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…

Crisis, Creativity, and the tools of Caring

I have been putting off writing about this for some time. Mainly because I am busy being a father, husband, teacher, school founder, professor, etc. Nonetheless I have been consciously thinking about how the often unconscious processes of Creativity work in communities and individuals, ever since my nemesis invited me to be a part of next week’s Creativity and Crisis symposium hosted by Colorado State University. Unlike most other symposiums, this one aims to informally  bring together folks from different walks, academic and non-academic alike in what I hope is an applied and active dialogue.

So what is it that connects these concepts together? Crisis, Creativity, and Caring? At first attempt to get my internal dialogue going, I thought about the areas of my life where I have or am currently experiencing “creativity.” I then began thinking about the tools I use to manifest this energy into the “real” world. Pen and Paper have always my go to weapons of choice. Doodling and jotting down ideas and connections that I see. Many folks who know me identify my scribblings with my personalities at work or home. For me, the lines on the page create or perhaps are manifestations of the connections forming in my head. Hearing one person’s ideas and recalling another’s, I often find points of connection and intersection… but knowing that these Aha moments can vanish quickly in the ocean of the mundane… I try to scribble them down. Original I know, but my scribblings are not just notes. The are usually more “artistic” and filled with doodling or actual drawings. And clouds… a lot of clouds. Why is this important? I am not sure that it is beyond a personal level, but there is growing evidence that it may be. Though many of my colleagues poke fun at my icons and symbols, they also often volunteer me to “chart” out meetings and discussions. Students seem to appreciate the class notes even on just an aesthetic level, which I feel should not be minimized in terms of significance. No one wants to stare at “important” notes if they look hideous and unruly! At least I don’t and that is where I would leave this conversation, but others have moved it forward at least in the educational sense, as this fantastic article helps us remember. And not only remember… but also help us connect.

  

The next two “tools” that have reawakened some of my other creative neural outlets have been the last two years’ father’s day presents from my wife and daughters. As the previously mentioned creativity often finds my head in a permanent space of professional work endeavors, my hammock and ukulele were gifted to me by my family in an attempt to ground me back in my most personal and closest moments of home. Relaxing and enjoying the life I have helped to create. These tools have been “instrumental” to say the least. As I have been immersed in helping to build my second home, the Schools for Community Action , my home and family have been my everlasting source of renewed energy. Yet, like most wells, you have to actively partake in the process of replenishing. My hammock has been my partner in crime on many occasion in sparking impromptu and spontaneous naps and cuddle sessions. This has helped to remind me of the importance to taking and making time for the most important and often overlooked aspects of one’s life. Home and family are essential.

  

All of these things are “homegrown.” And the last real bastion of creativity for me as of late has been my actual house and the standing or sitting structures that I have been a part of designing and bringing to fruition with my own hands. Building backyard gardens, benches, and fences (yes, city boys can build things too!) has been very cathartic for me recently.  Something about working with your hands and elements of Earth once or currently living, reminds us that we are part of nature. And everything we create is an extension of ourselves and our visions and intentions of and for the world. 

   
   
Of course there are other tools and times when I feel creative  Riding my bike to work and choosing the “lines” that won’t get me crushed by a bus. Playing games, figuring out puzzles, building, acting, drawing, or basically doing anything with my kids. Riding waves on the ocean. Teaching students how to ask important questions and then how to go find answers, how to organize oneself for change. But all of these things, if you think about it involve crises, big and small. Problems that beg to be examined and solved. 

  
The crises I have been dealing with, the problems that have required my creative thinking; 1) how best to be a good and decent husband/father? 2) how to continue creating and sustaining schools rooted in authentic community action and self determination? 3) how best to re-examine and redefine my truth and identity as I grow older in this life? 4) how best to exist in this world and answer our Earth’s call reform our capitalistic practices in favor of culture and climate? 5) how do we begin dismantling systems and institutions of oppression and build towards economic, social, and environmental justice for the most marginalized people in our society?

These are the questions I care about pondering and working out solutions to. And if we don’t care (actively) then we lose our ability to create, to solve problems. Capitalism requires this of us. Capitalism craves consumers and not creators. 

What are your crises? And how do you use your creativity to combat them? In essence, what do you care about?