7-03-2020: Collective Healing in Socially Turbulent Times
The following is a transcript from the 7-03 Zoom Virtual Book Tour event with Dr.’s Jeff Duncan-Andrade, Allyson Tintiangco-Cubales, Glenda Macatangay and Anindya Kundu for The Power of Student Agency.
Okay, great. I guess we’ll just get the show started. I know we’re ending a little bit before two o’clock, so I’ll just start by saying hello and welcome everybody. It’s an honor to have you all join us. Good morning, if you’re out on the West Coast. Good afternoon. If you’re out on the East Coast. We have about almost 200 people who’ve registered for this event, which is really exciting because it really takes a community to do the kinds of work that we’ll be talking about today. Anything, everything counts, especially listening. And so, our event is called Collective Healing in Socially Turbulent Times. And I think that’s just to say that this moment that we’re in requires an acknowledgement of the moment, but we also need an action plan rooted in humanity to kind of make the progress that this moment is calling for. And so, I will quickly introduce myself. And then I will pass the metaphorical mic to my wonderful co panelists and have them introduce themselves. My name is Anindya Kundu. I’m a sociologist of education. I have been studying in the context of youth student success for many years. Right now, I have been involved in education for almost a decade. From a detention center in Chicago, where I did a research project to working at the New York City Department of Education. Currently I’m a senior fellow at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Working at LMIS where we do workforce development and Higher Education Research permission-based organizations. I’m also a member of the city-wide Advisory Committee for the New York City Department of Education career and technical education. My work has appeared in academic journals and broad outlets. Such as op-eds and TED Talks, of which I have to add have a few millions of views so after the talk, please take a look at some of the free resources we offer. My co panelists and I will also send out an email with resources for you to follow up and do some more further learning. And this event today is one stop along my virtual book tour. So I’m incredibly humbled to have such a powerhouse of Co-panelists. The book is called The Power of Student Agency. And it’s simply about acknowledging the potential of our young people in order to improve our educational systems with an equity lens. And a large part of that is rooted in wellness and understanding the humanity of all people and the role that community can play in that. And so with that I’m excited to introduce my co panelists.
Quick word I will just say is that they are members of community responsive education, each of them are renowned and coveted changemaker scholar, activists, artists who are making positive change in our world through positivity and creativity but with a deep understanding of the inequities and injustices that we face today in order to adequately address them. And so, with that to do yourself justice, my co panelists, would you please introduce yourselves? Please brag a little. Talk about the work that you do and we can start with Glenda, please.
Hi everybody I’m Glenda McKesson. I’m originally from the Bay Area, but I live in Sacramento, my home. I do a great deal of my work in Oakland, California. I’m a mother of four. You’ll hear some of them in the background and they might make an appearance. So I hope that’s okay. I’m a psychotherapist by education and experience and I’m a community activist by nature and social justice entrepreneur. So I build social justice, social impact businesses and healing organizations as you know, as core to my purpose. So that’s me. Thank you. Wonderful. Thank you.
And then Jeff, do you mind introducing yourself.
Sure. My name is Jeff Duncan and I am professor of ethnic studies at San Francisco State University. I’m also one of three co-founders of community responsive education, along with Glenda and Allison and also one of the co-founders of the roses and concrete community school.
Wonderful and Allison? Thank you so much. It’s great to see you on screen, so happy. You’ve rounded us out. Can you please introduce yourself as well?
Allyson Tintiangco-Cubales (she/her/siya):
Hey everybody. Nice to see you all. Thank you for inviting us. My name is Allison Tintiangco-Cubales and my pronouns are she, her and she. I come to you from a lonely or occupied a lonely land, aka San Francisco and my mom is from Batangas and my father’s from Tarlac in the Philippines. I teach in the College of ethnic studies at San Francisco State University. I’m also the founder and one of the directors of Pinoy and Pinai educational partnerships. It’s an ethnic studies pipeline. And then I’m also one of the founders of the other two on this call of community responsive education. I’ve been teaching for over 25 years
Awesome. Wonderful. It’s such an honor to have you all join me. I’ve heard of the amazing work you guys are doing out in California and so when I connected with Brother Jeff, he mentioned that you guys might be able to join me and I’ve been so excited for this conversation.
