Sunday, December 4, 2016

at the window, looking out and in

Nov 24, 2016

At the top of the darkened auditorium yesterday, I knelt during the national anthem at the assembly.  Eye-level with my son, I saw the world from his perspective for a minute. He doesn’t know the irony of that song yet, and was trying to sing along.  I am trying to see this year as anything other than the beginning of the end.  It’s certainly not the beginning:  the state has been profiting from genocide for centuries, but it feels like death wins in 2016.  Our elders are leaving us. 

I was neither shocked nor surprised at the election results.  It’s taken me weeks to write about it, precisely because I knew all along that the worst case scenario was possible, and is in fact becoming our reality in January.   They’ve been coming up with new ways to win for as long as race was invented, for as long as there’ve been elections.  It hasn’t been this transparent in my lifetime, because billions of dollars has been invested in colorblinding our laws, but the racial and class divide is clearer than ever in America.  

Teaching has not become my occupation by accident.  As an activist, teaching becomes my way to consistently engage with youth, continue the 2nd hour of a 2 hour conversation, to quote Suz Dion.  I believe in our youth and what you are teaching us.  We teach you to resist, to know your history, to advocate, connect and celebrate.  Use your voice.  But you teach me so much about hope, resilience, growing despite all circumstances, connections across difference, and a pedagogy rooted in love. 

My job right now is to know my privilege, use it to bring the race conversation, the DAPL conversation to light.  Talk fracking and climate change, gardening and sustainable life skills for students, whenever, wherever, even if people aren’t listening to me. Listen instead of centering myself.  I am not at home in Michigan, so this is my dinner table conversation.  

I have been quiet about the election results because I knew the depths of racial hatred in the U.S., but didn’t expect it to prevail.  I thought maybe we had learned history’s lesson.  Listened to the Holocaust, watched Palestine, listened to Rwanda, watched Sarajevo.  Listened to Wounded Knee, watched Standing Rock.

But when they come for the Muslims, we will resist.
When they come for the queer, we will resist.
When they come for the Latinx, we will build a wall
of gratitude over theirs, ivy of blessings.
It is me, I am the enemy.
Where are we?

I am thoroughly depressed at the stagnation of humanity, but trying to wake up everyday and take one step.   I am struggling with being a parent right now.  I am wondering about the day people realize they’ve been had, again.  Meanwhile, this hatred is creating ISIS breeding grounds, this unabashed disgust of difference hurts my sensitive soul and genuine desire to see the good in people.  Hundreds of hate crimes, hijabs as red targets, police brutality increasing, tension running terribly high because we don’t want to know the enemy.  We are the enemy.  We create the fear, the violence, the terror and self-inflict our rage.

I am grateful to know that the shapeshifting enemy is more like you and me than they want us to realize.  Tower of babel, separating us by language and nation, color and creed, sexuality and gender.  Why do we let them divide us again?  Where is the together place? 

I ask not to forget the past, but to look into it, into the pain, and be there.  This is what we must reckon with, white America.  See the brutality of what we did and continue to do.   See how our disconnect as white folks lets the brunt of the labor still be borne by the backs who made us rich.  Become true allies to our sisters and brothers who do not reap the privileges we do, by listening to them, protecting them, centering their stories, ideas, actions and providing monetary and moral support wherever we can. 

To my students: What do we do?  This is your time to take the stage and shake your fist at all the mess we have left you.  I am here to guide and support you in getting the resources you need.   We cannot move forward without you, and need your ideas, your spirit, your determination and heart to guide us. 

I am physically, emotionally, and spiritually exhausted.  I have withdrawn in many ways, am reading, writing, listening.  Trying to share the eloquent words of dream hampton, adrienne maree brown, grace lee boggs, shaun king, morrison, baldwin, freire, thinkers and activists I admire, when I have no words to offer. Organizing a speak out, letting my youth take the reins, so that we may move together toward the other world of hope, that is still, always, possible, but feels farther and farther away.   

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

how many blocks

How many blocks
stopped and searched 
because they fear us?
How many "officer,
please don't shoot"s
How many brown boys
at the precinct,
locked up for weed?
How many hearts
race when you see 
them come for you,
and you reek?
How many illegal 
traffic stops?
Shots into wrong houses,
Girls and grandmas 
at the morgue
on Sunday afternoons?
How many shots fired? 

