On Racial Disparity and an Unwillingness to Look Racism in the Eye.

In reviewing this tragic incident at Chaska high school this morning, I couldn’t help but feel some direct takeaways from the thread that follows this article. Clearly there is commentary that speaks to many sides of the issue, but the glaring reality for me is the ease we have with using blame and judgment to help us feel better about a situation that causes a certain anxiety in our lives.

With social media we are christened with an arm-chair response mentality, that we have seen can be as equally damning as the central idea of a topic. In this case a direct assessment of racial disparity in a public high school.

In the same article that speaks to the victims of the incident being asked to walk into a room and receive forced apologies from the students that created the mess, there is also reporting that suggests the administration sat on their hands about the incident at a timely Equity conference with parents and members of the community.

See this is the part I have a real hard time with. We cannot continue to hide ourselves behind the idea of racism when the reality of its impact occurs every day in our lives. We cannot simply hope incidents like this will go away without being dealt with directly. We cannot miss opportunities to open doors to this challenge of understanding how such moments interfere with our students of color and their desire to engage themselves in a community that openly ostracizes them, only to have the instigators receive perhaps public slaps on the hand for doing something they thought was ‘funny’ and harmless.

We cannot pretend that there is no harm that occurs beyond the incident of blatant racism itself. There is a great deal of damage that occurs when something of this level happens in any community. The traumatic nature of not being liked, or respected or appreciated for who we are cannot be measured in the eyes of a staged public apology. There has to be more.

Our students need to feel like they are being heard, their issues matter, they take the front seat and receive time and attention rather than a quiet dismissal to prevent a public outcry.

In reading the threads on Facebook that follow this article, I came across a number of personal assessments of the environment – “Oh (community) will never learn” or “same old ‘trash-**’ summarily beating the issue into the ground in such a manner to put it away, blow it off, call it unimportant, and try to put a ‘funny’ light on the issue. In fact, one thread noted, ‘this happened a week ago’ in a manner to suggest we move on. Really?

It is a sad reality that our students could continue to have such behaviors be condoned by society because of an internalized fear to have the difficult discussions. We cannot allow these moments to drift away because we are almost at the end of the school year. We cannot continue to rely upon our political horizon as the reason for such attitude and disparity in our communities across the country.

We must have the conversations and listen rather than simply join the outcry of ‘oh this is bad, but I have no commitment to helping change.’

We need to try to openly become a part of the change and move forward rather than continue to drift aimlessly backward.

A Teenager Committed Suicide

Yesterday, a former student took his own life. The circumstances are horrific to realize that life had come to such terms. It is also ironic for many people including myself. We all have dark moments that cause us to imagine a deadly option. This young man somehow felt there was no one he could speak to that might help him through his crisis. In my life the issue of suicide has always been thought to be a cop-out and an easy option, a valueless choice for those around their lives.

I have students crying in the hallways today. I had a student contact me yesterday evening in tears – we spoke for several minutes, and I invited him to come by. This situation has impacted a lot of people including those that have the feelings themselves. Nobody really knows what a person is going through when they choose this deadly way to stop the pain. Nobody knows the tears in the final moments because we just don’t understand. I do.

I believe suicide is a mental illness beyond the circumstances of finality for a person suffering from inevitable mortality. That is the only time when such an act seems feasible. I say that again knowing in my own life there are times when the world I live in becomes exhausting and I no longer like the loneliness I feel. I am especially mortified by this situation with our student. He touched a lot of lives. I watched him laugh both in the classroom and with his friends. I watched him be successful in his love of sports in the events he participated. I watched people groom his life.

Today, I see the outcome. I sense the family and their reaction not as a close friend but as a person that appreciates the grief they feel. I understand why students are at a loss in their actions as they try to wrap their heads around his loss.

Suicide is something that everyone needs to acknowledge is a terrible way to end a person’s life. If someone reaches out be there for them, because the moment you take that for granted they may take action on something they didn’t have a chance to rethink or turn away from the act. Sadly one must though realize the end game is not their responsibility. A call, a visit, a wellness check may be all that is needed. Let them know they are not alone and they have a possible firm ledge to step back onto, let them find their own professional guidance.

