You’re Nobody ‘Til Somebody Loves You

Jose Vilson Jose


After a difficult day “at the office,” I sat on my couch and did next to nothing. My e-mail count ran up. My food got cold. My son played with his cars, and, while I partook in a little chasing around the apartment, I soon fell into the couch again, contemplating whether any of the stuff I did outside of school was worth it. A day like this was long overdue, and sleeping it off felt like the only cure.

The morning after, I check my phone. The following came through my e-mail:

Knowing the data and related research as I do one might ask why I still believe in education. After reading This Is Not A Test, I am reminded of why I stay in the field. Through his experience as a teacher and a young man of color growing up in the segregated communities of New York City, Jose Vilson reminds us why education matters. He also shows us that teachers can have a critical voice in the national conversation about the future of public education, and that when they are not afraid, they can use that voice to challenge the reproduction process.

It was Pedro Noguera’s afterword, one he wrote in the middle of his already hectic writing schedule. Three days later, another came through with these words:

I became aware of “JLV” one late night after someone else provided a link to his blog. I was taken by the truth, the vulnerability and the clarity. It was clear that this man (and there are so few men in the profession, let alone men of color) had a passion for educating children of color. This passion means the constant search for making education relevant no matter what – a math teacher who can envelop his students in the glow of hip hop whilst explaining the quadratic equation. As a role model for black and Latino males, Jose takes seriously the responsibility placed on his shoulders.

Karen. Lewis. For my book’s foreword. My eyes filled up reading these back-to-back. How it feels to inspire those who laid the groundwork. I stand on their shoulders.

In the middle of writing this book, I may have been on the brink of quitting this book ten times, wondering how far I could be pushed, how honest I needed to be, how much derision I would get back, how much I would give up for some of the things I said. Even the slightest mention of intersectional talk put me in the middle of an identity crisis where education activists have to question and rethink their allegiances.

I’m OK with being the focal point. My team is, too. At too many points last week, I yelled at certain folk in my head: “Really? Fuck you, then, don’t buy my book! Get their shit! Miss out on what we’re doing over here! You’re mad because people of color can speak for themselves and don’t want to be spoken to a certain way? Even after all the people you love said my shit was dope? I don’t need your shit, then!

My personal value system doesn’t depend on how “liked” I am. I’m fortunate to already have a family and friends who look out for me, despite myself.

But I rather not get too deep, not because I owe people who are supposed to be on my side of things a dime, but because there’s already a groundswell of people who think differently, think forward, think we can do a much better job of leading movements, and will be just vulnerable enough to lift each other up while working towards a better humanity.

Teaching on its own is difficult if you’re trying to get better as an educator everyday. Teaching and opening yourself up so people can see that struggle is that much more arduous. It often feels isolated. You. The kids. The occasional visitor. You again. But, for some of us, it’s not just us. It’s the legacy and all the people who, flawed as they may be, keep our spirits going, like crowds before a finish line.

My own finish line? I don’t see it, but I know I’m doing fine. I’m still running.