The Marathon (not the sprint)

“Wisely and slow. They stumble that run fast.”–R&J 2.3. 100-101

I’m an Aries, the leader of the zodiac, and I have heard that we generally like to sprint across the finish line.  That being said, I don’t think anyone will disagree that the academic school year is most definitely a marathon, not a sprint.  I have found that it makes sense to see the nine months of the school year as a relay race between months each with a distinct personality, or vibe. In light of this, endurance is the baton passed between each leg of the race.  Every month first semester has a mirror (or twin month) second semester to which the baton gets passed.  It takes strategy, determination, and strength, to see the race through to the finish line and beyond.

August (September) // January (February)

“Who is this lady?”

In August and September, I’m usually just trying to get to know students, unless I’ve taught them before and we have an established relationship.  The beginning of the year in my classroom is definitely the honeymoon phase. I’ve heard it said that in relationships, this lasts about three months.  In the classroom, I think I can safely say it lasts about three weeks.  As the glow of summer/or winter break wears off, and people get resistant to the controlled environment in most schools, things can very easily start to crumble if practices aren’t grounded in patience and love.

I see these first few weeks of both semesters as being built upon a foundation of strong relationships, fun and uplifting classroom culture, and (because I work with kids) establishing necessary routines.  I used to work with a woman who was also my neighbor.  We taught together and lived by one another.  We would hang out, soak up the summer sun, or brunch it up over winter break, and then go back to school and talk about the difference between our summer selves and our school selves.  Such is the vast difference between one’s life when school is in session, and the way we all feel when it isn’t.  Sometimes, I reach the end of September or February and barely recognize myself, so much have I changed from the lazy days of summer, or winter.  I always have to give myself time to adjust my thinking, and my habits, and to be mindful of the fact that the students must be encouraged to do this too.  The need for patience, understanding, flexibility, and always–more love, is key.

October // March

“What can I do to get my grade up?”

October and March, for me, are the hardest months.  There is usually a non stop series of testing that goes on in March, and in the Fall, “October count” [the week where every child counts–quite literally] is an awkward middle month.  It is usually in October and March where everybody starts to get very antsy for the breaks that we know are coming, and we also begin to feel the pressure of the end of semester approaching.  In October, we know Thanksgiving is around the corner, but it’s not quite within reach.

In March, the month we are in as I write this, Spring Break is coming, the birds have started to sing, the days get a little longer, the sun burns a little hotter–tempers flare. People have generally lost all patience for dealing with the small irritations that have continuously plagued them over the previous 7 months.  Inevitably, and predictably, fight season arrives.  Our current grading system contributes to students and teachers feeling huge amounts of stress, and anxiety, as the end of the semester looms.  People get a little short with one another and grapple with what it means to reach the finish line at the end of the race. Tapping into inner strength and endurance is really the only way to make it through.

November // April

“All we do is eat.  Literally and figuratively.”

November is so short, with Thanksgiving break at its end.  Holiday parties (and random cakes appearing in the staff lounge) all begin the week before Thanksgiving break, and they really don’t stop until we leave for Winter break.  We all comfort eat to break up some of the monotony, tension, and grading drama around the end of the semester, but everything has to be eaten (and graded) in moderation, which can be challenging.  “Pace yourself” is the motto I live by in November.

In a way, April is the very same.  The parties and celebrations in education are some of the things I enjoy the most.  I absolutely love celebrating students, getting ready for graduation, awards ceremonies to recognize all that my students have fought so hard to achieve.  As a bonus, prom is always a major highlight of my year, because we definitely know how to do it in Montbello.  Celebrations are food for the individual and collective soul.  But again, I always caution students, “everything in moderation”, because towards the end of the year it is so easy to do too much, stumble, and fall.

December // May (June)

“Are we there yet?”

December disappears into just two weeks of instruction (prepping for exams), and one week of finals. All of a sudden, the semester is over, and we’re done.  To contrast, May feels completely, unbearably, terribly long–unless you teach Seniors who check out (or complete all work necessary before graduation) in the second week in May.  I hate saying goodbye to my Seniors.  It breaks my heart every time.  So, it is bittersweet to come to the end of a school year, even though everybody wants the end so badly they can taste it, in the months that are the final lengths of the race.

A friend of mine yesterday gave me some incredible words of wisdom that seem perfectly applicable to the month of May.  He said that the last month of the year is really the first month of the coming school year–and I agree.  I always end the year a bit tired, but also inspired with so many ideas for new books to teach, new and better ways to explore the content I am responsible for teaching.  We turn in year-long maps for the year ahead, and we’re off!

I love June, and the start of summer, when I am free to indulge in the things I love most: travel, reading, napping, gardening, cooking (and eating) are just a few.  As I see it, setting goals for the future is a hopeful, and good thing.

Passing the baton

from the old year

to the new

is an act of courage

and faith.


Crossing the finish line,

we pause for a breath–and take a beat,

to honor how far we’ve come

and just how far

(with passion, and fire beneath our feet)





Photo by billy lee on Unsplash

Building a New Table

So often, folks talk about “pulling up a chair at the table”, or letting marginalized folks, “have a seat at the table.”

I have decided I am done with this.

First of all, I know nothing in this life is free.  Nobody “lets” me have anything without some sort of agreement or agenda.  It has become pretty evident that even IF I, a Black woman, “get” a seat at the table, it’s going to come with all kinds of conditions:

  1. My name tag needs to be a name folks are familiar with and don’t have to work to learn to pronounce correctly.  My identity needs to be clearly delineated.  I can’t be intersectional or cosmopolitan because that’s weird, and threatening.
  2. My voice can’t be loud, because that will be mistaken for anger, and if it actually is righteous and justifiable  anger on behalf of my students, people ain’t trying to hear that.  Tears will be perceived as weakness.
  3. My ideas can’t be too radical, or too revolutionary, because if they are, I’ll be met with a host of reasons why the “moderate” or “majority” will be put off by said ideas and that will impede progress.
  4. My speech needs to sound as neutral as possible, so as not to reflect an upbringing anywhere other than middle America, or attendance at schools anywhere other than suburbia.  If I do slip into speech folks don’t recognize, my ideas will be dismissed.  I will be silenced, talked over, othered, ignored.
  5. I need to let whomever wants to co-opt my intellectual capital and/or ideas, re-word them (sometimes directly after I’ve said them) then present them as their own, without making a fuss, because, “We’re all on the same team–fighting for the kids.”
  6. I can’t bring up “uncomfortable” topics, or advocate for the fair and equal educational experience of the students I represent, because those in power will never go for any proposed actions that target one or two specific groups. This would be seen as favoritism, and what we do for one, we must do for all–unless that one is the group that has historically held power–they can have any and everything.

