Stuck in trafficking… (originally titled: If you reach just one)

This past week during Open House at the Hawk, I helped to organize a community safety meeting that was to take place in our parent and family resource center. Like many initiatives and programs, this was an idea that was thought of and organized rather last minute, not fully leveraging our means to contact or parents and community members. This unfortunate reality of extreme multitasking that is not uncommon for many educators did not stop the event from being held. It did however drastically impact the number of parents that attended the evening’s presentation. As our community partners from Inner City Vision and I sat waiting to see what that number would be, a lone grandmother entered. She sat down and asked with nervous laughter if she could add someone to the list.

These words were written on March 26th of last year. I was going to continue to tell the amazing story of the one person who came to seek out information about child sexual exploitation and commercial trafficking, a very unfortunate reality that impacts the area along the Figueroa corridor that borders Hawkins High. I never got to complete this post before I left Hawkins.

The short of it was, on this night, that lone grandmother came to realize that her granddaughter, a former student of ours, had indeed exhibited every single tell sign of a victim of human sexual trafficking. She shared that her granddaughter had just been home after a year missing. She had come home weary, looking to rest. When grandmother noticed her tattoos, they were covered up and quickly concealed. When the questions of her “significant other” began, this young woman quickly put those lines of inquiry to an end. She was careful not to reveal what we would come to realize a week later in the Parent Center that night… a few days too late. The young woman disappeared again, leaving grandmother and family to wonder one more time.

Earlier this week I received a follow up email to an initial one I had never received. It was a request to assist in identifying and soliciting the participation of career and industry experts who may be available to see student presentations about human trafficking and homelessness, providing them feedback on a panel. This is an annual interdisciplinary project where 9th grade students in the Community Health Advocacy School choose a relevant and timely problem to explore and identify solutions to. This participatory action research project is aptly titled Rebuild Healthy LA. Pause and let that sink in for a minute. Today’s education, in order for it to be “relevant” and “hands on” (buzz terms often bandied about in the educational discourse) needs to ask youth to think through the most heinous of societal problems, how they came to be, and offer real viable solutions. It’s no small feat to dream of a world where a city’s residents can afford basic housing and shelter or where young girls and women can grow up and live safe, not having to fear that their bodies will become a mere object of a gratuitous and violent transactional underground economies.

This is both simultaneously hopeful and tragic, as often is much of the work of educators in inner cities across this country. Despite my not working in South Central Los Angeles any longer, I can never not invest in the hopeful side of the equation. So I reached out to my contacts I had cultivated around these tragic realities. Folks who had helped me think through appropriate interventions for young people caught up in gang life and consequential violence and trafficking. The same folks who helped organize my open house workshop a year ago. They responded immediately, more than willing to take another opportunity to engage young people in this most important work. It warmed my heart very much to see the unwavering commitment to the community these professionals have, and how they volunteered without hesitation to help cultivate the same in our young hawks.

A day later, yesterday I received a text from one of these professionals who had personally taken on the case of our young woman. The same woman who had helped me reach this grandmother that night at the school. We had kept in touch about the progress on her case. At one point she had been found and rescued. Awaiting programming for counseling and recovery, she had left again… reentering the trafficking world, were the cycle of violence is incredibly hard to escape. Yesterday’s text messages further helped me to know how this student’s story had developed. Below is an edited version of the text exchange with pertinent information redacted to ensure the safety and future recovery of said student.

This exchange continued and reminded me again that the world works in mysterious but often very encouraging ways. In meeting one person on one night, and connecting them with another, a path has opened up for one young girl to try and work towards hope. If there is such a thing as salvation, in my mind the closest thing we can do to achieve true understanding of it is to work together relentlessly in the name of hope.

In East Salinas, where I currently teach, human trafficking of young people and girls in particular, is indeed a problem. It is this reality that I am cautious about educating my young middle school students about, for fear of ending the last phase of childhood innocence. Yet it is the same reality that concerns me when students, like the one I wrote about in my last post, choose paths that increase the possibilities of tragedies like this. And yet we must remind ourselves at all costs that there is hope. Always.

