I was given a beautiful opportunity to be interviewed by Ashley Coffey, alongside Casha Doemland- a fellow poet, writer, and environmental activist. We shared about how breathwork and meditation grounds us to not only be good within ourselves, but good to serve others in the work that we do. Self care is social activism. When we are good to self, we have more space to be good to others. Listen more at the WeTakeNote Podcast!
The scene was full of red t-shirts, red signs that included “free public education,” to “smaller class sizes.” I arrived, with my colleagues at Compton Education Association, in solidarity with LAUSD union. There were all generations, from the elderly to children in scrolls, who came to march besides United Teachers of Los Angeles. The march began in Grand Park and ended at The Broad Museum. The purpose of the march was to show the city, school board, and other political decision makers the seriousness of teacher demands; furthermore, that the repercussions will be to close down the district. Teachers demanded an equitable negotiation of contract, which includes: increase in pay, smaller class sizes, more arts opportunities, and mental health support. Alongside teachers were nurses, counselors, parents, children, other union workers--all in solidarity to bring quality learning for our students.
The rally evoked past memories of my protesting years in college, when I was attending school in San Francisco. The city marched for the people’s movement, demanding better public service programming for families and youth. We would protest against ICE raides, education, and rent control. The same spirit of equality and liberation that manifested in my early twenties, was the same spirit of movement for the civil riots, and prior to the third world revolutions.
MEANING WELL, BUT DOING HARM--Philanthropy and the Privatization of Schools
What was most compelling about the march was the intergenerational and cross-sector partners involved. Often times, these spirited protests are comprised of youthful revolutionaries, yet this time, it was an older generation that sought the need to organize. We ended the march at The Broad. On their website it states that they have $3 Million to LAUSD to serve as bringing “Equity and Excellence” into our schools. Though this was a generous gesture, the question is who determines what is equitable and excellence? Any grants that go into our public offices and districts, must include a grassroots organizing process of allocating funds. If the company does not fully backup all people, than it is no longer bipartisan and contributes to the privatization of our schools.
The national move towards equity has been intensified with data-driven assessments and building an organization’s narrative through data analysis. The transparency of data has impacted the involvement of companies and organizations in education reform. Philanthropies have taken opportunity in providing grants and investments in increasing growths in student performance and educational opportunities. Though these seed grants have worked on bridging the gap and the nation has seen increase in test scores and provided creative programming for schools, it has created a major issue of privatizing the education system. There are now competing companies that are monopolizing our public programming, creating more boundaries for teachers and educators to be heard. In addition to the recently growing effort to work with schools, seed grants and founders only exacerbate the issue of the dominance of charter networks in schooling. Though this is a larger conversation to be had, I will limit the debrief on the conversation about charters to keep focus on this essay.
WHAT NOW: Intersectional Organizing Done Right
Intersectional organizing is a priority in post-Obama elections and current political momentum in policy and governance. More companies, more organizations, more people, means that there is more plurality of voice and experiences represented. However, what do we do now? With all these do-gooders and changemakers who have the resources to invest in public services, it will be imperative for these stakeholders to prioritize community voice. The city needs to begin to set up structures of partnership, so that they include grassroots organizing of community voice. It is the people who live in the neighborhoods, who go through the programming, and who transform the institutions, that should be heard.
THREE MIND SHIFTS WE NEED TO HAVE:
The need for new systems and processes for allocation of funds: For the movement of education reform to progress, all individuals and organizations have to consider the very people on the ground--families, students, educators, and service workers. These are the people who want we to see happy and passionate because they are the ones who experience the learning and transform our schools into communities.
Grass Roots Programming on a Local Level--Including all constituents: Schools belong to the community, as decision making should be a collaborative process in developing learning for our future. Teachers and service workers are imperative voices that need to be on forum that facilitates political dialogue and implements initiatives. The school system’s focus on achievement gap and efficiency has corporatized our communities of learning and destabilized the culture of creativity and intellectual curiosity.
Grant Providers are not Suga-Daddies, but become community members: Partners who are considered “elite” because of their monetary value in our capitalistic ecosystem should be required to engage in community development activities with neighborhood locals and other important constituents. Grant providers are not a part of the banking system, nor investors. However, they are people who believe in a cause and are sharing responsibility in implementation, not just controlling execution through their perceived ideals of what the community needs.
A leader is an artist--a curator of experiences and facilitator of collective action. Strong leadership is expressed through authenticity, wisdom, and compassion. Early on in the class semester, I was overwhelmed by the idea of “growing into a leader.” I overwhelmed myself with hyper analyzing the diversity of leadership styles, comparing myself under a deficit perspective. As I began to get more comfortable with the curriculum and professor, I realized the assets I already possess. My leadership activates when I am most myself, an artist, writing poems, enamored by the muse and tensions of hoping in humanity. The decisions of management, culture building, and vision casting for leaders are most impactful when derived by a true passion to serve and engage with a greater calling than the job itself and for the greater good. From these reflections I have uncovered two primary purposes of a strong and effective leader: to inspire and to serve.
Leaders are not passive, but actively inspiring and serving. A leader can inspire through varying expressions, depending on the personality, preferences, and experience of the leader. Northouse (2010) in “Theory and Practice” surveyed a number of research on leadership and created four factors that describe a “transformational” leader: idealized influence, charisma, inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation, and individualized consideration. When a leader becomes “transformational” they take responsibility in casting a collective vision and commit to guiding his or her followers into seeing that vision through. The leader facilities this experience so that the followers feel the calling and intrinsically take ownership of the vision and their own purpose. For the followers to gain a sense of community and collective actions, leaders take upon a servant role and in humility foster an empowering working environment. They listen and respond to their followers; they show them they care about their well-being and position of influence in the organization.
I’m learning a lot about leadership. I used to think it was a top-down expression of authority, but after taking my first courses in School Leadership at USC I see a new perspective. Leadership is personal and authentic; it is a vehicle of facilitating change. You don’t give orders, but you offer suggestions and guide conversations with people into collective action. I have so much more to learn, but upon ending my first semester of USC, I’m grateful for this space of nurture and growth.
Edmonds, Ronald R. (1979) “Effective Schools for the Urban Poor.” Educational Leadership 37 (October 1979), 15-24.
Northouse, P.G. (2010). Leadership: Theory and Practice. Sage: Los Angeles. Chapters 9 & 10.
I tell every student that they have a story. We start the year off with memoirs because the personal narrative prompts them to use an authentic writer’s voice and true intention in portraying a story. Students should not feel that they have no story--helping students find their voice is supporting them in developing higher self-esteem and efficacy. Just as all stories have a purpose; all students have value.
Emancipatory Literacy: Our kids CAN and need to
Writing is our communication to the world; it is the way we exist, engage, and change our society. It is a sacred process of unveiling our minds most subconscious truths, inscribing them to paper, and discoursing it to the greater dialogue of existence. It is our portal to our trauma, and the healing pathway to self-love. It creates language for us to challenge oppressive policies and dismantle hegemonic systems that ignore marginalized communities. Our youth of color are in need of writing for varying reasons of self-development, political advocacy, and communication. With the unreliability of our school system and its history of failing to equip our students in literacy growth, it is most imperative for the community to recognize and respond to the urgency of the literacy crisis in our educational infrastructures. As teachers, we hold an irreplaceable role in helping bridge that gap. We remind our students they have a voice, a voice that is worth expressing in spite of the academic challenges that come with writing.
Paulo Freire robustly articulates the emancipatory power of literacy. In “Reading the Word and the World,” he shares, “Literacy in this wider view not only empower people through a combination of pedagogical skills and critical analysis, it also becomes a vehicle for examining how cultural definitions of gender, race, class, and subjectivity are constituted as both historical and social constructs.” (Freire, 6) This statement indicates that literacy is a tool for people to critique and reimagine the social constructs. Deconstructing infrastructures that impose an unfair and unjust hierarchical system on the people leaves room is necessary for freedom. Literacy is our weapon. It is a practice of democracy that can dismantle positions of power that perpetuate detrimental archetypes of our marginalized community.
