Invisibility

Last week I was so tired.

         Danny Ray Thomas

It was that tiredness that you can feel in your bones.

       Samuel DeBose

It was a weariness that comes from living each day in a constant state of motion, both mental and physical.

Akai Gurley

So this week, I decided to be still.

Keith Lamont Scott

And in that stillness, some truth came through.

Laquan McDonald

A truth that I have a hard time thinking, let alone writing

Walter Scott

because it’s in the pieces of news I see every day,

Freddie Gray

that we all see every single day.

Sandra Bland

The news informs us that another Black mother and father

Terence Crutcher

are mourning

Michael Brown

the death

Eric Garner

of their son.

Philando Castille

The news informs us that another Black man or Black boy or Black trans woman or Black adopted child

has been murdered in cold blood

…with the whole world watching.

If we let it, the news even tells us how to feel about each situation,

by omitting a name

Stephon Clark

streaming only certain parts of a video clip

Tamir Rice

ensuring we see the repetition of

Trayvon Martin

only

Alton Sterling

certain

Devonte Hart

images.

Emmett Till

People shake their heads in pity.

Addie Mae Collins

There seems to be a lot of generally expressed sorrow about each situation.

Denise McNair

Until next week, when another death makes the news.

Carole Robertson

And we roll back the pages of our memories and remember

Cynthia Wesley

that none of this is new.

Medgar Evers


Some days it is unbearable to wake up to a world where people state openly that #blacklivesmatter yet the facts, videos, statistics, etc. etc. etc. show society at large is not doing enough to break the patterns of thought and behavior that keep the cycle going.

  • There is a problem with white rage in our society.
  • There is a denial of and refusal to face documented historical facts in our society.
  • There is a failure to confront an ugly truth–that our society values some lives more than others and routinely, systematically robs people of color of their humanity, while lying about it.
  • There is a physical, and emotional price all people from historically marginalized or oppressed groups pay for regularly watching or hearing about people like us being murdered in cold blood.

It is a tax collected without our consent.

I try to counter it in every way imaginable, but awareness of all of the ways carrying this burden could be the end of me is always there, buried in the recesses of my mind.

Though the world I grew up in (with its conspicuous lack of representation) would have us believe we are invisible, clearly, both in life, and especially in death–we are not.

So I ask again, do our lives really matter (to you)?  If so, what is the next level of what you are going to do?  Do what you’ve always done, or only what is easy, and what has always happened will continue to occur.  How many more video clips or retweeted news articles will it take?  Though I appreciate the awareness and immediacy viral videos lend to the cause, I’m beginning to wonder if people aren’t getting desensitized or worse yet, developing a fascination for “clickbait”, feasting on the footage of horrific acts contributing to the creation of an increasingly less humane society.

Still, looking away is hardly the answer…We should know by now that avoidance of dealing with pain, discomfort, or sorrow is one of the surest ways to guarantee more of it.

We are none of us as separate from one another as we have been lead to believe.  Separation is an illusion, and one day, the effect of all the pain and trauma this nation has impressed upon the bodies and collective memories of people of color will come for us all.  Maybe it already has.

As difficult as it may be to consider this, my truth is that the only way to heal is to move forward.  The only way forward is together–though painful that may be. My hope, and my constant prayer is that we can somehow find a way forward, together.

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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–take a beat,

to honor how far we’ve come

and just how far

(with passion, and fire beneath our feet)

           we

can

          go. 


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Photo by billy lee on Unsplash

“Caminante no hay puentes…”

Since this is my first “end-of-year” blog post, I figured there are probably few or no expectations, and I can do what I want.

So, to use a phrase my daughter is extremely fond of these days, “See what I’m not gonna do is…”

–rehash gruesome details about what it’s like surviving [because we have to call it that, don’t we] today’s socio-political landscape.

–go down a list of all the books I read this year and tell you why I liked each one [we have Goodreads for that].

–reveal divine secrets to person/teacher-hood that will elevate all readers to a higher humanity [sorry if that disappoints].

I am going to let 2017 rest by remembering it (and its seasons) with poetry.


Winter

It’s funny how much

a sunset

looks

like

a sunrise.

I hate saying, “When you died,”

because for me

that’s not what happened.

 

When I say your name.

