A letter to my little graduate…

This post has been incomplete and in draft form since July 5th, 2016… Thought I would complete my thoughts and now seemed as good a time as any.

I’ve been to a lot of graduations in my time. I’ve been moved by many a speech, affected  by many a pupil. And yet of course, none other has broken me down as fundamentally as my daughter’s recent ceremony commemorating her transition from preschool and into kindergarten this coming August.  It didn’t break me down in the way one might expect. I didn’t weep because of the actual program, though it was one to remember and as such I took copious amounts of video footage of everything from a play written, directed, and starring the children, the final circle time which included a rendition of “Happy Trails” and some pretty funny gift giving. All of this was pretty heart wrenchingly cute.

What really got to me was what it meant for my child’s future… the prospects of an education by and in a system, designed for conformity and lacking empathy. A system where play is limited at best and completely forgotten at worst. One where a unique identity as a learner is often a liability. And where children get lost… sometimes forever.

What I know now after having seen my daughter survive kindergarten in her first public school experience in the second largest school district in the nation, is what I knew at that moment when she closed out her time at Neighborhood Nursery School (NNS)… that she will be alright. As long as we, her parents are vigilant and strive to build community within her schooling, relationships with her teachers, her peers and their families. This fortunately happened at Elysian Heights Elementary where she attended. And despite moving out of Los Angeles and having to home school her this past year in Monterey, she still talks about her teacher and her classmates with love and fond overwhelmingly fond memories.

I often write on this site about education from my vantage point as a teacher. But what I have been more keenly aware of lately is my experience as a parent of school aged children. I have had to complicate my thinking on many things, my notions of where different institutions and policies fit into the theoretical and practical landscapes of education, in my head and in my children’s lives. Since that day in July of 2016 (again, when I first typed the beginnings of this post) I have had my second daughter leave the beautiful community of NNS. We have transitioned out of LA into the communities of Seaside, Monterey, and Salinas. My focus and the majority of my attention and energy has rightfully been diverted to my own kids and my role as a parent. I anticipate writing from this head and heart space more and more as time moves on as well as I expect my identities of educator and parent to merge more holistically as one better understood entity.

Rediscovery of Self Determination…

2016 Black Comix Festival: MLK Monday – SF

“Daddy…”
“Yes dear?”
“Can you snuggle with me?”
“Of course.”
“Daddy but first let me tell you something. Do you know before you were alive that Martin Luther King was alive and that they had separate restaurants for black people? And they called them colored? And they had separate bathrooms?
Is that right?”
“No…”
“Does the color of our skin matter?”
“No… ”
“Whats is really important?”
(pause) “Who you are inside.”
“Thats right.”
“But they had drinking fountains for white people and some for black people? And they tried to call the police but they didn’t move.”
“Many people, black, brown, and white organized together to change that. When people come together and work together and they know something’s not right they can fix it.”
“What can I fix?”
“Whatever you see is wrong. If you see something you know is not right, you can always try and fix it.”

…echo
… echo in my head
… let me please remember this moment. and follow up with these lessons revisited. for myself. for my children. for my students.

there are so many complexities to this. as a parent, how do you balance developmentally appropriate with historical accuracy? or contemporary reality? i didn’t have the heart to tell her that skin color still matters, to a lot of people. that systemic oppression exists, that it is real. that racial, class, and gender warfare are real and that these are some things that she should prepare to fix. but she’s 6.
6 years old. and i am so proud to be her father. proud and excited to see what little corner of the world she finds and dedicates herself to helping make better.

Re-entry… 2017

2016 didn’t see a lot of public writing from me. The various factors adding up to the sum total of struggle. Last year was definitely challenging on many fronts. As an educator (shout out to Katie Nisa), a parent (shout out to my wife Parisa) and as an overall human being (shout out to all of those who acknowledged on a level greater that their previous level of consciousness that humanity has a lot of work still to do.) From the deaths of iconic childhood figures, to the vitriol obsessed media coverage of just about everything horrible, suffice to say it was hard for me to focus on reflective writing.

This post, and hopefully others to come symbolize my re-commitment to this very important practice. I didn’t realize how important it actually was until I was presented with the possibility of losing all of my past entries, over a decade of reflections written down, in moments of pondering, responding, and at times reacting to the world around me as well as the one within.

