack. I can’t wait for people to rise up and demand an end to the madness of feigned superiority. No more, over, the end.

That’s what this virus is (or at least what it feels like), the end. The end of the innocence of our youth, the end of pomp, circumstance, ceremony and future aspirations for those of us who are mature and/or idealistic in nature. This unprecedented time in history marks the end of life as we know it in so many significant ways. Ultimately, we must all come to embrace the absolute end of all business as usual. For that I initially grieved deeply and looked for ways to summon the strength to continue to rebuild anew. However , after some deep thought and consideration I have come to realize that the reality of nothing going back to normal is in some ways, a blessing and something to celebrate. After all, normal wasn’t really working for us anyway, if we’re being completely honest with ourselves. There was so much in our lives that required shaking up, change and permanent reform and/or disruption that I suppose there had to be an end to life, as we once knew it, for us to regenerate the earth, restore the health of our environment and bodies and to cleanse the very toxic energy of our souls/spirit. As for me, I welcome the unvarnished truth in all things. The return to things simple and a kind of forced vulnerability which renders each of us as universally traumatized and equally receptive to the forging of authentic relationships and living.

The only caveat is why so much death among my people, Black people in particular, for massive change to be wrought? Of course the technical answers all fall short – for failing to scarcely acknowledge the systemic racism and deep inequities that marginalized us as a people in pre-COVID reality. Here in Detroit, there are so many people (Black people) – young, middle aged, old, poor, working class, wealthy, pre-existing conditions and completely healthy – who have already succumbed to this virus in increasingly record numbers, that I/we can’t help but to continue to reel from the very real loss and grief being experienced by so many of us. No longer is education falsely denoted as the great equalizer – but rather loss, the sting of death, permanent shifting of our consciousness and the degree to which we are all rendered powerless – has become the greatest equalizer of the year 2020.

On the last day that I left the house for work, Thursday March 12, 2020, the virus was already at the forefront of our news. The risk was already seemingly palpable and the threat of great change was looming large overhead. Still, I reported to one of the countless, densely populated local high schools, to collaborate with like-minded professionals and to meet with the intention of exploring literature circles and novel study as a complement to an existing English Language Arts curriculum implementation plan. How utterly meaningless an agenda in our current reality. On this Thursday, I was conscious of the need to keep a healthy distance from others even as I met, planned and collaborated with the other educators in the meeting space. I was focused on the task at hand, but still cognizant of the fact that my daughter’s state college had cancelled all classes on the previous day and seemingly overnight, students had been packing up and leaving for their homes in droves. My pensive daughter was anxiously awaiting my own arrival after the conclusion of my workday, so much of my focus that day was already in flux and justifiably so, considering that this was the eerie definition of the veritable calm before the storm.

While it was then (and still is), painfully clear that danger was afoot and that a change from business as usual was necessitated – there was truly no conception of just how bad things would soon get. There was still little preparation or thoughtful acknowledgement that this would technically be my last time outside of my own home for any extensive length of time and that all work/school and daily errands would soon become figments of our imagination of past lives rather than components of our everyday realities. How to predict that dozens of lives lost would soon morph into hundreds even thousands of fallen, unsuspecting people and the death rate keeps climbing day by day. This reality is truly unchartered territory. Everyday is like a progression deeper into the abyss of the unknown. But still, all I know to do is to accept the unknown as it manifests and to be open and receptive to what the universe is teaching us right now. We have no choice but to embrace the loss of business as usual. Blessings, love and light to us all!

Asé

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Would you Pass an #Equity Litmus Test?

“Walk it like I talk it” is what comes to mind when you think about the attention paid to equity across today’s educational and professional landscape. Although a widespread verbal commitment to equity is now politically correct and upon everyone’s lips as a trendy way to appear #Woke, we must advance beyond mere lip service and into the realm of the tangible in order for deeply entrenched levels of equity to be realized. In other words, it’s time to show and prove that we can walk it, like we talk it.

In this sense, equity starts in your own belief system and household and does not encompass merely the lip service paid while one enjoys the privileges of whiteness or working/middle class affluence. Question: would you enroll your children in an integrated, inner city neighborhood public school? And educators: would you consider enrolling your own children in the schools in which you teach? 🤔 The question is no doubt rhetorical, but if the answer to this question is not affirmative, chances are that you are painfully aware of the inequitable funding, resources and academic outcomes which are a reality within a widespread system of mis-education; yet you have, like so many others, deemed low-income, Black students as expendable. #Smdh.