When I think of you,

I always, always remember

(however much it hurts)

that

I

must

rise.


Spring

howmanytimesmustigivethisgothroughthisputthemthroughthisredothis?

theblindareleadingtheblindareleadingtheblindareleadingtheblindareleadingtheblind


Summer

I was everything

and

nothing,

Everyone,

and

no one.

What a relief it is to feel one’s individuality

melt

away.

I felt connected to all of humanity–more so then, than I have since–

even in this very moment, this hour,

today.


Fall

I.

I fell.

But, it was a controlled fall.

The kind you take when the sidewalk that was wet, turns icy.

You know what’s ’bout to happen, don’t you?

(I knew)

But, that doesn’t keep you from

protecting all parts,

automatically.

Not only, but especially

the head

and paradoxically (because it’s in a cage, what can hurt it?)

the heart.

II.

Things fall apart,

and then slowly, carefully, methodically

we pull them back together.

We have fallen apart so many times,

then come together to gather the scattered pieces.

We have re-written the story so many times,

then come together to re-tell the tale.

We are about the business of re-building it all,

after

your

complete, and utter destruction.

We know what it is to build bridges as we walk them.

and you walk over us as though we won’t move

              beneath your feet…


Inspiration for 2018…

“Caminante, no hay puentes, se hace puentes al andar.”
(Voyager, there are no bridges, one builds them as one walks.)

Gloria E. Anzaldúa

If I can’t dance, it’s not my revolution!
If I can’t dance, I don’t want your revolution!
If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.
A revolution without dancing is not a revolution worth having.
If there won’t be dancing at the revolution, I’m not coming.

(all attributed to Emma Goldman)

“My silences had not protected me.  Your silences will not protect you…We have been socialized to respect fear more than our own need for language.”

Audre Lorde

“The more radical a person is, the more fully he or she enters into reality so that, knowing it better, he or she can transform it…This person does not consider himself or herself…the liberator of the oppressed; but he or she does commit himself or herself, within history, to fight at their side.”

Paulo Freire

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Her name is Azeb

A little more than a year ago, I decided not to go to Starbucks anymore.  It was partially because I was tired of drinking burnt coffee, and partially because I got sick of paying $5.00 for each cup of burnt coffee.  We are a wasteful society.  We think nothing of the fact that $1 can buy a homeless child a winter coat.  $20 can put a child through school in Zimbabwe for a year.  I try to do my part, in ways large and small to reduce this wastefulness.  So much of it, after all, comes down to a mindset, and the question, do I really need that?

So this particular day, I decided I didn’t need Starbucks.  Instead, I pulled through the Shell gas station to get some gas, and decided to get my coffee there.  I had noticed the Shell station before.  I pass it twice a day on the way to and from work.  The Shell station is about half way between my home and my school.  It lies on a frontage road just after the waste treatment plant and just before the several literal and figurative train tracks I cross.  My commute is 30 minutes, one way, on a good day, 45 minutes on a bad one, and I don’t mind.  I listen to audio books, sit in blessed silence with my thoughts, take phone calls.  Sometimes, it’s the only time alone I have all day.  My drive always serves as a nice transition between home, where one piece of my heart lives, and school which holds the other.

When I walked in to the Shell station that day, I’m not ashamed to say that all eyes were on me.  Apparently they didn’t get a lot of folks in there that look the way I do.  Apparently not too many school teachers know the secret of the $1.04 gas station coffee.  I’ll share it.  It’s delicious, always hot, never burnt.  There is unlimited hazelnut creamer.  Sometimes, it’s free.

That day I noticed the attendants were more friendly and less frenzied than a Starbucks barista.  There was no line.  I could make my coffee the way I liked it, so my order was never wrong.  It didn’t take me long to determine this was my new spot.  I am, in general, a creature of habit, so after that first day, I went every day to the gas station. It became something of a daily ritual.

  1. Pull up
  2. Grab keys, phone, and wallet
  3. Go inside and greet the folks behind the register
  4. Rinse out my mug
  5. Refill
  6. Pay/or don’t (as I said, sometimes, it was free)  The phrase indicating free coffee was coming up was when the attendant would say, “Just a refill?  That’s it today?  No charge.”
  7. Wish everybody a great day.