Redefining and remembering myself, “as an educator.”

It’s taken me awhile to wean myself off of the last chapter of my professional life at Hawkins. As I’ve written many times here, that chapter was the most difficult and most rewarding narrative to live for me. And the fact is I still love and live part of that narrative, everyday. In my new classroom at La Paz middle school I have a Wall by my desk dedicated to family and friends, former colleagues and past students, and students who’ve passed. I often send and receive texts from the many loved ones who were once a part of the Hawk’s nest and like me have moved into other spaces and phases, as well as from those who are still there, helping new hawks to soar. I still get calls and text messages from former colleagues and students alike, asking about this or that… almost as if I’m still there, at the nest. And I love this, but it has also made starting anew somewhat difficult. Real tensions between holding on to what is loved… and learning to let go.

I’ve been cautious to let new colleagues and students in, guarding myself from the potential hurt that comes with giving a community and their young people your all… every piece of you. For this is what teachers are often asked, rather expected to do. Give everything you have and then some. But what is left for you? For your own children? What lessons are left unexplored by the teacher who has nothing left for crucial reflecting?

In a recent professional development, a friend and colleague of mine reminded us in his facilitation that, “People do not learn by doing, they learn by reflecting on what they have done.” Critical reflection is paramount to any sound pedagogy in my experience, but it is often the first thing sacrificed. Much like this post has been in draft form for over a month. I am certain I am not alone in the profession as a classroom teacher at multiple levels experiencing the phenomenon of constantly reading (student work, new research, dialogue between colleagues, narratives from outside the profession, etc.) but never giving oneself time to respond. It is through this dialogue and critical reflection where true learning happens.

So what have I learned in the last year of career transition? So many things. For starters I have learned that “as an educator” it is more than ok to take a step back and pause some of the work we initiate on multiple fronts, especially when driven by the ethos of social justice and equity. I have learned that it is okay to also step back into the role of follower even after having occupied positions of leadership for so long, in fact it is essential to re-align oneself with missions and visions intentionally and effectively. This of course requires investments in trust and relationships that drive the necessary collaboration. I learned that it is ok to build new relationships slowly, pausing more to listen and observe rather than share and interject. These may seem like simple lessons, and to some extent they are. What is not as easy is to reinvent yourself in a new place and new context.

It is this last part that excites me for the coming year. Since the time I began writing this post I have met many people who are committed to equitable and transformative education who are willing to collaborate and share their work in the efforts to affect change. From continual pushing instructional outcomes for our most disadvantaged student populations (language learners and special education students) to the adoption of innovative and equitable technology integration in our classrooms, I have once again realized how fortunate I am to be surrounded by hard working educators who care deeply about the students and communities they serve. I have also remembered that I am more than just an educator… and it is ok to focus time and energy developing my other important identities. In fact, it to is necessary. Here is to new year filled with learning, through both success and struggle in the continued fight for educational, social, and environmental justice.

Seeing Red… 

Where was I when I heard about my young man? When I heard he was gunned down? 

3108. Rolfe Hall… Teaching a group of young, bright eyed future educators… with plans to change the world. 

Why am I empty inside? Because another young person who’s light brightened my days of late, despite his struggles and circumstances is now gone. 

 Light extinguished. 

Tears and blood flowing in the neighborhoods where we work, play, live, learn, and love. 

 How do we stop the flow of these? How do we turn off the violence? 

How do we get our young people to stop seeing red… see past the red… and orange… and blue or any other color or hue that condemns people to death…?

how do we see our last breath as something much more sacred? measured up against our first breath and every one in between… a life measured out in mistakes and learning… 

a light flickered out before his time. 

But not if we let his light grow within ourselves. If we choose to shine even brighter because we have to in his absence. 