In America any of our black and brown youth are performing at lower outcomes that white and Asian counterparts. Though marginalized communities have garnered much empowerment through collective action against limited access to resources and social capital, the disparities in school performance still take precedents. Angela Valenzuela indicates that the American School System is organized to “subtract” resources from immigrant youth and low-income communities. The lack of engagement students who identify with disenfranchised social identities has become a status quo--a cultural norm. (Valencia, 5) In order for students to be accepted, they must “culturally assimilate” and resocialize; this approach may convince some students, but Valencia states that a typical response of students is rebellion against the “schooling process” that disrespects them. Valencia’s research parallels Freire analysis that the apparatus that governs schooling fails to value youth of color as assets of power; and this lack of respect has compounding impact on literacy. Freire states that the issue of literacy is not in the deficits of standard and institutionalized metrics of proficiency for reading and writing, but rather “it begins with the fact of one’s existence as part of a historically constructed practice within specific relations of power.” (Freier, 7)
In many ways, writing is the act of saying 'I,' of imposing oneself upon other people, of saying, 'Listen to me, see it my way, change your mind.' It's an aggressive, even a hostile act.
One facet of literacy that Freire does not thoroughly mention is the therapeutic process of writing and its power in beginning the journey of healing the trauma our youth endure. Our youth of color experience disproportionate access to events in life that will force them to grow up much faster than their peers in neighborhoods that have not been politically bounded by the mismanagement of poverty and devalue of non-white and non-submissive citizens to Euro-centric Patriarchy. Youth of color may not want to write their stories because they may not want to remember all the tragedies they already had to have experienced. Yet, for our students to grow feeling safe and cared for, they need avenues in which they can connect with themselves and their past, in order to move forward through the present and future. Writing is a self reflective practice; a key to life at times, and it can act as a powerful tool of healing and validation for our youth who feel silenced in their trauma.
When we teach our students how to write, it is a proactive stance in our faith that they matter. The demographics of our most disenfranchised schools express socio-personal experiences that comprise of trauma inflicted by the consequences of poverty and violence. Our political structures have historically imposed living environments that are not suitable for human beings to thrive, but struggle. There is a culture of poverty that traps our youth in a cycle of demeaning their self worth in America. When we teach our students to write, we are showing them that they matter—they matter more than what the culture and media portray them as. The act of teaching literacy shows them that we care. We care because they are worth it and valuable. Most importantly, loved.
Being in jail at the age of 13 is something I will never forget. For a week I slept on the floor of a cold room. No private restroom. No food. No bed. My mom would not eat the bag of sour candies they gave us every morning just so I could eat more, my stomach would always be making noises, and it was not because of “my bad digestion”.I don’t remember a time when they would come and clean the toilet or give us new blankets. It was a medium-sized space blanket. Immigrants should not hide the way they came here, I share my story, not for people to feel sorry for me and pity to feel better, but I want people to see the pride of immigrants, we can do more than just work, we came here to have a better life, a better future.
-Anonymous Student 2018
Freire, Paulo, and Donaldo P. 1950- Macedo. Literacy: Reading the Word & the World. South Hadley, Mass.: Bergin & Garvey Publishers, 1987. Print.
Valenzuela, Angela. Subtractive Schooling : U.S.-Mexican Youth and the Politics of Caring. Albany :State University of New York Press, 1999. Print.
Intro: Just as a suburban white school converses about the beauty of Romanticism and critique each others pottery in Ceramics class, our urban schools need creative opportunities to express and explore. Our students have the capacity to tap into their muse in schools, whether it be a visual interpretation of feminism through Cardi B lyrics or a photo exhibit of contemporary Shakespeare motifs. We need more of our youth of color working within our institutions and national systems because they will be the change. We need more educational experiences and apprenticeship programs that develop our creative youth, who are getting caught between the cracks of school and boredom. We need more job offers for students who are the Einsteins, yet aren't handed the benefits of white privilege that could navigate through society without a diploma. More internships at production studios. More students who say they want to be research assistants, specified sergeants, poets, journalist, policy makers, professors, or students who make up their own jobs and succeed. There is a huge job market that is comprised of our upper class and underrepresented of our young folks of color, let alone, are not aware of the possibilities that exist.
In this essay, I share the impact the history of schools has had on my experience in the school system and its implications for greater dialogue about the corners the government consequently curates for our people of color.
History of School Segregation: Why do the rich get to go to enlightenment?
Inequality is nothing new to our schools. From the beginning, founders determined predetermination of students not by their intelligence, but by their status in the social ladder that is designated mainly by class, gender, and socio-economic status. The rich were prepared for careers in policy, creative arts, and sciences: The poor were prepared for physical labor. The first school was founded in 1635 in Massachusetts, a boys only secondary public school. This all boys school is known for its alumni John Hancock and Samuel Adams, two of our founding fathers. Yet this institution was inclusive of boys only, white boys to be more specific. Thomas Jefferson took this one school and created a tracked system, segregating the poor from the affluent. Later on, in the 1800’s, states began calling for free public education, but not for the reasons you may think. The purpose of schools was less about intellectual freedom, but training for labor. In some cases, the poor were enforced to receive this “free schooling,” because it guaranteed a labor force and the rich had to pay for quality and more intellectually developing curriculum. During this time, slavery was strongly enforced, which also meant that there was a huge portion of our Americans who were banned from literacy--the connection pathway to mainstream society. I can imagine that during this time, there were many families who appreciated the free schooling and utilized the opportunity to pull in income. But we must acknowledge the discriminatory practices early on in order to objectively critique our current system and strategize for more equity in our public spaces.
Critics may state that the founders did not have a racist agenda in tracking students. However, it is clear policymakers and national leaders have had an agenda to keep the poor working even outside of the school system. Consider the Bracero Program in 1942-1960’s, where America and Mexico had a bilateral agreement that granted temporary work for Mexican workers. The workers faced many broken promises of quality housing, stipends, and overall abusive treatment. The program had a tremendous impact on the American economy, but once the 60’s began and we hear voices like Cesar Chavez demanding respect as a human being and not just a labor contributor, the nation begins to tighten immigration laws. We have always been a number to this nation, a cost of efficiency--a part of a value-added system where we are the capital, rather than the entrepreneur.
Urban School "Career-Ready" Programming Reflects the Banking System
In schools, it’s easier to set up a program for mechanical technician’s assistant or dentist assistant track than a curriculum for students that makes them think. We have been programmed to look at our kids as a number in a system. Paulo Freire, a recognized liberation activist, states that the schools have become like a banking system. Each student has an empty mind for schools to fill with their agenda, in which many times is shape students to be compliant in their political and economical designations in society. I am in FULL SUPPORT of providing students pathways to be certified technicians or physicians, but this cannot be the end all be all. There must be diversity in the programs that we offer the youth. Just as a suburban white school converses about the beauty of Romanticism and critique each others pottery in Ceramics class, our urban schools need creative opportunities to express and explore. There is a huge disparity in the way we value our students in urban schools; in the way we speak to them and about them; and in the way we instruct them direct knowledge rather than self discovery and passion.
For all the kids who don't want to be dental assistants...
Many of our youth in our public schools are on the hustle to support their families and live a better life. By offering them a limited options, let alone, options that may guarantee working class jobs, is an inequitable practice because with more choices comes freedom. By offering our students more career paths in schools, we exercise their freedom to become and be, and also make the world a better place--less students would be dropping out; our career field would be more diverse; and the economy and culture would be blessed by the innovations of our young people of color.
The true heartbreak came is when I worked at a more affluent school and saw the schooling cater to pushing the students to become individual thinkers and competitive candidates for their passionate career fields. When you go to a “good school,” you will see students being spoken to as professionals in their crafts, teachers working together to talk about student learning and creativity, and strong extra curriculum programming in the arts, sports, and other student interests. In schools within our urban and rural communities, we don’t see many opportunities for positive youth development and growth--students are still a number in the system and their attendance counts, literally because it is the means our schools receive their funding.
So who's to blame? How do we solve this?