So I think it makes sense for our audience to start with some of the basics. I’ll kind of preface this by saying I think this moment in history is a really, really important one where we’re kind of grappling with this idea that we are facing, maybe two pandemics, you know. The first one is the one that causes us to wear masks when we go outside and social distance from our loved ones. And yet, even that one rooted in disproportionality communities of color that are low income are dying at higher rates. They are deemed essential workers. They’re not the ones getting the tax breaks that other large corporations are getting. And that is rooted in the second pandemic which has been a part of America’s history. Systemic and racial inequality that, you know, has continued on in the history of this country and sometimes rears its face through things like cell phone videos that capture police brutality, but that is just the tip of the iceberg here. And so with that preface, I would like to ask Jeff to kind of start us off here. And the question is: what is community responsive education, how can it help us to address these kinds of large opportunity gaps, and how can it help us think about the moment that we’re in right now? What does it mean to be “community responsive”?
So, for this is, you know, a conversation that the three of us, Glenda, Allison and myself have been having for quite some time, along with, you know, our community. And so where we’re at in our thinking now is that community responsive education is education that is responsive to the current material conditions of the children and families being served in a way that reflects an understanding of the realities and the most pressing needs created by those material conditions and the history that led to those conditions and ancestral histories that preceded them. Right. So there’s sort of three tiers to it. And it begins with a situated community-based educational response to the material conditions of people’s lives while understanding that those didn’t just pop up out of nowhere and that we weren’t always in this situation. And it addresses the opportunity gap by locating the need for change. Thus, the word responsiveness. In the persons and institutions with the most power in the relationship what has created these gaps that you’re discussing, as part of this kind of double pandemic, is the lack of responsiveness to the realities of white supremacy, class supremacy, hetero-normativity, patriarchy, language supremacy and a rampant xenophobia against anything and anyone that that does not code neatly in as Anglo white male middle class English speaking and heterosexual. So Cree takes the position that it is not the children that are broken. It’s our society and the systems that govern that are broken. And, you know, as all of our mothers probably said in some way, shape, or form that if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. Our children are not broken. They’re simply mirroring back to us the society that we have built so for us, trying to fix children makes no sense, right. But, but instead to turn the lens on to what is happening in these systems that is creating all this pain and suffering. And how do we transform those systems to be focused on? Wellness and schools are a great place to start because if you get it right with children, you have a fixed a strategy and a mindset that stands to create lasting multi-generational justice, freedom and true democracy. Right, so it makes all the sense in the world that you’ve got a long game strategy to begin with schools, to begin with children, to begin with families. Otherwise, it’s not going to be multi-generational. So, this commitment is about having an education that is frankly about truth telling and that telling of truth likely always includes an honesty with our children that this is how we got here. And it is not your fault that we are here, but it is your responsibility to take us someplace better and we may not know how to get us there, or even where that place is that we’re asking you to take us, but our commitment to you is to create an educational system that will prepare you to ask the questions that most need asking and to relentlessly seek the solutions we have not yet found. That’s the difference in our framework between schooling our children and educating them because schooling children is preparing them to accept their station in life but educating them is preparing them to transform it. So what we’re pushing, cajoling, challenging our communities, our societies to do is to do a fundamental repurposing of the educational project such that the core and primary goal every single day in every single way is to build, sustain, and protect the wellness of our children. And in so doing, the wellness of our society, our planet, our future. And it’s our position in care and has been for as long as we’ve been doing the work that there is no other option and we are perhaps now in a moment where society and even the globe is beginning to come to terms with the fact that we can’t tinker our way to utopia. That we are going to have to fundamentally rethink some of our most basic premises and practices as societies and as communities and there is no better place, and no better time than during a double pandemic to fundamentally challenge and revisit the purpose of how we spend our time institutionally with our children that’s community responsive education.
Great. If any co panelists want to chime in. Just put a finger up in the air and I’ll call you.
And I really enjoy what you say there because underpinning all of that, underpinning on understanding the deep rooted issues we have is a sense of hope. The system is not just and therefore we cannot just simply reflect it. And so I think one of the interesting things is that tied to, you know, helping our children grow into thriving adults is this idea that if you grow up in one of these communities that the idea of success is leaving and turning your back on the community in which you came from. And to me, that’s not student agency. As you mentioned, it’s understanding that all of our children or students are brilliant and looking for ways to foster that. And so in my research, I think of one example of this guy who his alias is J Stud.