Do not abandon a person when they are at their seeming lowest. Look for the signs and be there no matter the effect the notion might have on your own life.

The victim needs your real love.

The Scrutiny of Self Loathing

People generally believe we bring our pain upon ourselves, the decisions, choices we make. As true as that might be we want also to be responsible for shaking off the doom and gloom that keeps us down. There the difficult task arises in how we acknowledge our own fear in moving forward when caught in the web of self-deceit. We convince ourselves through various measures we are destined to live this way.

Take addiction for a moment and identify patterned behavior. The addict is easily drawn toward what feels good, the easiest route to pleasure. It is more often than not an addict’s choice to stay within the boundary of self loathing than give themselves a fighting chance of a good life. The drug, the habit, the glass of scotch, far too easy to attain and outweigh the risk of facing the contempt their lives become under the influence of a self-destructive pursuit they are unable to see until it explodes their lives and those around them.

A choice also has to be made by the messenger. I choose to write this why, because I have seen its impact on the lives of those around me? I also see on a daily basis the nature of addiction and how it determines day to day decisions in my own life. Not the observation of a friend, me.

On any given day I can be wrapped up in memory of poor decisions I made years ago that haunt me still today, most people would say, let it go you were a kid way back then. That’s true but I still made the choice.

Today I think about self-loathing and the impact it has on my life. Last night in my episodic frame of mind I thought about solutions that did simply scare the hell out of me. Too often we are in the middle of something and rather than face it we literally swallow it and move on. I choose to face it but I have no false pretense of an easy road ahead, I made a phone call last night that helped me move beyond a state of mind that was dragging me down so fast I was drowning before my ankles ever felt the water. Then in a bizarre dream overnight I was holding a device in my hand on stage that blew up and I was suddenly gasping for air in and out of consciousness. I take some dreams for granted, that one not so much.

Perhaps a metaphorical bomb in a crazy dream is what it takes to realize sometimes a jumpstart is needed to feel better and take action. For me self-loathing is no fun. I will choose a different path.

For the reader I ask two favors – one that you might take from this story some benefit for your own life and two that you raise your awareness around family, friend, colleague, neighbor and offer a hand rather than reject that reach with our well planted bootstrap society. Sometimes the boots will not go on.

This post is for everyone and is not about you!

The Beauty of Culture and Our Changing Society

Tonight, I had the opportunity to watch something rather wonderful. I wasn’t alone, we all viewed what represents the identity of who we are, how we represent, what is truly special about our school district.

Tonight, Shakopee High School, held a culture fest, one that celebrated a host of different ethnic groups that as a collective whole did speak to the beauty of our diversity. There were dances, puppetry, singers that modeled cultural mores produced by a student body that exists beyond the classroom. They smiled, they hugged one another, they reached out to a marvelous gathering of people from all walks of life.

Parents came to support their children. There were people that might not walk into a high school because there could be apprehension due to cultural differences that are sometime intimidating because of language barriers and matters of equity and diversity. There were visitors, faculty, administrators who attended and spoke to one another and celebrated students who came up to them and shook hands, gave high fives, smiled and laughed and beamed with pride and courage for what they were accomplishing together as a collective whole.

To be a teacher in this school district is a special blessing in the sense that we get the chance to interact with a student body that teaches us how to recognize and understand culture beyond what is sometime taken for granted. I am so proud of our students and the organizers of our Culture Fest.

A celebration of identity is truly important when realizing the beauty of how we can interact and engage together to showcase talent, passion, and a desire to be accepted in our constantly changing society. We can be extremely proud of our district and who we are and the golden opportunity we have to offer something special to a remarkable and invaluable student body.

“We Are All Human”

I’ve been thinking about New Zealand along with the rest of us since Friday morning.

Yesterday evening I was sitting in a coffee shop that is a frequent meeting place for a group of Somali men. I go there often enough to recognize their faces and exchange pleasantries. Last night was different. They along with a community of their family, friends, colleagues had to endure the tragedy of a mass shooting in New Zealand where 50 (current count) people of Muslim faith where gunned down in senseless violence by a white terrorist. The killer carried with him a manifesto that attributed the influence of our current POTUS and his remarks toward the Muslim faith. The dead are sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, co-workers, colleagues, neighbors, grandparents, elders, friends … the list goes on and ought to sound familiar to everyone. They are people, like you and me.