How many applications
denied? Dreams voided?
Cell doors slammed
in terrified faces? 
How many schools 
How many pipelines
to our destruction
with lead,
and fluoride...
How many shots fired?

Sunday, September 11, 2016

15 years, today.

15 years ago today, I was getting a frantic phone call from my boss about making notes to put in the hallway of our dorm saying that school was closed today. Not fully understanding in my half-sleep, I looked out my bedroom window to see the sky turning black with smoke from the south, but the source of the fire was blocked by other buildings. I complied with my boss’s requests, made a sign, printed a few copies, put them by the elevator of each floor and ran down the marble stairs to go outside. Union Square had become a crowd of awestruck South-facing gawkers, and I realized why as I turned right to see the background to my city on fire. You think of big buildings as indestructible, the backdrop of the city almost like a canvas propped up behind skyscrapers.
I tell this story every year, usually in front of students who are decreasingly aware of why this day is important. I talk about the change in trajectory of my life because of this day, how it brought forth bad poetry, but solid motives to teach and work for social change. To use my privilege to speak truth to power, to fight against oppression, in all of its forms. To recognize our role in history and why others might “hate our way of life”, which seeks to convert everyone to capitalism and profits over people.
I was looking at the annual memorial of lights in photos last night. Covers of newspapers asking if we will ever be that united again... and I’m thinking of the parts to the story that I don’t often tell. Of Muslim friends who experienced such horrible backlash while wearing hijab, of hate crimes in Queens supermarket parking lots, of New York City coming together over those lost, but simultaneously opening fire upon its Muslim population. While we organized teach-ins, taught about Islam, these fires burned. When it turned into invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, these fires grew. Syria, ten years later, Palestine and Israel, ongoing, our silent propping up of regimes, the fires intensified. “A war against terror” is a shapeshifting enemy, that conveniently moves beyond borders while we raise our flags.
I hear their names again this year, and want to remind you that protest is patriotism (as Shaun King said this morning), that we can simultaneously mourn those lost on our soil with those who were lost in retribution for the biggest anti-Capitalist symbol falling down, in front of my eyes. I was there, and I remember, that we were anti-war here in New York City, right away. That family members of those lost said, “War is not the answer, not in their names”. I want you to hear these stories, too.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

two down, two to go

two years ago, in the summer, i posted a blog about my son's insane tantrums over inane things, and sometimes i'm amazed that i'm still alive, still breathing, after all 2 and 1/2 years of this.  women have done this for millenia, but raising toddlers is the toughest thing i've ever done and i hate it all of the time. i cry every single day when i am home alone with them.  i yell.  i scream.  i lock myself in the bathroom.  i have sourced a well of anger that i didn't even know i had.  i'm pretty much a love-and-peace kind of person, so to be this short-tempered and angry all of the time feels like i'm inhabiting another body.  i don't know who i am anymore, but i do not like who i see in the mirror.

constantly, i am trying to remember that my voice that i use with my kids becomes their internal voice, but i am angered so often everyday... i am slapped, pinched, bit, kicked, hit, headbutted, elbowed, and stepped on more times than i can count before 10 a.m.  he is defiant and looks me in the face as he disobeys my directions, she is feisty and follows the lead of her big brother, insistent pout on her face.  they will be such a powerful pair in the face of evil and discrimination, but i hope with all of my soul that they use their power for good.  that nothing i've done will fuck them up enough that they cross into the dark side.

sali, your middle name means seeker of justice, so we have named you heavy, with this intent.

nasir, you are her protector.  it is your job to serve, protect and love your sister, and all girls and women you meet.  you are their protector, so we have named you heavy, with this intent.

for now, he will continuously wake up his sister whenever she takes a nap, "wash his hands" for 20 minutes and get soap and water all over the bathroom, and she will forever find new hiding spots for my credit cards and keys.  i am ever frustrated, locking myself in the bathroom to take a breath and 30 seconds alone, but ever thankful for these determined spirits who have been brought to me as gifts.  i hope to nurture their souls.