And he identifies as an MC and he was disproportionately tracked into special education through high school until one English teacher of his recognized that, you know, he spent all this time scribbling in a notebook and that the notebook was filled with beautiful, eloquent rap lyrics and so she provided an opportunity for him to showcase what he’s learning in different ways as a way to motivate him. And so quickly I’ll say that started a chain reaction in J Stud’s life that brought him to work today in finance in New York. But he still chooses to live in Jamaica, Queens. One of the more lower income neighborhoods in New York and commute extra into work so that he can serve as an example for the young people in his community. And so to me that’s what student agency is. Not all of our young people are necessarily afforded wonderful mentors and schools that are looking out for them. And they may come from challenging circumstances and we have to also understand that a lot of what they are experiencing can and should be recognized as trauma. So I’d like to shift the focus a little bit to talk about trauma and I would like to invite Glenda to kind of help to answer this question is how can we address different kinds of trauma, generational trauma, like the kind Jeff mentioned persistent trauma that may happen with being, you know left behind, or post trauma and what can schools and educators do for people who are likely already overwhelmed to fit the addressing of trauma into their daily work?
It’s a, it’s a big question. And it’s super critical and relevant and I think even with CRE, our small but mighty leadership team during this pandemic and during the last several weeks and maybe actually in the last six months or so we’ve really tackled our own personal traumas within this. And I think that is precisely where the work needs to begin on all fronts is where the leaders really step into their vulnerability and start shaping for themselves what feels safe. You know what things are healthy, what brings them joy. We had a conversation, you know, several weeks ago with Karega Bailey, which is one of the educators from roses in concrete and he was the one encouraging us to really take emotional inventory of what’s in place in our lives and our inner bodies and in our rituals that support healing and support strengthening so we can show up for ourselves in our communities and our youth and our children in a responsible way. And so I think what has been prioritized in our work is really building containers that promote curiosity.
You can’t be compassionate if you’re not curious and you can’t be compassionate without enabling communication to be at the forefront of that compassion and so I’m really understanding that it’s important for us leaders as teachers, educators, social service providers to build in those containers where curiosity can be cultivated or communication skills can be enhanced and where compassion can really thrive. And I think once you have some of those key pieces and variables in place you can encourage folks to really step into their own journey around understanding their own trauma. On a historical level, on a cultural level like the things that, you know, culturally, they practice that they gravitate towards whether it’s unhealthy or healthy and start really being like critical. And then start with interrogating their cultural relationships and rituals and I think the other component is that the real work shows up in our health, emotional, spiritual, physical health. If we are experiencing sickness, tiredness, burnout, frustration, stress, body changes, hormonal moodiness, all those things, those are indicators that we need to start really honoring and paying attention to the rituals that we have built, you know, within ourselves and the systems that we are engaging in. And so when we talk about
how to add some of these wellness components and rituals to people’s already overwhelming and busy lives, that’s the work itself like nothing else matters, to be honest. And so if you create those containers for us to really take people along on those personal journeys, I think we’ll get much further and much deeper into promoting usefulness on a sustainable level.
Great. I read recently that a few years ago it was estimated by the National Survey of Children’s Health that over half of the children in America have experienced at least one form of serious childhood trauma. And so thinking about the educational sphere, the classroom, children being children, sometimes trauma might manifest outwardly in some way that we’ve been conditioned to think is not attuned to achievement. So we’re quick to label a student without recognizing their humanity. So I appreciate your answer because I think that’s the work as you’re alluding to. Any of Glenda’s colleagues want to chime in and add a little bit to this discussion of addressing trauma? Yes, Allison.
Allyson Tintiangco-Cubales (she/her/siya):
Thank you, Glenda. For that, I think, Glenda oftentimes brings the humaneness to these answers because we really have to be able to look at trauma, but our students are not only their trauma. And I think that’s really important. And I kind of want to go into this. The second question you had, how can educators and schools who are already overwhelmed fit it into their daily work this question comes up so much in our work, especially when we are doing teacher development or professional development in schools across the nation. This comes up so much and the notion of self care comes up, like how do I do self care in the middle of giving care to all these people? And I think it’s so interesting because I feel like this is the question around “should I address trauma”? But addressing trauma might, you know, be difficult for me. I think that actually, if you don’t address trauma, it’ll be even more difficult.
How can we afford not to address trauma when students bring it into our classrooms? Yesterday I was honored to be the witness to a beautiful dissertation defense by our colleague who’s part of care. Her name is Dr. Sherry Hannigan Martinez. And she did her dissertation on that literacy is of love. So I call her Dr. Love right. The question of sustainability came up just similar to the question that you’re asking here. How do teachers who are already overwhelmed sustain love without burning out? And everyone feels that you can feel when someone asked that question everyone goes “aha”. But I think when I was hearing those kinds of questions, or when I hear those kinds of questions when I work with teachers. I feel like the question has to be reframed. I don’t know if it’s about sustaining love without burning out. I think the real question needs to be, how do we use love to sustain ourselves as educators? Like without love like what do you, how can we do this work? It’s like the need to have love, the need to be able to address trauma with love, is how we’re going to sustain ourselves as educators.
