Writing more in 2021

There is so much to reflect on and I think reflecting in public is essential. Staying silent is a choice that I have made in the past. The US (and the world) is full of things that I think I want to respond to.

One of my intentions this year is to write more on this blog this year. My goal is to post something at least once per month and my stretch goal is that I post something once per week.

There is so much to reflect on and I think reflecting in public is essential. Staying silent is a choice that I have made in the past. Now I choose differently. There is so much in our world that we should all be responding to and I feel the need to respond to. Not because what I say will be particularly profound. Not because I will write anything 100% unique. I want to be in the habit of reflecting and writing more. I want to be more imaginative in where we can go on the path for justice. I think it should be public because I think we all need to be transparent in what we believe. Publicly stating our values for justice and liberation is crucial in the face of the world we’re in right now.

I’m sure that these writings will include some of my work on my new podcast, Interdependent Study, or some of my work with Organizing White Men for Collective Liberation.

I know one of the first things I want to write is what I learned in 2020 and another piece is what my intentions are for growth and learning in 2021. And there are a few other things I’ve had in a draft in here for over a year. But there is more to come.

Twenty Years

You’ve been gone for twenty years.

I had just turned 13. Easter weekend was coming up. And you were gone. No chance for goodbye. You were just gone. Stolen from us by the bullet of a gun.

I wish you could have seen us grow up. You didn’t get to see the football games. The orchestra performances. The graduations. The college tours. The moves. All of those memories stolen.

I wonder what it could have been like for you to be at my wedding. I wonder what it would have been like for you to hold your granddaughter when she was born or to know her now. There are so many moments over the years where I have considered what that moment would have been like with you there.

That’s the grief that hasn’t left me after twenty years. It’s imagining what we’ve missed out on. It’s holding on to all of the memories I do have from our 13 years together. I remember when we asked you to give up smoking for Christmas one year. And you just said ok and did it after years and years of smoking.

It’s realizing all the ways you’re reflected in me and how some of that is not who I want to be. It’s learning all the lessons you taught me. Whether it was what to do or what not to do. I’m grateful for all of that.

I’m curious what you would think of my career choice. Or my shift from football fanatic to soccer hooligan. Or living in Maryland outside DC. It’s also impossible to know whether I would’ve made all the choices I’ve made. My entire life trajectory may have been different.

I wanted to go back to your favorite haunts in Winter Haven and have a drink there. I wanted to bring Laura and Molly and show them around the town and what I remember.

I cannot believe it’s been twenty years. I miss you and I miss all of the things we didn’t get to do.

I’m facilitating webinars!

I’m back on the JP HigherEd team for 2018/2019! I’m facilitating 4 webinars this year, this first of which is on Tuesday, October 23rd.

One of the reasons I wanted to join the JP Higher Ed team again is to revisit some concepts from my previous stint facilitating webinars and one that is increasingly important to me. We need to know how to make social justice a practice. It needs to be something tangible that we can use in our day-to-day work.

That’s a thread that runs through my four sessions. Please check out the links to register for the webinars below. I’m really excited for all of them and hope you can make it.

Advancing Social Justice Capacities

Tuesday, October 23rd at 2 PM EST

We are inundated with news about hate bias incidents, the growth of hate groups, and governmental actions that push people further into the margins. What do we do with this? How can we continue to develop as educators? How do we make sense of this for ourselves and with our colleagues and students? We must develop and advance our capacities for social justice.

We must have frequent conversations with each other about social justice because we need to support our communities and critically analyze our own practices. To do that we need to be able to plan workshops, book clubs, curricula, affinity groups, and critical reflections of our own practices. This webinar will help us identify the needs of our community and draft plans to facilitate professional development learning.

Interrogating White Middle-Class Dominance in our Workplaces

Tuesday, December 4th at 2 PM EST

Higher Education in the United States was founded within the context of race, gender, and class dominance and those influences continue to this day. We see this in the work that we do on a daily basis. We see our students struggle to adapt to the culture of our institutions. We see “diverse hiring practices” but a lack of effort put into the retention of our diverse staff. We know that there are issues of hunger and homelessness on our campuses. How are we contributing to these issues? How can we confront these issues?

