The Good Lie: From High School Students’ Perspective

Many students in my Advanced Placement Government class have had little access to diversity within their classes.  Each day I am working to help them question the way the government and society functions so they can be future government leaders/citizens/activists.  Last week I rewarded them after a particularly grueling reading assignment with a movie day.  The two best words for students and teachers alike…movie…day!!!

We had been learning about the American political landscape and ideologies.  We were wrestling together with tough questions surrounding immigration, racial tensions, lack of minorities in political office, HB2, and income inequality.  The students had read data from Freedom House and evaluated the levels of freedom within countries around the world.  I tread lightly as a facilitator in this class and let students start to form ideas.  For many students this is hard at first because they want to know what is “right.”  My students, like most of us who have grown up in the United States, think about ethics and politics in a purely Western/Eurocentric context (Lock Swarr & Nagar 2010, 78-79, 171).  So, without telling students what to think or beating them over their heads with ideas that seem foreign, I learn with them.  I struggle with them.  We evolve together and try to step out of our comfortable cocoon and into the world.

I try to use these tough discussions as a way for students to begin to “produce, reinforce, recreate, resist, and transform ideas about race, gender, and differences in the classroom” (Mohanty 2003, 194).  This is a safe place to start building ideas/thoughts/future programs, and it is static…ever-evolving and changing.  This is the first time for many students in my class to talk about race, injustice, sexuality in a way that is open.  In a manner that doesn’t necessarily have all the right answers, but calls for us to begin to think about issues instead of keeping our heads in the sand.

The movie I chose for us to watch was “The Good Lie.”  This movie is about children living during the second Sudanese Civil War who eventually make the arduous trek to a refugee camp in Kenya, and are then brought years later to the United States.  Many of the actors in the film were survivors of the Sudanese Civil War.  As the students watched the movie, I watched their faces.  A few of them let tears slip down their face or had a look of horror as they watched the children make their way to Kenya.  Once in the United States, there was laughter and faces of awe as my students watched the new refugees navigate their new lives.  A collective gasp occurred when two of the refugees were asked by their grocery store manager to throw away expired food after spending years hungry.

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After the film, we discussed.  The students were all surprised by how many people lived in refugee camps together.  One student said, “I learned just how hard it can be to live in it. I could not imagine having to stay in a refugee camp for thirteen years like they did. Like the lady said there were around 100,000 refugees at that camp. All of them like the people in the film, waiting for the opportunity to be put on the list to fly to the United States to start a new life.” And another student explained, I learned “It can be rough in a refugee camp, because often times there are thousands of people that need to be taken care of so each person does not get a lot of care. The food given to them is bland and easy to make, which means their diets are not very good.”

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Students were very interested in talking about life in the United States for refugees.  All of the students described the culture shock experienced by the refugees in the film.  Some students expressed these thoughts by saying:

 “It was hard for them to fit in and understand everything that we did. They did not accept some of the things that we did in the U.S.”

“It is a really big and hard adjustment with all the technology in the US. Also, the wasting of food really seemed to upset them, considering in the US we really do waste a lot.”

“It was really hard to adapt to another way of living. All the technology and culture were completely different to them. So they had to adapt to all these new things. Like the telephone or cars.”

“It is hard for them to adjust to the different style of living that we have here in the U.S. They didn’t know how to use a phone or how the electricity worked in their house.”

These are all cultural references/experiences these students had never thought about before.  They had many questions about living in the US as a refugee and they felt that it would be a very hard transition for refugees.  One student explained, “There really isn’t enough people helping those refugees get accustomed, in my opinion. I was surprised that the sister, Abital, would get separated from her family.”

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I asked the students if they thought their peers knew about life in refugee camps or what life was like for refugees who entered the United States.  They did not think their peers knew about much concerning refugees.  They voiced what they wanted their peers to know:

“I wish my peers didn’t take things for granted because the refugees have practically nothing and they have had a much worse life than the rest of us have had. I also wish that they knew that it is hard to switch lives so suddenly.”