As far what else this year and the near future have in store for all of us working towards education for change, I think it is safe to say that we have a serious fight on our hands. Last year around this time, one of my only posts to begin the new year was welcoming my last born child and only son into this world. I did so with a mixture of joy, concern, and uncertainty. A year has brought us closer to some of those concerns and has definitely presented us with much uncertainty in many different realms. One of the driving questions that has been occupying much space in my mind as of late is the question of action. What will be my course of action? How will others around me organize ourselves towards action? While many different people involved with many different organizations ask themselves different variations of this same question, for my own part I feel it important to reconnect with the practice of studying. Attempting to make more time for reading and hopefully discussing with others ideas that will help us face whatever uncertainty with dignity and action.

As we begin the next phase of American democracy and the educational system that has been an integral part of both sustaining and repressing democratic principles and practices, I keep my mind set on these few things:

Reading
Reflecting
Writing
Discussing
Dignity
Action

2017, here we go…

Remaking Easter… on the fly!

  
So… yes. I forgot it was Easter, until about 9:00pm yesterday evening. Despite being told by my wife several times that week, as well as being told by friends of the impending family egg hunts on the agenda for the weekend. I am pretty sure that last example clarifies for me what is seeming to size up to selective and subconscious listening. You see, traditional family celebrations aren’t always that easy for me. They really never have been. But when I was younger, being a child of divorce didn’t always seem that bad. The windows and doors into families expanding and changing did afterall provide me with my only siblings… all 5 of them!

Fast forward to today and it is a little more complicated. More familial factions and just plain old geography has made it impossible to experience anything resembling traditional backyard egg hunts with the cousins and grandkids. Being married to someone from an entirely different cultural background with her own distinct holidays and traditions has made something like Easter even more foreign to me. So it is with great pause and ponderance (anxiety and sometimes straight up ignorance… in the active sense of the word) that I approach the response to my Persian wife’s question, “What do you want to do for Easter?”

So I did what any self respecting parent in the 21st century would do in a pinch… I googled Things to do in LA with kids Easter! Of course the magic of the internet provided plenty to that query. What it did NOT provide was an adequate response to my eldest daughter’s question. “Do you think the Easter bunny will come to our house tomorrow?” Cue the Homer Simpson Doh! I had packed away last year’s memories of Easter most likely for the same reasons that I had avoided this year’s impending Easter. But my daughter doesn’t forget anything, for good or for worse (more on that later.) Last year did somewhat resemble the backyard egg hunt of my youth. So what was I to do now? I had to think fast… but instead I put it off till morning, until the day of… Easter.

Here is what I came up with.

  
I had to quickly type this up while making breakfast, all the while debating whether it was even worth the trouble. My wife and I decided that the cultural tradition of celebrating Aide de Norouz (Persian New Year) was our preferred spring time celebration. No weird bunnies or battles over massive amounts of candy (those Cadbury Eggs and Peeps will get you every time) or explanations of the dead come back to life. And this is not a knock on my Catholic upbringing… well, because it wasn’t really a Catholic upbringing. I never attended Easter mass on Sunday no matter how many times my Mother may have wanted it. My issue was with the consumer spin on this holiday, like most others. This country begs you to purchase your Pascua. Even if I wanted to I could not do this… I merely don’t have the time to go running around buying whatever is necessary for an Easter Basket full of junk. And I sure as hell don’t want that to change anytime soon. So I didn’t. Instead I attempted to change Easter for my family, so that it fit more with who we are and who we want to be. The reaction from my kids was validation enough.

We did indeed do all of the things the “Easter Bunny” had urged us to do. A quick train trip to downtown saw our little family unit celebrating life self sufficiently. A beautiful downtown lunch date was followed immediately by one of the most bizarre and scariest things a parent or child could think of on an Easter Sunday. A chance run in with the 3 most horrifying Pirates one could ever happen upon. They were coming out of the Stillwell Hotel lobby, which apparently houses a “Pirate Bar.” Mind you these weren’t your average Pirates of the Caribbean, no no. These fools were down right scary! One had to have been at least 6’8″ while the shortest one boasted 3 decapitated heads on chains.. yes all in front of my 3 and 5 year old daughters. It. Was. Awkward. Here we were preparing our girls to see a 6 ft. bunny (though there have been scary versions of that for sure, thanks Donnie Darko) and here we had to contend with three Piratas out of the blue. Luckily the tall one wised up and turned good guy Pirate, as good as a 7ft. tall Pirate with maniacal contact lens reminiscent of the Walking Dead zombies could be, by offering fool’s gold to the girls, who surprisingly accepted. The shorter one kept making jokes about free baby sitting and cages while waving his 3 heads on a chain around. Needless to say that my wife and I were taken aback and I am typing this while awaiting what I anticipate to be the first of many calls to put out the midnight fires of justified nightmares. Happy Easter!!! Side Note: If one should ever find themselves in a similar situation, pick up the closest makeshift sword and swashbuckle your way into the realm of the role play. Of course I realize in retrospect that power of play (and play back) may be enough to avoid the traumatic childhood memories.