I do not accept these conditions.

This week I was at #SXSWEdu and had the opportunity to hear from and work with some phenomenal educators representing groups I am honored and blessed to affiliate with.


José Vilson, the founder of #Educolor is not playing with folks.  He is ready to make change and I am 100% behind the changes he proposes:

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  1. Mandatory school trips (as we call them out West, “field trips”) – My students typically get 1 or 2 field trips per year.  My children (that I gave birth to), going to school in suburbia, get roughly 3 per semester.  Part of raising citizens to be participatory is helping them see and explore the world around them.  It is oppressive to keep students in schools engineered by prison architects doing practice test after practice test so they can prove their ability to pass tests created by those who do not know them or have any awareness of the richness of their cultures, their languages, their neighborhoods, their upbringings.  Set my children free.
  2. Mandatory recess, or advisory program – Mandatory play.  They do this in Sweden. It works really well for them.  Their children are happy.  Part of being a child should include being happy, right?  Many children in urban schools–read Black and brown children–get NO recess.  You read that correctly, recess has been taken away.  Think about that for a minute. I have an advisory period that I teach, but it was dropped on us one year in this way:  We were told quite literally, “You have one less hour to prep.  Your pay has been reduced because we no longer have the grant money.  You now have advisory.  You will teach one more class for less pay.”  Understandably, people were a bit shaken and this made them less, not more excited to mentor students in advisory.  Though it should come naturally to want to mentor and help students, for some, it doesn’t.  Humans are incentive driven animals, so reducing pay and adding a section does not sit well with most people.  With time, the formula gets messy, looks like a free-for-all, and admin gets upset.  We are still–three years later–working through this.
  3. Review of teacher evaluation systems – I really can’t with how much this is needed, other than say that teacher evaluation systems are like every other evaluation system I’ve ever encountered; extremely subjective and as such, suspect.  In my environment, students tell the truth, so I think student perception surveys should carry the most weight.  But, I know of other environments where teachers of color teach mostly white children who take the opportunity of an anonymous survey to light UP their teachers of color, questioning their credibility as experts in their field, etc.  To quote one of my close friends who has dealt with this, “They understand power, privilege, and what it means to organize, perfectly.”  So, evaluation systems definitely need review, and I don’t have all the answers there, but José might…
  4. Educators as ambassadors – Need I say more?  How many educators have had the experience of being present in a room where your future and fate are being decided without your input by people who are not on the front lines, in front of students every day?
  5. Culturally Responsive (or Sustaining) and Anti-Racist Pedagogy Training – This is crucial.  The work IS happening.
  6. Better Professional Development – How many districts create positions for people to develop PD and then mandate teachers take the PD to justify these folks having their positions?  No shade to the people with good intentions just trying to develop teachers and give back, but how many districts have folks who are actually looking into research based PD and adult education?  How many educators have experienced watching someone read from a Powerpoint (for six to eight hours), then being told to fill out a graphic organizer/note-catcher/exit ticket?  How many folks have had the experience of PD mirroring everything we have expressly been told NOT to do with students?  Why is the bar so low for folks getting paid so much more than your average teacher in the classroom?  Why aren’t classroom teachers asked more often (and paid) to give PD? Why, if these folks are such experts, have they not been retained in the classroom when there is such a desperate and obvious teacher shortage?  I will stop there, but clearly– I have questions.
  7. Sample testing – This could be a book.  In fact, it is: This is Not a Test (shameless plug for my homie).  We have to remember how much fun we used to be allowed to have in school, and how much less we have now, because it has become all about proving we are learning what we are told has importance, which is oppressive, and the antithesis of what ACTUAL curiosity and love of learning looks like.
  8. Teachers get to own their own work – How amazing would it be if folks actually got recognized for the work they do every day, for the investment they make in our society’s children and future?  José asked, “How many of you have attended a conference and then not been recognized for your efforts to develop yourself?” *cough* Believe it or not, lesson plans do get harvested and repurposed without any kind of credit or remuneration given to teachers.  Believe it or not, every single day teachers are cajoled, persuaded, or mandated to give their intellectual capital away “for the greater good”.  If someone wants credit, or (God forbid) money, in return, that person is often deemed selfish and blacklisted with the quickness.

Um, in case you didn’t catch that, José Vilson for NYC Chancellor.  That is all.

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I also had the privilege of sitting down with Micia Mosely from Black Teacher Project. Lissen.  If you don’t know Micia, please fix that.  She is so inspiring, so passionate, so unapologetically in favor of Black teachers, which is rare, and I appreciate it. It didn’t take us long to discover that we are both fans of Stephen Chang from the National Equity Project who is the homie for real and I love him.

We met and talked a bit about what these proposed steps look like in action:

What Can You Do To Sustain Your Black Teachers?
1. Don’t tokenize your Black staff
2. Be aware of the invisible tax on teachers of color, and if you unknowingly encourage it
3. Create culturally responsive professional development
4. District Self Care Workshops
5. Do your own racial justice work (reflection and action)
6. Listen, understand and support your Black Teachers especially when they are challenged
7. Use your power and position to shift mindsets and practices of non-Black educators
8. Lift up the expertise of Black Teachers in professional development and encourage them to present at conferences
9. Unpack the implicit bias in hiring and promotional practices
10. Clear a path forward in navigating the system (clarity, testing, support- financial and otherwise)
11. Talk about race and racism with and about adults (event if there are no Black people present)

She assured me she is committed to coming to Denver for a workshop which I cannot wait for.  Check out more from the Black teacher sustainability session at #SXSWedu in this blog post from the Imaginarium.  There is a video!!

