To Dulce, Tamir, Patrick, James, Jemelleh, Kelisa, Julia, Lorena, Shana, Val, Cornelius, and the rest of us, too (part 2),
Few days deliver a range of emotions like the day students receive their high school placement letters. In many towns across the country, the high school in the district has pipelines from a handful of elementary and middle schools in the county. New York City, with all its splendor and yearning for “choice,” has students choose 12 from hundreds of schools in a big index and put it on a worksheet that sorts students on any criteria, from the specialized high schools to the zoned schools and every school in between. Even with the best of intentions, that wide net of schools still leaves our best and brightest from a school of their choice. When the first round of high school placement letters get ripped opened by my students, I’m there informally counseling my eighth graders on next steps. Some are nonplussed, others elated, and others still grieve because they saw that this approach to school choice did not account for their brilliance and desires.
Then, there’s the peculiar case of the student who got a second choice that’s better than the first.
In this case, I had to dip into my reserves to boost up the student’s choice. (If you’ve ever been around me when you need a boost, you’ve probably heard something along these lines):
- “YASSS, honey, YASSSS!”
- “Wow, what a great school with great activities! It’ll be perfect for you!”
- “Oh, nobody you know goes there? Good. New year, new you!”
- “Look who this school is named after! That’s so dope!”
- “Wait, that was your first choice? That was wack! This school actually wants you back, though! What’s up, though?”
Inevitably, the student acquiesces because I gassed them. I got that effect, I suppose. Granted, I believe in student choice when done well. I also wouldn’t want students to disregard the blessings on their lap. I don’t know what’s going to happen to the student in that specific school, though, from everything I’ve observed, it puts students on the path to the fulfillment of their own dreams. Striking the delicate balance of authority and facilitator doesn’t always work out. I’d like to believe my joy is never from a neutral viewpoint, but from the context of a neighborhood where conditions for my kids are still perilous.
At what point do we allow ourselves to celebrate and be joyful in our struggle?
I ask you to understand the eternal struggle for equity and justice with and for our people, even when they don’t love us back. We have centuries of informally fighting for reclamation of our intellectual pursuits. “Teaching” is but another level, where we’re given license to both impart wisdom of the ages for an indecent salary. The fight for more of us in the classroom is also the fight for more of us to rightfully exist in our fullest capacities in a society openly hostile to our existence. Society pretends to revere us in our poverty and generational debt while lionizing billionaires and magnates just the same. If anyone wants to see the status of education reform, one only need to check the qualitative and quantitative data around teachers of color, specifically black teachers.
None of this should deter us from rowing: looking back, pushing forward.
Humility and modesty often get mistaken for each other. For all his hubris, the greatest rapper ever still has to introduce himself on the subway, too. We qualify this with any number of statements. We walk in our purpose. We have our steps ordered. We feel blessed to do the work we do and then some. “And then some” for me has been writing, speaking, web designing, organizing, and, yes, fathering. In each instances, I’ve found myself teetering, not wanting to reveal all these gifts because of my preconceived notions of who deserves these titles. We negate what we’ve been granted because we might have learned along the way that boasting attracts collective applause and systemic contempt for us. We rattle names of people who we perceive to be more brilliant thereby instilling us as mere imposters in the work we’ve set out to do. This perception assures we accept less pay, less attention, less loyalty, less thanked, and, yes, less humanity.
When we turn to each other and say, “We all we got,” we must learn to mean it.
Over the summer, I saw the power of collective in multiple settings. We owe it to ourselves to only accept that which liberates us institutionally and personally. If we can help it, we need to create, take up, and reclaim our own spaces. We create it when two or more of us are gathered. We take it up when one or more of us uses our voices and actions to transform our conditions. We reclaim our spaces when we acknowledge the stolen land underneath us, the stolen peoples amongst us, the stolen monies that push people in and out of our country, and the stolen time our humanities were not recognized. Oh, and the stolen knowledges and stories denied to everyone that would have moved us forward. This is all recoup.
This is a letter of affirmation. To my people who start out the school year in a new way every year in hopes of getting it right, I see you. To my people starting a new job where they get to affect hundreds more kids who need us, I see you. To my people losing sleep trying to move new dreams and visions, I see you. To my people building communities up and out through conversation and action, I see you. To my people in limbo about the classroom because their district has created seemingly insurmountable walls, I see you. To my people who ended up doing something for next-to-free because the old culture says teachers must elevate for “free” while a small number of hands benefit, I see you. Let’s see us in this new society.
Also, if it ever feels like you’re by yourself in this, it might not satisfy you to know that you’re not. It’s fine to stand in one’s own presence and power. Our lives are miraculous. We’re allowed to act as such.
The GREs, the DOE, and the IRS. We passed the alphabet groups like an eye test.