Ultimately, NO student should be regarded as a sacrificial lamb from an educational perspective but Americans have made a conscious decision over the past few decades since Brown v. Board of education, to re-segregate education (and housing) on the basis of white privilege and affluence – thereby rendering mis-education as a myth or the inescapable inheritance of those unfortunate, marginalized children. I guess the real question is: who decides which children are unworthy of an equitable and high quality education education? The resounding consensus is that WE do . . . Everyday and by virtue of which schools we opt to enroll our own children. Truly, actions speak volumes over words and the act of personal investment in an inequitable system goes a long way towards establishing your commitment to and unwavering involvement in fostering widespread change. For the record, I’m not speaking about my opinion here, I am honestly about that life and telling you what I know from my own experience as both an educator and a parent who made a conscious decision to invest in my own child’s education as commensurate with the sacrifices I was willing to make on behalf of our people and all of the other children whom society regards as expendable. If the neighborhood school system in the countless cities in which you make your livelihoods aren’t worthy of your own child’s enrollment…perhaps your commitment to equity is in lip service only.

Each of us is uniquely obliged and largely responsible for counteracting the institutionalized systems of oppression that marginalized people inextricably face in meaningful, tangible, and personally significant ways, not just with the imposter syndrome facades with which we adorn our public persona(s). How can the public, impoverished schools ever be improved upon and rendered equitable, if they remain as an enigma to our own experience as privileged, school choice decision makers? Inner city schools go the way of housing and many are wholly abandoned by the affluent change makers in our midst who use their privilege (as secured by educational esteem and degrees) as fodder for their decisions to move on up (and right out of) disadvantaged communities. That is until gentrification deems the financial benefits of re-discovering and re-investment in a well established ‘historic’ region with renewed interest and promise of prosperity and stability. Even more curious, the verbal commitment of educated professionals who ourselves work in inner city schools have often tied our public agendas to equity, student achievement and closing the opportunity gap, even as their own residence is outside the community in which they earn a living and their own children attend private schools. Recently, the Washington Post posited that equity “could be the most effective mechanism for driving better outcomes for Black and Brown children”, still it would be very telling to conduct a poll on one’s personal alignment to equity, using school enrollment and residency as a sort of personal preference litmus test (to determine if the private reality matches up with one’s public perception). I daresay, our collective actions speak louder than words.

Despite my esteemed educational attainment and lengthy career as a teacher, principal and now a college professor – choosing to devote the bulk of my daily energy to dismantling mis-education through my work as an instructional leadership coach – my life’s work pays homage much more to my own humble public school beginnings, than it does to framing an illusory portrait of financial stability and upward mobility. Because quite frankly, the truth is that for even working class professionals like myself, we are all merely 1-2 paychecks (or looming, depression-like recession status) away from the clear and present danger of financial crisis. So we must align our personal commitments with our public persona as a means to lend credibility and the spiritual fortitude of Ma’at (balance, truth and reciprocity) to our efforts and to what we hold dear.

My own daughter, nieces, nephews, and cousins have ALWAYS attended the same Detroit and Brooklyn inner city, public schools I have taught in. Moreover, in each of these cities, I also lived in the neighborhood in which the schools were located. This is not a novel idea, because my college educated, community invested parents ultimately laid the foundation for an exemplar of: community reinvestment, social activism, grassroots political engagement, Black economic empowerment and perhaps most importantly, neighborhood public school enrollment, involvement and accountability that I was genetically gifted with the literal playbook equity 101. Trust me: it makes a huge difference to be both immersed in and materially invested in (as opposed to pimping), the communities and schools for which we fight.

Equity, social activism, anti-racism and their inextricable ties to freedom from oppression are not just fancy buzzwords in my family – they were and always will be a way 👏🏾 of 👏🏾 life 👏🏾. If the communities in which we lived and the schools in which we chose to enroll our own CHILDREN were the litmus test for equity, progressive thought and an abiding commitment to anti-racist ideology, sooo many people (educators included), would fail. 👀💯 Contrary to popular belief, many social activists and leaders have similarly opted to align their personal agendas with their beliefs and public persona, and in doing so they courageously set the standard of a conscious commitment to equity (not just in words, but in deeds). Notably esteemed and admirably bad-assed journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, would likely agree that she and her husband’s reported decision to enroll their 4-year old daughter in a high poverty school is not sacrificing high quality nor lasting academic performance and success, rather she is exercising equity in action by investing in the very community within which some of our best and brightest Black and Brown children have sprung. She vehemently defends this decision against critics who insisted that she shouldn’t experiment with her own child’s education to a social justice agenda and she wisely counters “whose children should be sacrificed?”.