We look forward to her Black teachers sustainability workshop.  The need is great–trust me.

So how does all of this circle back to building a new table?

To begin, I am no longer willing to settle for a seat at a table that was not made for me, one where I have felt for so long that I have to push and shove and contort myself in order to belong.

Instead, I choose to work with those who are restructuring our world to make a new table for those of us who have always been here, but as mere “guests” or “hosted” on the fringes.

At our new table:

  1. There are people who know how to pronounce my name because they’ve heard it before and/or they know how to ask me what I would like to be called.
  2. My loud voice gets met with a bunch of “Amen”s, “Testify” “YAS, hermana”s, and “I know that’s right”s because we know what call and response is about, and we know how important it is to support one another rather than compete.
  3. My radical and revolutionary ideas are seen as an homage to the ancestors who have a radical and revolutionary tradition, and as such, my ideas are honored, pondered, considered, and amplified–with respect for the tradition which they uphold.
  4. My speech should include whatever dialects, languages, and cultures I call my own.  Spanglish is not only permitted, but encouraged.  My Portunhol is cool because whomever does not understand me takes the opportunity to ask and learn so that they can expand.  Difference or unfamiliarity with communication and expression is not a threat, but instead is respected and appreciated for what it is–a chance to learn and grow.
  5. My community gives credit where credit is due, because although we are all parts of the same whole, we realize the body can’t move without the legs.  A leg cannot walk without the foot, and the foot doesn’t function without the toes.  It is an act of humility, honor, deference, and respect, to name the people who have inspired you.  Citationality matters.
  6. I can advocate for whomever I feel needs advocating for, because empowering those whom the world would overlook is a cultural tradition, norm, and expectation.

At our table, if you are not fighting for anyone’s life to be better, if you are not expanding your own consciousness by taking risks, being brave, advancing the cause of those society would overlook, what are you doing?

We are building a new table.  It is my honor and privilege to link arms with other folks doing the work.

Who’s with me?

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Me, w/ The JLV and Rafranz Davis, It is true. We are blessed.  #Educolor is Familia.


Building Bridges

Last week, I was invited to Anastasis academy to workshop one of my favorite topics in education, Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy.  I’ll have to admit that at first, I was a bit hesitant to go, because of biases I hold about private schools and the types of families who place their kids there.  Even so, when my colleague, who also happens to be a phenomenal educator, and Twitter friend Michelle Baldwin invited me to their conference #Sigma18 to speak and be heard, I took the opportunity–and I’m so glad that I did.  The experience transformed me and had me wrestling with a lot of my own biases which is important work to do. I was reminded that we get nowhere on either side of a divide, by clinging to assumptions or stereotypes we may hold about the “other”.   I have zero regrets about life handing me this reminder.  I needed it.



First of all, the truffle mac and cheese for lunch on day one…need I say more?  I’m pretty easy to please.  Feed me well, make me laugh a little bit.  I’m happy.  The #5Sigma18 planning committee knew this.  I commend them for it.

After lunch, we had the opportunity to learn from Barbara Bray who is just everything good.  Her smile, passion for learning, and knowledge are contagious.  By day two of the conference, I knew we would have to work together at some point, because we are most definitely kindred spirits.  She is just the type with whom one can sit and talk about anything, and nothing, for hours.  She has had the richest life as the daughter of court sketch artist Rosalie Ritz and as a resident of Oakland, CA, the game of fighting for equity in education is nothing new to her.  I believe in learning from our elders, and she is a person who in just a short time, taught me so much.  If you don’t know about Barbara, please fix that.  We can all learn something from her brilliance.

I gave my first workshop on day one to a group of people who were not familiar with the works of Bell Hooks, Paulo Freire, Django Paris, or Linda Christensen.  It was really refreshing and fun for me to talk about and read passages from books I consider to be cornerstones of my professional practice.  These works have also been, and continue to be the keys to ongoing development of my consciousness as one who educates for liberation and the dismantling of oppressive systems. Watching people get excited about works that mean so much to me was a joy I didn’t expect, but will never forget.  The thinking below is just a tiny portion of all the good dialogue that went on during workshop one.

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What can I say about day two? The first thing that comes to mind is that it began with a donut wall.  That’s right, a wall of donuts–that you could eat from.  Creativity, imagination, sustainability.  Three words that for me characterized day two.




After giving my Ignite Denver 28 speech, I got to hear from Nicholas Provenzano.  He kept me laughing for almost a solid hour.  The whole time, all I could think was, if he’s that funny in class, I don’t know why anyone would ever want to have another teacher.  He impressed me with his conversation about “Makerspaces” and kids doing interpretive dances to show mastery of Language Arts concepts.  He also impressed the audience with the reminder of how important “failure” is along the road to learning.  In a nutshell, I felt inspired to help my students remember why anybody learns–for the sake of curiosity–and to always find ways to bring it back to that.

After the morning, I did another CSP workshop, and then participated in a panel about the evolution of empathy.  But, the true highlight for me was learning about Paul Clifton’s work with his ELA students on The Voice of Montbello podcast.  These kids are in middle school, folks….He brought two 7th graders with him to the conference and they were fantastic!

I don’t know about you, but middle school was hard enough. I definitely would not have had the confidence to write scripts for a podcast and deliver them, let alone interview Denver’s Chief of Police about topics like deportation and DACA–in my second language.  Mr. Clifton is doing incredible, culturally sustaining, and affirming work AND amplifying student voices.  His classroom is a “Makerspace” where students develop language skills in English by creating something for the real world that produces actual social change and boosts awareness through students using their voices to speak truth to power.  Let me be very clear: this is what ALL 21st Century education should look like.

Check the video here

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Whenever I go into another educational ecosystem that is not my own, I try to navigate that space between speaking my truth and listening and learning to that of those who’ve invited me to come co-create, learn, and explore.  My experience at Anastasis left me rich with ideas to take back to my school, and had me feeling so buoyed up with hope that the courageous and progressive educational moves they are making will catch fire in other places.

