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Experience is the Best Teacher

I wish that I could pass along all of the most important and meaningful things I’ve learned in life to others. But the truth is that most of the pivotal things have been gleaned from life experience. And we all know that experience (just like one’s influence), is not transferable.

Things like distinguishing the light in the fog after heartbreak leaves you vulnerable to pain; listening intently to our gut instincts and realizing that it’s never once, steered you wrong; valuing the centeredness and clarity which only comes from the deafening silence of honoring our inner voice, amidst a sea of other people’s opinions. These are the virtues and deep, meaningful lessons that my current self would have shared with my much younger iteration. My only wonder is, whether I would have listened to this 50-year old version of me? Or would I have laughed and soldiered on, undaunted? Hmm . . .

But since experience is truly the best teacher – and wisdom only comes with age, I am admittedly fortunate to have made it to an age, rank and lot in life that the younger version of me would scarcely recognize. And ohh how grateful I am to have made it to my own middle aged status. I’m not yet an elder, who’s able (or even wanting), to retire and enjoy the fruits of an entire lifetime of labor and experiences. But Lord knows that I don’t want to be someone in my 80s, still working everyday, trying to retrofit myself to times long ago passed and still yet increasingly unwilling to bow out gracefully.

Having lived this long, I’ve certainly witnessed the unpleasantness of senior executives and/or elected officials who would sooner die in office and tarnish their own sterling life legacies, than to properly mentor and anoint their successors and elect to willingly retire from service, while maintaining an honorable emeritus capacity. I have also sorrowfully witnessed the harmful implications of their own narcissism manifesting in a general disdain for their years of faithful service and at least in one case, an elected official was forced into retirement under the suspicion of scandal and his position (once revered as an esteemed, legendary and coveted space), is now being held by a charlatan with deep enough pockets to have purchased his capacity of unearned privilege, power and political influence. So, clearly the alternative to learning from experience and allowing wisdom to reign supreme is disastrous.

And while I’m far from my time as a young person, when an opinionated outlook and impatient, fiercely fiery personality was my general go to persona; I am still cognizant of my coveted position of leadership and experience and keenly conscious of my obligation to increasingly pay it forward, through targeted, meaningful mentorship’s (I actually hate this word and all of its negative white supremacist context and implications), so I will elect to embrace its African-Centered, wholistic reference of being blessed to be a Godmother to many. As this is something I was blessed to learn from and am fortunately still seeing it being modeled by my own dear Mother. Mostly, I have mellowed and matured to the extent that I opt to quietly observe, listen, and watch (almost) as much as I speak 😂. And as my outspoken personality sort of naturally takes a backseat as I age and acquire wisdom – I can certainly attest to having learned so much more!

Likewise, as educators many of us are guilty of having this sort of myopic, tunnel vision where our subject area expertise and/or personal knowledge base and belief systems intersect with our instruction. As a school administrator, I have seen this in practice and intervened more times than I can count. I have even blogged about the seemingly well meaning, highly educated and yet thoroughly racist, elementary teacher (who had formerly taught in a gifted school), but who regarded her role as an inner city, Title I school teacher as no more than a babysitting job, with which she could defy the norms of preparation and high expectations and merely spend her days reading to her students on the carpeted floor area, she had affectionately termed as “the beach”! Tuhh, if you don’t get your ass up and teach, there’s gonna be trouble. And trouble there was, until she elected to remove her biased, terminated ass from our midst rather than to pursue her baseless wrongful termination case. In any event, I’ve come to realize that there’s so much more value in learning and growing in continuous fashion and in maintaining healthy levels of humility as it regards all of the things we do not yet know.

