Organizing the Outrage 101

In the face of the atrocities that grow daily at the U.S. southern border, there is confusion about what we as the public can and should be doing. When those in power blatantly abuse their power only to demonstrate cruelty and the “checks” on that power in this “democracy” fail to even be acknowledged… what is a populous to do? Where is the resistance and outrage? To be sure it is there but what is missing is the mobilization. And this is the key problem.

Teachers and students across the country are out on “summer break” but it seems as if we might have to gear up and hold summer school for the nation. The mandatory course section our nation should be enrolled in? Organizing the Outrage 101. In our profession, as demonstrated by the recent waves of strikes in different states, teachers are constantly put into positions where we have to organize our colleagues, our communities, and now our entire nation. For those of us who have grown old and tired, we need to step into the instructor role of guide on the side, allowing for our students to remind us of the youthful energy often needed in defiance, as demonstrated all throughout history with student generated movements against war, state sponsored violence and neglect.

Other professions could aide even further in a mass mobilizing of the nation’s outrage and horror against this administration’s deliberate policy decision to monstrously and callously separate young children from their parents and hold them in detention center while mocking this very policy they are complicit in.

As Naomi Klein recently reminds us in her latest documentation of what she terms the Shock Doctrine, capital organizes much more quickly than people. The film industry could mobilize a mass of wealth and fame to go down to the border and confront these atrocities, using their bully pulpit to document, bring the mass corporate media with them, etc. God knows (as do you and I) that Congress should already be down there in their entirety, having cancelled their own “summer break” demanding that this practice cease immediately. But we also know that this won’t happen.

So it looks like it is up to us, once again. Teachers and students showing the nation what it looks like for truth to be spoken to power. While they organize and demonstrate their cruelty, we should all be organizing the nationwide response. Our unions should be contacting our members and rallying the war cry, the war for nothing less than the soul of our nation, which may very well already be lost. But that is not a reason to disengage. As teachers and students we know that to engage is to define the human spirit.

I am not sure that this will happen. And so I too am lost in confusion at this moment in time. But I am quite sure that this is entirely possible. And so I will write it as if it is so. To enroll in your mandatory summer course, please spread the word to your fellow classmates, the nation.

Stuck in trafficking… (originally titled: If you reach just one)

This past week during Open House at the Hawk, I helped to organize a community safety meeting that was to take place in our parent and family resource center. Like many initiatives and programs, this was an idea that was thought of and organized rather last minute, not fully leveraging our means to contact or parents and community members. This unfortunate reality of extreme multitasking that is not uncommon for many educators did not stop the event from being held. It did however drastically impact the number of parents that attended the evening’s presentation. As our community partners from Inner City Vision and I sat waiting to see what that number would be, a lone grandmother entered. She sat down and asked with nervous laughter if she could add someone to the list.

These words were written on March 26th of last year. I was going to continue to tell the amazing story of the one person who came to seek out information about child sexual exploitation and commercial trafficking, a very unfortunate reality that impacts the area along the Figueroa corridor that borders Hawkins High. I never got to complete this post before I left Hawkins.

The short of it was, on this night, that lone grandmother came to realize that her granddaughter, a former student of ours, had indeed exhibited every single tell sign of a victim of human sexual trafficking. She shared that her granddaughter had just been home after a year missing. She had come home weary, looking to rest. When grandmother noticed her tattoos, they were covered up and quickly concealed. When the questions of her “significant other” began, this young woman quickly put those lines of inquiry to an end. She was careful not to reveal what we would come to realize a week later in the Parent Center that night… a few days too late. The young woman disappeared again, leaving grandmother and family to wonder one more time.

Earlier this week I received a follow up email to an initial one I had never received. It was a request to assist in identifying and soliciting the participation of career and industry experts who may be available to see student presentations about human trafficking and homelessness, providing them feedback on a panel. This is an annual interdisciplinary project where 9th grade students in the Community Health Advocacy School choose a relevant and timely problem to explore and identify solutions to. This participatory action research project is aptly titled Rebuild Healthy LA. Pause and let that sink in for a minute. Today’s education, in order for it to be “relevant” and “hands on” (buzz terms often bandied about in the educational discourse) needs to ask youth to think through the most heinous of societal problems, how they came to be, and offer real viable solutions. It’s no small feat to dream of a world where a city’s residents can afford basic housing and shelter or where young girls and women can grow up and live safe, not having to fear that their bodies will become a mere object of a gratuitous and violent transactional underground economies.