I am a high school English teacher. Earlier in the day, my students watched a Ted Talk by Suzanne Barakat titled Islamophobia which spoke to the loss of her brother, his wife and their friend in a senseless shooting in North Carolina in 2015. Same situation, different white terrorist, a hate crime against the Muslim faith. Looking at her Facebook page today, I discovered her brother and his wife and friend were killed four years ago on February 10th, 2015. Just over a month ago, and her comment on her page last night after the news of the New Zealand tragedy was very brief, “I can’t. I just can’t.” I have to wonder how frightened or angry or defeated she feels today.

As I left the coffee shop last night, I looked at the men in conversation together and felt compelled to approach them. I told them they were all in my heart, and they thanked me and nodded their heads in understanding. One man looked at me and said, ‘We are all human,” and I shook his hand and he said it again.

We are all just human beings. Is there any other explanation to give people of the Muslim faith, or people of color, or people that are different than ourselves a reason to be respected? One of the messages from Suzanne Barakat is to speak to your neighbors. Even if it feels like a small gesture , she said it will have miles of impact. It is a start, and today, the healing needs to begin.

We are all simply human beings.

Please practice love today.

 


 

Islamophobia – Suzanne Barakat

On The Issue of Talent and Race

difference


Recently, I shared a news article that highlighted the posting oftwo of our newest appointed City Councilors. The pitch of the article was to suggest we are breaking barriers by electing our first person of color to a political seat in the city’s government.

Ironically and thankfully there was little push back to my share and far more support, though I do have to bring attention to the commentary that did evolve. In order to get there I have to tell a story.

When I was twelve my family traveled to the East Coast, where we stayed with my cousins. God love my cousins but I really didn’t know them and I certainly wasn’t aware of their cultural views. One night my cousin of same age and I took a walk about the corner store where we encountered some black kids hanging out, just being teenagers. I asked my cousin if he knew them and he said no and in doing so dropped the ‘n’ word, that being the first time I had heard it in direct context as it impacted my life. I felt immediately nervous and couldn’t get past it the remainder of the night. I clearly knew my cousin’s views as we returned from the store and I felt fear for the first time in my life.

The next day, our family toured Harlem. I turned to my mom in the back seat and said, as a naive 12 year old, ‘those were the kids I saw last night.’ She told me of course they could not have been, and I said to her, ‘yes, mom, the same black kids on the corner.’

My mother then turned to me and said, ‘Listen to me, you didn’t see those kids last night and you certainly didn’t see those ‘black kids’ on the corner, you saw kids last night, and they were different kids from a different neighborhood.’ The point she was making of course is that I saw kids, playing on the corner, just people, the significance of color in my mom’s mind and her lesson to me was that it didn’t hold any bearing. She was telling me they are human beings just like anyone else in our world.

So why do I struggle today with the reality that yes, the skill set they bring to their position ought to be precedent?

I raise this issue because when my mother told me that story, it was 1972 and we were in the midst of racial turmoil. The Civil Rights Act was meant to begin to create an alliance between people of all walks of life. Yes, Martin Luther King Jr. did say, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” So yes I agree 100 %.

The issue I cannot agree with is that nearly 50 years later, we are still fighting to acknowledge that people need to be judged by the content of their character. It seems we still live in a society that will not allow that mindset to grow.

We must continue to grow. Congratulations to our two newest members of the City Council – May your contributions be filled with promise and fortune to continue to move this beautiful community in the right direction.

I Remember John Lennon

Lennon

I’m listening to ‘Mind Games’ right now. I woke this morning imagining I would write about John Lennon, this being the 38th year since he was gunned down outside the Dakota in New York City. I’ve since visited the site many times over the years, and every time there is an ominous takeaway that speaks to the terror of that single night.

I look up at the building itself – the one with gargoyles streaming the rooftops, a structuredakota my mom always said was her favorite building in the city, and I look for the white shutters, the flats that represent Yoko’s property, and I think that very possibly she is in there right now. Hers is a private world, deservedly so given the circumstances.

