Preparing to exit…

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. 

Seeing Red… 

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

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

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

 Light extinguished. 

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

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

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

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

a light flickered out before his time. 

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

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

Notes from a future feminist… 

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! 

Institutions and identities…

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. 

I’ve already lamented about the attacks on my profession in recent posts. But I found this UCLA interview with public education champion Pedro Noguera to be informative and semi hopeful. Yet it is clear that Inand others will have to fight for the very right to envision our work through the lens of justice. 

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… 

What will we do tomorrow? 

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.

We. Want. Change.

And. We. Will. Fight.

What will you do tomorrow?

So let’s review…

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 

Is Betsy Devos qualified to lead and improve our nation’s PUBLIC education system?

Are you Hearing this Hearing?

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.
See below.

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.

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

“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?”
“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 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:


2017, here we go…