This is both simultaneously hopeful and tragic, as often is much of the work of educators in inner cities across this country. Despite my not working in South Central Los Angeles any longer, I can never not invest in the hopeful side of the equation. So I reached out to my contacts I had cultivated around these tragic realities. Folks who had helped me think through appropriate interventions for young people caught up in gang life and consequential violence and trafficking. The same folks who helped organize my open house workshop a year ago. They responded immediately, more than willing to take another opportunity to engage young people in this most important work. It warmed my heart very much to see the unwavering commitment to the community these professionals have, and how they volunteered without hesitation to help cultivate the same in our young hawks.

A day later, yesterday I received a text from one of these professionals who had personally taken on the case of our young woman. The same woman who had helped me reach this grandmother that night at the school. We had kept in touch about the progress on her case. At one point she had been found and rescued. Awaiting programming for counseling and recovery, she had left again… reentering the trafficking world, were the cycle of violence is incredibly hard to escape. Yesterday’s text messages further helped me to know how this student’s story had developed. Below is an edited version of the text exchange with pertinent information redacted to ensure the safety and future recovery of said student.

This exchange continued and reminded me again that the world works in mysterious but often very encouraging ways. In meeting one person on one night, and connecting them with another, a path has opened up for one young girl to try and work towards hope. If there is such a thing as salvation, in my mind the closest thing we can do to achieve true understanding of it is to work together relentlessly in the name of hope.

In East Salinas, where I currently teach, human trafficking of young people and girls in particular, is indeed a problem. It is this reality that I am cautious about educating my young middle school students about, for fear of ending the last phase of childhood innocence. Yet it is the same reality that concerns me when students, like the one I wrote about in my last post, choose paths that increase the possibilities of tragedies like this. And yet we must remind ourselves at all costs that there is hope. Always.

“Sell your cleverness…”

Yesterday morning’s #superbluebloodmoon was awe-inspiring for those of you up early enough on the west coast to witness this celestial event.  I felt blessed to have this otherworldly scene greet me first thing as I opened my front door at a quarter to six.  As I pulled up to the gym parking lot, a little later than I would’ve liked, I was compelled to suspend my routine (albeit it very new… as in 2 weeks new) start time.  I sat in the back of my car, just staring at the eclipsed moon, in all its darkened red glory.  I felt a little silly as people passed by me, some already having been productive in their personal fitness and some rushing towards whatever physical health goals they had previously established, while I sat dressed to work out and instead gazed at the sky.  The shyness quickly turned into shock and then sadness.  One person saw me gazing and stopped just long enough to ask me. “What is this all about?”  I responded as a matter of fact, but this seemingly innocent inquiry really got me thinking about the crisis of our modern relationship with our surroundings.

No doubt living back in the Monterey Bay region has reawakened a sort of environmentalism that has been lying semi-dormant for a long while.  This is after all the area where I put my finger on the brand of educational and spiritual training I felt most drawn to.  I have also been prompted reexamine what exactly I mean when I say “environmentalism” by some pretty profound writings of Paul Kingsnorth of Dark Mountain fame.  His collection of essays entitled Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist and Other Essays has been helping me survive the massive onslaught of “bad” news in the past year.  But in reality its been several years if not decades since the roots of extreme global capitalism have taken shape, forming a type of global consciousness (or lack thereof) devoid of any true connection to land and environment.  This is what became clearer to me early Wednesday morning.  How could anyone witnessing this eerie celestial event not pause to question and reassess their position in the “grand scheme” of things?  Even if only for a moment, a break in one’s gait long enough to view the sky through eyes of wonder.  How would our ancient human ancestors have viewed this gigantic blood-red sphere, hovering above, so differently than every other day?  How would they have rearranged the sublunary events of their day to accept a larger, profound, and more universal one?

I wondered about this and other questions as I stared into the early morning sky.  I also took a few pictures, with the intent of sharing.  I soon laughed at the silliness of this, not the instinct to share this with others like friends and family whom I texted despite the hour to see if they were fortunate enough to be awake and experience this, but the absurdity of trying to ‘capture’ this amazing image with my phone camera.  I walked away in awe and also distress.

Admittedly I have not been the best optimist of late.  I have real concerns about the state of just about everything in the world.  From the state of our own nation, to geopolitical realities that are unfolding, humanitarian crises, and the ever-growing threat of nuclear war.  But at the center of my pessimism is the absolute realization that we are not, by and large, not making this world a better place.  And I don’t just mean for people.  There are many who would argue, even quite successfully that we have. I mean making the world better for all life.  And I think there are also just as many (hopefully more) that could counter the argument of unlimited growth and progress leading to better qualities of life by recognizing that those processes that we engage in the name of progress are actually the main drivers of death.