Not minutes before I sat down to this idea, I received the above picture of John Lennon on my timeline from my dear friend John. The timing was important, because 38 years ago on this night, I walked into my job at the health care center where he and I worked, and he approached me as we were changing shifts and told me the news. See I didn’t hear it from Howard Cosell on Monday Night Football, or on any of the airwaves on my car radio. I was listening to a tape – it was probably a Lennon song.

I lived and breathed John Lennon as a young adult. I dressed like him, people told me I had his look, so I bought the glasses, grew out my hair, still have an old pair of aviator frames I’d like to repair some day in his honor of course. I truly believed I was going to meet him someday. I grew up with the Beatles and slowly my love for their music evolved into being completely taken by Lennon because of his lyrical prowess. He spoke to the world, he spoke to the family, he spoke to woman, he spoke to children, he spoke to me.

I think one of the things that fascinated me the most about Lennon at that time – I was 21 years old – was how he had turned his life around and was again producing music that was relevant to the society around him. This time it was about family. He had just produced Double Fantasy, and I sent it to my brother for Christmas, because all it spoke of was love and harmony, and that was something I thought everyone was in need of, badly. Three weeks later he was dead on the street, a statistic, a victim of a Saturday night special in the hands of a sick, psychotic, fan.

That night in the mental health ward of the hospital I worked in all I did was watch the news. I can remember walking in the door of the hospital, I have dreams about it today, because the whole night was surreal. This man, who I idolized was suddenly gone, and all of his words were now left to memory. All we could do is replay his magic and imagine. My friend John, told me the news, gave me a hug, and walked out into the night, his shift over, and mine just beginning. No one could know the impact this night might and would have on so many lives in the years to come.

Today is significant to me I suppose because for the first time in a long while, I’m thinking about not only the circumstances around his death, but also what his loss has left us with for the last three decades. The simple fact is he was killed by a gunman who had no business carrying the weapon he had, especially not on the streets of Manhattan. johnposter1His whole purpose was to destroy the life of another human being, but not just anyone, only a person at the time who was passionately speaking of the concept of love.

There are people who will remind me of John Lennon’s abusive past – there is history, and it cannot be denied; however, I’m reminded of the concept of forgiveness, and again love. I look at the life of John Lennon, and I realize a person of his capacity was capable of recreating and mending his world, and not for just his own benefit, but more importantly for the benefit of those who endeared him, who believed his message was whole, and he was consumed with trying – attempting to right the wrongs he had created in his own personal life. He spoke to such are the dynamics of the human condition, and I listened with my heart and soul. Having lived a life of misgivings myself, I needed hope like anyone else.

I remember a couple of days went by and I hadn’t cried. Christmas was nearing now, and the holidays were upon us.happy xmas I remember being lost, still clinging on to something that no longer existed, wondering if it were possible that somehow all of this were really a dream. I suppose I felt the way young adults did who were my age when JFK died, or MLK Jr., Malcolm X, RFK – countless mentors in our lives who were cut down by assassins with no regard for human life beyond their own.

I was driving out of a Shop-Ko store in my hometown when ‘Happy Xmas’ came on the radio. My eyes began to water and I knew I wasn’t going to navigate onto the highway so I pulled my car over and I listened to the song and I cried. I remember I cried hard, because all of that emotion I had been holding onto in grief and confusion suddenly poured out of me. It was snowing out, and thankfully I wasn’t visible to anyone. I was just a car in the parking lot, but I stayed there for a long time. I remember at that point twisting the dial on the radio and it wasn’t difficult to find the song again and again all day, all afternoon, all evening … we were all simply lost.

So today, I’m listening to Happy Xmas again, having visited the Dakota in New York, having walked through Central Park and paused by Strawberry Fields, having continued to write with a passion that John Lennon taught me when I was a young and misguided youth willing to make many mistakes in the future that are now the baggage of my time. But there is a message I do forever hold dear to my heart and soul

“It matters not who you love, where you love, why you love, when you love or how you love, it matters only that you love.” – John Lennon

I listen to his words, and I am grateful. I believe.

Happy Xmas everyone.

… and Love.


photography – various sources on the internet