When I last was here, the California Central Coast of Monterey Bay (the other bay) I was 23 years young. A boy in all fairness. Feeling like a young man, but in retrospect only having the responsibility and constitution of an adolescent. I had two part time jobs. Both were working with youth… I remember those kids very clearly. I have printed photographs of them. Over the last decade or so I have often wondered what had become of them since our interactions in their early elementary years. The kids of the Neary Lagoon housing projects. How had they overcome some of the struggles? What experiences helped to shape them after I had gone?
When I last was here, my role was primarily as a student. Even after I had graduated from CalState Monterey Bay as an “Integrated Studies” major… whatever that meant at the time. It means more to me know than it ever did. I learned from my students. I learned from the ocean and the trees. Looking back at old journals and notes before I knew how to or even cared for blogging, it was clear that valued my time to write and reflect, and that this time was in much more abundance than I find today. Much of my internal dialogue was processed outwardly through writing. A reality I hope to reinvest in with more frequency returning to the region.
When I last was here, our nation was reeling from an unexpected and unforeseen threat, preparing to respond through war. So many years later we are still at war and still insulated from the majority of the consequences of that war. But not all of us our so privileged and shielded. The impacts I see more clearly today than when my passionate critique of US history and foreign and domestic policy fueled my thirst to learn about it. I see the impacts more through the personal narratives of those around me. The students and families struggling to deal with the economic realities of unemployment, budget cuts to social service and educational programs.
When I last was here, I was beginning my journey to become awakened and conscious; politically, socially, professionally, and spiritually.
Now I am back again…
I am ready to teach young people with the same intentional purpose of making the world a better place by empowering youth to imagine the possibilities, to create the solutions to today’s challenges, and to learn from the inevitable mistakes all individuals and societies make. Today is the first time in a long time that I am teaching middle school and already I am in love again with the 7th grade energy, nervous and excited… in the midst of such radical change. It is in this shift where I see the possibilities.
Being back again, in Monterey, I am excited about my own personal and professional shifts. Having my own children now, I can’t help but see the world slightly different. I regret that it took me so long as a parent to bring into focus the young people I helped bring into the world. Being back again has allowed me the time and space to sharpen that focus and already enjoy more of the time spent with my kids. I know this is a disciplined practice I will have to continue to cultivate, because parenting isn’t always sunshine and hashtags (despite what Instagram would have you believe.) But it is amazing nonetheless and I am happy to have the opportunity to engage in parenting in a new and fresh context. I am also anticipating reconnecting with my best friend and lifelong partner and wife. Having been the rock on the homefront for the last 7 years or more has been difficult at times to say the least. I am very much looking forward to being a more substantial part of that work.
I would be remiss in my responsibilities to share all of the positive that goes on amidst the daily struggle. And however real the negative pulls on us we know that if we focus 4 times as hard on the good, we can counteract destructive forces and change our realities. Here are some of the things that helped change my reality today.
My Wednesday morning at Hawkins began when Ms. Englander handed me this note. She told me that our student Alberto wanted to give this message to me. It could not have come at a better time. Just moments later I would be in front of the entire graduating class of the Critical Design and Gaming School (CDAGS), the last set of students I taught in the classroom at Hawkins, attempting to help them through the healing process of yet another loss. It’s important to understand a little about Alberto. He is high functioning autisic. He is a living embodiment of the mission and vision of the Community Health Advocates School (CHAS). And he encompasses all of the CORE values of Hawkins. He is also a yogi in training, the most committed member of our collaboration with the People’s Yoga. A true CHASvocate.
I then entered the library where our seniors were again gathered, just having been in the same space the day before to celebrate their approaching graduation with breakfast and friends, only to find out right afterwards about the loss of our friend and student Eric “E” Thompson. Our objective for this meeting was seemingly simple: to communicate that we had their backs and that we would indeed get through this together. When it was my turn to talk, I thought I had it, but was overcome with emotionality. After fighting through the choke and tears I had to dismiss myself from the space. I immediately felt as if I’d dropped the ball, fumbling the drawn up play to demonstrate compassion and strength through resilience and resolve. I returned too late to show a more composed demeanor, and was about to kick myself again were it not for my crisis team letting me know that our students seized the opportunity and the space to continue speaking from the heart, listening from the heart, and bringing their very best selves – not only for themselves but for the benefit of everyone in the community. Words and embraces were exchanged. People began the healing process together and reoriented and re-energized their efforts on preparing for their own exit from high school, their new beginnings of life.