We have no choice. For it is our duty. He is our Duty. 

To the Hawkins Class of 2016…


I have been thinking about this day for the past 4 years. It has been this sort of dream like sequence that I have played in my head to symbolize a sort of Rites of Passage, not only for you as graduates but for us “as educators.” You see, your journey has helped to define who we are. Your narrative helps write our collective identities as teachers but also helps define the very institution that is Hawkins. And as such, the culmination of your time in our classrooms and on campus is the closing of an important part of our lives too.

It is this chapter coming to a close that often prompts deep reflection. When I look at each and everyone of you, at every turn I see evidence of your energy and passion. It is this soul of the class of 2016 that breathed an entire school community into existence. I thank you for that. 4 years ago, the Schools for Communtiy Action were still just ideas in their infancy. 4 years ago we invited you to dream with us. Today, at the end of your all’s high school journey, the dream is so much more than we could’ve hope for. 

For the students of the Responsible Indigenous Social Entrepreneurship small school (RISE), the last 4 years saw young people grow into an empowered social consciousness that inspired student action in the form of  neighborhood market conversions, voter registration drives, and felony expungements for Communtiy members. The mantra echoed in a call and response format honoring ancestral traditions of our past, also epitomized our core values. As graduates tonight you issued a statement that resonates with all who come into contact with these powerful words because with these words you invite others to dream and to fight with you. Who rise? WE RISE!!! 

For the CHASvocates the last 4 years have similarly been spent deeply unpacking and examining issues of Community Health and Advocacy.  As young people you have already made an everlasting and real impact on people’s lives. From waging campaigns to ban the sale of tobacco to minors and raising the minimum wage, to forging real partnerships with Communtiy organizations dedicated to training and fighting alongside you in the struggle for adequate Communtiy resources and real holistic health, you all have proved that good people still truly hold the power when they are organized and driven by love.  

And to my very own game changers. The students in the Critical Design and Gaming School have been busy the last 4 years expanding their imaginations to incorporate dreams of a world where games and play, that which is essential for humanity, need not be sacrificed for social justice. In fact you demonstrated many times that one is often the path towards understanding the other more deeply. From imagining and designing possibilities for  more sustainable landscapes to creating media messages that implore critical thought and inspire action, you have helped us change the game of education. 

Despite becoming comfortable and proud of your small school identities, the last 4 years has often seen Hawks of all schools come together to combat the issues that touch us all.  Understanding that mass incarceration and the school to prison pipeline are very real systems that provide barriers for those that came before and hose that will follow, RISE, CHAS, and CDAGS students led the charge to Fight for the Soul of our cities and demand that our school district end its ties with the federal 1033 program and apologize to the communities. You succeeded. You trailblazed a path towards Restorative Justice and have demonstrated what those practices look and feel like when fully implemented at a school site, a commitment to transformation within and throughout a community. 

And yet despite all of these amazing accomplishments and battles, there are still many to be waged and won. This election season will mark the first that you will be able to participate in and hopefully not the last. Continue to throw your voices into the uncertainty of the future, believing that it will matter… That it is the only thing that ever makes a difference. The fight against or to realize both Trump and Hilary’s vision of America has to be tempered by your vision of America and must involve your commitment to social justice. 

As many of you enter college campuses, remember that those institutions of higher learning are just as rife with inequities and injustice, sometimes of the most egregious one can experience.  Continue to collectively put pressure on powers that be to acknowledge existence and evils of rape culture. Stand up and fight for your right to the college education that you want and deserve.  

I can’t truly state how proud and grateful I am that you all have allowed me to be a part of your journey. Some of you I’ve known since 6th grade, when you blessed the classroom of my life partner and best friend. We both continue to recall how special you were back then and how you’ve grown into wonderful and powerful young adults. Despite all the challenges we may have faced together and those set to face you in the coming years, I am reminded of our keynote speaker at our first Hawkins graduation, Luis Rodriguez. He reminded us of the necessity for maintaining a #criticalhope. This is what I have for you all as you make your way in the world and leave the comfort of our nest. And I will echo the sentiment of last night’s keynote message: #dontforgetwhereyoucamefrom. For we will never forget you. Good luck. God speed. And remember to always do good things. 