After doing this every day for almost an entire school year, I developed what I would definitely classify as a sort of friendship with many of the attendants there.  I asked about their children.  They asked me about teaching.  They made fun of me when I bought donuts anticipating that it was going to be a rough day, and said, “Only one donut today?”

One day, I noticed one of the attendants had a name tag that said, “Azeb”.  It was familiar to me because I had a student named Azeb from Eritrea, a small East African country many Americans know nothing about.  My Azeb was an 18 year old refugee who wanted nothing more than to be a nurse.  My Azeb was divorced at 17 years old from an abusive husband in an arranged marriage.  We had formed a bond when she came to my school and entered the system as a high school Junior with little to no English speaking, reading, or writing ability.  In spite of, or perhaps because of all of this, My Azeb worked her ass off and graduated high school in two years.  When I told the Azeb at the Shell station that I liked her name, she smiled, thanked me and replied, “Everyone from Eritrea is named Azeb.  It’s a really common name.”  We laughed about it.

From then on, we made it a point to ask about the things that mattered most to us.  She found out I was a high school teacher.  I discovered she had a daughter who was a high school student.  Though I know there was an immediate bond because she is a Black female, and so am I, there was more to it than that, and we felt it.  We appreciated it.  A bond of mutual respect was forged.

Though there are other attendants at the Shell station who know me by face if not by name, Azeb is my favorite.  That is why, when I witnessed her dehumanization today, I felt her pain as acutely as if it were my own.

I was third in line when I heard the word “Trump” and my ears perked up.  I assumed it was someone going off about what a horrible so-called President he is.  Instead, as the conversation developed, I slowly came to realize it was the opposite.  The men were at the register.  Azeb was ringing them up.  I’m sure she asked them how they were doing.  She asks everyone how they are doing.

“….I’ll be so much better once they get that Donald TRUMP in office for another four after these first few years.”

He was taunting her

“Trump’s going to fix everything.  He’s kicking those immigrants out on their asses right where they belong.”

“He’s building a wall that’s sure gonna fix a lot of problems.”

“‘aint no wall high enough to keep them out.”

“Just one look at the cashiers will tell you that much.”

It happened so fast.

I wanted to drop my things and chase after them.  I wanted to demand they apologize.  I wanted to hug her and make sure she was okay.  In that moment, within earshot of the conversation there was myself, Azeb, a hispanic man, an African American man, and another cashier.  We were all people of color.  The two men having the conversation were outnumbered.  Yet, we all stayed silent.  I don’t know if our silence was the result of shock that someone could be so unapologetic with their hatred, or if it was the result of hundreds of years of social conditioning not to “cause trouble”.  Either way, I, along with everyone else in that line, became a bystander.  The conversation was over, and the men were out the door before I realized what happened.  I know from experience, all it takes is a moment to diminish someone’s humanity.

When I got to the register, I saw there were tears in Azeb’s eyes.  I asked about her daughter, which made her smile.  I told her I’d be back soon, which I will.  I’m going back tomorrow.  But I couldn’t shake the anger, the rage that pricked just behind my eyes, making them burn, threatening tears.  I still can’t shake it.

If only she could have refused them service.

If only I had dropped everything and confronted them about their hateful words.

This was not subtle racism.  It was outright, flagrant, ostentatious hatred directed at the innocent.

Azeb is one of millions of immigrants who take positions of servitude working at gas stations, as custodial staff, as nail technicians, agricultural workers, for a country that has built itself on the foundation of white supremacy.

She does not deserve to be disrespected.  Nobody does.  Sometimes, something as simple as learning a person’s name can be the bridge we all need to cross to make social, economic, and cultural divides smaller.

So what can you do?  For me, it always comes down to the questions.  How can you use whatever privilege you have as a man, as a white person, as a native English speaker, as a citizen, as a person whose religion is not vilified, to make the world a more tolerable place for those who do not share your privilege?  What amount of your safety, comfort, power are you willing to give up so that someone else can be liberated? If you become a bystander, what is next?  Until all of us are free, who among us truly can be?

Her name is Azeb.  Say her name.  Learn how to pronounce it correctly.  Take the time to read up about where she’s from.  Carry the story with you.  Don’t let those around you who serve you be nameless.  Learn their stories.  Make them a part of yours.

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