Genesis of a Nemesis Archives - The Jose Vilson

Genesis of a Nemesis

I had a few thoughts about my Genesis of a Nemesis series that I jotted down on my iPod Touch on the way back from Washington, DC, as the Smithsonian Institute gets ready to unveil plans for a new African American History and Culture Museum.

- Some of you may ask yourselves: “How does he know what it’s like to live that life?” One could make the argument that, because I never got into any major trouble or never actually experienced it, that my writing of these dire straits is a bit deficient. To that I argue that I’ve actually lived in the hood pretty much all my life. And not part-time, but full-time. From all the things I’ve witnessed and continue to witness plus all the reading and studies I’ve done, I’m sure I speak from an experienced point of view, despite my lack of actual participation in the culture.

- I wonder why, despite these discussions constantly coming up with educated circles, do we not have and / or share good and solid solutions. Could it because, even if everything else did work, the system itself was made for certain groups to fail or is it something else?

- Some might also argue that there’s a personal choice about things. One could choose to not do / sell drugs, to not shoot / kill people in their neighborhood, to not join a gang, or even to not live in such impoverished conditions. My rejoinder to these myopic statements is that this capitalist system is meant to build a group of winners and losers, so the “everyone getting wealthy” theorem is debunked there. Secondly, when one feels disempowered, whether it’s through their government, their economy, or their living situation, they become hopeless. Thus, they find power in things that may even imperil their own lives, as long as they have “ownership” of something or can survive, even at the hands of people just like them.

- Despite the picture I painted, it’s not all bad. We have pockets of strong and impoverished communities. This also means that we don’t have enough of these communities being reported. Communities with underrepresented people don’t always have to have strife and disillusionment attached to them.

- Lastly, I also think we need to develop a bigger base of change agents and resources for our disposal. Too often, people who care about these situations don’t feel like they have anyone backing them up, either. Some of us are fortunate to work in social services and those are our agencies for change.

Feel free to drop a comment on any or all of these topics below.

Jose, who enjoys a little R&R …


Oh Mercy Mercy Me [Genesis of a Nemesis Series]

by Jose Vilson on April 2, 2009

in Jose

Marvin Gaye

Marvin Gaye

I present these ideas, abstract and concrete all at once. The disconnect between the problem and the solution persists. And it’s not strictly limited to my kids either. Children all over the United States and the world have their views on what education means to them, and how adults view the educational system in the country. Where do we go from here?

When I have these discussions with my own education cabal (usually my girlfriend, but also my people here and here), it always goes back to the same root: the educational system we have presently was meant to make people docile and uneducated. These simple changes we ask for, like character development, extra accommodations for students who struggle with state tests, and a more supportive school system as a whole for all parties involved is always regarded as “too expensive” or “pending” upon some litigation that usually gets drowned out by some other mess. Some of these simple adjustments may have worked in different schools, but as a system, we’re just not doing well. Some systems in our country actually serve as training centers for the prison industrial complex, and that’s the reality.

So what can we do? Maybe that’s the better question. After a conversation with a younger teacher today, I thought I’d list some things that may be helpful with the socio-emotional part of this education process. I’m learning along the way, so suggestions and comments are welcome. Note that some of these will make you say duh, but I find too many people who work with children (and adults) don’t incorporate this at all.

  1. Get that respect: First, build the foundation for what you’re going to do with them, then you can take it however you like. Some teachers are more comfortable with regimentation and others are a bit looser. However you choose to go, you have to build the respect first.
  2. Don’t try and change them, try and know them: We’re still too inundated with images of the teacher who outright changed a student overnight. It’s just not true. Try just getting to know them and maybe there’ll be an exchange of learned experiences. Change here becomes implicit.
  3. Show up to things sporadically: Anytime I show up for a talent show, a basketball game, or another of their classes just passing by, I earn points in my respect count.
  4. Talk to them: Obviously, if you’re not talking to them personally, one on one, then you’re not going to earn that respect. Even if they act out in class after that conversation you’ve had with the inappropriately behaved student, you’ll see through that and not stress yourself out too much.
  5. Humble yourself: Working with students whose background may be different than yourself is the primary job. Forget the benefits, the health care, the days off, and the discounts. We play roles in students’ lives that are akin to acting, and the number one thing to know is that, no matter how great a job you’re doing, there’s still the next day. And the next. And the next.
  6. Celebrate and accentuate the positive: Along the way this year, I forgot how good I have it, relatively speaking. A grand majority (I’d say 3/4ths) of my students actually try their best and have great potential to do well, despite themselves. I don’t have all honor students, but I’ve found good returns on my investments in them. Yet, I let the negative cloud my judgment about entire classes, and that was a problem. So not only did I get back on my feet (with a little help from my friends), I organized an awards show for the floor, and it worked 2 ways: it celebrated the achievements of those that try and those that excel while allowing all the teachers on the floor to share in the pride of teaching. It’s really those little things that make a difference. Seriously.