Developing a keen eye to see the influences of white middle-class dominance in our universities will help us counteract them and create more inclusive communities. In this webinar, you will see examples of these dynamics, evaluate your own workplace for these methods of dominance, and reflect on how you can create change.

Improvising Justice: Interrogating either/or viewpoints

Tuesday, January 22nd at 2 PM EST

As educators and administrators, we improvise daily. We find ways to solve problems that did not exist the day before. We create processes on the fly. Because of the speed in which we do things, there is not always time for critical reflection of these practices. We should change that.

Cornel West tells us that Jazz, an art form based on improvisation, is so much more than a musical genre, but that it’s a method of being suspicious of “either/or” viewpoints. As critical educators, it is essential that we take on this worldview as we improvise in our work. In this workshop, we’ll reflect on the ways that we improvise in our work, find ways that we’ve made mistakes in the past, and identify ways we can be suspicious of either/or viewpoints.

Developing Critical Reflection in your day-to-day work

Tuesday, April 30th at 2 PM EST (Link coming soon!)

Sometimes we live day-to-day without critically reflecting on the impact our day-to-day work has on the people around us. We can make a decision without considering the impact it will have on everyone involved. We can “use our best judgment” without reflecting on what has informed that judgment. We can unintentionally cause harm without including critical reflection in our daily practices.

We will explore what critical reflection is and why it is important for us to include in our practices. In this webinar, we will focus on strategies you can implement to reflect more critically on your daily practices in order to be a more inclusive, mindful, and engaged leader to your family, colleagues, students, and yourself.

Day 1 in Trump’s America is why we need to organize

People of color and women have been the target of harassment and covert bigotry since the announcement of Trump’s victory. We have to stare these incidents in the face, absorb them, and react. Everyone needs to know that this is not acceptable behavior.

Trump said that he wanted to hear from those of us who did not support him. Well, start listening by understanding the protests and recognizing that your supporters are out here making the world miserable for people you targeted throughout your campaign. Publicly state that this is despicable behavior and that it should not continue.

I will be one of the millions of voices who will be in resistance against your proposed policies. You asked it of us. This is one of my first requests. This is not greatness in America. Tell your supporters to shut this down.

Resisting the Klansman in Chief

We the people of these United States of America have entrenched into the executive branch of our federal government a man who overtly represents the interests of the white supremacist, capitalist, imperialist patriarchy. We have rooted our legislative and judiciary branches in the values of the party that this man represents. We have elected a man who has proven himself, through his actions and language, that he is unfit to serve the majority of our nation. He has slandered immigrants, called to ban any and all people who observe Islam from entering the country, told us he can do anything he wants to women because he’s a star, has been charged and fined for housing discrimination against black residents in his properties, been accused of sexual assault and rape by many women, evaded paying his taxes through loopholes, advocated jailing his political opponent, led the birther movement, and was endorsed by overt white supremacist organizations like the Ku Klux Klan and the National Socialist Movement. We have elected a Klansman in Chief to sit in the Oval Office and while he’s not the first overt white supremacist to sit at that desk he is taking over the office from the first ever black president and that means something.

We are never going to have all of our problems addressed by a president. Issues are solved by the people and implemented by those we elect to represent us. But we’ve elected, I believe, a man who is not responsive to all of the people and the tone of the direction of our nation is set by the person who sits in the oval office. We are now in a state of active political resistance to the potential actions and policies that have been promised by this president-elect. We now need to organize in order to prevent him and his political majority from being able to roll back progress that has been made in this country.

We need to find community with people who care about the same things we do and with those who think differently. We need to understand what it is we envision for the future and what those who think differently from us envision. We need to find out how we can merge those visions into something that allows all of us to have what we need from this country. We need to merge this into collective liberation. We need people to understand how they’re connected to the #NoDAPL movement even if they aren’t from Standing Rock. We need to see how we’re connected to the sexism the president-elect spews. We need to see how we will all be impacted by his theoretical wall and closing the borders. We need to see how stop and frisk is harmful to all our communities. We need to recognize that the militarization of our police force is harmful to all our communities. We need to know that the humanity of trans folks is not up for debate. We need to have the conversations about how the very real history (and present) of our country still impacts the lives of people of color and women and LGBTQ folx and immigrants and indigenous people and poor people and the intersections therein. That oppressive history is alive in our institutions and culture and it needs to be addressed in a real, organized manner. We need to organize. We have to think beyond elections. More of us have to recognize that by expanding rights and protections and liberty to the most marginalized people we can make the US better for everyone.

