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.

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 

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

Re-entry… 2017

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

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

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

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

Reading
Reflecting
Writing
Discussing
Dignity
Action

2017, here we go…

My Y.I.R. – What was learned?

As the whole world reflects on the past year and begins to spew out “best of” and “review” lists for our consumptive pleasure… I figured I too, needed to “contribute” my own perspective on this 21st century practice, which by and large I believe is a worthwhile practice, rewinding the year to review it more closely, slowly, and critically.

Things I have learned or affirmed this year:

Crisis is real
Perhaps it is my lack of comfortability in my new role this year as an intervention coordinator (new age dean.) Or perhaps it is the fact that for the first time in at least 5 years I have completed more than one book, the contents of which reassure me of the above stated lesson. Reading This Changes Everything, The New Jim Crow, and Future Crimes (I am hoping to complete this by year’s end) has definitely raised my affective filter and caused me to think at great length about the role of crisis in our lives and our abilities to respond to such turbulent times.

Whether its the continual attacks on black folks, immigrants, poor people, muslims, public education or the very planetary systems we all rely on… this year has had plenty of examples of crisis. The longer I ponder and postpone this post, the more crisis there is to ladden my writing with depressing hyperlinks that demonstrate how far we have yet to go. From this week’s non-indictments of police officers in the shooting death of Tamir Rice or the alleged “suicide” of Sanda Bland, to the happenings in Chicago… if you are Black in our country, you are in a perpetual state of crisis, 24 hour emergency. A decade into teaching in the Black and Brown community, almost four decades of being brown myself (depending on who you ask… no stop it! ASK ME HOW I IDENTIFY!!!) and I am STILL trying to come to terms with how much crisis and trauma impact my students on the daily. This has to at some point account for the trauma inflicted by the very educational system I am a part of as well, but more on that later.

My students who have only been in this country for a short time, struggle with great challenges both here and back in their home countries. Many of them from El Salvador, where the current gang situation has reached levels of violence reminiscent of the country’s civil war and our own country’s current and perpetual war on Black Folks. Successfully navigating a new culture, language, and educational system while simultaneously coping with news of loved ones murdered or disappeared back home is too much to ask anyone, but particularly misaligned with the developmental capacity of young adolescents. Acting out is common and when one pauses to take perspective, completely understandable. But what is being acted out? The answer is the type of crisis that fills much of my work day; truancy, drugs, gang tagging… a lot of anger. Again though, anger is understandable reaction when your dealing with situations like this:

As I zoom out and think about the international and global geopolitical landscape, the crisis seems to loom more heavily on the horizon… just far enough over the horizon to feel momentarily safe and out of harms way, until tragedies like San Bernardino happen. In the wake of the Paris attacks and San Bernardino, closing schools in my district for a day, the second largest in the nation, is not something I felt like criticizing then or now, but another clear example of crisis feeling globally and impacting locally.

To even give credibility to the notion that there is a climate “debate” at this point would be to betray my own convictions and belief in the environmental movement… and yet, returning to Paris once again, we witnessed leaders from around the world having to try really hard to reach an accord on something one would think should be easy to agree on… saving our one and only planet from irreversible, man made climate catastrophe. Whether that is what happened in Paris remains to be seen, but there was a real moment of crisis (probably several) when many did not think the climate talks were going to produce any positive mention in anyone’s year in review.

And what of education 4 change? I began this blog upon entering the teaching profession, more than 10 years ago… not exactly knowing what a blog was… but knowing that I needed a space to reflect on all the things that happen, all of the goings on that I saw all around me. From the personal to public, I have attempted to consciously think through my experiences in education in a manner that allowed me to continue asking questions of possibility… questions of hope. This year, public school teachers in Los Angeles have had to ask ourselves, “What if half of our district was rapidly converted into charters?” Some folks may feel they have answers to that question, as well as proposals to try and make that actually happen… but aside from possible answers in the form of extreme educational utopias and dystopias, this question begs many others: What would happen to the rest of the schools? Is intense competition the best way to innovate more effective learning for ALL students? How would this impact students and families? What would this mean for teachers? Or the entire LAUSD? One thing is clear, this would be a crisis.  Education in Los Angeles would change dramatically… and not necessarily for the better.

And so then what? How do we make things better when we face so many challenges, so much crises?

To continue with my lessons learned motif…. I have also learned AND reaffirmed that:
Resistance is real
and it is the only thing that gives me hope. Whether it was the Black Lives Matter Movement interrupting presidential “debatesshutting down freeways and megamalls, or black college students forcing the resignations of university officials, the continued resistance AND resilience of the black community continues to amaze me everyday. The amount of conviction and love needed to face such blatant and daily disregard for your life, it is truly instructive on how to live a life full of meaning, cultivating our collective humanity. It takes me back to one of the most powerful experiences for me this year, in the midst of a black community stricken with grief yet relentless in their faith and hope that we will, indeed be ‘alright’…. but not without a fight.