I think it’s really an interesting reframe so Dr. Hannigan Martinez shared stories about how not only the love she gave students but also the love that they gave her back. This love was central to her sustainability as much as it was to her students. And I think it’s really important to kind of pause when we’re asking that kind of question because we cannot afford not to. We cannot afford not to address trauma right now. We cannot afford not to love our students right now. We cannot afford not to focus on wellness in the middle of a pandemic. All right. I’m sorry two pandemics we are in and maybe more. We are not, we cannot afford not to address those things. I think that the concept of restorative justice has become put into question, what are we, restoring our young people to? Are we creating a process of assimilation into schools or are we really talking about what Jeff was talking about this notion of education? It’s going to be transformative. The only way to do that is if you actually address what’s going on, not to ignore it. It’s simply about history, you can’t ignore history, you have to be able to address history to understand where we’re going to I’ll stop there. I can go on and on.
Jeff, I saw you unmute, did you want to add something?
Yeah, I just want to build a little bit off of that and also double down on the acknowledgement of assurance work. Shereen was my student starting in undergrad. And so, you know, yesterday was particularly moving for me as a teacher and she also apprenticed in my high school classroom and then became a teacher in Oakland which, you know, gave then birth to this research that she’s doing. And it was just, I felt listening to her like oh my god like I’m becoming irrelevant, like her work is past mine. And we have a couple of our students as members of the creek team and I feel like their work like it’s so amazingly beautiful to see not just their genius, but how they’ve peeled back and uncovered elements of our work that we didn’t see.
And that that was really beautiful to me and I think that what emerged in that conversation that I heard Allison saying that I want to kind of put my thumb on a little bit for the audience is this idea of addressing trauma or addressing history. Okay, I think that, you know, there’s an increasing perhaps at the highest, you know, level of elevated consciousness at least in my lifetime that yeah you’re right, like we do, right. But I don’t think people really get what that means they don’t really understand what Allison is saying, right, and so they say, yeah, we’re going to address that. And what ends up happening, right, and this is our big fear and this is where we’re really pushing policymakers and school leaders is to say, no, no, no.
Let me tell you first what we’re saying and what we’re not saying. We’re not saying when we say “address trauma or address history or addressing justice” to take the existing plate of things that you are asking schools to do and add that on. Let’s have a restorative justice program. Let’s have a trauma responsiveness program. No, that’s not what we’re saying. What we are saying is that in this moment, step one is to clear the plate. Everything is off the table. And at the center is wellness. And that takes up as much room as it needs to for our children and for the people that serve our children. And then if there’s some extra room on the plate, then you can start adding on other things. But when you talk to me about a literacy program the only thing I want to hear you talking about, I don’t want to hear you talking about how this is going to elevate my sons who are in first grade right to a fourth grade reading level. I want to hear about how the literacy program is going to make them more well. Not just long game but I mean that every time they come home, you had them for eight hours. They need to be more well than when they went to you. Every day. Okay. And we don’t say that that is the essence of what it means to educate children in our society, then it will become a program, right, and wellness will become subordinated to the larger interests and visions about what it means to educate children, particularly vulnerable and wounded children in our society, right. So this is the moment where we have to be really clear about what we mean when we use verbs like address. Okay. And so I just want to double down on what Allison said but also be really clear with the audience about what we mean when we say address trauma, address history, addressing justice. Thank you.
Some of the key words that I’m picking up on that I’m gonna have to work to use in my own work is this idea of holistic wellness and respect for each other, but also this idea of love. It sounds so simple but it’s at the root of what it means to be human. And when I’m thinking about, you know, teacher burnout and conversations like that we have to understand that love can address that. Love of each other and love of the work. The reason that teachers get into this. And so I think examples can serve as a tool for us to be motivated and to do this work.
