Last week in Boston at the International Literacy Association 2016 Conference, a courageous conversation ensued and created a ripple effect with far-reaching effects. I was fortunate to be present when my educator friend, Cornelius Minor, opened an impromptu forum with three simple questions.
Why did you come? How do you feel? How do you hope to feel?
All present were encouraged to engage in an open conversation on racial relations to help us grapple with the troubling issues of the times. As reflective educators, we listened, partnered to discuss the bystander/upstander concept, and pondered ways to bring the conversation to students on an academic level. The discussion centered on a positive perspective so that trust was built among educators from around the states. During the short time together, a community evolved.
After the first reflective pause, Sara Ahmed's statement, "Be vigilant of our own biases," prompted me to complete a quick recheck of my past actions and how I have dealt with the issues. I reflected on the amount of racial tensions multiplying throughout the world, leading to a disregard of kindness to fellow man. I thought about the word hate and how it has led to violence and the uprooting of seeds of love. I questioned why there is general unrest and a sense of disconnectedness in the world.
Why did I come to Cornelius Minor's session at ILA 16?
I came to hear the conversation that would push me out of my comfort zone. How did I feel? To say the least, I felt uneasy. On the other hand, I felt empowered to have a voice in a conversation with thoughtful educators. What I hoped to feel was a sense of balance when I left the room.
During the courageous conversation, positivity flowed as we grappled with the issues and our emotions. We confronted the uncomfortable and connected as a body of collective practitioners. We provided avenues to explore, knowing that much needs to be accomplished.
From this conversation, words started spinning in my head. A draft of a poem recording my impressions of the powerful interaction at ILA 16 evolved. I listened, wove words together, and created. Dr. Stephen Peters' words, "Courage and fear cannot co-exist," resounded with me and brought closure to my thoughts.
From a powerful ninety-minute happening, the following thoughts were designed into a digital composition.
When I left the room, I was almost speechless. The effect of connected educators trying to make sense of the unthinkable stayed with me as a hope for future conversations with family, friends, and educators. One week later, I am still thinking and engaging in face-to-face and Twitter conversations on the issue of man's inhumanity to man.
What can be done to stop fear from rearing its head and breaking down walls?
Times are changing. No longer can we skirt the issues of world politics and biases that lead mankind to become involved in destructive outcomes. I believe educators stand on the precipice of change. Connected together, we can:
- Embrace change
- Build cultures of trust in active learning classrooms
- Engage students in courageous conversations, allowing all voices to be heard and all identities addressed
- Provide the open space for students to explore their feelings through writing
- Continue grappling with tough issues as a body of practitioners
It is my hope that as connected educators and colleagues, we can band together to raise our voices as a collective body of thoughtful practitioners of life. We have the power to make a difference in a world ridden with disconnect. It our voices that can be heard and our voices that will impact our students' and children's lives. We can become the difference makers that will bring about change.