Of course I can only speak from personal experience, still I have admittedly been blessed to attend AND work in schools within which the founders, school leaders and teachers/support staff, all had their own children enrolled. It made a fundamental difference in how equity was practiced in terms of teacher pay, academic quality and the depth of the lifelong relationships and alliances formed. How blessed I have been to have had the exemplary privilege to have been enrolled in and to have taught in such unique institutions which meaningfully actualized the Educate to Liberate mantra of education as the basis of freedom from oppression. Surely the breadth of my lengthy experience as an educator also means that I have attended and worked in schools within which the leadership and instructional team have had multiple school-aged children who overwhelmingly attended private, suburban or parochial schools in the detached, affluent communities in which they lived. But of course, by and large these educators comprised the non-invested, savior, or “I’ve got mine, you get yours” ilk who represent the portrait of mis-education. No judgment if this has been your experience . . . But kindly save us all the empty lip service regarding your heartfelt commitment to equity. America has been far too willing to sacrifice its Black and Brown children to mis-education, while privilege and affluence prescribes the perpetuation of the status quo for their own offspring. Equity is not just a popular buzzword but informs a living, breathing and autonomous decision-making reality in each of our lives. How about making certain that we can walk it, like we talk it?

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In the Name of Equity, Some School Practices Must be Abolished

Some of the age-old practices that schools engage in and passively endorse should be revamped or altogether abolished, for the sake of equity.

Schools, oftentimes unknowingly, contribute to mis-education by centering whiteness and affluence via cultural traditions, rewarding students not burdened by poverty or by further marginalizing those who are oppressed (through no fault of their own).

Among the questionable practices are:

Thanksgiving/ANY holiday feast

Perfect attendance awards

Charging for lunch

Scholastic book fairs

Free dress days (@ cost)

Policing uniforms/shoes/hair

In their own unique way, each of these seemingly harmless practices are biased, classist & egregious. In many ways the policies isolate, demean or exclude children of a certain culture and class and essentially contribute to lowering individual self worth in a manner consistent with mis-education.

Honestly, the list goes on & on re: the endless ways schools normalize cultural whitewashing; celebratIng affluence; limiting personal agency and otherwise excluding students from an equitable educational experience by simply doing things the way they have always been done. I don’t believe that all schools harbor malice towards impoverished students or are complicit in the vein of purposeful harm. Given the widespread popularity of these practices, it’s likely that some schools are even conscious of their negative impact upon students. However, those of us that know better – are required to do better. And stated plainly, many school norms further mis-educate, marginalize or disillusion Black students and those oppressed by the limits of poverty.

Imagine the worthlessness a student feels when/if they are unable to afford a “free dress ticket” or a popular $5 young adult novel at the book fair, upon witnessing their peers’ privilege. Consider that a class or school wide field trip, which might even be sponsored by the school, still assumes that students are capable of bringing along spending money to purchase a lunch, novelty gift or other memorabilia . . . When in fact, this expense, seemingly minor in the eyes of those who are financially stable, becomes an impossibility for families without the luxury of a few extra dollars. Even holiday feasts, when wholly purchased and professionally catered by teachers, administrators and staff seem to forcibly normalize Western, Eurocentric Holidays which may or may not, exist as a part of a child’s cultural or religious traditions. I’m not saying that schools should eliminate all extra curricular activities and experiences – but we must certainly strive to make them more universally inclusive.

An exemplary, veteran elementary educator and colleague wisely shared that even bake sales, selling bagels and juice, and field trips are practices which must be totally FREE otherwise they risk becoming symbolic of systemic inequity. Many of the schools we work in (by choice, not by force), are demographically classified as 90-100% Title I institutions, thereby comprised of a student enrollment reflective of an overwhelming majority of low-income families. Thus, as a general rule the needs of all children must be thoughtfully and equitably centered in all of our decision making.

In conclusion, what if free dress day were truly free for students? I guarantee they would enjoy it more and there would be less of a demarcation between the students who could afford to wear spirit day outfits and those who weren’t. What if “twin day” (which must be an absolute nightmare for those who are socially awkward or don’t have existing friendships), could be transformed into a dress like your favorite athlete, author or entertainer day instead? This would be a more inclusive option than the latter. One of my thoughtful Educate to Liberate Instagtam followers wisely proposed that schools consider abolishing any spirit week’s that include a “nerd day” because further isolating brilliant, bookworms or computer science geeks is just mean spirited and wrong. Ultimately, we can (and should) consider revamping or altogether abolishing those thoughtless practices which have even the slightest potential for harming our students. At the very least, it’s something worth thinking about.