Labors and Dangers [2017 At Last]

Jose Vilson Featured, Jose Leave a Comment

You knew I had to zoom in on one section of the super-musical and my personal soundtrack of the year Hamilton: An American Musical.

For those unfamiliar, the character Alexander Hamilton – first played by Lin-Manuel Miranda – has a debate with the character George Washington – first played by Christopher Jackson – about the merits of not seeking re-election. We’re led through the story of Hamilton and, by extension, Washington where they’ve approached politics ostensibly different lens. The mercurial Hamilton is seen begging the disciplined Washington to stay on for a multitude of reasons, then this part hits:

Hamilton: Mr. President, they will say you’re weak
Washington: No, they will see we’re strong …

In this retelling of events, we’re led to believe that Washington has such a strong belief in the people of the newly created United States that he worries less what his own standing with them. Of course, such a retelling elides a large body of knowledge of the actual Washington the obsessed slaveowner who punted on this new nation’s greatest sin for innumerable and still unforgivable reasons. Nevertheless, Miranda’s Hamilton’s strength is the focus on legacy and how, even when we pretend to not care for it, we still enact it.

For whatever reason, I care about what I leave behind. Too much, some might say.

In the context of a President Trump, too much of what we do and leave behind matters. The assault on our consciousness started long before him, but his name as pejorative and person presides over the spaces we prefer not to discuss. How much of this work matters? Where can we get wins? Who’s with me and my being? Who’ll stand up / sit up / be up for the rally against? In education, the phrase “for the kids” kept intensifying in popularity, but 2017 showed us who was willing to get dirty when the murk was abundant.

What parts of us refuse to get messy?

A force larger than me decided it best to test my principles. It would delete friends, family members, associates, and passersby from all around me. It would get my son sick for weeks without recourse. It would concuss and injure my significant other. It would bestow new health conditions to my eyes, ears, mouth, head, and heart. It would cause me to forget instances and events I didn’t want to, and temporarily dull my senses where I couldn’t read and write without the whole world shaking in front of my eyes. It assured I’d be fighting institutions from within and from outside because it wasn’t built for us. Rather, it was built to wear us out in a way that even people fighting these institutions could never recognize.

I saw fragments of myself in all these pictures and places I could have flourished. Yet, the wins came when I pulled the center away from me. I challenged a lot of important people behind conference doors and out in the open to reconsider the opinions of students, parents, and teachers in the work they do. I pushed organizations to do better by their members of color, and even cancelled on some engagements because I knew what it meant for education speakers of color after me. I co-lead the first EduColor convening at a time when others were skeptical about any number of reasons why we needed to convene. I ushered (and in some cases shoved) students through graduation and to high school. Yes, figuratively.

I watched my son rock his moving-up ceremony from Pre-K to kindergarten. Luz and I pour everything into the boy and he multiplied the energy. His enthusiasm could build a nation. We are grateful. Alejandro keeps teaching me that the more we all put our faith in him, the more he flourishes.

Washington with Hamilton vocal overlays: I anticipate with pleasing expectation that retreat in which I promise myself to realize the sweet enjoyment of partaking, in the midst of my fellow-citizens, the benign influence of good laws under a free government, the ever-favorite object of my heart, and the happy reward, as I trust of our mutual cares, labors, and dangers.

We took to the streets, made calls, held meetings, and read as much information we could so we could build ourselves up for these horrible moments. The moments when our favorite people passed away. The moments where our friends and family could no longer come back. The moments when our families changed, our thresholds changed, our voices changed. The moments where we questioned our own personal constitution at a time when fundamental scrolls seem a few more degrees meaningless. We can’t separate these waves. The hope isn’t whether bad things will stop happening. The hope is whether we can withstand the putrid, the inflammatory, the awful, and the institutionally oppressive.

The faith that so many students, colleagues, and family kept me afloat this year while I struggled and while I persevered. I could have done better at apologizing for not being the person I needed to be in those moments. At times, quitting all of it felt best because my personal failings took center stage. Maybe one day, I will. But, if I do, it won’t be under this administration, under these circumstances, under this influence.

Home keeps me going, and I’ll keep going until home asks me to stay. There’s hope out there, still.

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