Even on concrete, my shoes manage to screech at me when I’m chasing down a crosstown bus at 6:45 in the morning. My robust frame belies my uncanny ability to accelerate as the neon green sign flashes from a block away. Upon entering the bus, I’m met with less eyerolls like someone who’s holding up the bus and more with incredulity that I made it. I thank the bus driver whose coffee still hasn’t kicked in while driving dozens of passengers to their respective stops. We stop at a mosque, a church, and a Dominican bodega in succession. The screeches continue as I float down the subway steps, through the turnstiles, and between the closing doors of the C train.
By the time I’ve made it to my third floor classroom desk, I’ve clocked in 3,000 steps. I have yet to start the marathon.
Throughout this trip and the few others since last week, Beyoncé’s hitting another riff in her latest production, Homecoming (Live). She hums, chants, harrumphs, and raps through the touchstones in her discography while an HBCU-inspired band accompanies her vocals. She positions herself squarely in her identity as a Black woman artist who prefers her audience do the work of decoding should they have questions. The images she unfolds in her music accompany the visions she lays out for us in her documentary of the same name. Throughout the country, the Beyhive (Beyoncé’s fan club) has taken up a call to dance in sync and asynchronously. Even those of us who aren’t part of the conglomerate connect to the projections. Beyoncé herself caters the whole experience from staging and dancers to release dates and products. The mastery of her art form is only rivaled by the on and offline pandemonium that ensues over her musical products.
She’s gonna keep us whole past June 26th. Praise be.
On the surface, it feels weird to treat any artist as a demigod, but people have openly pledged fealty to her because she seems so intent on giving her fans what they want, responding to their desires publicly, and moving her audiences to places they may not know they wanted. Allow my absurdity, but “Ms. Carter” has a lot to teach us about so many of our educational spaces.
Specifically, how does someone organize any set of people from customers simply receiving information from us to people who see themselves as part of a larger community with common beliefs?
Lately, I’ve been saying that every star in a sky might shine differently, but they shine best when they’re together. How do schools organize around togetherness and community? What does it look like for both adults and children alike to see themselves as people with interwoven fates and common ideas about learning and passions?
What does this mean in spaces where we’ve collected the descendants of enslaved peoples, the descendants of victims and survivors of genocide, the descendants of bigotry and homophobia? What does this mean to people who we have yet to make reparations for and people who we continue to declassify while pilfering them for their labor? What does it mean for children without places to call home in the languages they speak, for children whose walls are either iron bars or glass encasements? How do we create a sense of belonging nor just for those within our spaces, but with our kin in spaces that may not look like ours?
This conversation is especially critical as testing season is upon us. The test prep engine is in full gear. Millions of students have printouts of previous test questions in front of them while educators stress the important of their attention. Schools have organized test prep rallies, their first such gatherings for the year. Students see tightly-wounds adults insistent on giving students self-care tips they should have suggested throughout the year. States have required classroom decorations and bulletin boards be covered during this time. The pressure mutes the energy in our schools.
If schools are the hive, are we making these institutions sweet enough for students to belong?
Beyoncé seems to give every element of her presentation their space to thrive. She chose the team that saw her vision through, picked the clothes and stage details with intention, and gave everyone their space to flex. The glimpses into the backstage reveal her insistence on them matching her energy, knowing how it might translate to ardent and casual observers alike. She sets the foundation for her performance by singing a cover of what we call The Black National Anthem, “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing.” She does this in the middle of Coachella with the big energy one musters when they sing this song without apology and all the graces and courage it brings:
Lift every voice and sing
Till earth and heaven ring
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
let our rejoicing rise,
high as the list’ning skies, let it resound loud as the rolling sea
sing a song full of faith that the dark past has tought us,
sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
let us march on till victory is won.
Many of our education spaces work overtime to exclude. We need more people willing to take up enough space so our renditions and dreams make it to center stage. I tithe to this.