Later on in the day I was asked by Ms. LaMar if I could assist with being on the judging panels for the senior defense presentations. I was so blessed to have said yes. During these presentations, the reasons I teach, the types of learning my pedagogy strives to encourage, and this was reaffirmed by seniors who demonstrated how they have internalized and expressed their understanding of design thinking, growth (gamer) mindset, systems thinking, and professional comunication. Students took ownership of their own narratives, drawing from the family backgrounds, personal interests, migration stories, and future plans for the world. These students reminded us what is possible with adequate preparation and suppport. These were presentations of possibility.
My day ended with a celebration that took place at the Southern California Library for Social Studies and Justice. The very location where we first brought together community members to dream with us around what the Schools for Community Action at Augustus F. Hawkins High school would be. That evening, like many others, we gathered with students, families, friends, colleagues, and community members to acknowledge what’s possible at the intersection of art creation and community organizing in the efforts to educate towards equality and justice.
I was so honored to share the stage with my students who had once again conceptualized big ideas like “restoration” and “justice” and transformed those ideas into an art piece that touches the soul. It was also an amazing feeling to be able to collaborate with some of my favorite people who have been the most profound and exciting to collaborate with as we imagined so many different ways to unlock the creative and transformative potential of our youth.
I’ve said it before and it continues to be more true every time. My time dreaming, creating, and working at Hawkins has been simultaneously the most rewarding and challenging work I have ever done. I could not be prouder of this.
Somewhere in this extremely emotional day I was afforded time to check in with one of the district’s psychological crisis response counselors. She helped me to realize what is most difficult for me personally at this moment. Recognizing the impact one has had on others means understanding what that impact requires. Another way we often talk about impact is in terms of touching someone’s spirit or soul. In doing so, there are actual pieces of ourselves left in these communal spaces. These are pieces of me that I’m leaving behind. Losing parts of me, is proving to be difficult to manage at his time with all the other types of loss. Yet this is the risk we run when we engage others around us in building community. This is the loss we have to work through, knowing that what we gain through this process will amount to so much more. This is what we see from the mountain tops. A brighter tomorrow built together. Built by all of us… for all of us.
Today, the Community where I have learned and taught for the past 12 years laid to rest another young soul. Our student Kevin Cleveland Jr. aka “Doodie” as he was affectionately known as was murdered April 4th on the corner of Vermont and 60th.
This would be my 5th student in less than 2 and a half years, who I have had to help lay to rest. First there was Elijah aka “Yellah.” Then Patty. I then found out about Eric. And this past summer, our boy Sergio. Today: Kevin. Each of these moments, communities coming together to recognize “exit” are a painful balance of celebration and sorrow. Each time, a struggle to learn the same lesson again. And again.
And what of remembrance? The act of forming memories into a sequence of comprehension, all the while knowing that what begs this remembrance is an incomprehensible cycle of violence. Trying to make sense out of the non-sensical. Making meaning. It’s what is at the heart of all learning, even the hardest of life’s lessons. And yet it is ours to make, in the image of what? Or who? Or… how? How shall we remember?
As a history, teacher part of me wants to respond that the only true benefit to the act of remembrance is for the purposes of critically analyzing past events in order to make meaning; for the present and future. But in times like these this intellect will only take me so far. This type of remembrance does not satisfy the soul. Healing needs more than this. And so we come together, because healing is social and communal.
Sitting today in the Grace Memorial Chapel was another sobering reminder of how much trauma certain communities are faced with while some are lavishly and ignorantly shielded from the realities of others. As I watched students and families that I’ve worked with laugh and cry, celebrate and grieve… I was once again awed by the resiliency of people who face strife in everyday life and continue to keep on living, despite or perhaps in spite of it all. I was once again brought humbly before myself and others, honored to be blessed with the opportunity to serve the community of South Central Los Angeles.
In this service, I have learned so many lessons. Some I’ve written about here, others have been tucked away, awaiting the day when I can properly contemplate their true meaning. Some of these lessons have had to be framed within the profound contexts of life and death. As was today’s lesson. It was facilitated by our very own Pastor Cagle, who’s work and spirit I have been blessed to have been touched by this year. As he and other former gang members have helped me to intervene and at times prevent our children from going down the path of violence, he has also reminded me of the power of prayer and faith. Regardless of religion, the ability to find the profound and spiritual side of our work, so often necessary to continue to struggle.
In Pastor Cagle’s eulogizing of Little Kevin, he offered a theme that has been resonating with me ever since. He said “we often prepare to arrive, but we don’t prepare for the exit.” These words can do no justice the spirit and reverence with which they were delivered on this day. For they were designed to help heal a grieving mom, a hurting community, one willing to go to war as a response. His words were designed and delivered to bring out the fire and righteousness of peace. And yet these words also offered a window into my own soul as I gaze out onto the path set before… as I contemplate my transition out of South Central Los Angeles.