Resistance is not always transformational, as the above mentioned defiance, vandalism, and drug use of some of my students can attest to… and yet there are moments when we are fortunate enough to witness the awakening of young person to a calling, their calling. When a young person discovers the passion and agency they possess and align it with a cause they care about, there is no better lesson, no better teacher. For some of my Salvadoran students this happens not at school, much to my dismay, but rather in an alternative space. Being out of the classroom and working intervention has allowed me to become more familiar with some of these spaces and programs. I have had the pleasure of meeting and working with Alex Sanchez, founder of Homies Unidos. The work he and his organization is doing with some of our young people at Hawkins is nothing short of revolutionary. And while it is difficult at times to witness students traverse the different forms of resistance often self defeating and reactionary, I have internalized even more the importance of learning that must take place outside of the classroom and often in spite of schools for some of our young people. One of our students testifies to that below:

Earlier this week I came across a blog post from a young man, Timothy Phan, I met at last year’s Civic Innovation Lab. His year end reflection had him thinking about his past convictions, passions, and the commitment at which he used to lead a life centered on these things. As I read on I began to identify with some of what he was saying. While in Portland this summer, a city that once served as a frequent summer hub at a time when my life’s work was centered on environmental awareness and activism, I was reminded of the power of this time in my life. Hanging suspended from many a places high up with young people, learning about our natural world while being fully immersed in it, and helping them to realize that this world was worth taking care of… worth fighting for. It reminded me of some of the feelings I had while reading This Changes Everything. Seeing those activists suspended from the St. Johns Bridge in Portland, I remember feeling a tremendous amount of pride for the stance they were taking, but it was tinged with a little guilt and confusion. As someone who very much believes in the science of man-made climate change and that we are abusing our planetary systems, beckoning very serious and irreversibly dire consequences, I had to ask myself, was I doing enough? Had my convictions waned with my youth? Was my contribution to the building and necessary resistance movement to stop climate change, the work of activists in Paris and the world over, even enough anymore? I could feel Timothy’s pain, his uncertainty about whether he had chosen the right path. And yet I came to realize that my involvement in environmental and social justice movements has always been about my role as the educator more so than an activist.

As I have grown to accept the role that has afforded me the opportunities to increase my level of activism in many ways on many different fronts, the guilt and uncertainty disappeared with little mention. I once again was filled with pride and a renewed sense of resolve. This time the feeling came sitting in the LAUSD school board meeting room. Our union, along with several others had organized a contingent of speakers to address the board in protest of the Broad plan to convert 50% of our district to charter schools. As I sat in the boardroom with colleagues from around the city, I heard parents and students testify to the importance of supporting their current public and neighborhood schools. Then, my dearest Jackie Goldberg, who has been frequenting my classroom for the last 2 years, collaborating around the development of our future Bruin teachers, got up to address the board that she once led as president. Her words and message was so powerful and direct that I had to share the entirety of it here below. If you have made it this far in this post, I implore you to click play and listen to her deliver what is the most concise and comprehensive summary of how public education in this country is being attacked… and more importantly watch her demonstrate how we can and will resist. It was during this that I realized I was exactly where I was supposed to be.

The Battle for Los Angeles public schools is heating up and allies like my aunt Jackie Goldberg are out to stop the giveaway of public schools to the billionaires.

Posted by CTA David Goldberg on Tuesday, December 8, 2015

So what now? This is a question I would often ask my students. If crisis is real and resistance is real… then what does that mean for me? What can I do with this knowledge that the year 2015 has afforded me? The tension between crisis and resistance brings about a sense of agency, of power. And I speak of power not in the absolute or corrupt corporate sense of the word. But as the ability to act in one’s own self interest. What most of us are beginning to realize, despite the 1%’s efforts to convince us otherwise, is that our own self interests are aligned with a great majority of people on the planet. It is this collective interest that we have, a collective interest in justice, humanity, and peace… that collective interest is where our agency and power reside. As I prepare to become a father for the third time, I know that the lessons I continue to learn about the world, about crisis and the human response will help guide my parenting and the raising of all my children. I know it will guide the way I continue to teach and support young people. I know it will remain a central piece of both my pedagogy and andragogy in helping to prepare the next generation of educators. It will be a foundation to call upon to help build this movement and continue to fight.

