Am I Wrong For Thinking We Could Be Something For Real?

Jose VilsonJose, Race4 Comments


This afternoon, I happened upon a situation that most New Yorkers don’t. I found myself walking into the ocean with maybe 50 people over a half-mile stretch of beach to my left and my right. The more I walked into the ocean, the less people I saw around me. I didn’t even notice that, after a few more feet of walking in, I had no one next to me, just me and the razor-sharp horizon in front of me. The once boisterous conversations around me became nothing but a din as the water crashed against my chest.

I don’t usually get moments like this, contrary to popular belief about teachers’ summer vacations, yet I couldn’t help but notice the metaphor laid out by nature in front of me. With this consternation around Ferguson, and the resulting calls for reverberation and leadership from folks who are always asking us to rethink our education advocacy, I wonder whether our calls for teachers to speak up is truly in vain.

How do you fight back against what seems like an insurmountable ocean of inaction? How do you keep swimming with the salty waters constantly thwarting your plans, pushing back against the progress you seek?

Why ask anyone to speak up at all when the people who can take the leadership on speaking up are the people asking for folks to speak up? Sadly, all of us can fall into the trap of asking leaders (supposed or otherwise) to take leadership on items that they probably won’t, like the incidents in Ferguson. I’m starting to see that new and responsive leadership is ultimately necessary, a leadership that’s reflective of what we seek.

I wonder if I’m wrong to ask people with huge followings, with lots of books to sell, and with influence in their communities to do anything, much less do more than what they may or may not do already. Instead, those of us who do say, “Enough is enough” might have to speak louder and work better towards moving our communities towards understanding this multi-faceted justice.

In a utopian setting, we wouldn’t have to ask. People who call themselves progressive leaders wouldn’t have to be called out by us, and people calling for empathy wouldn’t bat an eye before speaking out about any civil rights issue, because that’s what real empathy looks like. Yet, this isn’t utopia. Thus, we swim on.

I’m well aware that it only takes a few people to make a movement really flourish, but every so often, it would be nice if we didn’t have to give any one person the green light to do what’s right and lead. We have enough folks willing and able to do what’s necessary for social justice. Thus, from this purview, leading looks like a simple choice.

Am I wrong for thinking that we could be something for real?


photo c/o

Comments 4

  1. fear/ oh beautiful fire queller/ father of inertia/ sever binding ties to comfort/ allow us unity in sacrifice/ let blossom greater good/

  2. The ocean is vast . Th ocean was created by God. As you stood in the ocean you were surround and protected. All of this stuff about Effective and Ineffective teachers, rigorous( which is really the wrong word), trying to take tenure away from teachers, trying to destroy the unions, trying to get rid of hispanic, black and older teachers, trying to destroy teachers’ pensions, and closing urban public schools and selling the students and public schools to charter school organizations so they can get richer are all the work of devils. The devil wants teachers to give up and lose faith in God. He wants teachers to walk in their classroom and give up and not teach the children. There are so many problems facing children in the cities, they need caring teachers not corporation teachers. The devils wants teachers to get upset and quit.The next time you stand in the ocean look up to the sky and ask a willing God to make the enemies of teachers and the children their footstool. Prayer was taken out of public schools so many years ago, now we are paying the price.
    We all need to stand up for right even if the wrong doesn’t affect us, because eventually it will.

  3. It’s a question worth asking. AFter all, if we’re all busy “speaking up” … into rabbit holes or into the vast ocean with forces that negate our words and efforts, then our energy is being happily diverted from things that could effect change.

    I can tell you that at least some people are getting a glimpse of a world they didn’t know existed, though… and that it’s better to be speaking up into that ocean, trying to turn into a chorus, than to just talk to each other and wish things were different.

  4. Dear Jose,

    Not a few folks who pass as national leaders in education have more charisma than character, playing out their various (though well-defined) roles at various conferences, doing the circuit that pays reasonably well. Since they have more skin in the circuit game than they do on the ground, their silence is not unexpected. (Some of these same “leaders” may rationalize their silence as they focus on their circuit roles, but I fear most simply do not realize, nor care, that their silence speaks volumes.)

    Education is local, and I have some hope that changes are coming. Not fast enough, true, but I know at least one principal here in Bloomfield who plans on thrusting race right on our plates at the first meeting of the year, at more cost than it would cost one of the national edu-rodeo clowns to mention the same. Facing who we are will not work from top down anyway, though it would be phenomenally helpful if folks from on high, our circuit “leaders,” at least publicly acknowledged that we need this conversation so that the ground level work gets a boost.

    And while things cannot move fast enough when it comes to systemic injustice, I hold hope that folks of privilege a lot younger than me get the problem better than just about anyone white I know from my generation.

    I think we still need to ask others to speak up, but it’s folly to put our hearts in the hands of those who lack their own. And I think people like yourself need occasional reminders from the rest of us just how deep your influence runs, in places you cannot imagine.

    Your book sits in our administration building; our Principal may soon be echoing your words to a couple hundred teachers, many (maybe most) who will not want to hear them.

    I pray next time you’re in the ocean, you’ll let the warm salt water wash over you like tears of laughter, let its buoyancy rise your heart higher. We all need to rest now and again, and no one will ever misinterpret a Vilson silence.

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