And it is not that death is necessarily supposed to lead to pessimism.  We all are supposed to die.  All life leads naturally to death.  It is the obsession with staving off the natural declines and deaths of everything in favor of a false philosophy of infinite growth and wealth that eats at my soul daily.  Knowing that this philosophy drives most everyone in the modern world, including myself to live in ways that are murderous to everything that is actually sustaining to our lives.  And the cognitive dissonance is so real, that it has taken those of us who feel a drive to “save” our planet from the unnatural destruction of our own making to a place where we are dependant on the human solutions of technology and innovation, the ironic drivers of this destruction.  Kingsnorth pulls at this idea throughout his entire book of essays but utilizes the soul-stirring words of mystic poet Rumi to really drive home a much-needed paradigm shift.

“Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment. Cleverness is mere opinion; bewilderment is intuition.” – Rumi

In my attempts to heed this advice and combat this pessimism before it devolves into permanent paralysis and inaction, I have recommitted to some key principles in my life.  The first is to get out in nature and be a part of it.  This has developed into a sacred and spiritual Sunday outing where our family explores the wonders of the wild and untamed world, recognizing our very small but important place in it. This may even turn into a more disciplined practice of something I used to enjoy many hours of in my youth, nature journaling. My wife recently stumbled upon this dandy of an idea, suggesting that we even consider taking his class as a family!

The second thing I have dedicated energy and time to is involving myself with a local organization working on a very important social and environmental issue, specifically in our local region. Salinas being the salad bowl of the world, industrial agriculture has bestowed both the blessings and the curses of mass food production. Pesticide use as a “reasonable” byproduct has long been questioned and challenged in the region, as far back as Cesar Chavez’s work with the UFW. It still is today. A local community organization called Safe Ag Safe Schools, a part of Californians for Pesticide Reform, is leading the charge to help change regulatory policy of pesticide use near and around schools. After attending one meeting, I was energized to continue to deepen my involvement with this dedicated group of people. From banning chlorpyrifos to eliminating the use of Round Up on school campuses, there is still so much work to be done with regards to challenging the ill and often catastrophic impact of our modern-day food systems.

These are the things that have helped me to begin reintegrating my spirit into this land again. That and being able to spend more time with family and friends. And even though there are many moments where things feel hopeless and strange, there are still many more moments to embrace the grandeur of where we are and what is actually possible… when one invests in bewilderment.

School is at home, learning is everywhere

Homeschooling means you have to deal with your little brother photobombing and just pain bombing everything

Today marked another milestone in my first born’s life. Although there have been many changes and milestones for all my children, including my dear Melody Ray beginning T-K last week, there is something different about beginning 1st grade. It is especially unique when an unexpected change of plans materializes into a homeschooling situation where none had previously been envisioned. In reality, my wife (one of the most phenomenal teachers I had ever met before she was laid off in the recession… long time readers of this blog will be familiar with that saga) and I have been thinking about this for awhile and more recently have totally committed to being our daughter’s “classroom” teachers… well, myself, I will only be swooping into infect my daughter with the social studies and humanities bug… one which she already has developed quite well on her own.

And that is the thing. Despite our hang ups about the homeschooling or “unschooling” movements, or the problematic way that community and public schools are underfunded or not supported as much as their charter counterparts, it is our commitment to the process of education that would be best for our particular child.

Of course we recognize the privileged position we find ourselves in to be able to even make this decision. And it should be noted that our intention is to get Nilou through this year of first grade until she is able to enroll in the same school as her sister, which will be next year. But our decision to homeschool her came from a place of deep love and recognition of who she is and what she has been through. Since the very first weeks of her life, Nilou has been tested like no other. On the positive, this has helped create a little person who is immensely driven to squeeze every bit of life out of every moment. And yet this amazing trait to live life at its fullest is not guaranteed to benefit a young thirsty mind entering the American schooling system. The chances of having a mediocre experience in the first grade at a school that you have no intentions at staying at the following year are just too high. And Parisa and I were able to confirm our decision upon visiting what might have been her local school for only a year this summer. When Parisa talked to some of the staff it became clear that it was not going to be a good fit. And yes, education has to FIT the individual learner… AND be a communal and social process, as humans learn through socialization and collaboration. And we figured, who better to collaborate with in learning than your parents, who are also skilled educators? Especially if you are only awaiting enrollment into the school your sibling attends. Thus we find ourselves… here.

It is an exciting and scary thing, homeschooling your own child. Being a teacher is one thing, being a parent another… being both at the same time is definitely going to challenge all of us. But the potential trade off of this magical year is what we keep thinking of. And the time spent getting to know Nilou more, learning an growing with her, will hopefully help us continue to heal from the trauma of almost losing her so young. And will hopefully provide her with a satisfying experience to learn and wonder about all that she does. I am excited by this all. To help guide my daughter in her academic and personal studies. To collaborate with my wife, as a parent and professional colleague. This is indeed a new chapter and new type of adventure… Here we go.