Civic engagement has never just been about voting. More has always been required and more will always be required. Today is about finding a way to make sense of what is a shocking result for many people. Tomorrow is for finding ways to get engaged to uproot white supremacist, capitalist, imperialist, patriarchy because it’s easier for us to see. And if it’s easier for us to see, we can find ways to dismantle it and build something new that represents us all. Tomorrow is for us to reconnect with our communities. Tomorrow we find pockets of our communities that hold us accountable to justice for everyone. Tomorrow we recommit to values that emphasize collective liberation and we hold our government (the executive, legislative, and judicial branches) accountable to those values. Tomorrow our work continues.

What I Get To Do Today

Alton Sterling was shot and killed by the police yesterday. There are already reports trying to justify why he was killed in the parking lot of a convenience store in Baton Rouge, LA. Those reports don’t matter to me because it’s like justifying the police’s ability to act as judge, jury, and executioner. Which, no matter what the flaws are within our criminal justice system, is not how any of this works. 

Mr. Sterling’s death reminds me of the things I get to do today that he won’t. I woke up this morning to shower irritated with myself for not going to bed earlier. I made breakfast with my wife and then she dropped me off at the Metro so I can go to work. 

I get to be cranky with people on the metro and hold the door for others. I get to talk with people and interact about whatever we want to talk about. I get to move freely through DC without someone’s negative assumptions of me impacting my life in a meaningful way. I get to be upset by the heat in DC and wipe my brow of sweat.

I will get to exist without anyone diving into my history. No one is doing a deep dive into my past to try to justify my death. I get to sit and type this reflection on my feelings in reaction to Mr. Sterling’s death. I get to about how his murder is connected to the murder of my own father.

I get to write letters to the Department of Justice for them to investigate new ways of training the police departments across the US and the federal law enforcement agencies. I get to ask Lorette Lynch to consider addressing implicit bias in the justice system that disproportionately imprisons and kills people of color across the US.

I get to exist.
I get to live.
I get to feel.
I get to think.
I get to challenge.
I get to push.
I get to question.
I get to be me in ways so many people across the world are denied.
I have full access to my humanity and life today. Alton Sterling does not. We all need to consider how we deal with that information. I’m torn up about it and I feel the need to do something about it because another life has turned into a hashtag. We need to consider how to change the roots of how our civil servants work for us. We need to consider how our systems don’t serve us all in the same way. We need to accept criticism and recognize that nothing is free from criticism and dissent. Expressing dissatisfaction with the way things are is one of the foundations of our society.  

I’m dissatisfied and I’m telling people about it. What are you doing today?

Tomas Young’s War – Book Review

Book cover of Tomas Young's warI recently finished reading Tomas Young’s War by Mark Wilkerson. It’s the story of a veteran of the 2nd US war in Iraq who came home paralyzed from the chest down. It’s about his adjustment to living with his paralysis, his activism against the war, his treatment at VA hospitals, his friendships with musicians like Eddie Vedder and Tom Morello, and the other things that life threw at him.

One of the first things that struck me about his story is that he originally enlisted in order to earn money to go to college because he didn’t feel that he could manage the massive debt that comes with a college degree. I connected with that logic due to my own experiences with finances and working with students who also struggle through dealing with the immense expense of attending college. But what stuck out to me is that enlisting in the military felt like the only option for Tomas to pursue higher education and that option (after a false start and reenlistment after 9/11) led to his paralysis. Which reinforces my thoughts about the ways in which we push working class and poor folks into the military with financial incentives so they can fight wars which were declared by people who would never have to make that decision.

