I Won’t Deny It [My Ambitionz As A Ridah]

Jose Vilson Jose

Tupac Amaru Shakur

One of my NYC teacher friends posited that I was popular. I laughed. Hard.  The one thing to keep in mind, my people, is that I have a hard time talking about myself in depth. On the web, I’ve gotten gracious amounts of praise (all of which I’m humbled by) but in my district, I think I’ve also maintained a fair share of notoriety. I tend to listen a lot more than I speak, and I nod a lot until I find the best place and time to say something. She asked me to write about why it is that I laughed so hard at her question, but before I accepted that offer, I replied with this: What’s the realistic difference between infamy and popularity.

Simple. It’s about intention.

Whenever I enter a conversation, my intentions depend highly on the audience, what I know beforehand about the space I occupy with that audience, and how I can help move a conversation forward. There have been a couple of district professional development sessions where I had to say things that the district or network weren’t happy with. I’ve had the audaciousness at a national conference or two to suggest that teacher voice matters in any future context of building 21st century schools. I’ve walked into a few teacher-led meetings and openly questioned the lack of diversity in certain spaces. Usually, people who tacitly agree with me might give me an applause or talk to me in some backchannels later, but I also get the intense stares and “Can I talk to you for a minute” parts, too. Often enough, I’ve also gotten the “Vilson, did you say something?” when an e-mail comes out about how we as teachers dared to discuss our disagreements and prompted subsequent meetings cancelled.

Thus, it’s not popularity, but notoriety. I’m OK with that.

It also means that, when I’m vested in a project, people know I mean business. It also means people always need to re-read their pieces as if they’re reading it to me. It also means that when I say something positive or constructive, because I know how to find that balance, then it’s taken more seriously. It also means that I get to say a lot more “and” than “or.” For instance, I want students to achieve more and I want educators as a whole to get paid more. I want less middle men (and women) and more support and solutions coming from all levels of our educational system. I want us to openly discuss problems and also find ways and means for the people to engage others in a real discourse on present and future purpose for what we do.

It’s also why I’m squeamish at the idea of putting my main source of writing, for instance, under the auspices of any organization; whenever you’re commissioned to do something, you have to keep the organization that sponsors you in mind unless they specifically call for you to use that voice in the pieces you’re writing. Freedom isn’t free, but it’s not about the price; it’s about the value. I don’t walk into conversations tied down by any one entity, even though I know I’m getting paid for compliance to an understood standard of complacency.

That’s OK. As long as I get to poke at the boundaries a bunch, and possibly kick dust around the edges, I’m alright. Because I have my ambitions. How about you?

Jose, who celebrates what would have been 2Pac Shakur’s 40th birthday …

p.s. – :: whistling “I won’t deny it, I’m a straight ridah. You don’t wanna fuck with me …” ::