One example that I talked about in my research is the James Baldwin trap transfer High School in Chelsea, New York, where students are aging out of the traditional DOE age model. But they come here to be respected as adult learners and teachers at the school teach classes that they love teaching: the abolition of racial slavery, Islamic art and mathematics. Even Dracula and gender identity. So the teachers are excited to teach, the students are excited to learn and you have to understand that love must be at the, you know, foundation of that recipe and also love of each other. And so one participant of my research we’ll quickly talk about her. Her name, her alias is Rose. And so Rose was kicked out of her house when she was a teenager. Her father was violently abusive and that’s a layered thing to say because hurt people hurt people. But her mother took her father’s side they kicked out Rose and she was homeless. This girl eventually while sleeping on couches of friends and having housing instability was able to enroll in a GED program and then go to community college, while also trying to pay for her basic needs by working as an assistant at a dentist’s office because she wanted to be a doctor. And
It’s interesting because the systems are so unjust, we can forget to love. And so, as she was an assistant for this dentist, she overheard him one day talking on the phone about her saying
“You know, it’s so funny. I have this new assistant and she thinks she’s going to be a doctor.
There’s no way that’s going to happen”. And so that was almost a re-traumatization hearing this person who should be her mentor speaking this way about her. And so, you know, in our interview, I was pretty moved by this because she is now after her Associate’s Degree in a four year college and she said that that instance really set her back further in not being able to trust others or love others, and it took her a long time to be able to kind of form a relationship with her new mentor, a biologist in a lab and who she finally opened up to, to tell her story.
And so I asked her if she ever, you know, kind of, was able to address the injustice done to her at the dentist’s office and she said, you know, “I did this small thing, I sent him my college acceptance letter. When I got in”. And so, you know, that’s, that’s, you know, a really positive story that motivated me, you know, in understanding again that our young people, even if they are hurt or damaged or full of potential and we have to work together to foster that. So I want to also bring in all of your expertise, you know, as scholars and activists and talk about the role of ethnic studies. So I’d like to kind of hand the mic back to Allison and ask what is the role of ethnic studies in this work? About humanity and community responsive programming. And how does attention to ethnic studies in that lens promote wellness and also how can we use those lenses to think about the moment we find ourselves in today?
Allyson Tintiangco-Cubales (she/her/siya):
Thank you for bringing it back to me and maybe before we do that, maybe we should define wellness, because I know that it comes up and then I’ll then I’ll go into ethnic studies. I dropped it here in the chat and Glenda is going to talk a little bit about our specific, very much rooted in ethnic studies definition of wellness.
Okay, so go ahead and read this: wellness is the harmonizing of mind, body, emotion, and spirit. It is cultivated and sustained through healthy relationships that are responsive to the lived experience and the historical and material conditions that shape them. Community responsive wellness strengthens the sacred link between self-actualization and community-actualization in three domains. The inner self: a strong sense of culture, identity and agency. Inter-personal: a rootedness and commitment to showing empathy toward family, community, and peers.
And interconnectedness: positive in our relatedness to ancestors, place, land and the natural world. Wellness grows ecosystems where people and communities experienced place, power, purpose, awareness, resilience, empathy, hope, love and joy.
Allyson Tintiangco-Cubales (she/her/siya):
Thank you. Glenda. I appreciate that pause because I think it’s important. We throw that word around quite a bit and just to pause to define it for people who are on this call. This is our specific way to define it. And we know that wellness. You know, like a lot of people are using the word in different ways, or you know, and we want to just make sure that we state how we use it. So what I said earlier is it’s rooted in ethnic studies. You can see the different ways in which ethnic studies has shaped this definition in this current moment it is clear to many of us that we are fighting for humanity. Black humanity, and that includes liberation, power, and joy.
And you can see that in our definition of wellness this humanity is about the freedom to be well in the current moment whether we’re talking about the pandemic of covid-19 or the pandemic of white supremacy. The fight is about the freedom to be well, the freedom to be humanized and all of this. Many, many of us have used this statement. I’ve seen it on placards and people are posting it quite a bit, the statement that “when black people are free, when black lives are free, we will all be free” I’m sure we’ve all heard that. I think it’s very important to really talk about what that means for us, especially those of us who are not black. I think the notion of solidarity is an act that goes way beyond the act of survival or transaction. So solidarity is something that comes up in ethnic studies all the time. It’s really an act of liberation, a collective liberation. Solidarity is an act of empathy. It’s an act of humanization and of course, inspired by Dr. Hannigan Martinez, solidarity is an act of love. This is not new. So I want to be mindful that this is not new. This is important, but it’s not new. This requires systems change.