When I reviewed these tips, I think to the children and adults who never felt loved, who felt so hopeless that they preferred to stay in prison so they’d stay out of trouble, who died for the most trivial things, who give favors of all varieties just so they can continue living their lives, however miserable it may seem. Imagine if just that pat on the back or that good talking to might have tilted their sails in the right direction.

But in the grand scheme of things, I’m only one educator. Even one who has a platform that’s widely distributed can’t revolutionize the whole educational system. I don’t see myself with some cross to bear or a hammer to wield. I don’t proselytize to the masses about how great I am because, frankly, I still have a long way to go.

However, if I have 80 lives in my hands, and I maximize the learning potential in each of these students, my conscience is clean. If for any reason, I don’t think I’m even reaching one, then lord have mercy. Either way, my job as an educator is done.

Jose, who wants to throw my hands up because this makes me wanna holla …


The White Noise [Genesis of a Nemesis Series]

by Jose Vilson on April 1, 2009

in Jose

White Noise

White Noise

A Bronx teen was killed in a triple shooting. It happened around 10 p.m. Monday at 1225 Gerard Avenue in Mount Eden.

Stare into the eyes of a boy whose eyes glistened rather than rolled
Watch his skin deteriorate in a light powder
In a finely-tailored suit covering his shell of an exterior
This body used to contain dreams
Emotions raw as the deal dealt to the young man …

Police say they believe two groups of men got into a fight over some graffiti, resulting in Ruben Redman, 15, being shot in the back of the head. He was taken to Lincoln Hospital where was pronounced dead.

Imagine giving birth to a young man who’s seen the inside of a casket before you do
Imagine planting a seed into concrete and never seeing it sprout
Where once the ideas of a million men blossomed in his chromosomes
We replace those ideas with questions of potential and longing
Did we do enough? How do I play a role in this?

“There was some graffiti, a mark, that was made by one group that was written over by the other group. They took this as an insult,” said Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. “The group that was upset over the mark being written over approached one individual, took out a .45 caliber hand gun, fired several shots.”

Police have not yet made any arrests and are still investigating the incident.

Walking into a funeral home I’ve seen all too often
Young men and women  walk side by side with their younger images
“Damn, remember how he used to be? Now, so grown.”
The naive become able-bodies, the short get closer to the heavens
The elder get greyer, and the insolent gain wisdom
While mothers and daughters yell like fishing rods that never capture their catch
This observer’s pupils dilate
Inspiration to proceed with his daily occupation …

The others were hospitalized with non-life-threatening wounds.

The news reporter replays repeatedly in my mind
Memories spiraling in my mind
Enraged that people around me feel more apathy than rage
Another boy killed, another waste,
Another missed opportunity,
For you? Another good opportunity to tell people, “I told you so.”
For me? Another opportunity to ignore you and say, “Never again.
Not my students.”
My goal so much clearer than what I write on the board
Turning the knob to a frequency where
Everything else is white noise …

Jose, who needed to make peace with that once and for all …


Whether They Wither or Weather The Perfect Storm [Genesis of a Nemesis Series]

March 31, 2009 Jose
Boy As King

For the next 4 days, I’ll be writing about my students through their eyes, through mine, and then through your eyes, hoping that maybe we can grow from our limited thinking about our own students (myself included) and start to have real discussion, uncensored. Let’s get into it, shall we? He wakes up in the […]

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I’m a Motherf*kin’ Problem [Genesis of a Nemesis Series]

March 30, 2009 Jose
Life Magazine: The Negro and the Cities

For the next 4 days, I’ll be writing about my students through their eyes, through mine, and then through your eyes, hoping that maybe we can grow from our limited thinking about our own students (myself included) and start to have real discussion, uncensored. Let’s get into it, shall we? He wakes up, splitting headache, […]

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