in memorium of my sanity,

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

two steps forward, two steps back

Someday, I'll have 28 minutes to watch Bernie's speech at the DNC last night, and will watch Michelle Obama's speech again and again.  As a parent, I needed to get up this morning and read the text again, though, after I wrote 5 pages of my own book.  It's been a really frustrating, hurtful and difficult few weeks, as I've been watching so much happen in the way of police brutality, attacks on police officers in the U.S., attacks in Nice, in Munich, in Kabul (84 people were killed in a blast and I barely heard a blip about it as the U.S. media focused on the literal wrestling match entry of Donald Trump at the RNC in Cleveland last week).  It was Sandra Bland's 28th birthday, Aiyana Jones' 14th birthday, Emmett Till's 75th birthday, the anniversary of the beginning of the '67 riots in Detroit.

All of this leaves me in a strange place, as I reach back to my 21 year old self to work on completing a book I started way back then.  In a professional transition and feeling very strong in terms of work, we have been visiting my family in Michigan for a few weeks and I have been focusing the part of my identity that I am least confident in -- that of being a parent.  So Michelle's speech last night hit me particularly in the feels, as I wrestle with who I was at the outset of my education career, and reflect upon how much I've grown.  I am now a parent, a wife, a veteran teacher, have a Master's Degree, have developed my consciousness and speak and teach about race, class, gender, sexuality and so many other aspects of my identity as they face the characters we read, view and write.

So, as we move toward this election, as I'm considering what it means to be raising children in this world, I am moved by the role of a president being a role model of perseverance, and struggling again with a two party system that has never spoken to what I believe in, I find myself again in that minority of people who want to open up and examine the wounds of our country, collectively.  Figure out and re-trace our steps.  How did we get here?  How do we move forward?  Why do folks want to "go back" and what does that mean in a national context?

I have been arguing with folks and Audre Lorde's infamous quote popped up, the one that I use to begin each year in my classroom.  The one I will use for United Playaz this year, "The master's tools will never dismantle the master's house."  It expresses where I'm at right now, because I'm struggling with being called naive when I'm questioning the "fall in line" and #imwithher posts from many of my democrat friends.  I am troubled by the request to fall into line and reinscribe the status quo, even if the request is being made by a woman who has been in politics for decades, who I generally like.  I am tired of settling for a politician who has recently shifted her views to the left and taken up issues that are important to me, but who chose a VP who is actively anti-gay and anti-woman.

All in all, I know what I must do, because it does come down to the kind of country we are leaving for our children, one of whom is just waking up from a nap.  As I comfort her tears and attempt to make her giggle, I am not worried about her shattering glass ceilings:  her fists are poised to break any barrier in her way.  I find myself worrying about her life mattering to a legislature who still doesn't see her as human, and won't regulate keeping guns out of our neighborhoods. I find myself worrying about students in Highbridge who are facing funeral after funeral in this deadly Bronx summer.  Chicago summer.  Detroit summer.

My friend Samirah said it best when she said that she already lives in the kind of world that Trump proposes, as a black woman.  I want this ceiling shattered for all girls, all boys, all students around the world, who need their families home from prison for petty crimes, who need rebuilding and funding in their communities to build the village that it will take to raise these children right.  Michelle's resounding ending about America already being great is the ache in my heart right now:  I so wish this weren't fiction.  I want to believe in a dream like this, I want my kids to see this, but it's just so hard to trust a system that is designed to deceive and reinforce who is already in power.

We will be organizing around gun violence, congressional seats, local elections, making connections and trying to make an impact in our community, where I do not feel lost, but feel like I can empower students, other teachers and families to take a step forward, even when we threaten as a nation to stumble backward.

Yours in struggle,
a reticent and exhausted mom

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

predictable heartbreak

I am shaking as I'm sending my child into the other room to watch a show while I burst my heart over the keys.  I am letting him have all the sugar and all of the snacks today, because his life is more fragile than my own in ways he won't understand for years.  State-sanctioned violence inside of a white supremacy hasn't surprised me in a long time, but the rage is still there, it's a low, guttural moan with the stench of strange fruit and public lynchings, it's howl of the MOVE bombing in Philadelphia, with the predictability of any attack being blamed on an "other" that we've created an acronym for, just like we created the very illusive group we are now "fighting", with our own weapons on both sides.