Tomas’ was a bit of a troublemaker while in the Army and didn’t understand why he was being deployed in Iraq when Al Qaeda was in Afghanistan. That streak of questioning authority continued right up until his death in 2014 and is on full display in this book. He found a voice in organizing against the war which was documented in the film Body of War. Tomas was active in the organization Iraq Veterans Against the War. He made appearances at public events and even held a position in the leadership of the organization.

We see a glimpse of the strain that returning from war with a life changing injury has on not only the survivor of the injury, but loved ones and family members. Tomas’ journey throughout the book is full of personal struggles and pain as one would expect, but the book explores a little about the anguish that families go through with a family member’s injury. Tomas’ mother received several mixed messages from the Army about the severity of the injury and did not find out where he was being treated until a week after he had been being treated.

Just as Tomas was living on his own and understanding how to best live with his paralysis as paraplegic he has an incident with his VA issued manual wheelchair as he was getting into a van. As he leaned forward to get into the van, he had a spasm in his abdomen which pushed him backward on the ramp and flipped his chair. Through that injury he becomes quadriplegic and has to relearn how to do everything.

1415684954906_wps_32_PORTLAND_Ore_Nov_10_UPI_TThe story’s emphasis on Tomas’ confrontations with the Veteran’s Administration gives us a brief glimpse into the poor treatment our veterans receive once they return from war. Which should light a fire under any of us to push our representatives to increase funding and improve the conditions of care our veterans receive. Or at the very least push us to consider which of our candidates available to us on the ballots this election cycle have supported veterans’ care in the past. In addition to the VA, the lack of reintegration that Tomas received even as a severely wounded veteran was shocking makes one rethink how much we money and energy we put into turning civilians into soldiers and how much more we could do to assist our soldiers as they transition back to civilian life.

This book is extremely compelling and draws you into the story of Tomas in his early days. When Tomas is on the page it feels as though you’re hearing directly from him. The author focuses on Tomas’ story and even when we’re hearing from Tomas’ friends and family it is all focused on Tomas and who he is personally and what he means to those close to him. The story represents Tomas’ voice and his opinions. It serves beautifully as a biography of his life and the impact that he’s had on the world and then extends that impact because more people will hear about Tomas through the book. For that impact I applaud the author and highly recommend this book for all of us to understand the full costs of the wars outside of the tremendous financial expense. Because it’s not just the final dollar amount spent on the budget (which has had it’s own impact on all of us) but it’s the ways in which our veterans aren’t fully treated for their ailments whether it’s PTSD or a physical injury. It’s the ways in which our veterans aren’t reintegrated in ways that they could be.

The book doesn’t specifically mention a lot of this and there is no specific call to action but the way in which the story is told should inspire movement in the name of Tomas Young’s work.

Whose shoulders do I stand on?

When I reflect on where I am as a person, as an educator, as an activist, and as a soon-to-be-parent I know that there are a lot of people who have helped me exist where I am currently. There are people who have taught me important concepts & skills, people who challenged me to approach things a little differently, people who expanded my consciousness and knowledge, people who were examples for how to succeed in ways that I admire. I wouldn’t be the person that I am without them.

We all have these people in our lives. Whether direct relationships or indirect. We have partners, friends, supervisors, mentors, parents, and neighbors who have influenced us positively. We have public figures, entertainers, educators, speakers, and authors who have challenged us and pushed us. I don’t think enough about who those people are and how they’ve influenced me and I don’t think often enough about how we should demonstrate gratitude to them.

I recently thought more about this when listening to one of my favorite podcasts, Denzel Washington is the Greatest Actor of All Time. Period. One of the hosts, either Kevin Avery or W. Kamau Bell, mentioned in an episode from almost a year ago about the reason they were doing the podcast is because they want to be able to tell Denzel Washington (and other people) how much they admire him before something happens to him or he passes away. And I think we all need to do that more. Whether in a public manner (like a blog post) or through an email or gift or some personal gesture.

For me, this reflection and this demonstration of gratitude is personal so I won’t be shouting anyone out today. There are many people I feel grateful for being in my life. There are people who simply took the time to sit and have coffee or lunch with me. There are people who were supervisors and teachers and imparted so much. There are family and friends who challenge me to push my perspective beyond what I think I know. There are authors and entertainers and public figures who have written or spoken or acted in ways that I admire and helped me shift my own beliefs and actions toward their example. These are the people whose shoulders I stand on. These are the people without whom I wouldn’t be who I am.