 Continue to always:

  1. Be respectful
  2. Be intelligent
  3. Be dignified 
  4. Be empowered 
  5. Be resilient 

Con amor y mucho cariño

Gomez

#LETSGOOOOOHAWKS!!!

photo cred: Nancy Se

Writing as Healing, Finding Inspiration from NWP annual conference

  
the last two weeks, scratch that month, well… the entire academic year so far has been a whirlwind… so many highs and lows, often in such rapid juxtaposition throughout the course of a single day that there isn’t adequate time given to written reflection. as such, i decided to take on some inspiration from this morning’s sessions and key notes from the annual National Writing Project conference in Minneapolis. as we often suggest to our students and colleagues, engaging in the reflective and therapeutic power of writing can often help us heal. repositioning ourselves as “producers” of ideas and content rather than mere consumers is an empowering practice in and of itself… and yet too many conferences are laden with workshops, panels, and breakout sessions structured with passivity and consumption in mind, as our colleagues and partners try to “report back” and “share out” the amazing work we have all been “consumed” by since last we conferenced.

i am happy to report that this year’s NWP conference (not that i would be able to tell the difference as it is my first ever) is seeking to change all that. as a participant and presenter in this morning’s No Bells, No Walls session on sharing out the work done at several school sites and informalized learning spaces around the country per the LRNG and Educator Innovator grants, passivity was not the case. nor was it the theme of my colleague’s Cliff Lee’s keynote presentation on the great work that organizations like Youth Radio out of Oakland are doing. nor will it be the modus operandi of tonight’s game jam co-hosted by my nemesis and frequent collaborator Antero Garcia. and yet i still had to step away from the sessions to gather myself and take our own advice as critical educators… i needed to create time and space for my own personal reflection, to help sort out all the things that have been going on around me so that i may process how they are affecting me.

in a sense this is a continuation of a dialogue i have been having internally and with others as of late. shortly after this last conversation with Antero, another round of violence struck our community and school. 3 young people were shot right outside of the middle school i first began teaching at. in this most recent outburst, 1 Hawkins student was shot in the arm, another former student in the back, and 1 other current student narrowly dodged being hit. they were all sitting in a parked car after school. fortunately the two students who were hit are alive, though one may be paralyzed from the waist down and the other returned to school just this morning, with both arms in a sling, with parts of his arm and shoulder bones shattered, visibly in pain. the third student came back this past Monday, and returned home shortly after, realizing he was not in the mental space to remain in class. beyond the violence, the normalization of such occurrences, in particular gun violence, has caused many including myself to have lamented at length over the real challenges it presents when working with young people. these two students and their parents have also been impacted by the normalization, which presents as a cultural phenomenon of dismissing and disregarding truly traumatic events as trivial. this creates a unique set of challenges for me as an intervention and support coordinator. how do you intervene in the face of denial? how do you support someone who refuses to or can’t acknowledge the significance of a traumatic situation? what can you do when a parent refuses counseling for their child and themselves after their child has been a victim of gun violence?

these questions are the ones that dance around my head but are often pushed aside throughout the course of the day, because another mini or major crisis presents itself. these are the questions that i fear i will never find the time to fully examine and attempt to answer. and yet when i come to spaces like this NWP conference, i am reminded of the power of learning and teaching thru the lens of true experiences. i am re-inspired to hear and see the work of educators and students who collaborate together to respond to narratives of dominance by telling their own stories, learning valuable and transformative skills in the process; building critical media, literacy, and civic skills that offer them agency in a world filled with systems designed to take voice away from our young people.