After this we moved on to the actual event that we had planned for… waiting in line… uh I mean a community egg hunt put on by the New City Church of LA. I only mention the line because while waiting to get let in with what I estimated to be a thousand people, THOSE DAMN PIRATES CAME BACK!!! WTF?!? This time there were plenty of children screaming, and not about the long waits. On a positive we were also fortunate enough to see Ecto 1 drive by while waiting to be let in… only in LA. Once inside it was very pleasant day hanging with families and their children in the city. The diverse crowd was happy and ready to celebrate with young ones. The volunteer staff were super cheerful and gracious in sharing that cheer around.

At the end of the day, we returned home having accomplished all that the Easter Bunny had implored us to do, learning even more along the way. The girls indeed made a new friend while waiting in line. We had found the city eggs, though the hunt had more of a dash feel to it. No matter, for we hid the eggs more stealthily in the backyard upon returning. And being the text-based child that she is, Nilou cross referenced the bunny letter to make sure that we hadn’t missed anything, while simultaneously questioning how the bunny managed to sneak past everyone again.

And I was reminded again of the importance of reclaiming and taking ownership of one’s family’s participation in tradition. Traditions are instructive. They teach us about ourselves, our families. They help us learn who we are and where we come from. More importantly they send us messages and instill values in us long after we’ve grown up out of the childhood wonderment and fantasy of it all. I can only imagine that is what those Pirates were really trying to hold onto with those decapitated heads. A sense of wonder in magic that is actually real, because in pretending with passion you made it so. For however brief that moment was. Today’s activities is not our family Easter tradition set in stone but it is the foundational building blocks that our children and myself will have to play with next year and the coming future after that. And I am no longer anxious about holidays I haven’t fully reclaimed for myself or with my family. I am excited to keep learning and playing. This is a resurrection worth celebrating today.

You remind me of the babe…


All last night as I drifted in and out of sleep, handing my new baby boy to my wife for feeding sessions and changing diapers, I couldn’t get this song out of my head.  During one of these sessions I had checked my Twitter feed only to find out the sad news about David Bowie. 

One of my all time favorite movies and characters in that movie, Bowie’s talent had presented itself to me early on in my own childhood. Wearing out the VHS cassettes with multiple viewings of Labyrinth, my father would walk by and without fail, every time Bowie was on screen comment out, “there’s Ziggy! Ziggy Stardust!”  I would quickly correct him that it was in fact the Goblin King, annoyed that he could not just sit down, shut up, and watch such great art without interrupting. 

I didn’t fully understand until I saw the album the Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars in the collection of 8 track tapes and Vinyl of my father’s. Reading the cover and jacket and staring at the pictures of Bowie, I could not imagine why my father, a typical “man’s man” would ever be into something like this. The iconic 70s glam rock and sexual ambiguity juxtaposed to the traditional family oriented version of my dad was definitely confusing. As I grew older and wiser and more accepting of the nuances and complexities that  made up my parents as individuals, I appreciated my father’s love for Bowie’s Ziggy, which in time would grow to symbolize my own interpretation of a younger, more open minded and at times rebellious version of the man who had taught me much of what I know.  A younger man, who like me had a passion for surfing, music, fun… For people with passion. 

Now both of these men are gone, leaving us only with their legacies; the people they helped inspire… The people who’s lives they touched. As the world struggles with yesterday’s loss of Mr. Bowie and I continue to wrestle with the absence of my father while working hard to learn what it means to be a father… There are lessons I am grateful to have learned at the intersection of the lives of these two men. 