I don’t know. If I knew, I’d get a hitman. The solution isn’t to blame one person but to have a strategy. Marshall Ganz’s writes in, “Why David Sometimes Wins,” that strategy is the way institutions and bodies of people determine their choices through tactics and timing. Even with the lack of resources, good strategy leverages opportunities to maximize progress towards one’s goal. He emphasizes the need for creativity and meaning in our planning. Especially with the uprising of so many social movements, now is the times for schools to creatively plan reform and utilize the momentum and community partners to exponentially grow towards equity. We have to critically analyze the political initiatives that are either in place or moving that we as voters can either support or not support both in and outside of school conversations. For example:
Families and Communities First
Keep our Families Together
Another solution is targeting tactics that facilitate BETTER PROGRAMMING! Let’s think longevity when we are working with our kids. Often times, schools support a drive-by style intervention or extracurricular. Ganza states that “a critical strategic goal of those contesting power is to find ways to turn short-term opportunities into long-term gains by institutionalizing them.” We can no longer create interventions that are responses to the “current hype” in education reform. School leaders must look at the community assets and needs and create an opportunity that grows the community of students and families together. If we do this, I am sure that we will see that students don’t want to just become dentist assistants and are not only concerned about making ends meet, but our students are critical intellectuals and should be viewed upon as our greatest thinkers, innovators, artists, and game changers.
I have always struggled with classroom management. I have done everything strategy under the sun that exists to earn the respect of students. When implementing these practices, I avoid expressing anger and yelling at the students. My rationale behind this derives from my own childhood, where I grew up fearful of my parents. When adult authorities rose their voice and expressed irrational anger, I would shut off. I did not want my students to experience condescending belittlement, so I would refrain from direct authority.
At the end of the next year, I gave students a survey of my classroom and teaching. I got many beautiful responses of transformation, college readiness, and purpose. However, I had a repeated concern of classroom management and classroom control--this makes sense. My objective has never been to control a class, let alone control anyone. As a human being, I believe that we give everyone a choice to be who they are and teacher guide students into becoming their truest and highest selves. I met my objectives as an educator to mentor students through this, but my lack of control of the class leads to a lack of respect. That lack of respect is a problem because it could lead to hostility in the class, purposeless chaos, and missed opportunity for students who need to learn professionalism. I try to bring joy and warmth in the class--this I do. But I do it at the cost of control.
Here’s what some of my students shared:
in my opinion ms whang doesnt need to improve in general but shedoes need to improve on the why she controlls students. for example she need to get them introuble more like sending them to the offices or calling them parents. students be cntolling her instead and that doesnt look nice it makes me feel bad cause it loos like she stress alot. she need to make them listen to her
I think Ms. Whang can improve on not being so soft on the students that talk back to you and letting them get away with the things they do like disrespect you. You deserve a ton of respect for how great of a teacher you are and how much you do for us.
Another student said I had to stop smiling! What struck me most about these comments was that the students were rooting for me. They were standing up for me and expressing that they saw my intent and felt bad that it was being taken advantage. When I read these, my heart sank. No matter what beautiful work I accomplish with my students, if they don’t respect me, why stay in my career.
As I look back in my years of teaching, I realize that I walk into my classroom filled with anxiety everyday. The reason I walk in anxious is because my personhood is challenged. I am so focused on guarding curriculum and learning, that I forget to guard myself.
I don’t see this battle as me against the students--they are on my side. I see it as me against me. I need to become a person of decisiveness. I try not to take evaluations personal. If a student states that the class was boring because they had to read and write too much, I filter that and see that the student may have felt challenged. However, the critique that there was a lack of control, is personal because it challenging the way I express the respect I deserve.
I have made many decisions in my life where I placed myself second, or third, or even last. Just as in my life, I need to put myself first, I do in the classroom as well. This statement does not mean selfishly, but my integrity and respect should ALWAYS come first.
SO WHAT NOW?
I need balance; like everything in life. I need to balance both the nurturing and authoritative side of me. "I'm here for you, but I don't take shit." I’ve gained a new ownership of my authority and classroom environment. Given, there is much I still need to grow in as a teacher, but I am ready to draw boundaries and hold students accountable for high expectations. I will not FEAR the class because I CAN control it. I walk into my class already defeated; but this is a new year.
I’m not going to be too nice, but I want to be self-empowering so I can empower my students. I need to stand up for myself for students who try to take advantage of me. Some of you may feel that this is because I work in Compton, but to be real, this has been a constant dilemma I faced in all 5 years of my teaching. I’m not ashamed because I know these trials were in my life to keep me humble and teach me how much respect I really do deserve and need to DEMAND.
This doesn't mean I'm going to stop being nice and smiling; it's just time to vocalize my authority as an expression of love and care.
I am a good teacher. I have to say this aloud to myself sometimes. All because my kids can get disruptive and weird, doesn’t mean I’m a bad teacher. I am a good teacher because I am always willing to become better. I am willing to make changes to not only my practices, BUT MYSELF. I change myself not just to better my class, but to better me. Life should always be about growth, even if it hurts
“Ms. Whang always wanted to help. she always tried to be there the most when we needed her. I feel she likes to connect and feel what the students are about. She doesn't do it for the money she really helps like she cares for us.”
Scrolling through instagram, I see so many opportunities to become healthy. I have this love and hate relationship with our current over-saturation of the term “wellness.” The messaging becomes convoluted once you become critical of whose selling and why they are selling. Our nation has a history of commercializing wellness into an industry that enables our health care system to further to its job of disenfranchising our “common” public and prioritizing our top percent.The new wave of holistic therapies and healthy living perpetuate our white hegemony that once “othered” non-european values of psychological and socio-spiritual engagement with ourselves and self-governing..
In developing countries, we learned to heal through the spirit and mind before our body. We have a deep appreciation for the body as a vessel of our souls, but our souls are the treasures we hold. Till this day, my grandma will not allow me to go to the doctors when I visit her in Corea. Even if I am throwing up in the toilet, she will let me purge, eat some mysterious herbal pills as she rubs down my body in prayer. Though my family has become Christian, her practice of holistic healing mirrors the rituals arose from the people’s belief in the interconnected experience and manifestations of the mind, body and soul.
Little did I know that I would soon live in a day and age where they sell ginseng at Whole Foods and alternative wellness practices is not only accepted, but a fad. The hot new fade has been an integral part in many of our third world and non-european countries. The ancient cultures had these systems and sophisticated perspectives of wellness that go beyond the physical, but integrate the robust aspects of human well-being. The emphasis on lifestyle and ethical behavior is the premise of wellness for most of us non-whites.
At first, Europeans “othered” this way of life, in which Edward Said would label as “the Orient.” Said emphasizes that European culture dominates Eastern ideologies (and other non-European values) and has direct impact in the formation of institutions and policies. Said adapts Gramsci’s study of discourse to further enstate that these eurocentric cultural norms is hegemonic and belittles non-European culture. During Said’s time, the term orient identifies objects and artifacts from Eastern countries, but was being used to describe the people group. Thus became the objectification and primitive convolution of all the practices and beliefs of the foreigner. Rituals and traditions became demonic stigmas and much of our lifestyles were condemned. White europeans became to create new institutions, replacing collective communities, that unlearned our practices and decades of history of theoretical frameworks our ancestors devoted their lives to inquire.
Ginseng at Whole Foods: Capitalizing on our Culture
To fully understand the exploitation of third world intellectual capital, we have to dive into the history of colonization. Though the first european encounters with foreigners may have been early in Medieval China, the 19th century marks the major wave of European colonization in the Americas, India, and Southeast Asian. In the meantime, the Americas was exploring natural therapies and holistic approach to health. Strohecker (2006) states that Germany first introduced this to America in 1840s and inspired American colleges of naturopathy, homeopathy, and chiropractic. Though Strohecker does not highlight the influence of non-european countries on America’s holistic health therapies, the ongoing colonization and exposure to non-white countries undoubtedly was a source of inquiry and muse.
America took an aspect of non-euro culture and communal pedagogy and practice of healing the body and created a system. Our ancestors respected the body as an extension of our existence and thus, cared and healed it with the land and love. These natural remedies was now extremely marketable and companies began to capitalize on it. John Harvey Kellogg, who began Kellogg's cereal brand that aimed to help people regain good health through diet, exercise and other activities that promotes wellbeing. As the culture of natural remedies and where holistic healing becomes marketable and capitalism leverages the natural movement creates some of our largest food companies. This shift was necessary for America because our companies SHOULD BE communicating a message of the natural health movement, yet it failed to appreciate our predecessors who who gave up their lives to devotion to study our unique experience with spirituality, physical expressions, and mind growths.