luckily i work at a school site with a critical mass of educators who understand this approach and have a ton of experience teaching and learning from this framework. i am also part of a very capable and supportive out of classroom leadership team that continues to help cultivate this philosophy on our campus. and yet, our team is struggling greatly at the moment, trying to forge a sustainable model of authentically democratic and distributive leadership in a highly hierarchical structure… the usual suspects of personality, communication, and exhaustion brought on by overworking have complicated our efficiency as a team. but real issues of equity, transparency, and voice complicate the dynamics of highly capable individuals collectively trying to work and be adaptive leaders for our schools, which often are already going against the grain of the nation’s second largest district, a district being entertained by the plans of privatizing philanthropists. how does a team truly and effectively work through professional dynamics and interactions that inadvertently cause some members harm? how does a group of leaders learn and systematize inspiration and capacity building that empowers all stakeholders to be resilient through current states of reality and hopeful enough to keep working towards that desired state? how does a leadership team communicate and internalize the mission and vision of the work? how does a team repair harm to members and address real human emotions and concerns? at our school site, restorative practices such as engaging in courageous conversations in harm and community building circles is what we are trying to build into our toolbox. and yet after a 3 1/2 hour circle with our leadership team this past Monday evening after a full day of work, we left with many of these questions still unanswered for our team.

not all of the last two weeks have been a struggle. last weekend i was elated to work with some of our Hawkins students, our seniors who have been with us since the beginning, since the doors opened. 7 students from RISE, CHAS, and C:\DAGS collaborated with UC professors and graduate students from the UCLA REMAP department and Digital Cultures Lab to host the later’s first ever community event. my workshop was brought to life by the reflections of students poised to leave the high school space, looking back on their journey and articulating the lessons learned on the way. they helped to illuminate the power and impact of internalizing concepts like “designer”, “entrepreneur”, and “advocate.” they were able to collaborate on a 3D interactive mural that visualized their profound thoughts on the nature of the education they have been a part of and what the possibilities are for such expereinces. even more so they were able to share the lasting impression our young but emerging educational insitution had on their individual identities, in turn further validating the collective identity we are trying to create at Augusutus Hawkins Schools for Community Action.

as i sit and try to create a space of reflection and restoration for my own sake (a version of R & R in the educational sense) i realize that the all to real series of highs and lows may take on a tone that has me sounding depleted. and it is true that i am tired. tired enough to sit out of important sessions like my colleague Nicole Mirra and guests discussing why #blacklivesmatter in all of our classrooms. but it is the type of tired that makes me want to keep sharing out the good work our students and schools are doing. a tired that makes me want to keep on sleeping, so that i may continue to dream with those around me in building towards a more just, empathetic, equitable, and sustainable society.

Community + Resilience = Transformation


LETSGOHAWKS! photo cred: Luis Solis

Last night was one of the greatest Hawkins football moments in the short history of our program. I remember the first game we ever played as a program. I was thrilled that the first ever recorded touchdown was ran in by a young named Brent Hawkins. We lost that evening, pretty decisively. 

Fast forward 2 seasons later, a battle for the ages. Crosstown rival LA high hosted the Hawks as the last regular season game for the second year in a row. Last year we lost. This year, our Hawks, who has nothing to lose, laid it all on the line and in doing so illuminated some very valuable lessons. 

I’ve always had a special place for football. As a player, my best childhood friends were also my teammates. As a coach, my players were always my teachers. The game itself has a powerful way of instructing those who are around it, mainly young boys and men, the power of team over individuals.  Last night this lesson seemed to resonate throughout the entire stadium, as the cheers from our Hawkins crowd began to grow louder and louder. Part of this was the complete frustration with the referees who were clearly not ashamed to grant home field advantage by way of excessively flagging our team. But more than that, there was a collective power that our crowd knew we had to amass and utilize for the benefit of our boys, our team.  I think our players felt this palpable support and I believe they used it to mount a comeback that was inspiring on many levels. There was a moment of synergy, when it was clear to all who were there wearing green, white, and black that we were all in this together, no matter what. 