At the same time, I felt very sad that due to the way our system is structured, in our state, there are still only pockets of greatness serving specific communities.  As a whole, our school systems remain static, and unmoving in our policies and practices when it comes to the imaginative thinking it will take to produce widespread change.  It might be hard to believe, but McGlone Academy, where Mr. Clifton teaches, and my school are 2 minutes away from one another–yet just as I had no idea about the great work he and his students are doing, he also had no idea about me, or my work.

Isn’t that strange? 

To take it one step further, parents and students at Anastasis do not have real first-hand knowledge of what is going on in Montbello, across town. 

I had no first-hand knowledge of what was happening at Anastasis until I was invited there to be a part of the conference.

How can we consistently provide equitable high-quality education for students that is culturally relevant, academically challenging, and applicable to real-world scenarios if we don’t even know what is going on from one end of the city to the other?

How can we expect our students to take on the responsibility of repairing the mess we’ve made, and creating a better world, if they go to school in silos with people who look, think, and act just like them, oblivious to the kids on the other side of town who are getting a mis-education?

In order to really produce widespread systemic change, charter and private schools in white-dominated neighborhoods are going to have to invite people of color into their spaces as Michelle invited me into hers–and help us to feel at home once we get there–which they did.  Doing this will make some people very uncomfortable.  During my panels and workshops I did bring up conversations about privilege and white supremacy, and some people did get uncomfortable.  But, I ask how serious are you about change if you only want it when it’s easy and feels comfortable for you?  Overall, the folks at Anastasis showed me they were willing to get into the weeds with me by not censoring or policing me, my workshop content, or interactions with their staff.  Most people responded favorable to the call to expand thinking/ consciousness.

Still, there were some who were not ready for the shift in thinking.  In order for us to see widespread change, we may not need everybody to wake up at the same time, but we need more people from these communities to go to the schools that are stigmatized and marginalized, or written off as lost causes, to seek healing through forming relationships, listening, and learning about the good work going on within those walls.  Seeing some of the disfunction–the lack of resources, to name one, will make them uncomfortable–as it should.  Nobody should be comfortable with or accept some of the things I’ve seen going on in urban education.

Our school system is racially and economically segregated more severely now than ever before.  This will not change by ignoring or remaining oblivious to the problem.  We will never be strong if we remain divided and isolated in our cultural, ethnic, and thought silos.  Nothing is stopping folks from traveling to the other side of town to listen, ask questions, seek solutions.

The alternative, if we can’t learn to make the divide between our parallel worlds more porous, is that lots of people of color who are now saying, “Thank you for your service–we got it from here,” will start doing more than just talking.




#IgniteDenver 28

Wow.  What a night.  I was privileged to be given a mic to speak this evening at Ignite Denver 28 about my favorite topic–education.  If you missed it, I’m sure it will be posted later, but here is the full text for those who might like to read it as well.


Problem: Too many kids are disengaged/not enjoying school.  We know we love them, and we want them to be happy, be curious, enjoy learning, so how can we reimagine the current system to reflect these values?

Slide 1 – If there is one thing most people can agree upon, it’s that your first day of school is emotional. We leave home for school excited, curious, sometimes scared, but ready to take on the world.

Slide 2 – Elementary school teachers are some of the bravest souls out there.  They love, nurture, clean up bodily fluids–they are superheroes.

Slide 3 – We learn so many things in these early years–everything from basic rules of social interaction (the playground can be a ruthless place) to how to show (and feel) appreciation.  I am always so in awe of the cards, presents, and consistent displays of affection that my friends who are elementary school teachers receive.

Slide 4 – Because I’m a high school teacher, and somehow, in the years between elementary school and graduation, things gradually shift.  The endless cycle of testing begins in 4th grade.  By 7th grade, dynamics of gender, race, and socioeconomic status come into play–students begin to learn that everyone in this society is not equal.   

Slide 5 – By 9th grade, a social hierarchy forms. Students have already decided whether they can play (and win) the school game and whether they even want to.  It takes some digging to discover this, but in some school systems, as many as 2/3rds of an incoming Freshman class do not make it to graduation.  So what are we doing about this?  How can we show our students that we DO love and value them?  How do we fix this to keep from losing them?

Cause: Information is more available now than ever.  Teachers are not the gatekeepers of knowledge–yet we still behave as though we have (or should have) all the answers.

Slide 6 – In my day (the 80s and 90s), there were basically two ways of getting information – adults, or books. I got information because I was curious, for school, and because I loved to read (as the daughter of a librarian and avid book collector).  I spent hours combing through the World Book Encyclopedia (for fun) and going to the library, because these were the entertainment options–watch one of about 24 channels on TV (with commercials) if you had cable, play outside, listen to music, talk to someone on the phone, or read a book. That’s pretty much it.

Slide 7 – When I was growing up, the “social” part of social media was calling your friends on the party line.  The “media” part was looking at a magazine. There was no internet. There was no Netflix. There was no phone with fancy apps or games on which to spend hours, or eventually days.

Slide 8 – Let that sink in for a little bit.  We don’t spend our free time the way we used to, so it follows that we also do not learn the way we used to.  My students access information at the touch of a button (or swipe).  In less than a second, they can know basic information about pretty much anything they want.

Slide 9 – Kids think that high school is going to be like High School Musical.  In a lot of places, like Berkley, and maybe Boulder, parents, school administrators, and community members work hard to make sure their child has an idyllic high school experience that approximates and is perhaps even better than this one.

Slide 10 – But in other places, school looks nothing like the ideal depicted in movies.  Students fill their time trying to prove themselves by passing endless standardized tests with the bar for achievement always held just slightly out of reach.  In Chicago, The Bronx–Montbello, expectation is at opposition with reality.  Overtesting, disenfranchisement, the rise of charter schools, and institutional racism create situations where too many of our students internalize the message that school is not for them. Or worse yet, that it is something being done to them.  Something over which they have no choice, and no control.

Solution: When teachers become students and students become teachers, everyone gets free. Empowered students know the classroom is a space for exploration–for stoking the fires of curiosity.  The teacher should not be the “sage on the stage”, or even worse, “judge, jury, and executioner”.