Health Care System: They took our idea and ran with it
Furthermore, the little inspiration of holistic healing medicine gave a radical turn in our nation’s development of the healthcare system. Strohecker summarizes in his research that in 1910 the Flexner Report, initiated by the Carnagie Foundation, published an article that proved the effectivity and “superiority” of German medicine, based on chemical drugs, over herbalism and other forms of natural remedies. This system based approach of natural based medicine was replaced with drug-based approach. The conversation of wellness and illness became a binary, and our dialogue move through a highly politicized and monetize tension of healthcare and medicine. Even “prevention” of illness would require the public to engage in a system and government-based programming. The poor fall most victim to these misleading and bad systems because of the structures that inhibit community mobilization and create barriers to create space and community.
Our history tells the truth, America is wired to create systems--it’s the country we live in. I do not believe that socialism is the most current solution, however, empowering our people who have not only been exploited for our intellectual capital and now are positioned on the social ladder to be victims of America’s underdeveloped approach to healing. Our ancestors developed these practices because they were true to them. Though we should adapt wisely and assess most logically what rituals are appropriate to our current times (e.g. sometimes rituals led to death and sacrifices), we can glean wisdom from history. Dr. Ginwright, a professor at SFSU, shares that, “What is needed is more balanced attention to both the policies that create and sustain poverty and therefore stress, as well as the biological, psycho-spiritual consequences of living in poverty.” This is when we take charge of the programming and humanize our people in management. We hold our honour for our homelands and share the studies of our people. We move up the ladder and become gatekeepers in our democratic system. We not only widen access to resources that psychologically and physically increase our wellbeing, but also determine the accountability metrics that determines good programming and quality service. We know what is best for our folks, so let us create the spaces that serve our folks.
So what now?
Consciousness: stay alive and keep your eyes open for media inspired momentum.
Intentional investment: it’s cool to shop at Whole Foods, but diversity your investment by also buying from local and independent markets/artists/herbalist (make sure you can trust them though)
Instagram Influencers: Currently our companies are really hyped about holistic healing, use social media wisely. To be brand thirsty, but promote what you really love and be transparent in your intentions.
Companies: careful marketing and diverse representation..and give back both in public and secret--not everything has to be to build the brand.-Diversity/Equity scorecard: Look at your board and employees, are they diverse in experience, gender, race...etcetc.
My racial identity influences my daily experience--from the mynute and more nuanced events to the more epic and milestone moments in life. Aside from the racial slurs and exoticization of my otherness, being Korean American and identifying with my political identity as an Asian American Pacific Islander has been an integral facet of my personal growing and self-discovery. I have seen the way trauma gets passed down from being first generation immigrant and first generation to survivors of war and refugees. Growing up, I'd listen to my dad sing old love songs to his homeland as my mom sat in dark rooms depressed in isolation. My parents worked until their callouses bled as my callouses held new lead pencils and pens from Morning Glory. I listened to 90s rnb and rap throughout middle school, had a short punk rock moment, and wore converse and SB Nike's up until now. I looked at my parents and myself; looked at America and myself; looked at my Korean friends and myself; looked at my Salvadorian boyfriend and myself--and asked myself, "Who am I?"
In 1903 book The Souls of Black Folk. Du Bois describes “double consciousness” as follows: “It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity." Du Bois specifically compares the black experience with the tension that follows from other's perception and labels challenging your personhood and liberation. He further elaborates the black experience by stating that, "One ever feels his two-ness, an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder." Dubois creates a theoretical framework of racial identity as a non-white American, where people of color can find a point of connection through this shared experience of two-ness. Though our racial experience is diverse and varies, he sets the stage for a common language around the plurality in the American identity and its ongoing development.
Before I adapt this perspective into the Asian American Pacific Islander experience, there is a huge conversation that needs to be had about the history of AAPI. First, there seems to be a more quintessential conversation about black and latino experiences in America, though the cultivation of the shared experience is much more robust than first glance, the solidarity shared amongst these racial groups are important to celebrate. On the other hand, the Asian American Pacific Islander identity is embodies a more fragmented narrative. What challenges the community from having a deep shared root of experience is the wide diversity of us in country origin and immigration history. America's economic development and home country's peace state directly influenced the push and pull factors of immigrants. For AAPI, America meant different things. The nation could either mean job opportunity, education, or a refuge. These factors predict the projection of quality of life that immigrants will experience once arrived. If you want to get to know the experience of someone who is AAPI, dig deeper into what brought their family to the states and what country are they from? Clearly, our nation should be beyond the point of asking every Asian: Are you Chinese?
So when White Americans look at Asians, they are confused. Either they imagine working class nail salon lady, international student, or even a model minority suburban square. The archetypes are growing, like any other race, but the unknown label still exists. White America's inability to label the diversity of AAPI has its pros and cons. On one hand, AAPI reap the privileges from being "othered." We are able to move through different spaces as a foreigner, not really accepted, but still admitted into different spheres of influence. Perhaps because we are not really a threat to patriotism and nationalism because we clearly don't belong here. Yet this can backfire, where our voice becomes unheard in making legislative decisions and cultural impact. Invisibility corners us to becoming ignored. The lack of attention the AAPI collective receives from the nation is problematic because our needs will not be heard--and there are many.
The great strides our community has experienced should not be ignored. From Yuri Kochiyama and the People's Movement in the Philippines, the heart of AAPI is organizing and love. Decolonization and Liberation. Mainstream culture maybe asking, where are the Asians in the midst of these political shifts and artistic renaissance. I would have to say that we are making moves in the states and internationally back at our homes. The problem is the lack of exposure to the diversity of AAPI community and prioritizing an intention to create space for the community to have platform and precedence.
As the community continues to harness in points of intersection, I have so much love for us. The shared sense of acceptance of being "Asian" has been a lesson of the beauty of diversity. I walk into Daiso, a Japanese 99 cent store, and can feel at home. My older brother is from Samoa, and he's not really my brother, but he's my brother. I love Pho as if I love kimchee chigae. I can cry for refugee stories of South East Asians as I cry for my dad's broken childhood.
It's okay that we are in a space of finding ourselves. In building community, there will be ebbs and flows of coming together and distinguishing a part. The dual consciousness is the utlimate shared experience where we can find a meeting ground. America possess a history of outcasting people of color and minimizing us to labor costs and fulling quotas on diversity needs. Yet, for those who had to live in two-ness, we come together to take collective breaths, re-imagining an America that includes us as the central axle of its functioning.
I sat down after class after a student of mine was upset. I looked at her and noticed the tears swelling in her eyes and I could feel the utter loneliness of adolescence that I once had at her age. I asked her what was bothering her and she shared with me that the she had an altercation with a guy she was talking to. In that moment, my chest swelled up with air and I began my self-rant.
In high school and even until now, my relationship with boys/men resemble a puzzle. They involve more problem solving than flirtation; anxiety rather than friendship; and guarded rather than open. In addition, I am a late bloomer and dealt with self-esteem issues because I did not fit the mold of a commercial, sexy woman. I listened to underground hiphop, never curled my hair until college, and rarely wore makeup--didn't think that guys would like me because of this.
Without that affirmation, I was unsure of my desirability and assumed that no guy would ever like me.
The first think I told my student was from a heart of worry, thinking to myself, "Please don't grow up to be like me." I told her that she is beautiful and intelligence, and even at a young blossoming age, she radiates boldly like a queen. I shared with her that last year was one of the hardest years of my life because I experienced my first break up. I regretted that my relationship with my boyfriend was such a priority that it overshadowed the passion of my work.
As I watched the sadness leave her eyes and faith brighten, I knew she believed me. She believed me when I said that there will be guys lining up to try to be with her and only a portion of them are even capable of supporting her; furthermore, only a handful worthy. She believed me when I told her she has amazing work ahead of her, and loneliness will breed resilience and creative flows. She believed me because I am living this, as we speak.
Being single has been one of my greatest challenges because being in a relationship status is a significant moment of affirmation for me and my family. It is a social indicator that you are ready for happiness and a future life of family and adulthood. However, relationships are much more than a milestone. They are a shared experience that hinges two together into one shared life. I have encountered different men, yet cannot get discouraged that my future partner and I have yet to sync. It is in these moments I am most tested in my self assurance.
As I was pouring out my self-advice to her, I witnessed how far I have grown. She believed in my words because I believe in myself.
Lessons I've Learned:
There is a negative stigma I often face with singlehood. It leaves the impression on the one who is single as difficult and "too independent." This is not the case. Don't let singlehood miscommunicate a message of inadequacy or lacking. Here are some things that I have found in my singlehood.