This lesson on the power of extended communities helped our kids unlock the second valuable lesson: resilience. This is one of our campus wide norms. It’s not just an expected behavior we try to teach students to model in their lives.  And it’s not of the brand that promotes continued tolerance of the status quo just because you can take it.  It’s a power they often already come to Hawkins with and yet it is a skill that is often overlooked and not as easily transferable as many would hope. This is one of the reasons I absolutely adore this sport. There are many opportunities to test the mantra “never give up” and transform it into something more than a cliche. Last night our team did exactly that.  They didn’t give up on themselves, each other, and our crowd never gave up on them. 

As the sun and dust settled, it was clear that each and everyone of us were collectively trying to take our own fate into our hands. Self determination; It is what great football is made of.  From the moment I entered the stadium and we were down 24-7, to the moment I was running alongside one of my favorite students #3 Greg Johnson towards the tying touchdown and subsequent 2 point conversion… I never stopped believing in their ability to achieve and our ability to support. 

Football for me often reflects life, both the best and the worst of it. The brotherhood, the violence, the commercialism, and the liberation. It is like war, but a more internal one for the players. A war against doubt, fear, and individualism. Last night Hawkins battles with a great rival. And despite the 31-31 score as the officials called the game, applying the sundown rule to their 23 flags and 225 yards of penalties already ruled against the Hawks. Nevertheless, we knew we had won the battle. We had learned these valuable lessons. 

#community #resiliency #nevergiveup

Even though my favorite sports season is over for our mighty Hawks, I know we will continue to work hard in creating opportunities to utilize these lessons learned on our campus, our classrooms, and in our communities. We need to… For it is essential for our continued transformation. 

#LETSGOHAWKS

Celebrating a life, a different kind of homecoming.

Today a community came together, as they have many times before, to celebrate the life of a young man taken too early. This young man, Elijah Galbraith, was loved by many. That was evident today, as the services at Beulah Baptist Church in Watts, left standing room only for folks who came to pay their respects to Elijah and his family.  

The power of communal healing, strength, faith in the face of fear… I’d never been a part of this type of space before… An African American church in the midst of crisis (something that seems to be engulfing my professional being as of late… Haven’t written a blog post without that word in it for quite some time) and yet in the middle of what would be chaos… Peace and celebration. The songs, psalms, and scriptures guided the gathering of at least 500 people spanning generations.  The services eliciting the full range of human emotions. I was in awe. 

And although I have reservations and some out right fear about when this may happen again, I was allowed into a space of faith and encouraged to check my own. I know I have it in some capacity. Waking up every morning and doing what I have loved to do for the last decade isn’t always easy and sometimes it makes you want to give up on the system, on people (mainly adults and to be completely honest… Sometimes kids, but far less frequent than the adults) but there is always something that brings us back.

 The last day I spoke to Elijah, I celebrated, however momentarily in those minutes during passing period, his accomplishments. He was improving and moving the needle forward on his academic meter. He was honing in on a focused pursuit of his goals to play football and attend a college. Today when we spoke to Elijah, we celebrated the same thing. We are proud of his life, though so very short and so unnecessarily violent in end. But it is the possibilities in life that keep us coming back. 

My students are always teaching me things. Elijah taught me to smile in the face of chaos. Smile for peace. I will try my best to remember this lesson. 

Crisis and Response

The last 24 hours have been difficult for a lot of our Hawks, myself included. I hope tomorrow is better. Rest in peace, Elijah

“I know this has happened before and will happen again. 

I know this triggers thoughts of losing my childhood friend. 

I know that I have to comfort our young women and men. 

I know I want the guns and violence to end. 

I know I just had a conversation with him. 

I know I was hopeful at last week’s end. 

I know I don’t know a lot about why or when. 

I know it takes us all to heal and to mend.”