  1. Identities are complex but always justified
  2. The creativity we have as children is our most precious human resource… And should be treated and protected as such
  3. Creativity necessitates courage 

These are lessons that I feel Mr. Bowie (Ziggy) embodied unto his last breath.  These are lessons I feel my father believed in becaus of people like Bowie.  As I sit with millions today listening to his final album, which I first heard constructing a tree house last week in the backyard for my children, I’m reminded of these lessons. They are lessons I take forward with me into fatherhood, into the classroom, and out into the world. Thank you Mr. Bowie for your courageous creativity. You will not be forgotten. 

Welcome to the World my Son

January 4th 2016 is a day I’ll always remember. It is the day my son was born. Well, technically almost midnight…but the entire day was indeed memorable. Especially the moments leading up to his arrival. More on that later. 

I write this post on our last day at the hospital, preparing to take this proverbial little bundle of joy home later today. Bodhi is currently lying on my arm inspiring, as much responsible for the content of this post as me. My attempts to disconnect from the outside world have gone largely unrealized, though not unnoticed as one of my friends and colleagues pointed out in a text checking in that I’d seemed to have been, “conspicuously absent from Facebook.” And while I feel slightly guilty about not being completely detached from technology, I do not feel bad utilizing the power of the written word to reflect on the deep emotional well of feelings I have at this moment. 

The third time around is definitely different, harking me to think about the other parenting rodeos I’ve participated in. And while it can seem at times that everyday as a parent can turn into a full on rodeo, everyday has also been a gift that my wife and I recognize and are eternally grateful for. 

Yet, like all things in life, there is fear inherent in joy. This time around though, the fears are slightly different. Is it really that surprising though when you finally turn on the radio and news of North Korea’s latest testing of a nuclear weapon is the first outside story that you hear? Or the “storm of the century” that is quickly approaching, but let’s face it… Every storm in Los Angeles is momentarily worthy of such fame.  Where does your mind go when the power in the hospital fails and the generators come on? I would be dishonest if I didn’t admit to brief visions of a zombie apocalypse, but even closer to home my mind wanders to past hospital stays with my first child.  Those days were hit by storms as well. 

As the rest of my city braces for the worst, floods, mudslides, and possible death… I must embrace the best… a new Life. Despite or perhaps in spite of the worst parents must embrace the best for the children. No matter the crisis or chaos, and there are many to be certain, it is towards a more positive outcome we must strive.  I had to remind myself and my wife of this as we raced towards the hospital at 90-100 mph the night we delivered. I meditated on this in yoga class just moments earlier, breathing in intention…exhaling hope. 

I will not pretend that this world is not full of tragedy and despair. But I will not dwell on these things neither. I can’t. I will continue to as truthfully as I can acknowledge them, like the thoughts that arise during your moments of silence, and continue to move towards clarity in action, always mindful of what my role as an educator, husband, and father will be. This is the world we have created for ourselves. And it is all we can do to stay focused and breathe. Am I scared? Just a little. But I am happy. Welcome home Bodhi. Welcome.   

  
  

Summer book report… I know it’s Fall

Book reportIt has been awhile since I have written a book report. What used to be the bane of my existence in elementary and middle school English classes. I realize now why, having always enjoyed reading but never fully embracing the reporting out on what you read.  Partly because the book report models I was forced to use never really prompted me with an inquiry of any depth and meaning. They were summaries of plot and never really asked for critical literary analysis or personal meaning making. But more than that they were assigned at such a rapid rate that they rarely gave a student a chance to digest, reflect, or contemplate any deeper meaning. A reflection of our consumptive educational models set to the Reaganomics era of the 80s I guess. 

I half joked with teachers in welcoming them back from summer break to begin our fourth year of the Augustus Hawkins Schools for Community Action startup adventure, that I had finally finished a book for the first time in years (I’ve started quite a few) and was very excited about the connections I saw to our small schools missions and the curricular direction of educating young people towards a sense or urgent agency, critical thinking, problem solving revolutionaries. And what better project to tackle than climate change?

Hence my book report on Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything: Climate vs. Capitalism. I’ve been reflecting on this very powerful read since I concluded it the day before school started. I’ve had the time to process and connect some of the ideas in the book with my own ways of thinking about parenthood, teaching, organizing, and just living as an individual human being connected to so many other individuals and systems that are continually facing the threat of true violence at the levels of extinction; permanently altering all ways of life that have come before us, before now. 

I began this book on a plane ride to Denver, attending a conference engaging in similar dialogue. Writing this post at 40,000 ft. and having the imagery to support some of the walk aways from the book helped to inspire a semi comprehensive share out of this very important piece of writing. 