As I attempt to prepare for my own exit out of a community and region that has become such a part of me, I’m momentarily lost despite having a clear direction. I’m unable to fully grasp how to prepare for my exit as I simultaneously plan for my arrival in another space. I’m as torn and saddened by my decision to close this chapter of my life as I am happy and certain about moving forward.
PAUSE…. wait a minute. Let me catch my breath.
The above words were written over two weeks ago. 4 days ago I found out that one of our first Hawkins freshmen students was shot and killed early Monday morning, an attempted armed roberry gone really bad. One of his best friends, another student of ours, was also involved and is now encarcerated.
It’s is hard to process these events in such rapid succession. It becomes exponentially difficult when you are charged with helping others process their grief and manage tragedy and traumatic loss, when you are in crisis response mode.
I was awoken this morning by a nightmare. Two students were walking around our campus. They had several guns placed at different points throughout the school, which they would pick up and fire randomly, at items and twice at students, killing them both. I was following them but I was ignored. They didn’t turn to me and respond in anger. They didn’t respond to my pleas to stop. I was helpless to stop the violence.
As I try and think through my life as a teacher in South Central Los Angeles and the lives and deaths of students like Alex… I am stricken by a sadness that bears the weight of responsibility. It’s a version of guilt but it’s not the same. Alex, like many of his friends, were very clear about the path “they chose.” Understanding all the systems at play from my vantage point as an elder now (in comparison to my junveniles) I would often contest the amount of choice in these types of tragedies, but to a certain degree Alex and his friends were right. No matter what we still have a choice in the matter. Some choices unfortunately reflect more death then life.
In our last text message communique a few weeks back, it was clear our philosophies were at odds but we were not. It was hard for me to see his path so clearly laid out before us both. But I appreciated his candor and the level of mutual respect our lives as student and teacher had born out.
PAUSE…. wait a minute. Let me catch my breath.
I’m being called back to the Hawk’s nest from my UTLA meeting for yet another tragic loss. I’m returning because I have a responsibility to be there for my young folks during crisis. We are on crisis overload and I don’t know how to manage. But we have to. I have to.
Why is this happening? This kid was 2 weeks away from graduation. Eric. I can’t believe. Not yet. I’m not sure how much more our school can take.
Eric was full of life and light. I would come across him and his girlfriend often these last two years in the hallways. I never really tripped too hard because I still remember what it was like to be young and in love. And they were always respectful. He was always respectful. The way he said my name, “Ok Gomez.” His sense of humor always got me. He could put a smile on my face with ease. Not insignificant given my rehearsed new age dean deadpan stare. In the classroom I always appreciated his negotiating skills. But I was also impressed by how confidently he could ask for help. This is a skill that is often underestimated by staff and students alike.
When Elijah died, Eric took it hard. As did most of the football players. Yet again our young man will have to rally around each other and support. Especially as we approach that culmination that these two young men had been working so hard to get to. And as much as graduation is the end of one chapter, we must remind ourselves that a culmination is a beginning. And it is in this where we might find hope in the hard times.
Today was difficult. Many days have been difficult as of late. And yet there are so many examples of young people leading themselves through the most arduous of circumstances. Demonstrating our 5th school wide norm, RESILIENCY. We remind ourselves and acknowledge when we are “being resilient.” This is my favorite norm. Because it puts me in the space of learner, fully and completely.
In the last 12 years I have learned so much from the community of South Central Los Angeles. I’ve learned about true resilience in the face of struggle. I’ve been schooled on sacrifice. I’ve been tested in faith and have had to reassess my own aspirations and dreams. The children on this great place have taught me about the true meaning of love and it’s importance in the learning process. And it is this learning that I will take forward with me as I prepare to continue teaching in another community.
As I traverse this city of Angels, from edge to edge… I cannot help think about how much this land in particular is a part of me. The geography of my own existence has been so altered by my time in Los Angeles. The geography of my family, my friends, my students and colleagues is forever etched in the contours of my heart, within the expanse of my soul. And even when this spirit pains, I know I can depend upon the many of this city that have touched me, the better Angels of their nature. I can only hope that those whom I’ve attempted to impact feel somehow similar. This is how I have to prepare for my exit. It will not be easy, but… it never was. With you all, I know I got this.
The above post was written over a period of two months… Two of the most difficult years of my professional career.
This evening at dinner, my youngest daughter and middle child Melody Ray asked a question.
“Why is there no men’smarch daddy?” – Melody Ray
“Everyday is a man’s march.” – Mommy
This question, was posed by the same little girl who a few days earlier had stated the following in response to her mother’s horror and subsequent questioning of her book choice at the local library.
