How To Move In A Room Full of Vultures [On Jay-Z, Sabrina Stevens and Child Advocacy]

Jose Vilson Education, Jose

Jay-Z at SXSW

I do this for my culture
To let them know what a n***a look like when a n***a in a Roadster
Show them how to move in a room full of vultures
Industry is shady, it needs to be taken over
Label owners hate me, I’m raising the status quo up …

– Jay-Z, “Izzo (H.O.V.A)

When Sabrina Stevens first sent me this video, I cursed in two languages. First, I said “Right on!” Second, I blinked really hard at the scree. Third, I shared with my friends. Fourth, I feared for her life.

Did you feel that? Sabrina’s soliloquy rings bells. I mean, this is the part where we jump off the couch and throw the popcorn on the floor.

For those of you unaware, ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) is a pseudo-non-profit that prides itself on “free-market enterprise, limited government, and federalism,” sponsoring politicians who write bills that follow their corporatist agenda. The major angst and protest we see amongst Americans all across the country start in some of the rooms ALEC occupy. Ironically, they want to crush public teachers’ unions, privatize public schools, and push universities to lean more right on the public dime.

Rumor has it they have a diagram of the school system tied above a big, boiling pot of lava.

Sabrina Stevens proves the value of real dissent. When you get up in those meetings, we know what happens. We wear our suits and ties, get our handshakes in order, bring business cards, and smile even when we didn’t catch what the other person said. We tolerate others for the sake of keeping a misinformed peace in the room, and acquiesce to the culture of the room, no matter how awful.

No one wants a “yes” man, but few know how to take the feedback when they hear a “no.”

How often do we participate in an environment where it feels like we’re the only person who has a disagreement or a grievance? How often do we push others to stay quiet, or publicly make a face when someone else disagrees in a public forum, even when we agree privately?

I’m not referring to the people who always have something negative to say. Their anchors won’t let the ship go anywhere. I’m referring to those who look forward, but have a hard time with how the captains stir the ship. Meetings like the one Sabrina stood in constantly have our publicly elected officials, or leaders as it were, following the course ALEC has set, with their map, and the funds they carry in tow.

This has serious implications for our students, too, who need a harmonious relationship between discipline and advocacy. If we define discipline as the means of dominance and subordination, I’d question why we insist on having equity at all. If we define advocacy as speaking like an adult, I’d question which adult.

We can call Sabrina’s snap at ALEC heroic. I’d rather call it a model for how I want my students to learn to speak for themselves, and not parrot others.

Gotta show kids how to move in a room full of vultures. Our industry’s shady; it needs to be taken over.

Jose, who’s not guilty, y’all got to feel me.