One of the easiest things that I can do to show appreciation is send a message to those who have helped me through the years. Whether they are personal contacts or public figures, I can find a way to contact them to demonstrate gratitude. Another way is to live within their example and pass along the inspiration they’ve shared with me to my own sphere of influence. Then I can recognize that their influence is being passed along through me. I can recognize that the conversation that I may be having with a student or mentee or peer is inspired by their work and that our interbeing is stronger as a result of learning from them that I’m passing along to another.

I firmly believe that we all need to (myself included!) pass along gratitude to our inspiration both directly through tokens and messages of gratitude. But we also can embrace the concept of indirect gratitude through sharing their wisdom with someone else and spreading the word/knowledge of what we have gained so that others may also grow through their work.

Experiential Facilitation

Students learn more fully when they are able to engage with each other and have the ability to voice their own experiences as a means of peer learning. This means principles of democratic education are the foundation to effective learning in trainings, workshops, classrooms, and any communities of learning. I recently led a workshop for my colleagues about how we can do just that.

Chart depicting Kolb's Cycle of Experiential Learning - At the top is concrete experience, to the right is reflective observation, on the bottom is abstract conceptualization, and to the left is active experimentation.I currently work with students who are serving in internships while they make
meaning of their experience through the lens of their future career, so I combined the concepts of democratic education with Kolb’s Cycle of Experiential Learning for the workshop. I built the workshop around discussing the experiences both good and bad we’ve had in group dialogues. We then discussed what the outcomes of those experiences were, what we can learn from them, and how we can use those experiences to improve our own skills and planning.

Once we were able to conceptualize why classroom activities were successful or needed improvement we shifted gears to discuss how we can use our experiences, concepts of democratic education, and Kolb’s theory to add new elements to our existing workshops so we can encourage more the peer learning that is valuable to our students. We then discussed the experimentations we came up with to improve peer learning in the current workshops and took notes so that we could incorporate our ideas in the future. The workshop was designed to use Kolb’s model to conceptualize our own learning about facilitation as a framework for how we could use the same method with our students to encourage more peer learning. The workshop was successful in implementing this concept and highlighted new ways for us to proceed in workshop design and implementation.

#GivingTuesday for Racial Justice

60 years ago today Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Her actions help kick off the Montgomery bus boycott, a nonviolent campaign to challenge segregation. Her actions defied the culture of white supremacy 60 years ago and you can do something much less challenging to stand against white supremacy today by joining Showing Up for Racial Justice as a sustaining member.

Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) is an organization of white folks who are dedicated to conspiring with people of color to act against white supremacist culture in the US. We do this through a variety of means including are teach-ins, direct action protests, and civil disobedience. There are chapters located throughout the US.

Today SURJ is launching a membership initiative. Please join me in becoming a sustaining member of SURJ by donating a minimum of $5 per month. We also ask that SURJ members make a matching monthly donation to a people of color led organization of your choice.

As a member of SURJ you get to enjoy:

  • A well-resourced, kick-ass SURJ doing what we do – organizing tens of thousands of white people for real, meaningful racial justice victories.
  • The chance to be part of building a powerful multi-racial majority to challenge racism in all its forms.
  • The opportunity to show up, shoulder to shoulder with millions of other white people taking collective action for racial justice.
  • Invitations to leadership development opportunities
  • Twice yearly updates
  • Support from SURJ staff to meaningfully participate in campaigns and projects
  • Connections to our extensive network of chapters, affiliates and local leaders (100+ chapters and affiliates and growing!)
  • Opportunities to build deep and lasting connections with other members, through in-person meetings and trainings, meet ups at conferences, and online.

If you’re a white person looking to take action in supporting racial justice then I encourage you to join me in being a member of SURJ. The path doesn’t always seem clear for white people to stand against white supremacy but we make the road by walking and you can start your journey by becoming a member and joining a chapter today.

Any questions or comments about membership in SURJ? Leave them below!