Let me give you a word of the philosophy of reform. The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle. The conflict has been exciting, agitating, all-absorbing, and for the time being, putting all other tumults to silence. It must do this or it does nothing. If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will – Fredrick Douglass

See more at: http://www.blackpast.org/1857-frederick-douglass-if-there-no-struggle-there-no-progress#sthash.EVhKVwl9.dpuf

Summer book report… I know it’s Fall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Normalizing Crisis…

Almost everyone new each other at the meeting. Long time friends from intersecting careers that led them to their current titles; lieutenants, detectives, directors of different types, principals… I was the lone intervention coordinator, and probably the youngest. The tone was oddly light given the context of why the meeting was called in the first place. At least at the beginning. Folks were hugging and laughing and catching up. And a certain sense of familiarity enveloped the whole meeting. As if many of them had been here before, with each other. Time would prove this sentiment correct. 

South LA’s 14 shootings in the last week had prompted officials from LAPD, our school police department, and the District to convene a meeting of local school personal in the immediate and affected area. Folks in charge of earl childhood education centers, elementary, middle, and high schools congregated into the library at historic Washington Prep High school, familiar to many as the setting for the George McKenna story, a 1986 made for television movie. After we all introduced ourselves, our main director (there were so many) outlined that we were here to separate fact from fiction, a work around to the sensationalist media portrayal of realities on the ground. This of course was provided mainly by the police representatives. 

Although none of this was surprising, what was somewhat unexpected was the way in which the gang violence was normalized. Take for instance the LAPD officer who began addressing us, essentially saying it’s been worse. Now of course media sensationalizing glorifying violence is a problem that I’m fine calling out.  But normalizing violence in communities because the cycles rise and fall doesn’t do a lot to help us understand the current situation and how to mitigate the trauma many of our young people will bring to school in a couple weeks. That’s what quotes like this do. (All quotes are approximated and not verbatim… Central meaning intact)

14 shootings may seem like a lot but we’ve had more before. It’s not as bad as the media and social media are making it out to be. – LAPD officer 

Don’t get me wrong. There were many people who raised concerns and questions that pointed to a critically reflective examination of the appropriate level of response. Educators and law enforcement shared their experiences and faith that in coming together we could rise to the unfortunate challenge of continuing our work in these beloved communities. Yet dialogue in this vain takes understandable steps back when statements like this are made. 

You know it’s hard. When you deal with a kid who’s breaking into houses and then they get out and you put them away, and you put their cousins away, we fix the problem and then they let them out again. – same LAPD officer 

Not everyone expressed such entrenched views from the status quo. Voices from all stakeholders were hopefully progressive, signaling their own experiences within shifting paradigms of policing and educational policies. Success stories about Restorative Justice programs in schools and Arresting Diversion programs on the streets were shared. 

But by far the most critical and inspiring for me were the Impassioned share outs from community members. Folks who lived throughout these “common spikes” of gang violence. Former gang members themselves. Parents of the younger impacted generations. One such brother, Kevin “Twin” Orange, a former gang member turned intervention specialist for Soledad Enrichment  Action, brought the focus back to addressing some of the root causes rather than symptoms. 

We know these kids. And we need to be making sure they don’t remain “invisible” in our schools. Teachers need to understand where these kids are coming from and who they are actually listening too, looking up to. – Kevin Orange

Another sister spoke very directly about our need to disrupt the school to prison pipeline. 

I’m not ashamed to admit, I’m one of those parents who has a son in prison because I didn’t know back then what I do now because it wasn’t taught to me. We need classes for our kids IN the schools during the day that help them understand the cycle of trauma and violence. – Sandra Gladney

These folks were directly calling for a more transparent and effective partnership with community organizations and schools to serve the youth. Pointing out that a “masters degree in social work didn’t always guarantee understanding what a masters in life did.” They hadn’t stopped living this reality. And they passionately wanted to change it. And yet what was so frustrating was our district representatives continual reminder of protocols and processes on LAUSD’s end that must be considered or “worked around” to ensure these types of collaborations and partnerships are possible. It harkened me back to Robert Moses’s concept of Earned Insurgency. We keep getting knocked down but so many of us don’t get back up. 

What really wasn’t intended to be a dialogue but more of presentation, did end up turning into the former. And this was hopeful. Our main director immediately seized the opportunity after the meeting to talk with representatives from these community organizations, as did others. And some serious questions were asked. How do we identify kids dealing with trauma? How do we communicate the severity of the situation to staff and community without causing paralyzingly panic? How do we begin to listen to folks who know the reality beyond information sharing, because they live it? How do we to build with our communities?