Keep working hard and don't be afraid to be "intimidating" and "too focused."
Waiting for love is not a sign of weakness--compromise is.
Self-romance radiates a type of glow in singlehood that is rare.
Romantic Partners are not the first priority; it's all about balance.
Friendship first. It's hard enough to meet good friends.
It's good to practice boundaries of the heart and physical interactions
All because you're open to date, doesn't mean you're thirsty
Don't play games, even if others do.
Earth Day is not a brand, but it’s a philosophy of life. Earth Day not only means to take care of the earth, but me, others and my home. When people think of me as a vegan and yogi, I’m sure that a very archetypal image pops up into their minds--barefoot gypsi, who nibbles on nuts and grains. Being earth loving and “green” is more than just that. It is a commitment to the earth in all areas of my life--on and off social media. It’s not just about our instagram stories of us drinking cold pressed juices, taking an organic walk, driving a Prius, and buying plants from Whole foods. Though these activities promotes health for ourselves and the Earth, health and wellness is a mindset. To adopt any mindframe and new perspective, takes process.
This year began my journey in becoming a teacher who instructs a paperless classroom. An article, “Tablets in Schools: Saving Money and Trees,” states that, “the average school spends between $30,000 and $50,000 a year on paper alone. That means, every year, at $50,000, a school consumes 1191 boxes of paper ($50,000 / $41.99, the Office Depot Brand Copy Paper).” Which means that a school consumes 74 trees a year. This challenge required much transition and grace. I learned to acquire new tech skills, patience with student computer literacy, and adjusting planning processes. However, the sacrifice was necessary for me to grow into someone who lives a life in gratitude of nature and its offerings to me.
ONE MAJOR HELP was creating online activities or Google Assignments instead of worksheets. It's not about less books, but about saving paper when we can.
APPS that helped me:
1. Google Classroom:
I post everything here from warm ups to assignments. You can now even upload PDF worksheets/graphic organizers and have students comment as answers. You can see their comments. AND NO EXCUSES FOR NOT HAVING READINGS ^_^
2. Grade papers on Kami
Kami is amazing because you can upload PDFs, commment, and print out the PDF with comments/or share to save paper. There are some steps I want to share for folks who are interested.
- Go to Google Class and UPLOAD the folder of the assignment from your class period. You can find this in your drive, titled "Classroom." Google automatically adds it to the account you created the class with. Also, the folders are broken down into period. Once I upload them I rename them so that they have the period number to avoid confusion.
- Login to Kami and the top tabs, you will see "Split and Merge." upload one class period and merge all essays and assignments together.
- Go back to KamiHQ and upload the PDF of the merged doc and begin to scroll down, comment, and grade!
- If your super savvy, you can just have student numbers instead of names and then upload the graded documents on Google Classroom! But I noticed that having hand held rough drafts are helpful for students.
Padlet is a great way to have dialogue that is thoughtful. I like to place images, quotes, current events, and other critical topics for students to think and share. What is great about this app is that before students can post, administrators can see their response and approve!!!
Here's a sample of ours we used on Hate Crimes! Feel free to add onto the comments, another great option. You can have other folks in the community and create a conversation that goes BEYOND THE CLASS!
4. Other Apps for building basic skills in English
- Kahoot (Reading Comprehension)
- NoRedInk (Grammar)
- NewsELA (Current Events and Argumentative Writing)
Thanks everyone! Love you guys and ask me if you have questions!
Last week I was at a professional development meeting with a bunch of teachers from Compton Unified. A teacher and I were sharing our next assessments, and I told her/him that I was going to write 6-10 research page paper that extends their analysis of the readings, “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander and “To What to the Slave is the Fourth of July” by Frederick Douglass. His/her eyes grew round and big, “That is way too hard for these kids! No Way!” I thought to myself, “these kids.”
A days after his response, my 11th grade class was reading The New Jim Crow, when one of my students blurted “Can we write down a question right now? My question is what are the solutions to this? How do we solve this?” He them schooled us all and described how the government created this problem of the War on Drugs to lead to a conspiracy driven solution of mass incarceration of black and brown folks.
Our students have every ability to think critically and push themselves as any other school in any other zipcode. Our inner city school system have been a historical culprit of perpetuating detrimental and genocidal practices that target our youth of color. In this essay, I recognize that we cannot treat our kids like machines or a number; otherwise, we are no different from the streets. We must expect our kids to fulfill their potentials and highest dreams, propelling them into their future with the faith of their community.
GHETCOLONY: Recognizing the streets as an institution
Where we as a nation have greatly failed our students is labeling them is incompetent and criminals. Our youth are raised by the streets, but they are still young and brains still malleable enough to make changes in their behaviors. Labels are not only bad manifestation, but can greatly impact student self-perceptions and outcomes. Throughout decades, our schools have demanded the position of influencers and role models in our youth’s lives. Yet, we are not the only ones calling for them--we are constantly in competition with the culture of the streets.
Researcher and advocate, Jawanza Kunjufu, studies the governmental conspiracy to destroy black boys. In his research, he claims that policies and Euro-American history oppress black boys from an early age, dehumanizing them and confining them to poverty stricken communities. He recognizes the streets as a “ghetcolony:”
The streets constitute an institution in the same way that the church, school, and family are conceived as institutions. They all have a set of values and norms to govern and enforce their existence...and it is on the streets where the Black child receives his basic orientations in life (Kunjufu 17).
Ghetcolony is the very insitution that is pulling our youth, particularly boys of color, into the streets and out of the classroom. By labeling the streets as an insitution, Kunjufu opens up the conversation of how to impede negative influences on our youth from their environment--nature vs. nurture. As responsible citizens and human beings, we must acknowledge that the battle to get kids to engage does not begin the moment our students step into our classrooms, but the moment they were born into their zipcode. Getcolony is a culture that grew from govermental policies and strategies to keep people of color zoned into a segregated community that lacks access to social mobility in mainstream America. It a byproduct of sanctioned poverty; not reflective of the indigenous and powerful spirit of our predecessors that have a historical narrative of overcoming. Neighborhoods are now warzones, where students must choose a side--red or blue, or be at risk of becoming bullied. School has become just another playground to practice the culture of the streets, where being smart is a NERD and feminine thing. Schools must acknowledge their competition and become a safe space for our students to unlearn the operations of the machine an be human. This is the only way we will win their hearts.
First issue: No Role Models
“No role models and I'm here right now/ No role models to speak of/Searchin' through my memory, my memory/I couldn't find one” -J.Cole
J.Cole raps about the lack of role models in our hoods. Kunjufu further affirms that, “and the hustlers, pimp,s street men and other social outcasts who serve as models for the young." Students pick and choose who they want to aspire to be, their gurus. It is up to our youth to designate who their adult role model figures will be: teachers, coaches, parents, drug dealers? School need to consider what institutions are influencing the development of our young ones. We need to acknowledge and address the streets.
To gain our youth’s respect we must show them something new; something they are not used to from the street and some schools. It is always a blessing to have alumni superstars visit their schools to show them they made it, but our community must also reel in a diverse set of young millennials who are living their best lives because these are young adults who are relatable and financially independent.
Second Issue: Humanize our youth
Currently, the school as a system manages our students the same way the streets and prisons handle them--like a number. However, we are at a loss because the streets provide more immediate and quick fixes to their lives, affirming our young with “brotherhood” and financial and social capital. So what makes us different from the streets?
Our youth have many options in making money, THAT DO NOT INVOLVE EDUCATION. We need to show something different and shift the mental perspective of our youth because not everything is about making money. Education in its more original form is about cultivating a linguistic that expresses your personhood and purpose. It’s about students finding meaning in life.
We want our youth to feel human, to feel inspired, to enjoy life. Career paths are self-exploration journeys and self discovery. Higher education and college are about shifting perspectives and finding voice, which is probably why so many protests spark at this age.
The illusion that materialism is all gain is a trap for many of our youth. Schools must treat our kids not as a number in the banking system; we can no longer expedite our students. Their presence in school is more than an attendance number that accrues our financial gains. Schools are safety nets from the streets. We call our young by their names, not criminals, not incompetent. Human connection: it will be our greatest defense. For our students to choose their greatest self before the streets, we must call them by their names first.