Slide 11 – This was my classroom a few years ago.  I spent a lot of time trying to recreate the educational environment that I had because it was all I knew–it felt familiar, comfortable, safe.  When our school got rid of “individuals” (as the desks are called that separate individuals from one another), I’m not proud to admit it, but I actually cried.  If felt like my autonomy, my sense of control, my safety was being tampered with.  I felt adrift without that sense of control that comes from having students sit neatly in rows, following directions, and only asking questions in a controlled fashion.

Slide 12 – However, now my classroom looks a lot more like this.  Changing the physical space in my classroom forced me to give up power dynamics that emphasized me having control.  It allowed for much more creativity and flexibility with lessons and collaborations.  It set me, and all of us, free.

Slide 13 –  Daniel Pink says in his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us motivation increases when people feel a sense of autonomy, can see mastery as attainable, and understand the authentic purpose for their learning.  So what does that look like in my classroom?

Slide 14 – These are my actual students.  We did a poetry reading workshop entirely driven by them. They chose their groups, read 16 poems, identified a category which they would compete for, went through rounds of elimination with deep discussion at the end of which one poem was determined the “winning” poem.  They pushed each other’s thinking, provided evidence to back up their assertions, and HAD FUN DOING IT.  What was I doing, meanwhile?  Well, I provided the anthology, picked the poems (from the concurrent enrollment syllabus), listened to, added thought provoking questions, re-directed the conversations (when needed) and LIVE TWEETED the entire event for which the students received instantaneous and real-time feedback on their comments from an audience of actual people.  I also designed a skill-building activity that had them pulling quotes and evaluating the impact of literary devices on the overall message.

Slide 15 – That might seem controversial.  “She was on Twitter during class?” “What?” I can hear it now.  “Where was the direct instruction?” “I’m not sure that’s legal.” “I could get fired for doing that.” To these thoughts you might be having, I will say that my practice of education is the practice of liberation.  My practice of education is to liberate us ALL.  I was not the center of the learning that was going on during this lesson.  I have no desire to be the “sage on the stage” and my students certainly do not want me to be “judge, jury, and executioner.”

Conclusion: Educating to liberate means I don’t have to create situations or an environment where people are dependent on me for knowledge.  Rather, we co-create in an endlessly reciprocal chain of exploration, reimagining and reinventing our world–together.

Education liberates.  

The truly liberated know how to share power.  

Sharing power is an act of love.

Slide 16 – Educating to liberate means my students are in control of their learning.  They are responsible for execution and outcomes.  They know I am there to support them, but I am just one of many resources they can use on their path to gaining skills and knowledge that will actually be useful to them in life.

Slide 17 – My job is to be of service to my students.  They do not exist merely to prove to me, or anyone else, on a test, that they are worthy of money spent on them, or that they have learned to regurgitate information in a way deemed “proficient” by a school board or department of education. My single mission is to use my spark to ignite their fire.

Slide 18 – These are my students, and graduates of my school, DCIS at Montbello. Despite the fact that the system was designed for them to fail, they have gone on to excel in life, and in their post-secondary educations. Our students are not objects. They are people, and they are deserving of every effort we can make to reimagine this system so that it reflects the desire for knowledge, exploration, shared power, and reciprocal liberation.  Teachers too are not machines. We are civil servants, but we are also professionals, people, deserving of the respect, and freedom to reimagine our system in new ways so that we can best serve our students–so that we can all get free.

Slide 19 – Education liberates.  The truly liberated know how to share power.  Sharing power is an act of love.

Slide 20 – Love is a verb.  Education is liberation. I educate for liberation, that is my act of love.

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Love is a Battle

“Love does not begin and end the way we seem to think it does.  Love is a battle, love is a war; love is a growing up.”– James Baldwin

This week students are reading The Things They Carried, and working on definition essays about love, or war.  It’s fitting, because right now, it feels as though our society is definitely on a precipice suspended between the two.  Due to the daily trauma of never knowing what violent event will occur next, or where, or which group will be targeted, both children, and adults are carrying a lot.

Working in education, I know I have to do something, but what?  Do I declare war against those who create policies altering school environments so dramatically that neither my students, nor I recognize what it means to have fun getting an education?  Or, do I work to help others transform our practice room by room, teacher by teacher through the slow spreading of radical, and revolutionary love in the classroom?

Monday, our school was given a gift.  NY Times Bestselling author Nic Stone came to Montbello.  For us, this was nothing short of miraculous.  She signed books for students, read the first chapter of Dear Martin aloud, answered questions, gave hugs, and words of advice, and was generally a beacon of love and support for our children.  I continue to feel so immensely grateful for her visit, because seeing the looks on my children’s faces, and the life she breathed into them as readers is like nothing I’ve ever personally experienced.

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As just one example, one of my students had a mother, a grandmother, and a girlfriend die last year.  This particular student lit up in her presence in a way I have never seen in all three years we have known each other.  After the visit, when I asked the student if they wanted another book from my library, they said, “Definitely, but let me finish Dear Martin first.”

This is the power of reading living writers.

We live in a book desert, so we do not have access to bookstores.  Our public libraries exist, but none in schools, and our hard-working immigrant community is much more focused on generating income to pay for college, and upward socio-economic mobility, than they are on purchasing books for in-home libraries.

For all of these reasons, Nic’s visit was a game-changer.  As I looked out over the sea of students–many of whom had not read Dear Martin because of lack of reading time or established habits–I sensed their responsiveness to her presence and her reading in such a powerful way.  Nic is one of those people who embodies that unique combination of passion, talent, and drive that really is transforming our world.  The students, and our entire community, felt this.


After the assembly, Nic said that our students had her feeling like #BookBeyoncé, which they did (I can testify to it because I was there).

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What she doesn’t know is that she made them feel special, too.  Most of my students do not have firmly established reading identities,


  • knowing she cared enough to come visit
  • hearing her read aloud from her engaging, and culturally relevant book
  • having the experience of meeting her
  • talking with her
  • receiving a signed copy of the book with a personalized message

WILL change that.



The thing about working with students in communities like mine is that students are not quick to trust strangers.  They do not really know what to do with someone who shows them love without an ulterior motive.  But, they can tell when someone actually loves them.  Nic loves kids.  They feel it.  They know it.

This is miraculous, because from their perspective, accepting love from adults you don’t know when you are so used to feeling suspicion toward, or rejection from them–is a battle.

