Let Ém Play

What an amazing day and honor for C.A.S.A. Middle School to join Dr. Jesse Turner on his walk to Washington D.C. for true education reform. When I arrived at Crotona Park in the legendary South Bronx to meet Jesse and longtime Bronx activist Dr. Mark Naison, I was immediately struck by the emptiness in this beautiful park. There were about 12 tennis courts totally available for anyone to use, acres and acres of fresh cut gorgeous green grass, a baseball diamond, swings, and a sprinkler system, all being used by no one. 

I asked myself, “where in the world are the kids!?” I guess the answer was obvious, the kids were in school. But should the answer be that obvious? This is the last week for public schools. Testing is over and based on my fifteen years of experience, not much “teaching” takes place this time of year. So why aren’t the kids outside, with their teachers, playing, and having a great time? This is the perfect time of year to do it. The last week of school, no tests, test prep, quality reviews, or mandates. Get the kids outside and let them play.

The desolate park was scary to me as I think it communicates a psychological subjugation that has become pervasive in public education. Studies have shown that once people have been in “bondage” for a certain period of time, it’s difficult to break free even if a proverbial “door” is left wide open. The empty park today felt like a metaphor for the oppressive state of public education. Teachers, students and families are oppressed by unreliable and invalid standardized exams. They’re oppressed by mandates obsessed with accountability and compliance. And finally, they’re oppressed by a fascist autocratic system within a so called democratic country. The freedom of no testing and the last week of school still couldn’t get teachers and students outside to play. 

Have we forgotten how play facilitates joy and how joy drives a love of life? The more we play, the less we are stressed, the less anxiety we feel, the more anger dissipates, the less crimes are committed. Imagine a school system is which play and sports were at the center? Or at the very least a part of a holistic approach to public education? Special Ed referrals would go down as would diagnoses for ADHD and depression. I argue that the school to prison pipeline, and the disproportionate number of boys placed in Special Ed and diagnosed with ADHD would cease to exist if movement and play were a pillar of our curriculum. As Dan Pink states, play passion and purpose will drive the 21st century economy. Why should public school students be left behind?

Thank you Jesse Turner for modeling the way. Thank you for walking over 400 miles at the tender age of 60 years young to properly reform public education. Thank you for fighting to end high stakes testing and bringing play, the arts, and the multiple intelligences back into our schools. Thank you for making C.A.S.A. Middle School a part of your amazing journey. You have affirmed for me that we will win this fight. Nothing can stop us now. 

Implicit Bias

Why don’t I care about the white woman who’s been living as black women? Her name doesn’t require mention, as I do not feel obliged to further sensationalize the story.

The media lives and dies with the sensational. Driven by greed to capitalize on the most primitive aspects of humanity. Sex sells — as does the provocative. This is the gift and the curse of media – especially social media. What should be used for information and entertainment is also used for manipulation. #propoganda

What further exacerbates the success of the media strategy is poor education. Kids can’t read and most don’t love to learn. So we turn to the enjoyable; Even going as far as consuming exceeding amounts of debauchery through media. America is getting scarier and scarier by the minute.

Maybe I don’t care about the white lady’s race change because I’ve seen this plot before. In the narrative Black Like Me, a book written by John Howard Griffin, Mr. Griffin explains his process and experiences regarding his transition from a white man to a black man in the Deep South during the 1960’s. I know the story. No need to relive it.

I guess I’m also ignoring the story because I’m trying to get away from stories related to race. Not because said stories aren’t important, but because in my opinion race is like an anchor holding us all at the bottom of a never-ending ocean. Don’t get me wrong the stories are necessary. There are many in this world that are unaware or not conscious of the racial dynamics within our society and how they manifest. For them the information is important. However, an obsession with the racial narrative and especially with the sensational nature by which much of it is reported, can create tremendous anxiety, fear, and desensitization. We risk blacks feeling inadequate and hopeless. We risk continued low expectations of the black community, and we risk the African diaspora being psychologically divided and conquered. What might be most painful to me for example, are my Nigerian brothers and sisters claiming “African Americans would never accomplish anything of intellectual value at the level of a Nigerian.” Or my West Indian brothers and sisters stating without hesitation “I’m not black, I’m Trinidadian.” Or, “I’m not black, I’m Jamaican.” This language is incredibly scary and a huge problem particularly for those who have been historically disenfranchised and need unity more than ever.

My boy Kamar, who’s Black (Jamaican), recently stated, he’s “done with race.” I know exactly what he means and I am there with him. I firmly believe that we cannot express our most powerful brilliance with the race paradigm diseasing our mind. Paradoxically this is why we can’t be done with race just yet. To be done with it, we have to deal with it head on. Proven by the fact that the same day Kamar made his declaration, a cop was caught on camera shooting a black man that was fleeing the scene of an alleged crime. Hard to be done with race when in America, when a black man is killed every 21 hours.

An activist colleague of mine Jia Lee, told a story once about a study done on the Denver police department. What they found to be most detrimental to the police/community dynamic was not overt racism but implicit bias. This simple statement was like a cognitive breakthrough for me. It gave me language to describe not just the thinking involved with law enforcement, but also the overall attitude of American society. Racism was a pillar in the creation of our nation, but it was also only a foot holder as it created a mindset rooted in implicit bias that impacts all of us to this day.

Racism created the idea that different is deficient, and the psychological of win/lose. In order for me to win, someone has to lose. This bias is a part of all of our institutions and deeply rooted in our unconscious. We are passive aggressively at war with each other. Men vs. Women. Rich vs. Poor. Black vs. White. Muslim vs. Christian. Us vs. Them. This mentality is killing us all! To move into our “post racial society” we have to look right in the eye of present day bias and go right through it. And it begins with looking in the mirror.

The process will be easier for some than others but it will always be a challenge. The process includes deep self-reflection, naiveté, honestly, compassion and care. We have to forgive ourselves, as we were never meant to be perfect. As a matter of fact, we are perfectly imperfect. The self-work, helps us to better work with and support others. The more we take care of ourselves the easier it is to be there for others. There is so much beauty in the world that we miss because of our compromised psychology. Letting go of hate and fear will allow us to embrace the cultures of the world. By embracing everyone as human we create an impenetrable force field of love.

Recently I’ve been accused by some on social media as a “race baiter.” I’ve been accused of being anti police. I’ve been accused of being anti charter schools and anti white. All because I’ve tried to share information and spark dialogue. I know that everyone won’t appreciate certain content and that’s fine. It’s too exhausting to try to change someone’s mind. But for the record, I’m anti bullshit. Anti stupidity. Anti poverty, war, and most importantly, anti fear. Let’s not be afraid of each other anymore. Let’s look race and bias in the eye and work together to destroy it. I feel it happening. The time is now.