And you know that the idea that Jeff talked about earlier was, you know, we’re not trying to fix broken children. We’re trying to look at broken systems. And so it requires systems change, which means ideological, institutional, interpersonal, internal, change. And you can also see that in our definition now. Well, what is the role of ethnic studies and community responsive pedagogy in this current moment that we’re trying to achieve that particular change systems change? If I’m going to do a little moment of education for those people who are maybe not as familiar with ethnic studies and the history of ethnic studies, I’ll quickly say that last year in 2019 we celebrated the 50th anniversary of ethnic studies. And the root of that isn’t the late 1960s. After the longest student strike in the nation, led by and this is very important, led by the Black Student Union in coalition with the Third World Liberation Front, Ethnic Studies was established at San Francisco State. It was called college at that time. Now it’s a university.
Some of you actually might know Dr. Molina Abdullah she’s a professor at Cal State LA. And one of the founders of the LA chapter of Black Lives Matter and one of our warriors fighting for AB 1460 which is a bill to get California State University system wide ethnic studies requirement.
Dr. Abdullah makes the statement that I think is very important to note at this particular time: ethnic studies is the most enduring victory of the black power movement. It’s the one thing that has sustained institutionally in terms of systems change.
Black, indigenous, people of color have benefited from the establishment of ethnic studies, not only because it requires colleges and schools to have representative curriculum that looks like us, but the victory of ethnic studies is rooted in the enduring core values of ethnic studies and those core values—I’m going to state them—and they’re very much in our definition of wellness, but I’ll restate them the core values of ethnic studies are: respect, solidarity and unity self-determination and critical consciousness, self-actualization and community actualization and hope. So prior to the development of what people say in education now, cultural relevance or cultural relevant pedagogy or cultural responsiveness, or even Jeff’s critical hope Ethnic Studies activists students, teachers and scholars have been practicing these values for decades.
Indigenous communities and communities of color have been practicing these values for generations, long before the institutionalization of ethnic studies. But what ethnic studies does, and this is really important when we’re talking about system change, is ethnic studies provides a home for these values to live and shape in educational institutions. And what I mean by that is there’s an argument about should we have ethnic studies as a course or set of courses or should we have it in history? And it’s not for me, it’s not you know, it’s not an “or”, it’s an “and”. Because there needs to be a home for those values to be held to then impact to the rest of the institutions. So the central purpose of ethnic studies is to eliminate racism and intersection all forms of oppression and you’ve already mentioned that Ethnic Studies centralizing the narratives of black indigenous peoples and community color in the first person.
Not other people telling our stories that we’re actually getting to tell our own stories within a critical discussion of power systems, identity formation, reflection and I’ll say this because we’re here for this specific moment in this your book. It’s also about agency and action.
Ethnic Studies is a movement that is community responsive like there’s no other way looking at it, right we still have so much to learn from ethnic studies, but it’s really important to note that community responsiveness, the way we describe it is culturally rooted in ethnic studies.
And we think ethnic studies courses to be ethnic studies, you need to be community responsive. But I also want to point out that we should not have courses be community responsive? If community responsive is about centering youth wellness. Shouldn’t all courses be community responsive to center wellness? I think it’s really important to note and go back to what Jeff was saying that we really have to think about the purpose of education as being responsive and that means that wellness is at its center. If we haven’t learned anything from this national uprising to prioritize black humanity, we need to really think about like what we are learning about this notion of freedom, like what does freedom really look like?
Not just freedom in policy. Yes, we do need policy, and I’m very much for pushing for policy, but we also need to know that when a person walks down the street that their humanity is valued. And their humanity is tied to freedom, their freedom to be well. And so I think it’s really important and Jeff and I had just finished an article. I’m gonna read the last sentence of the article because I think it’s really important. That this fight is not a new fight. These are generational fights that we must embrace and when, if we are to build an educational system worthy of our ancestors and the children that will inherit it. Mm hmm.
Wonderful. I think we have maybe about 10 minutes left together and as I’m hearing you speak and trying to connect some of the dots. One of the thoughts that I have is that this is incredibly important work yet this opportunity gap that we have there is something to be said about it being a status quo where some people benefit from the existence of the opportunity gap. And there’s a reframing here to celebrate ethnic studies and curricular revamp meant in order to give voice and elevate the voices of those that often go without. And so I’m wondering in each of the work that you all do, how do we try our best to bring allies to our side? How do we start the conversation, like the one that Jeff said about you know it has to start with wellness. How is literacy of my twins tied to wellness? Not everyone is willing to have those conversations and it may be the people who are championing all lives matter, instead of black lives matter. We can see this, you know, clashing of these mindsets in every facet of our lives. And I’m wondering how do you start engaging people in a dialogue that maybe have them eventually be willing to listen about the importance of ethnic studies, the importance of wellness and understanding that we have to bring humanity back to education? And this is a question for everyone. I’m opening it up.