Florida legislatures are putting guns in the hands of their teachers; instead of more books. The state of Florida vote to allow teachers to hold guns on campus, with proper training and approval of district leader. According to Tampa Bay Times, the bill aims to provide guns to every school, offering a $500 stipend to volunteers who agree to have the guns. There is an estimated 37,000 guns in classrooms state-wide.
Representatives in the state who advocated for this law to go to senate urge that this is their response to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas massacre, ignoring the 50% of state Florida residents who are in disagreement with permitting teachers to be armed on campus.
With all that being said, I’m scrolling through my google to do some more research and a news event pops up announcing that a teacher, Mr. Davidson, in Georgia, locks up his students in a classroom an begin shooting. 17 lives were taken in Georgia that day. This teacher has had a history of suspicious behavior. In March 2016, detectives found that he had tried to hire a hitman to have someone killed. January 2017, he left school early and was found on a curb by police. He was unresponsive and was hospitalized. In both cases, there was no further actions met.
Mr. Davidson was a social studies teachers in his late 50’s and considered a favorite to some. He was able to hide most of this tension, and yet, even in moments when he displayed concerning behavior, his sanity was not questioned. Though teachers are at threat to massive shooting and even school violence, it should not lead to teachers having to arm themselves as a response to preserving their safety. The shooting with Mr. Davidson proves that placing guns in the hands of teachers will not fix the attacks of students, as Trump stated earlier this week in a tweet.
Though teachers may be “highly trained,” there is still too much at risk. Many teachers have organized against this possibility, protecting their own rights with the students. Mr. Davidson's shooting case reflects an extreme case of teacher mental instability; however, it does bring into question the governing systems (school system, police dept, etc) effectivity of screening teachers and also the anxiety level of even the most "normal" appearing educators.
Concern 1: Teacher anxiety in high stakes classroom --we all did some crazy things
Nora Hart conducted a survey in 2005 that indicates a high correlation with pupil disruption, class control, and teacher anxiety. Our classrooms are shifty and changing. Teachers tackle with student behavior, system dysfunctions, and other interactions that can trigger us. We have all felt anger towards a student or colleague; almost cried in class; and some of us, cussed out students. As teachers, we get overwhelmed and learning to control our emotions is a part of our professional development.
Teacher Anxiety. When any individual experiences an anxiety attack, they are unable to process the information getting sent to his/her brain thoroughly. Sensory processing is important in connecting the mind and unconscious brain, which includes meaning making, threat evaluation, and executing appropriate action.
The anxiety level of teachers should be a priority concern for the general public that agrees with arming our educators. Even the most stable person can act irrationally in high stress environments--when the option of a gun is available, anything can happen. And as we are learning from the Georgia shooting, our social systems still have gaps when screening the mental stability of our teachers. It would be negligent to entrust all of our teachers a voluntary opportunity to carry weapons. I even propose that the more stable and secured teachers are opposed this law because we see the high risks we put our students and selves in.
Concern 2: Teachers are not cops
Giving teachers gun will only further perpetuate the schools as prisons. We are not cops; nor will a professional development meeting train us to be cops. Guns are a sign of enforced authority and pressure. If we have a gun in our class we betray the trust of our students. If we are trying to make classrooms into families, a gun defies that effort.
Wellness for Teachers: Wellness for Schools
Instead, let’s continue to work on wellness. Self care of our students AND TEACHERS. Let’s buy our teachers books to read for their own growth and books for their students. Let’s make an effort to make our teachers happy and well. A declare that guns are the solution is shallow approach to “stopping” school violence. There is a deeper issue within our school system. A teacher shooting only further affirms what student shootings highlight, which is that individuals in the education system are manifesting the chaos and neglect the apparatus beholds. The poverty (including violence) we see in schools--poverty not as in lack of monetary capital, but all forms of capital--is a consequence of the government's positioning to keep down our people of color. The truth is coming out. Respond by bringing life; not opportunities of death.
Acting on violence with violence will only further our paranoia with the people in the system, when we should be working together to look at the system that has a historical prevalence of oppression and slavery upon our people. When we are combatting the wrong antagonist; it is not the students we need to be afraid of, but rather the disillusionment of the people. Arming teachers will not shift mindsets of the general public to invest knowledge and dismantle Jim Crow's lasting legacy. Arming teachers will distract our efforts for freedom and invest us in further killing each other. It makes ending a life an option; ending a life in the classroom should never be an option.
In class, we are reading Letter From Birmingham. As I look back in the passages of King's devotion to non-violence; I question how far have we really progressed if our president encourages us to arm ourselves as teachers.
The school environment can be a warzone or a home. All depends on the perspective. Cold classrooms, strict time regulations, and the body is constantly under stress. My partner teacher once counted his steps in a day in class, and he counted nearly 7 miles. For the most of us, we are overworked and over caffeinated. The best analogy for self-care is a car repair garage, rather than a spa.
When anyone is under high stress and demanding work hours, self-care is an urgent repair routine. Taking care of yourself is an active proclamation that you care about your life, breath, and longevity. These repair moments become more intensive and required when the person is highly involved and passionate about their work, which means the affirmation he/she/they receive from work directly impacts self-perception and self-worth.
In this essay, I will explore the need for self-worth for teachers (but is applicable for professionals) and how to exercise our positive affirmations outside of the class to grow in the class.
Why must we have self-worth
"I am an amazing teacher. I am an amazing teacher." I must speak this to myself frequently.
High self esteem that does not hinge completely on performance-based outcomes can lead to higher sense of contentment, and growth. When someone has self-worth, no failure will determine their purpose. Angela Lee Duckworth coined the term, “growth mindset,” a recent buzz word in the ed field. A person has a “growth mindset” when one practices grit, pursuing perseverance and overcoming challenges. For any teacher, we ourselves need this because our job emersus in moments of consecutive failures and chaos--by nature of the system. The gaps in the system become a reflection of our own practice; thus, defeating us in our own passion.
A friend shared with me about her close friend who was a teacher who committed suicide. She watched her endure and hold the weight of the schools dysfunctions. Though remembered for her passion for justice, at times, our efforts leave a light and faded imprint on a data map.
Teachers and other service workers who work in a broken down system need to be the MOST confident. We are the forefront players, which will guarantee experiences where we will feel challenged to question our purpose in our jobs and effectivity--in spite of the overwork we committed. It is in these moments that self-confidence could override circumstantial disruptions that are from an administrative level. Cultivating an unshakable faith in myself, a type of belief that is not rooted on a false hope, but critical love, can anchor me to persevere. I believe that the longer we are able to sit in our tension, the more rewarding and beautiful the product and fruit can become--we just need the reason to hold us down; us.
The Side Hustle: How to affirm ourselves in spaces outside of our passions
“Dig deep and find it within yourself.” If you are like me, you would respond to that quote in frustration, rolling of eyes, and “how?” When I am in moments of crisis at work, my feet wanting to leap out of the construction zone and into my bed, the last thing I want to do is pause and look into myself to unearth strength. My habit of avoiding conflict at work ends up negatively impacting the quality of my work.
When I practice yoga, I practice life. I put myself in a zone, where outcomes are low-stakes. There is minimal opportunities for failure because my main objective is rest, peace, joy, and build--all things positive. This “side hustle” is an integral part of my professional growth and learning as a teacher. Passion is not limited to profession. Thus, when I yoga, I engage in passion and I remember passion. I awaken all my senses in the present moment and remember that I am amazing, beautiful and loved. Practice your process elsewhere, come back to your craft with a perspective that holds both your reality and your dream with an eased and sure mind.
As I watch myself come to journey into these self realizations, I find hope and room for grace in teaching. I develop sensory memory--a consistent perception of highest and best self in any circumstance, setting, and interaction. Sometimes, I need to be reminded that I glow because I GLOW. Not because I do something well, or get someone's approval, but because I AM ME. I have purpose. I am full of love.
The nation mourns the tragedy of the school shooting in Florida, ironically set on Valentine’s Day. CNN reported that nearly 17 were dead by one shooter. On a day that is dedicated to love, we see a prevailing trend in history where a student who suffers from mental needs. The media coverages the shooting, the death counts, the snapshots of a traumatic event, and the president’s condolences. The stories highlight the shooting and the trend, re occurring and almost predictable events, where a student expresses mental health concerns and communicates a school-wide threat.