I want to be an active voice, but I know that I am an ally and that the pain is not my own.  I am empath, and think that I understand sometimes, but it is important to recognize, now and always, that I could choose to turn the story off and go back to watching something else.  I cannot, and I will not, but I could, and most white folks do.  How do you continue having hope for a movement when all attempts at public outcry, at all positive outlets for rage are shut down, fizzled out and systematically dismantled to continue the disempowerment?  How can I use my voice and place of privilege to call out what those in power will hope to blow over?  This is a movement that has been building, and must keep collaborating, networking and taking action.  We are exhausted, but we must move.

I am sick in the stomach every time that there is a new name, or a new number broadcast on the news, but I am also sick in the stomach when it is not national news, and why I have made this my life's work. We who glorify the guns cannot reckon with their damage until it hits home.  Why isn't this hitting home for so many folks?  When will it?  I do not like hashtags and trending topics, cannot stand twitter for its snippets and soundbites, but the need to move, to be active, to stop white supremacy in its tracks and undo this system that is predicated on the backs, bodies and blood of people of color (Native peoples, immigrants from Europe, Asia and Mexico, with varying degrees of "whiteness" ascribed to them upon entry, queer and trans folks, people of mixed or multi-ethnic heritage, and of course African-Americans) is pulled to the front burner, each time.

Spare me the shock, this predictable heartbreak will result in no indictment, no jail time, few consequences and we all know that rinse and repeat cycle of 24 hour news. Alton Sterling's family deserves more.  I am sending all of my love and healing to them, and to all of the families impacted by gun violence, police violence and find themselves the victims of white supremacy.  There are too many to name, but yet we must stop and name them.

Rest in Power, Mr. Alton Sterling.  Ms. Aiyana Stanley-Jones, Mr. Eric Garner, Mr. Trayvon Martin, Mr. Michael Brown, Ms. Sandra Bland, Mr. Freddie Gray, Mr. Tamir Rice, Ms. Renisha McBride, Ms. Aura Rosser, Mr. Jordan Davis, Mr. Khalief Browder, Mr. Oscar Grant, Mr. Alex Nieto, Mr. Amadou Diallo, Mr. Sean Bell, Mr. Akai Gurley, Mr. Ramarley Graham, Mr. John Crawford III, and thousands more.  Your stories, lives and legacies are embedded into my work every single day.

Saturday, June 25, 2016


So, I'm leaving the classroom this year.  Everything has been extra-nostalgic as a I take down posters, clear the board, begin to pack up the student artwork and photos that line the walls, trying to brighten a space without windows. Next year, I am becoming a dean, which means that I will still be in the classroom, but in a much different capacity.  I will be working with students on building relationships with teachers and other students, working with teachers on building relationships with students and other staff members.  I will still teach, and am definitely still an educator, but what happens when a key part of your identity shifts?  I'm feeling the fracture right now.

If I'm going to be truly honest here, I have to tell you this.  I'm not the best mother.  When I get home from work, I am tired, I am cranky, I have been patient and soothing all day.   I try to locate patience from the depths of my diaphragm, but sometimes there just isn't any.  Sometimes I yell, sometimes I am rash, sometimes I slam doors and hide in the bathroom to take a deep breath.  I am trying to get better and recognize my own needs, so that I can be calmer and more patient with my kids.  So my identity as a teacher has been incredibly important to me, because in a time when motherhood is tough, I can hang on to my ability to do something well.

But now I'm casting aside my teacher identity to try on a new role.  I am terrified.  I love the classroom, have left teaching before for other educational pursuits and always end up back here.  I'll be at a school, I'll be working with kids, I'll have a classroom space that I can decorate and design with my team, but this feels so different in my brain, and I'm trying to wrap my head around the reality.  I will miss talking books and poetry.  I will miss the class discussions dissecting an author's intention or a symbol.

As I sat in graduation yesterday, I too, inhaled the charge that my colleague and dear friend Elizabeth was giving the class.  The world needs my idealism, my dreams, my love, in order to manage the chaos and disorder that we see, the violence that has become all too normal for my community.  I am looking forward to the new beginning as someone who can positively impact school culture, who can connect and unite students and staff.  I will learn so much from my colleagues and students, but I intend to prove that love is not weakness but a source of strength.  As I do this, I continue looking back, and will hopefully reconnect with folks who positively impacted me this summer.