I can only hope that as I continue to approach teaching, learning and life in this my 28th year as an educator, that I do so with a new set of experienced eyes, not fully jaded by life’s disappointments, but still much more knowing than I was even 20 years ago . . . I would love to morph into the kind of mother, teacher, partner, sister and friend who is as gracious a person as I imagine myself to be. I want to exude love, light and the delicious wisdom from experience in every professional development training experience, college course or interaction with our high school Scholar Ambassador’s. I want to take my wins and innumerable blessings as a testament to God’s ability to somehow use me as a vessel and not as a reflection of my own brilliance and hard work, though certainly I’m blessed with benefits of both and a tireless work ethic to match. But truly, to God be the Glory for all the things that go right and may I be grounded and careful enough to learn from my mistakes, losses and disappointments.

Mostly, I honestly do appreciate and long for the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. As I prepare to embrace my coveted role as the elder sister who traditionally hosts our immediate family for holiday get togethers, may this Labor Day and official start of yet another school year bring smiles, memorable moments and time for thoughtful reflection and optimistic hope for the year to come. Amen-Ra, Asé and so it is.

Thank you for reading!

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Mis-education and the Pandemic of Racism

a boy sitting at the table

Mis-education thrives endlessly in the absence of a relevant, grassroots experience base and an authentic connection to the Black experience. Full stop.

The increasing disconnect between U.S. Education Secretary Cardona’s agenda and that of countless superintendent’s and school districts fighting to remain open and to conduct ‘business as usual’ in the midst of our tumultuous pandemic climate; is exacerbated by the disconnect from the clear and present dangers of our current reality. And when I say ‘our’, please allow me to transparently name that Black people and our unique life experiences, are always and forever centered and at the forefront of my thought, educational scholarship and daily work. So, I/we are in the best position to state the claim that during these times in education, it is authentic Blackness, vast educational experience and/or your proximity to the same, which qualifies one to make sound decisions keenly attuned to the best interests, needs and sustaining of this country’s overwhelming ranks of Black and Latinx students in our education system.

There is little doubt that teachers, students and Black and Brown families are in the very best authoritative position to determine their needs regarding schools being physically open, at this pivotal time in history. It is us who are of African descent and/or who identify as people of color who are literally and figuratively on the front lines of the sacrificial lambs losing our lives in this horrid endemic. Literally every overcrowded ICU ward is filled with people of color (whether vaccinated or not), so the priority of ensuring our survival rate is directly proportionate to what is happening in schools. And so, it is us who comprises the distinct groups who are all too often very much in sync with what needs to happen to ensure our collective safety who must make the decisions to remain open or to meet virtually. It is us who are empowered to determine when to proverbially “hold or to fold” the hands which we’ve been unfairly dealt. And yet, it is us who happen to be consistently and wholly ignored.

Institutionalized racism sees only the need to value and center the needs of capitalism, white supremacist ideals and business as usual. This breeds mis-education and utter contempt for teachers, students and families (of all cultures) and it is this unsustainable, current climate of our educational system, which is contributing to the irreversible demise of Black lives. Whenever students, teachers, families IE: the true decision makers in educational policy are disregarded and ignored, then mis-education proliferates in unchecked forms. Further, to the extent that today’s school district leaders are responsive to external pressures to acquiesce to traditional schooling face-to-face norms – as opposed to being in tune and responsive to the masses of their largely Black and Brown, Title I demographic whose opinions and wishes matters most (especially considering that it is our lives at risk) – there is greater frustration, mis-education and death which results. The costs are too high and the damage has long lasting, generational implications. Of course, there’s no need to continue to police the teaching of history, and to disallow the refrain that Black Lives Matter, when the driving force and impact of your tone deaf decision making, continues to exist as proof positive that they do not.

The decision of whether or not to keep schools open or closed is an issue of racial justice. This is especially so to those of us who effortlessly emanate from and relate to or unapologetically reflect the norms of the Black cultural experience. As long as life-altering, government approved edicts as to whether schools remain open or closed and/or which dictate whether standardized testing and learning loss reigns supreme on the educational agenda (rather than the mental health, wellness and yes, even the authentic academic achievement and needs of our students are met against all odds), then the disconnect widens. Meaningless pandemic era policies, particularly as handed down by President Biden, education sec’y Cardona and others amounts to nothing but useless exercises in futility. The truth of the future of education and the final decisions will continue to be made by default (since you’re not listening to us anyway) by we, the people. Our beloved students speak (loudly and proudly I might add), as they continue to engage in rightful social justice activism and launch non-violent walkouts all across the country and in every major city. They will continue to vote with their actions and their feet. This is a sound prediction based upon having a pulse on their outspoken wishes and not at all a baseless opinion or a threat.

