voice Archives - The Jose Vilson


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

by Jose Vilson on June 16, 2011

in 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 …” ::

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Why Your Voice Really Does Matter

by Jose Vilson on October 18, 2009

in Jose

Soledad O'Brien

Soledad O'Brien

Last night, I and the gentlemen from MiBodegaOnline.com went to El Museo Del Barrio, a museum dedicated to the Latino experience here and everywhere, located in Spanish Harlem, to see a preview of CNN’s Latino in America, a spinoff off the acclaimed Black in America by Soledad O’Brien. She was present to introduce the clips and answer questions regarding the premiere and outstanding issues pertaining to the Latino community. One audience member asked arguably the most critical question about the documentary when he asked, “About Lou Dobbs …”

The audience, at that point, clapped loudly, and Soledad’s smile stretched from ear to ear, as if expecting the question. For those not in the know, Lou Dobbs, CNN anchor and host of his own show, has been at the center of a maelstrom of debate with his divisive comments towards the Latino community as a whole, but specifically illegal immigrants. He’s not only continued to perpetrate lies about the “facts,” he’s also sponsored racist organizations like the Minutemen, an organization that supposedly patrols the borders of the US to contain migrants from other countries, predominantly Mexico.

“About Lou Dobbs … I guess my question is, how do we get him out?”

I’ll presume that he meant to ask Soledad O’Brien what’s a good strategy to unseat Lou Dobbs from his own program in light of his blatantly racist (and other -ists) agenda. Lou Dobbs’ program is on the same network (CNN) as this program, so naturally, people had to ask a seemingly uncomfortable question to Soledad, who’s done her part in diversifying the station’s anchors and shows. While I can’t directly quote her, I do believe she said the network notices when certain programs do well and others don’t. She also said that as long as she puts out solid, nuanced programming, and people keep responding as well as they have, then they will win.

And that’s where I see the power. We have to speak in the language that makes the most sense for whatever the situation is, and master that language in kind. The same ideas we have about visiting a foreign country should be applied to everything we do. If we want more movies with Latinos in it, then let’s go to films that have Latinos in them. If we want more stake in our communities, we need to stuff those ballot boxes and sponsor those events, whether with experience or monies. It’s not enough to just blog, Facebook, Twitter, or whatever modality we use online to deliver our messages when many of us aren’t speaking in the language of the very causes we’re fighting for … we need to act en masse.

After stating her thinly-veiled commentary, a good response / non-response if I ever heard one, she said, “I won’t connect the dots for you.” That’s where you and I step in. Join me. Bring your voice to the fore.

Speak up and speak loud.

Jose, who will never insult your collective intelligence …

Soledad O'Brien and I at the Latino in America event at Museo del Barrio, Spanish Harlem, NYC

Soledad O'Brien and I at the Latino in America event at Museo del Barrio, Spanish Harlem, NYC