I’m going to hand that off to Jeff. We kind of we went back and forth. And we were really enjoying this question in particular, and I want to kind of, I would love for you to chime in on this one. Yeah.
I mean, let’s be frank, I’m not really in a particularly different moment right now on my life then I was even 10 years ago. Because I live on a 3400 block of East Oakland. And, you know, we’ve been peeling bodies up off our street for as long as I’ve been teaching here which is 30 years.
So this idea of us reaching out and building allies and allegiances with people who have shown in every way, shape, form and fashion that they don’t see my humanity, they don’t see my cousin’s humanity, they don’t see my brother’s humanity and so by definition, they don’t see my sister’s humanity and they don’t see my mother’s humanity and they don’t see my abilities humanity. And so then, by definition, they don’t see my son’s humanity. And I’m out of energy to try to convince those people about my humanity. My energy is turning inward to my people and to the people that are standing shoulder to shoulder with us and have been. Not Johnny-come-lately. Johnny-come-lately can stand behind and listen and learn. But for the people who have been standing shoulder to shoulder with black folks, with indigenous folks, with Raza folks, with immigrants, with the poor. They are leading now. And this idea that some people are benefiting from the inequality. I challenge that they’re not benefiting, they’re dehumanizing themselves and they don’t even know it. And that comes out of the very basis of the ways in which we’ve defined what it means to be successful in this society. So I’m alluding back to something that you said that I’ve said that many people have said that if we don’t redefine the definition of what it means to be successful, then we’re going to stay on this train to nowhere. And this train is headed full tilt and not clear if we can get the brakes pump hard enough to stop it towards the cliff. All of the data. We are a society in crisis, not because we have a health pandemic. We’ve been a society in crisis. All of our health data suggests that this center can’t hold, we’re coming apart. We were coming apart before we got quarantined and people from our communities have been doing this. So maybe finally they will turn to the people.
Who have been surviving pandemics from the onset of this nation to look for answers about how to actually build a truly pluralistic multi-racial democracy and the truth is that the depth of humanity that you see in black people for not just killing folks is instructive for this nation. And it’s instructive for when we think about curriculum and assessment and what it means to have rigor. The rigorous humanity of black folks. The even in all this, police are still killing them. Still killing brown boys. That’s where I want to put our energy and if folks that are sitting outside of that humanity cannot come along, then they’ll just have to find their way. Because there is no other way. This society won’t make it. We can’t last another generation playing games. And that’s the moment we’re in right now. And so I want to, I want to spend our energy, our spirit, our morality, focused on the true north that our ancestors give us.
And that true north is one that doesn’t discard those people’s humanity. You never catch me saying that I cannot build an ally ship with somebody who sees me as less than human.
It is a poor use of my time. It is a poor use of my energy, is a poor use of my spirit, and that is what I will teach my children. You will never dehumanize those people in the way that they have dehumanized you but you must spend your energy wrapping your arms around the humanity of yourself and your people for those people to have any fighting chance to find their own humanity and they will find their way. But it’s not our responsibility to draw the map for them.
I’m processing that was very powerful. And so we’re running short on time. I don’t think we need to elaborate on that because I think that’s the charge. Understand that your oppression is rooted in dehumanizing others. And if you don’t understand then get the hell out of the way.
One thing that I think we can try to end on is positivity. Positivity and love is what brings you to this work. And so the, the question that we can all take a minute to answer is “what drives you to do this work and what gives you hope”? And let’s say goodbye to our audience with that. So if everyone could just take a minute to say what gives you hope. I think we’ll be feeling extra motivated to take on the charges of our conversation today. I feel like I’m ahead of the class. I’m gonna have to cold call, could we start with Allison? What gives you hope to continue doing this work and you know it doesn’t have to just be a minute we have seven minutes together.
Allyson Tintiangco-Cubales (she/her/siya):
I’m gonna try not to take all that time. Um, I’ll pause to say that in response to what Jeff was saying, it’s not spending so much time trying to worry about like how the ally is gonna, you know, be part of this. I will say that even the language has been shifting, certainly these last like several months from this notion of ally ship and it has been shifting over years to more thinking about accomplices and co conspirators and people taking responsibility for themselves and in their communities in response to what’s happening in the world. I’ll say that gives me hope.