Teachers, paras, bus drivers, cafeteria workers and administrative/support staff have proven themselves to be convincing as they paid (and continue to pay) the ultimate sacrifice of losing their very lives and at the least their livelihood’s, as they leave the profession in droves via pine boxes or by mass resignations. Parents and families have spoken by homeschooling, tutoring, and essentially empowering their children to remain safely at home, even as they are forced to work. Because to send them to school despite their increasing protests that their teachers and beloved friends are dying (heavy sigh), is akin to sending them unarmed into a vicious battle, where the only outcome is to perish en masse. Clearly, it is only the scourge of capitalist, imperialist, white supremacist racism which persists in ignoring those who matter most and insists on keeping schools operating in person, despite the massive hemorrhaging and loss of lives. The only thing left to do is for government officials and school leaders to attempt levels of empathy, connection to those who exist outside of the safe umbrella of white privilege, by listening to us and acting accordingly. There’s no better time than now . . . our very lives depend upon it.

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bell hooks’ liberation legacy

What a purposeful life, well lived.

A self-named bell with armed with mighty hooks and a penchant for powerful words. They will speak of you as a feminist author and scholar. But I, we, us will forever salute you for being so much more . . .

I, we, us will honor you for your unapologetic Black, woman, freedom loving, frontline warrior unafraid to address race, class, history, gender, and to so beautifully frame education as the practice of freedom and the classroom (particularly the pre-integration learning space), as a sacred place within which to radicalize our righteous revolutionary cause – against the boredom , lowered expectations and miseducation of the post-integration immersion into a seemingly inescapable system of white supremacy.

She, you who gave us the language which reminds us of the interlocking systems of domination which are always functioning, simultaneously, to maintain our oppression. Not racism said bell hooks, but white supremacy, and acknowledging that there’s power in calling a thing what it is. Because racism is insufficient to allow for a discourse of colonization , decolonization and the vestiges of internalized oppression which wield an indelible impact upon us today.

You, she who reminded us that we should place the ownership at the feet of the racial apartheid and color caste system of white supremacy and insisted that we remove whiteness and white people from the center of our discussions.

Because of you and your selfless knowledge sharing, we/us have inherited a more powerful language with which to embrace love, reject white supremacist imperialism and acknowledge that we could, should and must dismantle the institutional constructs of white supremacist oppression.

From you we learned, not conformity to and/or through the white gaze. Not classroom rules, silence and obedience to authority. Not a starkly traumatic and oppressive, white space which exists as an extension of white supremacy. But an antiracist, revolutionary dialogue between students and teachers. Yes, a wholly transgressive approach which rejects the boundaries and brainwashing inherent in this foul system.

You, she bell hooks, propelled our activism for freedom and justice beyond the narrow constructs of this country to a global stage.

Asé honored ancestor, thank you for your revolutionary service on our collective behalf. We are eternally grateful for your liberation legacy.

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Salute to Teachers Everywhere

In this most non traditional and admittedly difficult year – I would be remiss not to pause to pay reverence and salute all teachers, everywhere.

What a taxing year of loss, learning, lack and under appreciation this has been for each of you! My veteran educator, always a teacher first, and whole heart goes out to you for having persevered this unsustainable storm of mis-education personified and increased accountability; without the slightest hint of gratitude and/or compensation to appropriately match your priceless, invaluable input.

We have not survived this year unscathed however. This year will most assuredly, always be the year that an entire world endured a pandemic. But that an entire nation, spoiled by privilege, also showed its proverbial ass. We taught and worked from home, whilst enduring the same sickness and loss an entire world experienced. Yet, the recurring albeit inappropriate refrain seemed to be: when are the schools gonna open up? Like what?! Really… the physical buildings may have been closed, but for so many of us the business of educating other people’s children continued seamlessly. How utterly privileged and out of touch were you all, not to even notice.