First off I was impacted greatly by Klein’s framing of the entire book around her experiences and struggles as mother, sharing a solidarity with Mother Nature that I could never fully realize as a man, but have on numerous occasion attempted to relate to, a communion with and within nature that helps me understand the deep interconnection and pure magic of the life giving and sustaining force we are all part of on this planet. Her honest, personal reflection and cathartic sharing of the insights of multiple miscarriages resonated with me as well, having similar experiences with my wife. Thinking about what mothers go through, as I fly towards Portland to reunite with my pregnant wife and daughters (who took this same trip days before by themselves… Imagine that scene for a moment; single pregnant mother with two toddlers navigating LAX) and looking down at the islands, farmland, oil rigs, wildfires and ocean… The power of Naomi Klein’s words settled in a little more. 

Klein begins with honest admittance of her own denial to face the reality of climate change head on, and articulates the moments of clarity and transformation that led to her book with a refreshing and very relatable view. She breaks down the psychology behind all of our collective denial in the Global North/West through a blistering and critically comprehensive unpacking of the history of our global economic model and its current day presence as the largest obstacle the planet’s life systems have ever faced. 

Her chapters on billionaires and their disingenuous claims of environmental heroism and hope, juxtaposed with chapters on the environmental movements own complicity and direct involvement with life extinguishing capitalistic practices painted the clearest picture I’ve come across, showing in one volume the interconnected ways humans are involved in our own demise. Richard Branson, Bill Gates, and the Nature Conservancy star in these instructive and enraging sections. 

Her chapters on debunking the mythology of quick and easy solutions to the biggest problem our species and all others have ever contemplated also extends to a dialogical confrontation of scientific and technological world views that continue the western centric cultural model of dominance over people and places not western and rich. Her exposure of geo-engineering projects to “dim the sun” offer sobering  look at the power of our “most powerful and talented” minds examining the problem from the wrong end of the equation and proposing grandiose solutions left unscrutinized by any percentage of the populist worth deeming their ideas “peer” or people reviewed. 

It’s worth the wait of the last chapters to feel, as I did, thru the disillusionment and despair, a growing sense of rage mixed with hope. Both feelings were present from the beginning. Klein’s thoughtful ethnographic style research and storytelling puts the voices of indigenous communities and the most hard core climate activists front and center. Entire chapters are dedicated to the clear message that there are many (way more than we think) people dedicated to the daily war against corporations hell bent on ignoring or actively lying about their destruction of our planet in the pursuit of profits. She offers many examples of how this daily war is waged, from the revisiting and utilizing of treaties signed by generations past, to the divestment strategies of educational institutions, to the direct tactics of native communities and climate activists engaged in an all out “Blockadea” movement (while I was in Portland, the repelling Greenpeace activists were in the middle of their direct action to block Shell from sending their ice breaker to the Arctic… they were forced to move by the time I had left) to disrupt the supply and distribution chains of energy multinationals. She takes this contemporary hope and harkens to the history; the great and revolutionary struggles of the abolition movement in the face of a global system of human slavery, making it very clear that despite not having a precedent of human resistance on the scale that will undoubtedly be needed to make the necessary changes in time to avoid catastrophic global impact, abolitionism was the closest thing to a mass mobilization and resistance worldwide. If we are to have a chance to slow down the warming climate and all its consequences, both projected and unforeseen, then we MUST engage this type of defiance, refusing to accept that the current corporate and capitalistic model is the only way to live… for it is surely not.

This is easier said, obviously, than done… particularly for us in the global north. Yet it is a parameter for the continued global life systems that are under such stress, many of which are unable to adapt to the changing climate in time to avoid collapse. And what is clear at the conclusion of this must read book is the notion that if we are to rise to the greatest challenge to ever face humanity, we will have to change everything… but perhaps more comprehendible and less daunting is to realize that we will have to change… ourselves. The universal inevitability, we have the potential to do always. My hope is that we do this using our “response” ability rather than blind reaction. And that we do this in time.

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? 

the Struggle is real…

and it begins early in life. even as early as your 4th birthday. Nilou received a very nice gift from her good friend at school. it was a book about the U.S. presidents. her friend was really into the presidents and geography after transitioning out of a well developed fascination with chemistry. so for her birthday he gifted her this book to share in his enthusiastic fascination with this topic.

one night last year we were sitting down and reading it before bedtime. Nilou was flipping through it rather quickly, despite her typical approach to examine every picture and word on the page in order to perfect her reading (which is also starting to boggle my mind.) i knew right away what she was looking for but that didn’t stop me from inquiring.

she said, “i’m looking for the girl presidents.”

being a history teacher with a certain conviction towards examining historical and present day truths i had to tell her.