Normalizing Crisis…

Almost everyone new each other at the meeting. Long time friends from intersecting careers that led them to their current titles; lieutenants, detectives, directors of different types, principals… I was the lone intervention coordinator, and probably the youngest. The tone was oddly light given the context of why the meeting was called in the first place. At least at the beginning. Folks were hugging and laughing and catching up. And a certain sense of familiarity enveloped the whole meeting. As if many of them had been here before, with each other. Time would prove this sentiment correct. 

South LA’s 14 shootings in the last week had prompted officials from LAPD, our school police department, and the District to convene a meeting of local school personal in the immediate and affected area. Folks in charge of earl childhood education centers, elementary, middle, and high schools congregated into the library at historic Washington Prep High school, familiar to many as the setting for the George McKenna story, a 1986 made for television movie. After we all introduced ourselves, our main director (there were so many) outlined that we were here to separate fact from fiction, a work around to the sensationalist media portrayal of realities on the ground. This of course was provided mainly by the police representatives. 

Although none of this was surprising, what was somewhat unexpected was the way in which the gang violence was normalized. Take for instance the LAPD officer who began addressing us, essentially saying it’s been worse. Now of course media sensationalizing glorifying violence is a problem that I’m fine calling out.  But normalizing violence in communities because the cycles rise and fall doesn’t do a lot to help us understand the current situation and how to mitigate the trauma many of our young people will bring to school in a couple weeks. That’s what quotes like this do. (All quotes are approximated and not verbatim… Central meaning intact)

14 shootings may seem like a lot but we’ve had more before. It’s not as bad as the media and social media are making it out to be. – LAPD officer 

Don’t get me wrong. There were many people who raised concerns and questions that pointed to a critically reflective examination of the appropriate level of response. Educators and law enforcement shared their experiences and faith that in coming together we could rise to the unfortunate challenge of continuing our work in these beloved communities. Yet dialogue in this vain takes understandable steps back when statements like this are made. 

You know it’s hard. When you deal with a kid who’s breaking into houses and then they get out and you put them away, and you put their cousins away, we fix the problem and then they let them out again. – same LAPD officer 

Not everyone expressed such entrenched views from the status quo. Voices from all stakeholders were hopefully progressive, signaling their own experiences within shifting paradigms of policing and educational policies. Success stories about Restorative Justice programs in schools and Arresting Diversion programs on the streets were shared. 

But by far the most critical and inspiring for me were the Impassioned share outs from community members. Folks who lived throughout these “common spikes” of gang violence. Former gang members themselves. Parents of the younger impacted generations. One such brother, Kevin “Twin” Orange, a former gang member turned intervention specialist for Soledad Enrichment  Action, brought the focus back to addressing some of the root causes rather than symptoms. 

We know these kids. And we need to be making sure they don’t remain “invisible” in our schools. Teachers need to understand where these kids are coming from and who they are actually listening too, looking up to. – Kevin Orange

Another sister spoke very directly about our need to disrupt the school to prison pipeline. 

I’m not ashamed to admit, I’m one of those parents who has a son in prison because I didn’t know back then what I do now because it wasn’t taught to me. We need classes for our kids IN the schools during the day that help them understand the cycle of trauma and violence. – Sandra Gladney

These folks were directly calling for a more transparent and effective partnership with community organizations and schools to serve the youth. Pointing out that a “masters degree in social work didn’t always guarantee understanding what a masters in life did.” They hadn’t stopped living this reality. And they passionately wanted to change it. And yet what was so frustrating was our district representatives continual reminder of protocols and processes on LAUSD’s end that must be considered or “worked around” to ensure these types of collaborations and partnerships are possible. It harkened me back to Robert Moses’s concept of Earned Insurgency. We keep getting knocked down but so many of us don’t get back up. 