There is so much to say about what entails an appropriate response and systematic change that is in need to help prevent such terrors from occurring. However, as a current teacher in Los Angeles public schools, I turn to my environment and community and press the culture to recognize the violence that our youth encounter, internalize, and inflict almost daily.
What the media coverage on Florida shooting says about our culture
The mass coverage of Florida shooting was necessary in highlighting the prevailing mental disturbances that many of our youth are at risk of acquiring. The conversations surrounding the release of the event have been regarding gun control laws, police enforcement/security, and the process of assessing student’s mental stability. However, one discussion that is not at the forefront is the violence and shootings our young people of color experience on a day to day basis. Youth of color are exposed to youth on youth violence both in and out of school campus sites at higher proportions than white youths.
Comparing the impact of suburban shootings and inner city violence
In a matter of a day, one shooter took away 17 lives. Typically in these mass shootings, there are more than a handful that die in one day. The community goes through a collective grieving and processing of the trauma that will impact them for the rest of their lives. Meanwhile, in our hoods, 17 lives are lifted to the next life often.
Earlier this month, Autumn Johnson barely turned 1 week old when she was shot and fatally wounded, while standing up in her crib in Compton. Many of homicide victims are unarmed and innocent. LA Times report that since January 1 2000 217 boys and 183 girls fell victim to homicide--these are accounting for documented and reported deaths. In LA County alone, blacks represent 10% of the population, yet 30% of homicides. Latinos are likewise overrepresented in these numbers. With that to say, these reports are young girls and boys. If we were to account for adolescent teeneagers, the numbers would only increase. For school shootings, ABC News reported since Columbine in 1999, 141 victims have been reported.
It is highly imperative that we respond to school shootings. The massive media coverage and public respond has both brought awareness to the supports we need for our youth and gun control issues. Yet, I question what will it take to bring this sense of urgency to address the deaths of our youth of color.
..So why aren’t we making moves to stop school violence.
The past few years I have seen numerous campaigns involving youth violence and wellness. To name a few: Schools Not Prisons, People’s Ed Movement, District programming and initiatives, California Endowment. Though there are varying initiatives that are popping up, I have yet to see a surge of media coverage on either the shootings or traumatic impact of these shootings on youth of color.
One of the reasons is due to the culture of the media. News sources are here to not only cover what’s happening, but also create a shock factor and engage a wide audience. Shootings in the hood is nothing new I guess..I am a little relieved that the news does not do shallow stories on shootings among our communities of color because of the risk of criminalizing our youth. As youth advocates for our brown and black students, we need to come together and tell the true stories of our kids. The media’s silence may have a small impact in misinforming the public about the crimes committed by young folks, but the silence also hides the real life trauma and luggage our young ones carry.
Yet, immediate media coverage would not have long lasting impact or thoughtful response to the current violence our youth are emerged in. Furthermore, a concerning consequence of media coverage could be the hyper criminalization of our black and brown youth. In history, we have seen during Reagon's era and Clinton's era, the War on Drugs and War on Crime. In these time periods, news broadcasting sites evoke fear in the public against our people and youth of color--we do not need that again.
It is imperative that we find a platform to share the layers of complexities of the intersections of issues that our youth internalize. Their stories need to be told--with or without CNN. I was listening to the radio and someone suggested more police at schools; I immediately cringed. Our youth receive this enough. On my school site alone, there are 3 police cars parked in the center of our lunch area, meaning nearly 6 police (not counting security guards) roaming on campus. The last thing we need is more government patrol and social control; what we need more is an intervention that address the root causes of violence and the aftermath of our people who experience the impacts of historical residence in highly concentrated poverty.
If their stories are not told, we will have people who will speak and advocate in our youths, without considering our young folks who live in our nation's hoods.
Facts. It’s a challenge to bring education reform for equity in the focus of our political dialogue. Yet, when advocates come together and constantly push out discourse that narrates our experiences and the stories of our youth, the public responds.
The education system is the current example of the New Jim Crow. Our silence enables the apparatus and gives permission for the system to make its efficient outcomes that are the very disparities we see in our schools. The more people speak out against normalizing deaths of young people of color and violence in our schools, the more the public will have reason to respond. We need to speak out and say that this is not okay. Lawyers, policy makers, administration, and anyone working in the school districts need to continue our effort in honoring our students their human rights. They are our future.
"One of my favorite books that I read was Billie Holiday’s Lady Sings the Blues. It was in her troubles, she found a voice that trembled but anchored the era’s sound of jazz. When I look at my students, I can only imagine the potential of their creative minds to unearth brilliance and newness in the midst of their hardships."
When I first tell people I teach in Compton, they wide eye me and ask me how it is. There are more conversations regarding this school district that perpetuate stigma and promote public fear. However, the critical consideration should be shifted to political decisions that have recently cut after school programs, lack of access for individual and family counseling for our youth of color, and disciplinary practices of both the school system and police force. This generalized view that Compton schools are such and such way is not exclusive to non natives-- who most likely get their information of life in the city from rap songs and movies. This is also common belief amongst the students and community members that their schools are underperforming and dangerous. It is not unusual to hear such criticism of the school. A more unusual conversation to be had is the speaking of the creative and intellectual potential of our students.
Youth of Color: The good kind of trouble they bring
When I started, the first thing one of the union reps offered me was a recommendation to a school I seem more fit for in Garden Grove, that I knew was predominately asian and white. A school that is “fitting” implies a place where there are minimal students of color. A school that is comprised of POC unjustly harbors the burdens of the negative consequences of living in environment where money and resources to climb the socio-economic ladder in America are scarce. The general public hinges the consequences that arise from the lack of responsibility and accountability on the public’s end to offer quality programming and open access to higher social mobility to the potentials and even character of our youth of color.
Adults in any sphere of work has a tendency to critically blame the negative impacts of youth culture and uncontrollable momentum of our young rebels. “Youth these days…..I’m scared to have children in this generation…..” All true statements, but clearly, it is the millenials that are pushing out content and discourse that is currently shaping our mainstream culture and political atmosphere. We have seen influencers arise from our youth of color. Willow Smith who is spearheading a new age of rock fuse with neo-soul and spiritual, melodic, music. Alongside her brother Jaden Smith, partnering with her in shifting the public’s appreciation and practice of listening to music as an emcee and iconic stylist. Princess Nokia, an emcee, who represents an fully practices her indigenous upbringing and culture in her music and personhood. We don’t even have to go far to find our millennials tearing things up. Corey Wash just had an exhibit opening this weekend, where hundreds of creatives pulled up to see her illustrations on walls and social commentary that highlighted the political events and need for progress
Oppression Breeds Creation: The magic we need it
“Oppression breeds resistance,” a well known quote by the organizer and people’s advocate Yuri Kochiyama. Yuri was one of the leading pioneers for the Asian American movement and was known to have held Malcom X’s head as he passed. Her quote highlights the power that exists in the people, regardless of the institutional cages we are born into. Freedom is in the hands of the oppressed.
My rendition of this quote is, “Oppression breeds creation.” In the most troubled moments in our personal lives and even history, we have seen powerful and provocative art. Art that speaks of truth and existence. One of my favorite books that I read was Billie Holiday’s Lady Sings the Blues. It was in her troubles, she found a voice that trembled but anchored the era’s sound of jazz. When I look at my students, I can only imagine the potential of their creative minds to unearth brilliance and newness in the midst of their hardships. Their minds have the power to become engineers, doctors, teachers, entrepreneurs; all professions should be considered artists and cultural gatekeepers.
For this particular project, our students collaborated wrote stories about where they are from and worked alongside an LA Based photographer Jason Gletton. We fundraised over $1500 with Lets.Give and created these books filled with visual and written narratives of their cities, or cities they have live in. We purchased nearly 80 cameras and had students rotate the cameras, each taking from 4-7 pictures.
The stories you will read below are powerful and the most honest discourse you will experience. Young people get the short end of the stick in life because of their limited agency and injustices imposed by discriminatory policies and authority figures.
Conclusion: We believe in our youth, so let America hear our voices
In my schools, fights are typical. Teachers normalize chronic absences. And the path to the 11th grade is one that is narrow. Yet it is this narrative that over represents our schools in our nation’s hoods. These generalizations have a compounding impact on the negative stigmas that oppress our youth of color. It sends our youth the message that we do not believe in them all because of the neighborhood they were born into. Which is most of our realities, we know have tremendous amounts of social capital, cultural assets, and spirit of resistance and power. Kids should be held responsible for their actions, but never the one to blame. It is the system and the ones in charge that creates the negative culture that is cultivated by inefficient programming/strategizing and poor funding.