Nic came to our school because of our mutual association with #ProjectLitBookClub and my dear friend and colleague Jarred Amato. I will forever be grateful to the Project LIT Community for the book love and support we share on a daily basis.  They are a consistent force for good in my life and that of my students.

Project LIT truly is changing the world–making it possible for authors and teachers and students to come together to share a love of reading that will open doors for children in underserved communities.  We use our love of socially conscious and culturally relevant books to ask the big questions of society, and empower our youth to be proactive about producing change.  Students initiate projects that bring literacy from the schools into their communities–and so much more.  Reading the Project LIT books this year has given them the confidence to see themselves as experts.  It has validated and affirmed their lives, identities, and experiences.

Four years ago, the district closed our library and our librarian quit.  Blame it on the bureaucracy, as people do, and as dystopian as it sounds; there are no longer any libraries or librarians in any school in Far Northeast Denver.  The physical library spaces (with books students cannot check out – thrown haphazardly on shelves) remain.  The expectation that students demonstrate literacy scores on standardized tests equal to their counterparts in suburban schools persists.

It is a grim situation.  And, it is precisely for this reason that author visits, grants for classroom libraries along with generous classroom donors, and programs like Project LIT are so important.  I am one who believes that a life without books is a hollow life indeed.  It is true. I am biased, but love is a battle–love is a war.  I believe in fighting for what, or who you love.  I love my students, so I will do whatever it takes to win this battle with and for them.  I also believe that “books save lives”, so I will go to any length for my students to have opportunities for high quality education, forming reading identities, and participation in life that they deserve.

This week was also Valentine’s Day, and another senseless incident of violence took place on the very day when we have traditionally celebrated our love for one another.  In a Valentine’s Day PD session, we talked about radical love in the classroom and what it means in our white-dominated educational landscape if students of color do not feel loved by their teachers.

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What can we do to change that, especially if cultural differences in “love languages” are the reason our students do not feel loved?  What is our responsibility to them to make sure they DO feel love at school?  How does this translate into an individual’s sense of alienation or rejection by a teacher, class, school, or the system as a whole?

I would be remiss if I ended this post without recognizing the 18 victims of yet another mass shooting in a school in our country, most of them young people with brilliant futures ahead of them.  This did not have to happen.

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We will never heal if we can’t examine the relationship our country has with violence and it’s rampant disregard for humanity.  It is my belief that this is a direct consequence of living in a society where we treat one another as objects and live segregated lives; culturally, geographically, psychologically.

These are not values that belong to my community.  Here I will say something radical:  My children believe themselves to be safer in the “ghetto” than they would be in the “white world”, and they might just be right.  Despite what you see on TV, people in communities of color — though we may have our issues stemming from the deliberate destabilization of individuals, families, local businesses, and our educational systems — do not prey on one another with surprise attacks involving AR-15s.  We are for the most part united because of our cultural traditions, because of our shared experience of being othered, and because we’ve realized that for means of survival, if nothing else, we have to belong to each other.

“Love is a battle.  Love is a war;  Love is a growing up.”  We must, as a country, grow up and raise our collective consciousness to the point where we are no longer able to see one another as objects, separate from ourselves, if we truly want to stop the cycle of violence.

Love is also a verb.  It’s not just what you think, feel, or say.  It is not the expression of now-becoming-defunct “Thoughts and prayers”.  It’s what you do.  If we truly want change, we have to show that with our actions.  The future is now.  We cannot afford to wait for “someday”. Change has to begin today.

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Do Black lives really matter in your school?

This week was an important one.

It was Black Lives Matter at School’s Week of Action, a week where schools and educators really have to wrestle with what it means to value Black lives.

The conversation about whether Black lives in particular should be valued separately really should no longer BE a conversation.

If the idea that Black lives in particular need to be protected offends you…

If somehow America’s history (and present) traditions of racially fueled violence specifically directed at Black people has escaped you…

…you’re not paying attention.

Please stop talking and start listening.

Black Lives Matter at School is a logical extension of the national Vision for Black Lives

However, as we in education are still working to raise individual and collective consciousness around what it means to inspire students to enact change, it follows that in many schools, the Black Lives Matter at School week of action was completely ignored.

In lots of minds, and lots of communities, the phrase “Black Lives Matter” has been twisted and flattened and altered to mean, “Nobody else’s lives matter,” and “We support public acts of violence and destruction,” and “We agree with killing police officers to get back at them.”  Most often, this line of thinking belongs to people living in geographic, cultural, or thought silos.  They do not educate themselves about any other perspectives or associate with people who might actually have experienced trauma from a racially motivated act of violence or daily micro-agressions. They do not deeply connect with people outside their sphere of familiarity or comfort.  They do not have conversations with the goal of listening to understand, rather than react.

Educators know that one single thought can change the entire world.  It all begins within.  However, the excuses I most often hear for not bringing the vision for Black lives into school is that, “Politics and social acts of resistance don’t belong in school,” and “I don’t want to bias my students with my viewpoints,” “It’s not in my curriculum” and “I’ll get fired if I do that.”  To each of these I statements I would ask, “If your school isn’t a place where you can inspire and empower students to change the world, what ARE you doing?” Failing to shift our thinking, and to educate ourselves and our students about all sides of the vision for Black lives has serious consequences.  I should not have to assert that my life matters, or shove to make myself visible–but I do.

Excuse making and failure to affirm and value Black lives in particular is one way the system and those within it dismiss and further marginalize the oppressed.  This is the soil in which minds that nurture seeds of racial violence germinate.  Such violence becomes justified and permissible in these minds when the people on whom the violence would be enacted are objects, or strangers about whom our children know virtually nothing real–nothing true.  The fact that someone isn’t holding a torch or a sign saying, “White is right” doesn’t absolve them of responsibility for creating the circumstances we currently find ourselves in.  We know that suspension and expulsion rates disproportionately affect Black students, as do zero-tolerance behavior policies that lead directly to the school to prison pipeline.  We know that Black and ethnic studies classes do not exist in millions of schools, and that fewer than 2% of all educators are Black males.  These are just a few examples of the actual truth behind the fake school integration we have accepted for so long as “good enough”.  Raising our students in such environments is a dangerous game–one people of color always end up losing.