But I couldn’t help shake the feeling that for some, and really for all of us to a degree, it was a return to a business as usual state of mind. One in which the realities of others could be put on pause for awhile. That all out crisis could be averted for a little longer. 
I also can’t help making connections back to the global climate crisis we are all facing. The mechanisms and narratives of normalizing the “cycle” of violence causing that crisis, in command of our day to day lives. We are left unable to shake past the spellbinding we tell ourselves, unable to wake up from the dream that someone else will come and save us. No one is coming to save us. We have to do it ourselves. We have to do it now. 

Crisis, Creativity, and the tools of Caring

I have been putting off writing about this for some time. Mainly because I am busy being a father, husband, teacher, school founder, professor, etc. Nonetheless I have been consciously thinking about how the often unconscious processes of Creativity work in communities and individuals, ever since my nemesis invited me to be a part of next week’s Creativity and Crisis symposium hosted by Colorado State University. Unlike most other symposiums, this one aims to informally  bring together folks from different walks, academic and non-academic alike in what I hope is an applied and active dialogue.

So what is it that connects these concepts together? Crisis, Creativity, and Caring? At first attempt to get my internal dialogue going, I thought about the areas of my life where I have or am currently experiencing “creativity.” I then began thinking about the tools I use to manifest this energy into the “real” world. Pen and Paper have always my go to weapons of choice. Doodling and jotting down ideas and connections that I see. Many folks who know me identify my scribblings with my personalities at work or home. For me, the lines on the page create or perhaps are manifestations of the connections forming in my head. Hearing one person’s ideas and recalling another’s, I often find points of connection and intersection… but knowing that these Aha moments can vanish quickly in the ocean of the mundane… I try to scribble them down. Original I know, but my scribblings are not just notes. The are usually more “artistic” and filled with doodling or actual drawings. And clouds… a lot of clouds. Why is this important? I am not sure that it is beyond a personal level, but there is growing evidence that it may be. Though many of my colleagues poke fun at my icons and symbols, they also often volunteer me to “chart” out meetings and discussions. Students seem to appreciate the class notes even on just an aesthetic level, which I feel should not be minimized in terms of significance. No one wants to stare at “important” notes if they look hideous and unruly! At least I don’t and that is where I would leave this conversation, but others have moved it forward at least in the educational sense, as this fantastic article helps us remember. And not only remember… but also help us connect.

  

The next two “tools” that have reawakened some of my other creative neural outlets have been the last two years’ father’s day presents from my wife and daughters. As the previously mentioned creativity often finds my head in a permanent space of professional work endeavors, my hammock and ukulele were gifted to me by my family in an attempt to ground me back in my most personal and closest moments of home. Relaxing and enjoying the life I have helped to create. These tools have been “instrumental” to say the least. As I have been immersed in helping to build my second home, the Schools for Community Action , my home and family have been my everlasting source of renewed energy. Yet, like most wells, you have to actively partake in the process of replenishing. My hammock has been my partner in crime on many occasion in sparking impromptu and spontaneous naps and cuddle sessions. This has helped to remind me of the importance to taking and making time for the most important and often overlooked aspects of one’s life. Home and family are essential.

  

All of these things are “homegrown.” And the last real bastion of creativity for me as of late has been my actual house and the standing or sitting structures that I have been a part of designing and bringing to fruition with my own hands. Building backyard gardens, benches, and fences (yes, city boys can build things too!) has been very cathartic for me recently.  Something about working with your hands and elements of Earth once or currently living, reminds us that we are part of nature. And everything we create is an extension of ourselves and our visions and intentions of and for the world. 

   
   
Of course there are other tools and times when I feel creative  Riding my bike to work and choosing the “lines” that won’t get me crushed by a bus. Playing games, figuring out puzzles, building, acting, drawing, or basically doing anything with my kids. Riding waves on the ocean. Teaching students how to ask important questions and then how to go find answers, how to organize oneself for change. But all of these things, if you think about it involve crises, big and small. Problems that beg to be examined and solved. 

  
The crises I have been dealing with, the problems that have required my creative thinking; 1) how best to be a good and decent husband/father? 2) how to continue creating and sustaining schools rooted in authentic community action and self determination? 3) how best to re-examine and redefine my truth and identity as I grow older in this life? 4) how best to exist in this world and answer our Earth’s call reform our capitalistic practices in favor of culture and climate? 5) how do we begin dismantling systems and institutions of oppression and build towards economic, social, and environmental justice for the most marginalized people in our society?

These are the questions I care about pondering and working out solutions to. And if we don’t care (actively) then we lose our ability to create, to solve problems. Capitalism requires this of us. Capitalism craves consumers and not creators. 

What are your crises? And how do you use your creativity to combat them? In essence, what do you care about?