You have wondered when, if ever, you would get your mundane, unimportant and capitalist driven livelihoods back, while all the while our people were dying. Our children were suffering and crying out for your attention. Teachers were all but creating magic and attempting to pull rabbits out of our hats to instruct to off-camera virtual screens and all the while you could only lament your missed opportunities to troll the bars, eat out in fine dining establishments and to attend public sporting events and concerts. Not to mention the incessant moaning about missing the coveted opportunity to travel domestically or abroad. All the while, the teachers were teaching their overly exhausted hearts out, students were oftentimes struggling to keep up and/or adjust to this new norm.

Meanwhile, clueless administrators and professional development providers persisted in evaluating instructional staff best practices, and scarcely even pausing to take a valiant pulse check on teachers/students and staffs collective health and wellness. Nor was there any allowance for our the prescient need to ensure the longevity and support teachers’ virtually insurmountable instructional obstacles. No, indeed. It would seem the end of year priorities maintained alignment with the customary and no doubt, outdated methods of accountability such as poorly managed high-stakes teacher evaluations and standardized testing protocols. Alas, I digress…let’s get back to the business of celebrating those who courageously withstood all of this dysfunction without scarcely batting an eyelash: teachers.

This is a heartfelt, wholehearted and deep bow of gratitude to all who endured the absolute thankless job of pandemic teaching (amidst so many, countless horrific scenarios), within this past year and somehow, miraculously making it to the finish line. May we collectively pause and afford a moment of silence to the many, unnamed masses of educators, who perished while on the front lines of doing this most necessary first-responder aligned work in the field. ——————————————————————— We honor those we lost to the Coronavirus; those lost to retirement and those who whose time to bid adieu is imminent. May we collectively honor those in our midst who exasperatedly declared no more/no mas and who opted to throw in the towel this year; determining that their lives or their health or both, could not withstand the strain of giving anything more without doing so to their own detriment.

We similarly acknowledge those who remain steadfast, even at the conclusion of this academic year. Many of whom have seen unveiled, the sordid underbelly of dysfunction which lies just beneath the surface of a system which survives off the cheap, undervalued labor of teachers but which fails to honor and recompense educators, in kind. We salute all of you from pre-kindergarten to grade 12. We also commend those who teach within the hallowed halls of academia. We extend this salute to the countless parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings, neighbors and extended family and friends who somehow assumed the coveted roles of teachers this year and who joined our distinguished ranks; albeit unwillingly (Lord have mercy), and who now understand it better, by and by, just a snapshot of what it means to be a teacher.

We respectfully extend a nod of gratitude to the few administrative leaders, boards of directors, partners/vendors and professional development stakeholders who innately sensed the urgency of taking their lead from teachers and ultimately students, and made sound decisions aligned with our highest, most priority needs rather than succumbing to the lowest, common denominator of the bottom line. Thank you to those who intuitively centered the voices of our students themselves and were responsive to the pressing needs of their families who often partnered directly with us in whatever semblance of success is yet to emerge from this 2020-2021 school year.

To the innovative, shape shifting, ultra flexible and highly competent teachers everywhere…to those who are anti-racist, culturally relevant and responsive…to those who spoke truth to power in reflecting and/or amplifying students voice and choice…to those who occupied the front lines of movements and social, community activism and who themselves embody the beauty or stand in the gap as allies and co-conspirators to the value of Black lives and intersectional pride in all of its many iterations: Thank you! To those who went above and beyond the typical call of duty and to the many who stood in alignment with their educator peers who were at times under siege this past year: your solidarity is appreciated. The simplicity of the words “thank you” seems so insufficient – but it is certainly a start. So we say it nonetheless: Thank you one and all! Asé ❤️✊🏿💚

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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 ❤️✊🏿