“I like Snow White’s techniques. She makes friends and goes out into the woods by herself. She’s an adventurer.” – M. R.
Her initial question about why men don’t hold their own march, answered by my wife’s deadpan sarcasm with a heavy dose of truth insulating that everyday men march across this planet in attempted domination of everything they encounter, including our Mother Earth… was not lost on me, neither the innoncence or seasoned calculated jadedness. And yet it did prompt me to dig a little deeper into history to genuinely attempt an answer at least for myself.
Simple google queries with the words (men’s, marches, history, etc.) yielded not much more beyond the many “March Madness” articles, many articles on Women’s marches, and the occasional noteworthy example of men (especially white men) well… being men. In particular here and here were two anomalies. The last one being eerily prophetic when considering our current geopolitical context post Trump. I did learn something new about the fact that there is indeed an international men’s day… but did not dig deep into that rabbit hole.
What was reconfirmed for me was the reality that my wife’s answer eluded to… that to bring into the discussion the existence of “men’s marches” in juxtaposition to marches scheduled for tomorrow’s International Women’s day is not something that would help us honor and recognize the plight and might of women all over the world, all throughout history.
Suffice to say that I am excited by the prospects that my daughter asks questions about the world and forms her own opinions about things. I’m also ecstatic about her ambition and the possibilities of breaking through the molds and stereotypes that lock young girls and women into oppressed ways of thinking and living.
Our dinner conversation continued into the political sphere, talking through tonight’s local city elections, and contemplating tomorrow’s marches, strikes, and the conspiracies to distract from and deter them. A colleague later texted this article that continued to provoke my own thought around how I, as a man, can continue to support the feminist struggle in these challenging days. As the female energy hopefully rallies with support from its male counterpart, I’m hopefully amused by the specter of possibility positives by my four year old daughter in her statements of questions and ideas like this:
“Oh yea?! Well Dad, one day I’m gonna be a big football player and you’re going to be terrified of me when I run at you!” – M. R.
However she charges at life, I will be there to support. And I am indeed terrified of anyone or anything that gets in her way. I love you Melberg!
Over the last week, every aspect of my identity has undergone some sort of institutional attack by the Trump administration. What’s even more saddening is that so many more people; friends, family, and strangers (fellow countrymen and fellow global citizens) have experienced the same attacks and yet have had to feel them on much deeper levels. To realize this suddenly Saturday morning with my children, while attempting to shake off the remnants of a difficult work week by reading a friend’s tweet… it is all surreal.
My identity as the child of an immigrant mother who came to this country at 19, newly married to my father… a soldier in a semi occupying army in her native land, this part of me is under an old but vigorously renewed assault by the same country that welcomed my mother with open arms. I’ve always had to deal with prejudice and misunderstandings of one of my home cultures. It is hard to read stories like this and not feel the impact at the core of your soul when you juxtapose those with the memories of waiting anxiously outside of customs to be reunited with your family once again. Being a Panamian – American is not as hard perhaps as some other minority bi-cultural groups, but that identity is questioned and challenged for basic legitimacy and dignity nonetheless. As is my Mexican heritage. How should one respond to the building of a wall to keep separate the people on the other side you call Tio and primo? I have a few choice responses swimming around my mind right now.
As a husband to my wife, a woman who’s entire family lineage is born of a Muslim land where people are currently being barred from entry to the country we both call home… the attack is real. Like me, she can vividly recall the beginnings and endings of summer travel to our other homelands at the Tom Bradley international terminal… immerging from the tunnel to warm smiles greeting us. Attempting to imagine what other have been greeted with as of yesterday’s America is traumatizing.
I’m infuriated by the attacks on women in general, as a father of two young girls who will be growing up in a “democratic” society that attempts to legislate and politicize their own bodies. Incensed by the economic and social inequities imposed and emboldened by this administration’s view on a women’s worth in the work place. I’m sick to my stomach.
And what of our work? And that of others. While this new administration, like those of the past, asserts that they prioritize job creation and expansion of the middle class, they are about to enact policies that will completely decimate it. At the same time, they are drastically attempting to limit the power of labor organizing, lying to union leaders, placating them with overinflated estimates of infrastructure jobs to be created and squeezing out any real sense of union strength that will be necessary to preserve the working class.