The dominating and dictating conversation that regard our youth should be centered around building their existing potentials to THINK and CREATE. I have hope for the school system to increase its capacity and become a nurturing center that fosters creative learning and development in our youth. Yet, we cannot wait on school reform to begin speaking highly of our students and COMMUNICATING OUR FAITH TO THEM. Most of the people I know believe in our youth of color and it should be our voices that surround them and is represented within the general public.
Special thanks to all who came to the exhibition and helped with the creative process.
The lunch bell rings on a hot and scorching day; one of those Los Angeles heat waves in October. As soon as the students settle in, they run towards the window in the back of the room. Something is up. "Ms. Whang!" one of my students shouts. Two boys are getting up in each other’s faces outside of my classroom. The first swing. I run out the class and next door, yell for Mr. P, the math teacher and football coach. Anytime there is a fight, I call for him because he arrives immediately and mitigates the conflict. Together, we run towards the chaos and we de-escalate the fight that now has turned into a brawl. Damage control.
When I come back into the room, the look on the faces show nothing but cold apathy and irritation. A girl calls out, “I’m tired of this ghetto school.”
Catching fades each day is a part of the culture of our school in urban communities. To some, fights are a rites to passage of adulthood; where the ceremony takes place on campus. School is the very grounds students seek the challenge to become alpha’s; prove their worth; defend their seats; and protect themselves. Many students experience this on a daily and think that it does not bother them, yet studies indicate the compounding and adverse impacts violence has on our youth.
Our youth are still in development. Their frontal lobes still forming and growing, which is the section of the brain that gauges consequence and risk. In this critical age of becoming and forming, it is important that we guard our youth’s safety and monitor their exposure to crude content and experiences. The reality is that many of our youth experience traumatic events that lead to Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I personally refrain from labeling people by their “disorder.” Yet the label reminds us that experiencing traumatic events while young causes serious impacts on cognitive development and emotional control. The fear that was evoked, in that single event or for many of our youth in consecutive cases, becomes a trigger that can be ignited in more low stakes moments throughout the day. When a person who experienced trauma is triggered, his or her body viscerally responds in flight of fight mode. Constant triggers exhaust the body and emotional capacity, leading to other side effects of high anxiety, depression, lack of focus, and uncontrollable anger.
A study was conducted by Los Angeles Unified School District that emphasized that our youth of color are disproportionately impacted by PTSD and trauma. 70% of the student population is comprised of students of color and more than 25% of LAUSD students experience a traumatic event before they turn 16. So here’s what it looks like to have symptoms of PTSD, according to the survey:
Feeling future (positive) events will not come true (57%)
Feeling irritable/fits of anger (43%)
Trouble sleeping (49%)
Trouble concentrating (43%)
Our students are battling their minds every day. The minimal access students have to mental health services only make matters worse. Nearly half of the students who need counseling and other programs that support their coping are not provided to them.
With all this data, it is easy to see how the cycle continues. It becomes easier to understand why our youth of color don’t like school and their narrative of school does not change. The very institution that is meant to foster learning and transformation is the prison that enables them to perpetuate actions that dig their hole even deeper. It is the battle ground. The rites of passage to becoming the alpha, in exchange for social mobility and opportunities for higher learning.
What Now: We need the youth to believe in our schools again
Districts across America are turning around and noticing the needs of our students. They have separate funding sources for restorative practices and intervention models that promote shifting student and community perception of schools. However, their efforts are made, but fights still occur and students still experience violence.
Change has to come from them. As adults, we can only intervene and take all preventive measures as advocates. The ones who are engaging and initiating the conflict are the ones who have the power to stop the violence. The bystanding youth have the agency to help resolve tension before it escalades.
We need to give our youth every reason to BELIEVE in our schools again. When a fight happens, we want our youth to be unsettled and be passionate about changing THEIR school. They need to take ownership of their school as their community and home; otherwise it will be just another building in the streets, where they catch fades.
This past Saturday, a student showed me a video of one of my students getting in a fight. She described the aftermath: his bloody face, swollen lips, and droopy eyes. We had a heart to heart moment; where I expressed my truest disappointment. It wasn’t the disappointment I felt towards my student who fought, but rather, the normality of violence in these youngin’s lives. They have so much ahead of them and our systematic road blocks are impediments.
It starts with us. The teachers, the artists, the community activists, the parents, the grown up and young adults these youth look up to. We need to speak life into our schools again and be honest of where we are at in this process of growth. Our young folks of color will be our next generation of leaders; many of us would undoubtedly agree with this. Though this truth is apparent to us; it is still becoming in them. We are all mentors in one way or another; role models even if we don’t want to be or are not ready to be. And the greatest impact will be in communicating to our young ones our hope for their future and their power to change what we could not. Let’s start with our schools.
My first period class, nearly half of them walk in late, dragging their feet. A handful of girls walk in late from making a 7-11 stop for their cups of coffee, which I consider to be more like sugar water. Others of them walk in with bags of Takis and Hot Cheetos, Arizona’s, and dreary eyes. Healthy Children conducted a survey that found 20-30% of adolescents have given up on a healthy breakfast for varying reasons. Many of our nation’s youth are either skipping breakfast, but what we don’t emphasize much is the percentage of students who are replacing breakfast with their 7-11 quick fixes. I’m not sure which is worse, but certainly intaking high amounts of sugar the first thing in the morning has a prevailing influence on their personal development and engagement in school.
Back in the 60’s, we saw free breakfast programs spearheaded by The Black Panther Party. The Free Breakfast Program for School Children was a part of a larger vision of the parties’ goals to reclaim public service programs and place the power in the hands of the people. The program was one of sixty in their community social programs calle, “Survival Program.” Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale create Oakland Community School, a collective community that aimed to foster high quality learning for students in Oakland. The breakfast program was one of the top priorities of the Black Panthers because they were not only conscious of the disparities in access to health care centers and education, but also valued our future generation.
Decades later, we have the School Breakfast Program (SBP) where the United States Department of Agriculture provides monetary assistance to states to run nonprofit breakfast programs in schools and other childcare centers. In addition, our schools and districts promote wellness centers on school sites, wellness agendas on the district’s programs--much progress has been made in developing action plans and awareness of youth health. So why aren’t our kids eating healthy breakfasts?
Implementing Existing Programs with Effective Strategy
1. Eating Breakfast Together
Many times schools have free breakfast, but many students skip out on the program. A successful strategy a school implemented for students to eat breakfast was at a middle school in East Los Angeles that I taught at. The first 15 minutes of our first period was dedicated to passing out breakfast and watching CNN Student News. I appreciated this approach because not only did it ensure that students were eating, but also established a life routine for them to include breakfast and updates on current events. Also, we were able to identify students who were at risk of eating disorders or in need of emotional attention because they would frequently refuse to eat. The communal spirit was lifted as we all participated in this ritual.
2. Better Options: I’ll take the Hot Cheetos and Arizona Tea
Students throw out whole apples, mini cereal boxes, and full cartons of milk. They have a list of complaints on the food. As school leaders and teachers, it is important to listen to our students but also take these as teachable moments, where students can learn to be grateful for what they have. This complaint is a tricky one because at times, the breakfast can be boring and repetitive. Especially if we are competing against the 7-11 down the street that offers our students with an array of tasty and cheap, yet unhealthy snacks.
3. Wellness Education: Intrinsically motivating students
We can offer our students healthier options all day, and there will be those who continue to refuse for various reasons. Some of them may struggle with eating disorders, while others may not see the value of eating healthy. However, when we teach our youth about self love and body care, we can give them opportunities to take ownership over their diet. We want our youth to be intrinsically motivated to decide on healthy options.
Though in this article, I didn’t talk about the benefits of healthy breakfast in the morning, there is an overwhelming amount of research and testimonies that emphasize the correlation between eating a healthy breakfast and positive health and brain performance. To go even further, health advocates have even compared the positive outcomes of different types of breakfast we eat--from oatmeal to protein; fruit to dairy. The resources are available. The programs are there. What we need now, is a community effort in lifting our youth towards wellness living and strategize to help our future unlearn our unhealthy habits we passed onto them and create new patterns that benefit their highest selves.