What really wasn’t intended to be a dialogue but more of presentation, did end up turning into the former. And this was hopeful. Our main director immediately seized the opportunity after the meeting to talk with representatives from these community organizations, as did others. And some serious questions were asked. How do we identify kids dealing with trauma? How do we communicate the severity of the situation to staff and community without causing paralyzingly panic? How do we begin to listen to folks who know the reality beyond information sharing, because they live it? How do we to build with our communities?

But I couldn’t help shake the feeling that for some, and really for all of us to a degree, it was a return to a business as usual state of mind. One in which the realities of others could be put on pause for awhile. That all out crisis could be averted for a little longer. 
I also can’t help making connections back to the global climate crisis we are all facing. The mechanisms and narratives of normalizing the “cycle” of violence causing that crisis, in command of our day to day lives. We are left unable to shake past the spellbinding we tell ourselves, unable to wake up from the dream that someone else will come and save us. No one is coming to save us. We have to do it ourselves. We have to do it now. 

Convergence of Crises…


Fresh off the high of last week’s exploratory symposium that afforded me new perspectives on everything from language use, poetry, genetic diversity preservation, hypnotherapy, meditation, serious play, podcasting and a whole host of other realms of the human experience… as well as leaving me energized by the work of so many creative people in different but intersecting fields, I have returned to Los Angeles inspired only to find a convergence of challenges that have the potential to radically define my professional sphere this upcoming academic year.

The realization that our campus, a combination of 3 small innovative and progressive public schools, for the first time in its 4 years of existence has to contend with a massive turn over of teachers was underscored for me today as I sat in back to back to back teacher interviews of many highly qualified candidates that we may not be able to hire regardless of our desire. The cause? An incessantly reoccurring hiring freeze, a sick annual tradition that the nation’s second largest school district has been engaged in since the first round of recession layoffs in 2008, the same that I wrote about here. Like some sick and twisted sacrificial dance who’s cultural logic and value has long since been put into question by the light of future and reasoning, but remains tradition nonetheless… this unfortunate economic and political reality has made it near impossible to hire new qualified teaching candidates into the district because of a pool of displaced teachers who cannot or do not want a permanent home at a school site. Seniority rules designed to protect teacher tenure rights from vindictive administrations (a real thing to be sure) in recent years have continual handicapped schools from staffing with any sense of stability, many campuses having to just accept randomly placed teachers who may very well not want to be at the site of forced placement and in turn create much disruption upon their placement.

I guess that it is a better record than could be expected when one looks at our neighboring schools and how often they’ve had to deal with this chronic problem of inner city schools. And yet the instability this level of turnover creates is unsettling to say the least.

To add to a long day of interviews of folks we may not be able to hire at all anyway, I was informed by a former colleague via a text message of declared 100 days of violence in South Central LA. As these Los Angeles Times pieces document (here and here) the recent events in the community surrounding my school. Regardless of the media coverage, which may or may not be downplaying the significance of such real and dramatic events (aside: every time someone loses their life due to violence is a cause for real concern despite and even in spite of past or current statistical patterns and trends) which some have speculated to be a non-alarmist stance aimed at protecting the image of the city’s first ever special olympics… the events of the past weekend are cause for serious concern for folks in the educational sphere. The concern is enough to warrant an informational meeting for principals of the surrounding schools to be brought up to speed by the LAPD and school police departments. And wouldn’t you know it… Intervention Coordinators.

As I try and synthesize all of the ideas from summer readings, interactions and planning meetings with colleagues brainstorming how to have the best year yet at Hawkins, I am encouraged to pace myself in this new role, challenged more than ever to take a more global perspective on the many going ons of a school, its students, and their surrounding community. I know that in this new role I will have try my best to manage not only my hopes and visions for transformational education… but also my knowledge of the societal and institutional structures that keep unfortunate realities from remaining. And yet simultaneously I will have to remain committed to a practice of building personal relationships with individual students so that I may indeed support them in what may prove to be their times of greatest need. How do you divide and help students make sense of 100 days of violence/180 days of instruction? How do you prevent one from becoming the other? Questions I bring into the upcoming school year…