These are some of the identities that make up my daily existence. And while I won’t quite adhere to the sentiment that my existence is being completely challenged… I know enough about history and contemporary society to understand that many people are feeling the pressure of these encroachments by the political apparatus in a way that brings on a type of existential and identity crisis that typically results in two outcomes:
1. You become paralyzed with fear, afraid of the possibility that your existence is no longer welcome or sanctioned by the state… and you conform, playing along with the insanity in the hopes that you will get by until the next “transition of power” wishfully thinking it may be more merciful in the future. This option unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately is only viable for a few.
2. You fight. Fight like hell to be recognized, never apologizing for who you are and where you are from. Because your whole life you’ve known to one extent or another that your identities, complex as humanity, were never fully accepted by the state. Your existence has always been challenged one way or another.
It is the fight that has become unclear to many. And for those who are coming out of the privileged consciousness of false peace, it’s quite a cognitive dissonance to make the leap into war, even if that war is to be waged for your own self preservation. Because you have never really had to fight. But for those who have lived their whole lives under attack, there is nothing else but the fight.
To be clear, if we are going to come out on the other side of this ok, we are going to need both types of folks. And the fight can take on many tactical variations and iterations. But fight we must. These words are one extent to the fight I will continue to be, for these words are me. And my government has not stolen them from me. Not yet…
To be part of today, part of history… the amount of people and all our collective resistance, humanity… it was amazing. Here in Los Angeles, 750,000 were estimated to have turned out for the Women’s March. Those estimates are not over inflated (take note Trump.)
And yet, even as the high of participating slowly drains from my body… my mind wrestles with a question. What will we all do tomorrow? And the next day? It is this question that I know matters even more to the Resistance movement.
It is without question that we must continue to organize and push. But what does that mean? I know for me throughout the years it has meant being part of an organization, a community of people working to improve the world we inhabit in some meaningful way. There were so many of these types of communities that were present today, unified in our message of Resistance. And yet I know there were so many people there who came just as families or as groups of friends. And that is a wonderful sign of things to come, of what could be possible when folks organize themselves and build broad based coalitions of overlapping and supportive work under a framework of social justice and humanity. And it all begins with building relationships. But it also means extending yourself into the realms of real and often uncomfortable work of organizing. It is a sacrifice, but it is one born out of shared community and struggle.
It is this shared community that has been our struggle in the past. The factioning and fracturing off of many “left” and “progressive” and even “radical” causes who stay strong and continue to push for demands of equality, justice, and even reparations… but who do not stand united everytime. Today, for whatever reason it felt… different. Have we finally realized how to stand together? For more than one day?
As we take the fire of inspiration that many of us were a part of lighting today, let’s be clear of the commitment to action we are taking. Tomorrow, we should rest… and reflect. Pick up a book that helps prepare you for the fight that is necessary for the movement to succeed. Read or re-read some of the history that has gotten us to this point. Call someone and invite them to read these with you. Form a reading/study circle, or seek one out to be a part of… and rest. Monday, become an official member of an organization for the first time. Support public media with a donation, however small. God PLEASE support our public media outlets. Sign a couple of petitions online but then really research what those causes are all about… and then JOIN those organizations that are fighting for change. Call one of your representatives, just one and give them hell. Remind them that you were in the streets… and they may have been in the streets. Remind them that they work for us, and this is what we want.
She can’t commit to not privatizing public education
She cannot be sure if, as the chief education enforcement officer in the land, she will hold educational institutions accountable to the same standard whether they are public, publically funded and privately managed, virtual or otherwise
She won’t uphold federal law to ensure equity or equality for students with disabilities
She doesn’t fundamentally understand the important debate around authentically and accurately assessing student learning
She believes that public dollars should be allowed to go to religious education, despite that going against our nations first constitutional amendment
She doesn’t have an opinion on how the second amendment should be interpreted to protect our schools
She has no public educational experience whatsoever (k-12 or higher ed)
She has not been cleared by the Office of Ethics
She lied to congress in her confirmation hearing
Her brother founded one of the most successful and dangerous companies on the planet with a business model that essentially removes public and governmental oversight of the military
TODAY’s POP QUIZ:
Is Betsy Devos qualified to lead and improve our nation’s PUBLIC education system?
It’s better than watching it perhaps, it depends on if you prefer your eyes and ears to bleed or just your ears, but in this era of ridiculous danger, we must all subject ourselves to this type of abuse lest we suffer more later not having known what to expect. With Betsy DeVos we can expect not a whole lot of substance or transparency when it comes education policy supporting America’s PUBLIC school system.
There were many more exchanges of course and not one of those led to an actual answer of the question posed, which is not surprising in the political sphere but DAMN it is annoying. Her exchange about guns in schools was too infuriating to post here. But it was pretty clear that she will indeed push a privatized agenda. To be clear… here is what she will do away with and here is how we will let her… unless we fight.
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.