So what did last week look like in Room 4?  Let’s break it down with student voices/work:

Monday February 5th#BlackLivesMatterAtSchoolWeek Theme – Restorative Justice, Empathy, Loving Engagement

Reading discussion/seminar “Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid (More on how I do my seminars later, but here is a screenshot of the Google doc I had for the students to do a back channel conversation while the inner circle was having their fishbowl conversation).  This lesson might have fit the Friday theme better, but we read four poems last week, and students voted on the one they wanted to discuss this week, “Girl” won.

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Read aloud + discussion and writing about Rest in Power: The Enduring Life of Trayvon Martin 

How is empathy a seed of social action?  This is what Jailin has to say…

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Tuesday February 6th: #BlackLivesMatterAtSchoolWeek Theme – Diversity, Globalism

Students started working on contributions to a Google folder envisioning a future where Black lives matter in all schools.  Their work is in response to the prompt “In a school where Black Lives Matter we…..”

This was one of my favorite pieces by my student Jason R.

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and a poem from Adriana F.

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AMAZING panel Tuesday night from Youth African-American and Latinx Leaders.  Check it out here:

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Wednesday February 7th:#BlackLivesMatterAtSchoolWeek Theme –Trans-Affirming, Queer Affirming

We still needed to work on projects from Tuesday, so we did.  However, we had time for a quick conversation about trans women being women too, and I pulled this quote from How We Get Free: Black Feminism and The Combahee River Collective

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We will definitely return to this topic and day as I love Audre Lorde’s poetry and essays. They have a permanent presence throughout my class, not just this week.

Thursday February 8th#BlackLivesMatterAtSchoolWeek Theme – Intergenerational, Black Families, and Black Villages

We heard Matt de la Peña reading his book Love

in this YouTube video which was amazing.  I love bringing picture books into the high school classroom.  I never have students not enjoy them.  I also love having authors read to the kids–it’s a winning combination.

After, we spoke about non “traditional” schemas for love and students did a little writing about what love looks like in their families and cultures.  This is one of my favorite topics to explore, and next week we’ll be returning to it for students to write definition essays (the second round–they did the first ones just before break).  I always love the lesson where we talk about what it means to have a Black or Mexican mama. We will also talk about Black families…the ways they are depicted, and the way it feels to actually be a part of one.

Arianna said it best:

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And here is how our children say they feel love…

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Friday February 9th: #BlackLivesMatterAtSchoolWeek Theme – Black Women, Unapologetically Black

So for the millionth time, I’m definitely over people saying, “I don’t see color,” when the fact that I am Black and a woman, and a Black woman doesn’t escape anyone.  I’ll just drop this here in case someone has been living over a rock and missed this simple explanation.  Saying you don’t see two of the most OBVIOUS things about me is

A) not true


B) implying there is something wrong with these traits.

I talk more about how to affirm (read – not traumatize) Black women and girls (and really all people) within the school system in my post #BlackGirlMagic if you’re curious/interested.

Given that I worked a 12 hour day Thursday with conferences and all that…and because I love doing #HipHopEd and because it’s Beyoncé, I had to go with some #Lemonade for ALL the reasons.  If you haven’t seen it yet or taught it in your class as visual rhetoric/storytelling, I really don’t know want to hear it, at this point.  Shout out to the homie @heatheryreads for the GENIUS Google drive folder that we share with all the goodies for teaching Lemonade.  I will be using it forever.


Two things:

1) Shout out to the homie @misskubelik for sending me her ARC of The Poet X by @acevedowrites !!  This is all I have wanted since November when I missed the giveaway while I was running around #NCTE18 like a crazy woman.  I cannot wait to read it.  It feels like it was made for me, and me for it.  This may have been the book I’ve been waiting for my whole life, if I’m honest, since there were no books written in poetry (which is a cornerstone of my private life) with girls who looked like me on the cover when I was coming up/learning to read.

Revelation: Students will be working on a dope ethnography project for argument/synthesis with The Poet X and Electric Arches as mentor texts.

2) I cannot WAIT for my students to meet @getnicced on Monday–especially my young Black women.  I don’t have enough words to describe my state of mind about this visit.  I know it’s going to be an emotional journey and I’m all the way ready for it.


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A word…

The majority of this post has been dedicated to AP English Language and Composition students and their work, but a very special THANK YOU goes out to Jason Reynolds for his book Long Way Down.

We read the book straight through while listening to the Audible audio version.  The children were captivated.  We were sitting in a circle, so I could see all of their faces and as any Lang Arts teacher knows, there is little better than experiencing a book you love anew with children you love.  There is just nothing like it.  I am so lucky to be able to have that experience on the regular.

One of my students, Oscar A. is such a joy to experience new things with.  When we went to see the play Macbeth at the DCPA I was probably more entertained by watching his reactions to everything that I was watching the actual play.  He is absolutely incredible and he LOVES hip hop, so I know I can count on him to be all the way in when we do #HipHopEd


He hates to read.  He has admitted it many times.  I’ve been his teacher for two years, so we struggled through the books for AP Lang last year and now he’s taking two concurrent enrollment English classes as well as AP Lit from me–so issalot of reading.

I really don’t have words to describe watching him read Long Way Down, but I can say that it was everything that makes this job so magical.

When we finished reading it, he had the following things to say:

“This is the best book I’ve ever read.  Wow.  That book was so dope.  It was beautiful.  I don’t like reading.  This is a book I actually might BUY.”

To which I replied, “I will GIVE you a copy and write you a letter in the back so you’ll always remember this moment.  You might like poetry more than you think you do.  You love hip hop, and poetry and hip hop are siblings, so….”

So, what does the world do when something this beautiful happens?  Let Jason Reynolds know…

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This made Oscar’s LIFE.  He was so hyped after seeing this tweet.  He lit up from the inside and I was there to watch it happen!  This is the power of teaching/reading living writers….

For those of you wondering about the details of how this text can be used in AP Lit, here is my lesson plan, and a Teaching Tolerance Learning Plan I made for expansion thinking/conversations/activities.