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.

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.

Convergence of Crises…


Fresh off the high of last week’s exploratory symposium that afforded me new perspectives on everything from language use, poetry, genetic diversity preservation, hypnotherapy, meditation, serious play, podcasting and a whole host of other realms of the human experience… as well as leaving me energized by the work of so many creative people in different but intersecting fields, I have returned to Los Angeles inspired only to find a convergence of challenges that have the potential to radically define my professional sphere this upcoming academic year.

The realization that our campus, a combination of 3 small innovative and progressive public schools, for the first time in its 4 years of existence has to contend with a massive turn over of teachers was underscored for me today as I sat in back to back to back teacher interviews of many highly qualified candidates that we may not be able to hire regardless of our desire. The cause? An incessantly reoccurring hiring freeze, a sick annual tradition that the nation’s second largest school district has been engaged in since the first round of recession layoffs in 2008, the same that I wrote about here. Like some sick and twisted sacrificial dance who’s cultural logic and value has long since been put into question by the light of future and reasoning, but remains tradition nonetheless… this unfortunate economic and political reality has made it near impossible to hire new qualified teaching candidates into the district because of a pool of displaced teachers who cannot or do not want a permanent home at a school site. Seniority rules designed to protect teacher tenure rights from vindictive administrations (a real thing to be sure) in recent years have continual handicapped schools from staffing with any sense of stability, many campuses having to just accept randomly placed teachers who may very well not want to be at the site of forced placement and in turn create much disruption upon their placement.

I guess that it is a better record than could be expected when one looks at our neighboring schools and how often they’ve had to deal with this chronic problem of inner city schools. And yet the instability this level of turnover creates is unsettling to say the least.

To add to a long day of interviews of folks we may not be able to hire at all anyway, I was informed by a former colleague via a text message of declared 100 days of violence in South Central LA. As these Los Angeles Times pieces document (here and here) the recent events in the community surrounding my school. Regardless of the media coverage, which may or may not be downplaying the significance of such real and dramatic events (aside: every time someone loses their life due to violence is a cause for real concern despite and even in spite of past or current statistical patterns and trends) which some have speculated to be a non-alarmist stance aimed at protecting the image of the city’s first ever special olympics… the events of the past weekend are cause for serious concern for folks in the educational sphere. The concern is enough to warrant an informational meeting for principals of the surrounding schools to be brought up to speed by the LAPD and school police departments. And wouldn’t you know it… Intervention Coordinators.

As I try and synthesize all of the ideas from summer readings, interactions and planning meetings with colleagues brainstorming how to have the best year yet at Hawkins, I am encouraged to pace myself in this new role, challenged more than ever to take a more global perspective on the many going ons of a school, its students, and their surrounding community. I know that in this new role I will have try my best to manage not only my hopes and visions for transformational education… but also my knowledge of the societal and institutional structures that keep unfortunate realities from remaining. And yet simultaneously I will have to remain committed to a practice of building personal relationships with individual students so that I may indeed support them in what may prove to be their times of greatest need. How do you divide and help students make sense of 100 days of violence/180 days of instruction? How do you prevent one from becoming the other? Questions I bring into the upcoming school year…

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

Murals look a lot better than red tape… Usually…

20140417-142551.jpg

20140417-142603.jpg

One of the most moving projects I’ve been fortunate to work on with students was this past year’s mural, a collaboration of mural club students, the wonderful Noni Olabisi (community artist extraordinaire and all around awesome human being) LA Commons, Building Healthy Communities Initiative and the California Endowment. It’s always frustrating when a project of such scope and effort experiences resistance from decision makers in the final stages. But I awoke yesterday to this wonderful email:

The final mural in the Building Healthy Communities South LA “Windows to Health” series was installed yesterday at Augustus Hawkins HS! Artist Noni Olabisi and youth mentor Mark Gomez led an all star team of Augustus Hawkins Youth to collect stories and to design and paint the mural, which was installed on the exterior wall the music and art building facing the courtyard at the school.

Special Thanks to Principals Claudia Rojas and Tony Terry, plant manager Giovanni Meyorga, Dellis Frank, Mark Gomez, AMGRAPH, Building Healthy Communities South LA Partners and the California Endowment for making this possible. Over 8 professional artists, 8 youth mentors and 79 youth successfully completed the 17 murals now all on display throughout South LA.

I was on campus to see it myself today. So proud to have been a part of this project, which allowed not only my inner design and project coordinator to shine, but also my inner artist to re-emerge more powerfully than at any other time in my life. Can’t wait for the students to come back from spring break to see this. It has finally come home.