That notion that people are picking up the work and doing it. I’ve seen some amazing things happen in the last couple of weeks and months on communities just taking a stand. Um, I will say that, you know, there has been some discussion around the notion of decentering, you know, decentering ourselves if you are not black, decentering I think it’s extremely important to talk about what that looks like. Decentering does not mean don’t look at yourself. There’s a need to really look at yourself and see how you’re operating and then trying to figure out ways in which you’ve been complicit to the things that have been happening in the world. And then thinking about how to change that and transform it, so I know I mentioned earlier that that solidarity is not just about survival and transaction. It really is about the notion of transformation like what are you going to do in terms of creating transformative change in the world. I will also add and I don’t want to take up too much more of the time, but I will say that I’m a mother of a 16 year old young, young amazing, amazing woman of color. Who is pushing me every day, pushing me to rethink things. Sometimes it will be because she saw a post and she wants to have a conversation about it or she wants to figure out what are the best ways that she can be in solidarity. And to me, that is giving me hope and Jeff mentioned it when you see your students surpassing you or saying things that teach you things. Like even just in the last, and I mentioned this, the article that Jeff and I wrote, I had a student like look over it and he gave me all kinds of feedback. And to me, that gives me hope because that meant that at some point I was able to support that young person, not so young person, like to become who they can become so that they can come back and as Shareem has mentioned, show us the love too. And so I feel like there’s so much there about the next generation and the hopefulness. I’ll pass it over to Glenda.
What brings me hope? Um, is that the movement is very intergenerational and intersectional so I’m raising, you know, black boys and for my parents to be really activated to show up and protect and defend and speak out, that was a really beautiful awakening for me. To use whatever platform they wanted and to continue having conversations around how these issues impact our lives and our grandchildren’s lives really uniquely. That has been really powerful. And so seeing the generations, the older folks supporting the young voices to emerge and the young folks encouraging the older folks’ voices to emerge and having these really good conversations about how to move through these really tough times and tough feelings with urgency. On the daily I get texts about how we need to kind of show up for my parents. And so that’s taught me a lot about how we all need to mobilize on all levels, all fronts.
And Brother Jeff really quickly out. Do you mind chiming in? What gives you hope?
Yeah, I would say, um, you know, my two co conspirators: Glenda and Allison give me a lot of hope. And I think most consistently I’ve drawn hope from two places. One is children—and it’s why I’ve never left schools. I’ve never, I never stopped being in in the K-12 system. Because they have every reason to not believe in us anymore. And if you spend time in schools, you see this incredible hopefulness in young people that have every right to be dubious about the future of this society and they’re not. And so I want to match as a grownup, as a father, as a researcher, as a writer, as a community member, as a teacher, I want to match the hope levels of my students. Least I can do is to show up every day and put my bitterness away and be present. Hopefully with them to honor the way that they show up, hoping that things will get better. Even though all the evidence suggests that it might not. And I come from ancestors that have endured, overcome, transformed using hope—things that make our current situation look miniscule. And we are a profoundly a historical society. We lose track of who we come from. And it’s that detached desensitized disconnectedness from our ancestral traditions and the strength and power and hope that resides there that drives us into hopelessness. And if we look back at who we really come from, we have no choice but to be hopeful and that is what we see in the babies. That’s where children’s hope is coming from. It’s coded into their DNA by virtue of who their ancestors are and if we can tap into that as educators, as parents, as community members, as friends, as partners, then there’s no way that we can’t find the hole to thread our way through the eyes of this needle that we’re staring at right now. That’s right.
I’ll kind of join in on that one, as I close this out. As the only non-parent panelist on here, I too get hope from young people. My wife is Mexican and we deeply hope to be parents and you know, many people might say, “isn’t that daunting at this point in time”? But I think we owe it to ourselves. With our love for this world to have children and as, as Jeff said to educate them and not school them about all of these deep histories and you should also equally care about the education of other people’s children because, as a society, we’re going to be so much better off because those are the people who will have to look out for us as the future continues.
And so I will just end by saying it was such a pleasure to have you all today. I have so much to sit with and process and learn. And I will do so after this conversation. It was my honor to ask brother Jeff for his endorsement of my book and he said, which graces now my back cover, that agency is the antidote to helplessness and despair. That exploration of that essential element of our humanity must be attended to, if we hope to build schools that support the wellness of our children, and that is something that takes a community. And we can all do it together. So thank you so much to my co panelists. I’m so humbled for your time. I’m really also humbled for everyone who tuned in today, we will be sending out an email and the video of today’s recording. We will send out further resources, so we can all dig in deeper and continue to learn and keep up the charge to live with hope and create a better future for everyone. So thank you everyone. Happy Friday and have a great weekend.