Also, students made a BOMB #hiphoped playlist with songs to accompany the book that I’ll be tweeting out soon, so stay tuned….

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Last but not least, I was interviewed Tuesday for the Imaginarium about Chris Emden, For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood…and the Rest of Y’all Too, Thinking Strategies, Learning Liberation and all the good things.  Check it out below [but stop it when the bell rings or risk hearing a not very good and possibly profane song at the end aaaahh Sound Cloud hahahaha]



“Just because we are magic does not mean we’re not real.”–Jesse Williams

My week began with a female student of mine coming forth with, “Miss, I need to read this ‘Write a letter to a character’ assignment to you.  It’s three pages, and I worked really hard on it.” Of course I was going to listen.  How could I turn her away?

Despite the attendance that needed to be taken, the advisory period that needed to be managed, and the ever present requests to go to the bathroom, I made space to hear my girl out.  As she began, she kept pausing to tell me she was shaking and just how nervous she was.  It seemed like she had to talk herself into reading the letter to me, and I wasn’t really sure why, until she got into the bulk of the letter.  It revealed the many ways in which the school system had wronged her:

“In kindergarten my teacher told me I looked and smelled like cigarettes.”

“Then, in the first grade I had a substitute teacher and she and these kids were talking about being poor and being middle class or rich and out of all the kids she points at me and says, ‘Look at you, you’re poor, look at your shirt.’ And I remember that like it was yesterday because I grew up to find out what ‘poor’ meant, and it shocks me that a teacher would tell a little child that.”

“I have 4C type hair [the hardest hair to deal with out of the whole hair chart] and my mom didn’t know how to take care of my 4C type hair but she still tried and the teachers always looked down on me because of that.”

“In middle school I never really dealt with any racism from the teachers, but the kids were always racist. All the black kids would be racist towards me because I was the darkest girl. My whole 3 years were hell, not because of the teachers but because of the hate I received because of being black by other black students. Surprising huh? I was called ugly by every boy, I was made fun of by everyone. I got in a fight and lost which made school even worse.”

The letter, and conversation were intense. How was I, a person working within this system, supposed to respond?

Two things were immediately apparent to me: 1) This student did not feel like the educational system respected who she is–her identity.  2) It was imperative that I do what I can to restore her sense of self-worth and empower her to feel that she does matter and who she is IS accepted, wanted, needed–at least in my classroom.  I could tell it was cathartic for her to be able to tell someone about all the hardships she had endured, so I let her speak.  After she finished, I handed her my copy of Black Girl Magic by Mahogany Browne and had her read it.

Then, we talked about what it really means to be a Black Girl, and to be magic, but also…real.  We also spoke about victimhood and how it is a passive state–that in order to enact change, we have to become active, to supercede the label of “victim” (though victimized we may have been) and remember that we are deserving of the best, so we have to demand exactly that from people, and institutions.  I told her what I always tell people when conversations turn to the hardships I have faced in living this life as a woman of color–I am fortunate to walk the world in this skin, because although it means sometimes people will underestimate or try to silence me, I have a perspective that is unique, and a capacity for empathy that is unparalleled.  I know she heard me.


The part of teaching too many teacher prep programs do not really prepare folks for is having to face trauma caused by the very system we perpetuate, then wrestle with what it means to actively work to create spaces of healing and love in environments that do not necessarily prioritize these things.

This week, during a PD on Culturally Responsive Pedagogy, the subject of childhood trauma induced by the school system came up again.  Our PD began with this thought provoking video from Dena Simmons about “How students of color confront impostor syndrome”

Oddly, though there are several women of color on staff, not one of us was asked to talk about our experiences with the erasure of our identities.  This was a missed opportunity for some real-world connections and also, another instance of folks overlooking us. The irony could not have been thicker.  I’ve often heard it said that to be a woman of color in this world is to truly know what it feels like to be invisible.  While men of color are “invisible” until they commit one of the innumerable offenses (sometimes, just being in their physical bodies) that draw attention to them, making them hyper-visible, women of color are too often dismissed as “angry” or ignored completely.  This is my lived experience.  After the video, there was a quick reaction whip-around, and then we moved on–for the sake of time.

We got off to a bit of a rough start: several of the white staff members grumbled at having to undergo, “yet another CRP PD that doesn’t align with the district mandates that we prioritize/push testing and test scores over everything else” and the women of color felt heated after having our experience glossed over.  Even so, there was a lot that came from the PD that was good.  I offer up my notes here as evidence of the deeper thinking and discussion that went on:


Some of the highlights for Close Reading as an Instructional Strategy: Find personal connections, chunk (or number) portions of the reading, stand and read (standing creates a sense of urgency), give a choice about the order in which foks read, give affirmation to “groaning students”.

Some of the highlights for Culturally Responsive Pedagogy: Invite people of color from the community into the school as role models so students can develop a schema for success that includes folks who look like them. Develop community partnerships so students can see their community as a place of pride and intrinsic worth/value.  Teach students to love themselves by centering instruction on their lives, and remind them that you love them.

I couldn’t help but make connections between my student who didn’t feel she had a voice, or a choice in her education for most of her 11 years (she’s a Junior), and the conversations we were having about CRP.  I couldn’t help but imagine what her life would have been like had she seen people of color from her community as role models and learned to love herself in part through seeing her image reflected in the curriculum and instructional methods.

In the hustle and bustle of urban education, so many things happen that are, for lack of a better way of saying it, I’ll use the Portuguese (because that’s what comes most naturally to me) “sem querer” or “without wanting to”.  I ask, if we truly seek change, if we are truly about the business of imagining a better future, when are we going to stop allowing, “I didn’t mean to/I didn’t mean it that way” to be an acceptable response to potentially trauma inducing, marginalizing, silencing, or disenfranchising situations?

Yes, I’m a Black girl.  I’m magic–but I’m also real.  My realness means I have parts of me that might always remain raw, and open, from wounds inflicted– and past wrongs.  My realness means I have been silenced at times, but also, that I have risen up to become someone who rejects the passivity of victimhood in exchange for the activism it takes to fight for a better educational system, experience, and future, not only for girls and women like me–but for everyone.