activism Archives - The Jose Vilson


Adults, Please Get Out The Way [How Students Do It]

by Jose Vilson on August 14, 2014

in Jose

Marvin Gaye singing

This morning, I imagined Marvin Gaye would have a few things to say about what’s going on today:

Today was supposed to be Michael Brown’s fourth day in college, getting acclimated with the ins and outs of college life, surely different than the humdrum K-12 bells. Sadly, he never got his chance at college and career readiness as the Ferguson police’s hands still smell of blood and tear gas. We never got the chance to see Michael Brown past the few pictures that the media has offered and the sharp image of him mother mourning. The names of young women and men who also had their potential stolen from them read like one of my student rosters at school.

Then it hit me. The activism around Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, Renisha McBride, and, more recently, Michael Brown, ripe with young folk doing amazing speaking and organizing, should serve as a reminder to adults a) how much we as adults often look down upon younger generations and b) how much potential the next generations have to move people forward.

In spite of the tragedy and strife of concluding that these public institutions aren’t made for youth of color in mind, our nation’s youth move in ways that adults can’t, so let them. Instead of telling adults, “Here’s what we used to do in the 60′s, so in order to be activists, here’s what you need to do,” we should be saying, “How can we help in your activism?”

Anytime we put ego and nostalgia over selflessness and progress, we lose.

Many of our favorite activists were high-school to college-age when they came into their advocacy young. The ones who were chased by dogs, thrown into trucks, and beaten without provocation were in high school and college, taking days off to work in communities and do the groundwork of the leaders. I see similar energy in spaces right now. Some adults are helping to facilitate these actions. Some adults are taking credit and / or snitching to elders for the sake of looking loyal.

Stop. Adults, if you’re not helping, get out of the way. The “kids” are alright.


photo c/o


On The Postponement of Common Core Accountability

by Jose Vilson on February 11, 2014

in Jose

On Monday, New York State found out that its Board of Regents, the governing body for education policy in NYS, decided to postpone accountability measures for teachers and schools in all of New York State, paving the way for educators to get their Common Core ducks in a row. The five-year postponement came at the recommendation of Regent Merryl Tisch, who said,

This report is designed to make significant and timely changes to improve our shared goal of implementing the Common Core. We have heard strong support for higher standards, but we have also heard a desire for more time. The Regents work group put together a series of strong adjustments that will help improve implementation without sacrificing the high standards we’ve set for our students. These changes will help give principals, teachers, parents and students the time to adjust to the new standards without stopping our progress toward the goal we all share: college and career readiness for every student.

Of course, what I failed to include was the part where she (and NY State Commissioner John B. King) mentioned that they listened to the concerned parents and educators yadda yadda yadda. Because, until now, people thought direct protests, letter writing, and meeting interruptions wouldn’t actually make anything happen. To the contrary, this proves that all the interruptions en masse can affect change.

For moderates who prefer not to rock the boat too much, they think, by making logical arguments and talking about things over tea, we can come to a peaceful agreement, and that those in power will somehow relinquish it since they’ll have “seen the light.”As if good graces were enough to shift the locomotive of the CCSS implementation.


We needed a plethora of methods for dissent in order to push back against such powerful reformers. The advocacy, the protests, the social media knocking, the letters to our elected officials, and the changing of the guard in NYC all came from a movement from people. Obviously, the work continues as we need to hold elected officials accountable, but, from my purview, it seems that this was a solid victory in the way of true reform.

Now, if I don’t get all the way through my curriculum, I won’t be too worried. I think I can teach much better this way.




Confession: I didn’t get a chance to see Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom before taking my students.

Confession #2: My kids wouldn’t have gone to see it either if I didn’t bring them myself.

Here’s the thing about auto-bio pics that people don’t want to say, but will readily admit: if our youth don’t get a sense of why something or someone is important, they won’t pay attention to it.

Even before Mandela’s passing, I was excited to hear Idris Elba play Mandela, if only because we sanitize the image of civil rights leaders all the time, and we ought not to. If anything, we should find ways to make those “miracles” more concrete for the people. It’s important for all of us to understand people as multi-dimensional, even the people many of us have proclaimed as heroes. The stains and dents make the statues more real.

Just as I started planning for the trip, he passed. For better or worse, the news on him turned on a switch for my kids. “The guy who Mr. Vilson just talked about” became “the famous guy who passed away and was on the news last night.”

Without a movie like Mandela, I have a harder time helping students visualize his importance. Fortunately for us, we won a free trip to go courtesy of Share My Lesson (check out these lessons too), the AFT, and the Weinstein Company, and so I took all the students I could on the trip. They had no idea what the movie was save for the few who had already done some research beforehand.

After coming out of the movie, most of them started making connections to the readings in their classes, specifically To Kill A Mockingbird. Yet, my draw to the movie wasn’t necessarily academic reasons. It’s to help plant the seed in students that might spark a thought. The movie does a good job of laying out his legacy in such a way that doesn’t pretend sainthood, yet asks us to look at the mountain of a man for all his flaws.

Most of my kids thought it was good, and appreciated being taken to see it. Someone had to. Rather, I had to.


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Short Notes: Y’All Gone Learn Today [Open Letter]

April 14, 2013 Short Notes
Jay-Z Smoking, Possibly a Cuban

Last week, I wrote an open letter to educators in general, but specifically education activists, vested parties, and anyone interested in the workings of this circle. While the letter was met with plenty of praise, it had a few detractors, primarily from those who misunderstood the intent of the letter. After a close reading and […]

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Coalition Matters [featuring Bayard Rustin]

July 29, 2012 Jose

Anytime you mention Bayard Rustin’s name as a hero, you’re good in my book. The mastermind behind the 1963 March on Washington, Rustin rarely gets mentioned by the general public as a civil rights leader, and only seems to come up whenever people (again, rarely) talk about LGBT issues in activist / POC communities. The […]

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No Church In The Wild

June 3, 2012 Jose
Screen shot 2012-06-03 at 10.16.50 PM

Last week, Kanye West and Jay-Z premiered their video for “No Church In The Wild,” their incendiary song about rebellion in the forms of ideas and laws. Watching the video, one gets remnants of the protests happening from Wall Street and Portland to Italy and China. Activists once again get a morsel of thought from […]

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