As I work on finally completing my first book, 14 years after I began, I look forward to writing the next one.  The first step is the most difficult to take, but let's make this road loud and vibrant.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

when white supremacy needs to lose.

i am outraged and disgusted by the decision in the Alex Nieto case in San Fransisco. you can read A Letter to Privileged People if you know nothing about the case.  i am disheartened about the rise of white supremacy in the U.S. in 2016.  fueled by trump's outright bigotry and encouragement of violence (police and civilian) against his protesters, many of whom are people of color.  i am worried about this election, printing out registration forms for seniors, providing envelopes, stamps and mailing them for them. white supremacy needs to lose this year.  or...

i need to think seriously about raising my children in the United States.  they are not white, and i cannot always be there to protect them. on a very real level, this is my family's lives at stake.  my husband is profiled on a regular basis.  is this the best life we can get in this world?

i need to think seriously about my students.  i only get to keep them for the daylight hours, when the hood is most innocuous.  when the sun sets, the warriors come out to play, and i am starting to see why the military doesn't look like a bad option.  i know that many of them are in college, recent graduates and very politically active, but others, who don't graduate, aren't headed off to SUNY, they feel stuck in the hood. the military seems like a way out.  but i will not stand silently while my young women and men go off to die for a country that does not care about them.

reading The Other Wes Moore right now, and he's talking near the conclusion of the book about how the military has been more progressive on racial politics than the country it protects.  i don't know if i agree with him, but I’m starting to see travel not as an option, but a priority.

it’s time to get passports ready, to take leave from this, and gain perspective.  white supremacy needs to lose this year.  because the power is shifting, and we are finally taking control.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

february break, or why i'm a bad adult

no, i did not grade your papers.
no, i did not make progress reports.
no, i didn't scrub every inch of my house.
no, i didn't go anywhere outside of the city.
no, i didn't get my to-do list done.
no, i didn't deal with the adult things.

yes, i visited people i loved and missed.
yes, Sali and Nas got to see more of NYC.
yes, we had bold, new subway adventures.
yes, we made new friends.
yes, daily dance parties.
yes, i made the right choices this break.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

livejournal and diaryland

in 1998, i began writing zines.  i miss it so much. not long afterward, i started blogging.  writing out long, cryptic journal entries.  my diaryland has been called "my heart has hit ground zero" since 1999, before "ground zero" was an American thing, and it remains my secret diary.  with no audience, i love the public privacy it affords me.  not that anyone will necessarily want to read my writing after i am gone, but it will all be there as long as archives still exist.  i wish i had all of the entries written down.

there is something i love so much about paper, that blogging can't capture.  don't get me wrong, i love blogs, teach podcasts, use prezis, am constantly trying to teach new skills with regard to technology.  i am no guru, but i like to be aware of some of the tech things.  but, as a i get older, i also crave privacy more.  i don't want to put everything i know and own out there into the world.  having a voice in zines was about making connections with people, but now i need to tend to my connections, love and nurture them, instead of consistently adding more.  i want fewer friends, of quality, and the circle will always be drawn large, but my life is very social by nature of being a teacher.  sometimes i want calm and quiet.

the truth is, i couldn't handle zines anymore, anyway.  it takes me weeks to mail something out that i would've had out the door the next day in college - i have become so much less efficient than i used to be.  but i'm adulting in different ways, in caring for kids ways, and my time is spent laundry-ing, and cleaning and dancing and playing soccer, basketball, hockey and dinosaur stomping.  watching her learn to walk.  if the people are fewer now, so are the words.  life feels too full to stop and document all of the time.  paying bills on-time is a growth area.

mashallah.  it is a blessing to feel full, to have home be something i meditate on, and work to improve.  i am imperfect as a teacher, as a mom, as a woman, as a wife, but i try hard, and i keep showing up.   good luck on Regents, 1st semester is coming to a close and now it is time to act.  what will drive you to wake up in the morning?  this is what we're going to write about now.

ms. lauren