“i don’t think you are going to find any women presidents in that book.”
“why not?” she innocently asked.
“because there hasn’t been any girl presidents yet.”

i held my breath. this is one of the many nightmare scenarios that befall a father who is ever so slightly aware of the entirely different world his little girls grow up in. the fear of cracking the globe of amaze and wonderment that i have seen her look at the world with, it paralyzed me.

that silly Izzy, giving me a book with no girl presidents!” –

she laughed. and i did too. it was all i could do at that moment of innocent and naive cuteness.

these past few months both of my daughters, Nilou and Melody have been into super heroes, having uncovered this book about some of my favorite Marvel comic book heroes. although i didn’t buy this book (i did buy some of the little figurings though) i was all about supporting it. as we were, both my wife and i, supportive Nilou’s choice to be a super hero family for Halloween, body imaging issues aside momentarily. i want them to know that women can be ANYTHING that men can be… presidents, super heroes, anything.

to further nurture this, i decided to allow them to watch me play Marvel Champions on my phone, not something i usually do but i wanted to show them (and maybe myself) that girls can be into this type of game. i purposefully played my strongest female character, Gamora. i am amused and happy to report that Gamora is now a household name here at the Gomez ranch. as they watched me play, they were able to identify with this strong fictional female character. this is not something we haven’t done before. rather just another medium to digest the ever increasing media bombardment, a medium that we as parents can still exercise some control over.

towards the end i randomly faced Ronan, the accuser (fans will recognize the fortuitous nature of this pick)… and immediately Nilou decided he was a little too scary for her to continue watching our wrestling battle. i respected her decision… and yet continued to play. he proved a tough opponent, though i (or Gmora rather) emerged victorious, Nilou did peek every once in awhile during the battle. she grew distraught, until the end she pouted angrily and said:

“i’m just so mad that the boys always win!”

terrified, i immediately stopped playing with my phone and had what i’m sure will be one of many talks. no matter how reflective and encouraging i can be as a father, a teacher… the fact is we still live in a world where girls are raped daily, women aren’t paid as equals, and where you have to be a super hero if you want to be a woman who continues to wake up every morning despite (or maybe in spite of) the oppressive realities, knowing that you will fight today… in order to change tomorrow.

to all the superhero women out there… happy International Women’s Day. I stand with you as a man, in the struggle.

International Women's Day

Changing the narrative

This past week saw a lot of extreme highs and lows for me. As a father, I got the blessed opportunity to celebrate my daughter’s 4th year of life in this world. An amazing gift. As a citizen of the most powerful country the world has ever known, I got to watch in horror as we as a society continue to tolerate, even condone the blatant killing of black and brown lives, at the hands of those sworn to protect and serve us. I also got to see people’s perspectives emerge, friends, family, acquaintances and strangers… Here and here (see #8).

Realizing this has EVERYTHING to do with the narratives we consume and proliferate, it is all the more significant when things like this happen, work done to try and change the stories we feed our minds and souls about people and places of color.

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Granted I missed this iteration of one of my favorite events is Los Angeles, celebrating a golden birthday with my loved ones at the beach… But then again…

I ride my bike most days to work, passing through many places in this city that I used to only traverse in my car. I teach students in South Central the importance of recognizing and appreciating the beauty all around them, within themselves. We work hard everyday to live our truths, lives with dignity. We live and learn life’s lessons together.

The day after the Another grand jury’s mistake to not indict the officer who unjustly took the life of yet another black man in Eric Garner, I paused the previous day’s lesson on the intersection of the industrial revolution, social movements and design to dialogue with students around the connections they see between the past and the present, in the hopes of changing the future.

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As a school community we then honored the work some of our students are doing around science and gaming.

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Everyday we try to help steer the narratives away from the dominant ones of fear, skepticism, dismissive inhumanity… Towards ones more reflective of the reality I know to be true. Black and brown youth are not what our country’s made them out to be. Places like South Central Los Angeles are not the places you think. Seeking out the stories and sharing them are of the utmost importance to any movement towards social justice and change.