Terrorism is Winning: Thoughts on Chicago and Minneapolis from LA

this morning i was listening to Democracy Now cover the unbelievably “non” shocking story about another young black man, Laquan McDonald, who was shot by police over a year ago. what was slightly more surprising was the level of cover up the city engaged in to keep this out of the mainstream media and public’s awareness that this was an execution style response by police officers, responding to a crime by committing more. As journalist Jamie Kalvern puts it:

So, at every stage I mean, I think what we’re going to start talking about once we’re past the video is really how the institutions of the city have responded to this event. That at every single stage, at every level of the city from officers on the scene as Laquan McDonald was bleeding out on the street to the mayor and the senior officials in the city, the dominant controlling impulse has been to circle the wagons, has been to contain information and suppress public information about this crime. And, really, to maintain and enforce an altogether false narrative that they had to know from day one was false.

and only 4 days back from my Minneapolis trip, i was further disheartened to read about the shootings of protestors in front of the police department, exercising their constitutional right to free speech and public assembly, only to be targeted by the warped and racist interpretations of the second amendment by cowards emboldened by the tragically comical but all too serious candidacy of he who shall not be named on my blog.

to right my mind and spirit around such hatred and ignorance i happened on the two great examples of music and art.

the first, from the musical that was recommended to me by the great Daye Rogers is lighting up Broadway, Hamilton:

the second, a heart felt track by Mos Def, off the Black on Both Sides Album… i remember running to buy this album on the day it came out with a friend. we were both so excited, much anticipating the sequel to the infamous Blackstar album. my friend was disappointed, not understanding the anger and passion this album came from… here we are almost 20 years later.

if it is still unclear to see the institutional systems and structures that are built from white supremacist ideologies, that differ from Hitler’s Nazi only in the notions of time and scale, then you are willingly trying NOT to see it… because it is all too real. and has been for far too long. here’s to more of us shining our light on this world… solidarity with all those in Minneapolis and Chicago.

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