“What hardships they went through, lives lost, the danger.”

“How many people are actually in the refugee camps and how food and medicine was scarce”

“I wish they could just see these children, watching their parents get murdered or their siblings eaten by wild animals. I think it would truly change them and make everyone so appreciative of what we are given.”

“How hard it was for them. They have been through so many things and they just want to get away from it and start a new life.”

“Their story and were they came from and that they are people just like us.”

“That it takes more than just funding to allow refugees to survive in a country like the United States. They need people to show them the ways of our society and allow them to make the adjustment. They will not survive in this country without being shown how to function correctly.”

I recently read about the Ananya Dance Theatre and this group of women is using dance and water to bring awareness to women’s rights/struggles within historical contexts and across borders.  These women are using what they know in order to speak to audiences and reconstruct shared narratives (ibid. 147-165).  We ended class with a challenge to spread awareness.  To take what we knew how to do and continue wrestling with (in)justice in ways that we knew how. Students committed to spread awareness in their own ways via social media.  Two students even committed to fighting injustice within the school when they heard comments that could be considered racist, sexist, or derogatory.   So much of our discussion revolved around the idea of “awareness.”  Becoming aware of other people’s lives, identities, struggles.  And then mobilizing in light of that awareness.

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Lock Swarr, A. and Nagar, R. (Eds.). (2010). Critical transnational feminist praxis. NY: SUNY Press.

Talpade Mohanty, C. (2003). Feminism without borders: Decolonizing theory, practicing solidarity.  Durham, NC:Duke University Press.

Floyd Yoga Jam: Leveraging Privilege

A few weeks ago I attended Floyd Yoga Jam. It’s my favorite event of the year. There are people from all over the country who march to the beat of their own drum, and everyone gets along. It’s my own utopia where differences are celebrated, hugs are given freely, people dress however they’d like, and sustainability is celebrated. I was fortunate enough to meet one of my yoga heroes, Dianne Bondy, this year and take a few of her classes. She is an ambassador for the Yoga and Body Image Coalition, and she fights to bring the healthy benefits of yoga to all people no matter race, income, or body weight.

While reading and watching what is happening in Charlotte after the shooting of Keith Lamont Scott, my heart is heavy. I have been watching violent protests on the news and hours of peaceful protests on friends’ snapchat and social media feeds. Race is an issue that needs to be discussed. The black community is hurting. They are calling for justice…justice for their race, justice against capitalistic natures of our society, and they are asking to be heard. Dianne Bondy encouraged all the people at Floyd Yoga Jam to “leverage their privilege.” Instead of looking at the privilege given to each of us as something negative or as something we deserve…to leverage for a greater cause…for greater unity.

In my Transnational and Postcolonial Feminist Perspectives course, so much my reading revolves around the idea of community and fighting as a collective. An organization I have been reading about that is fighting to organize Guyanese female workers suggests that to fight against the order and racialized polarity, organizations must “work across classed and racialized divides that serve to separate women and communities by engaging in acts of citizenship building that create more equitable social relations and communities” (Lock Swarr & Nagar 2010, 109). This is relevant to wok across any divide…especially in regards to what is happening in Charlotte. So how do we do it? How do we leverage our privilege…any privilege. How do we create dialogue and fight along with others while not stifling others’ voices? If small pockets of understanding, trust, and love can exist in places like Floyd, Va, how can we spread? Below is a video summarizing my four days at Floyd Yoga Jam. The beginning of the video includes a powerful message from Dianne Bondy about race before one of her yoga classes:

Lock Swarr, A. and Nagar, R. (Eds.). (2010). Critical transnational feminist praxis. NY: SUNY Press.

Day of Hope: Western Baltimore

“To be black in the Baltimore of my youth was to be naked before the elements of the world, before all the guns, fists, knives, crack, rape, and disease. The nakedness is not an error, nor pathology. The nakedness is the correct and intended result of policy, the predictable upshot of people forced for centuries to live under fear.”

― Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

I recently traveled to Baltimore with Mercy Chefs to help with Day of Hope.  Mercy Chefs has been traveling to Baltimore on a regular basis since the death of Freddie Gray.  As an organization who believes strongly in sitting together with a hot meal during a tough time, they have stepped up to serve at Day of Hope in an effort to bring local police and community members together. Police Chief Russell talked about the importance of these events throughout Baltimore and said after a Day of Hope event “We go on an average of about 90 days with a 23% crime reduction in these areas.”  This most recent Day of Hope was held in Western Baltimore at the Easterwood Recreation Center and Park.  Ray Lewis (the linebacker) attended and promoted his solar energy company as a way to provide jobs for those in the community.  The local drum line and dancers attended the event as entertainment and everyone left with full bellies, groceries for home, and supplies for school.

As I entered the park at 7am with the mobile kitchen in tow (I wasn’t driving, don’t worry!), I was reminded of the conclusions drawn by Douglas and Peck (2013, p. 86),

“education of Blacks has occurred and will continue to occur outside of schools. We believe there is potential for greater utilization of community-based pedagogical spaces to enhance the academic and life experiences of all students, and students of African descent in particular. In a time when policy makers are trying to address the overrepresentation of Black men in the penal system and scholar-practitioners are trying to close the achievement gap in schools between White students and students of color, this study offers an important reminder of the significance of alternative avenues in the educative experience. In this respect, our study challenges the orthodoxy that reforming schools, alone, will lead to greater academic success.”

As an educator, I know that many of my students do not necessarily feel comfortable coming to school.  They have negative experiences with authority and many of their parents have similar stories to tell.  As this event began to take place, I thought about the negative exposure many of the community members in this western Baltimore community had felt dealing with police, teachers, and to generalize…white people.  And even though this was just one day, it was one day that unified police and civilian, volunteer and community member, teacher and those who learn outside of the white walls of a classroom.

I also saw things I did not expect.  I saw a culture that celebrates living differently than I do.  I saw people sitting on their front stoops talking before the event instead of texting their ETA.  I saw kids playing basketball by the park entrance.  When I entered their space they told me about how they do this everyday…it doesn’t matter the heat…it gets them out of the house and together.  I saw celebration through dance and rap and loud laughter.  I saw people who lived a completely different life than me and I wanted to celebrate with them.  But I also knew they were celebrating in this way because of oppression they had faced.  This community had not been privy to the cultural privilege I’ve received my entire life.  This community had seen a lot.  Survived a lot.  And I hope using events such as these can stimulate cultural conversations and unify communities.  I hope the crime rate is still down after this event as Chief Russell predicted based on the past.  And I hope that we can learn to celebrate and embrace our differences.  To have tough conversations and wrestle with reality.  To cry with each other and eat with other and dance with each other.

“Then the mother of the murdered boy rose, turned to you, and said, “You exist. You matter. You have value. You have every right to wear your hoodie, to play your music as loud as you want. You have every right to be you. And no one should deter you from being you. You have to be you. And you can never be afraid to be you.”

― Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

 

Douglas, T. M., & Peck, C. (2013). Education by Any Means Necessary: Peoples of African Descent and Community-Based Pedagogical Spaces. Educational Studies,49(1), 67-91. doi:10.1080/00131946.2012.749477

Modern Art Project

To say this semester has been difficult would be an understatement.  There are more students, more IEPs (individualized education plans), and more paperwork than ever.  If I had a dollar for every eye roll or cuss word that was spoken to me this semester, I could retire and live a comfortable life.  But I don’t.  Instead, I have a bunch of students who I have to remind myself to love every day.  Most days, I fake it until I make it.  And a teaching friend who goes out to sit on the dock and drinks a fruity drink with me each Friday.

One student in particular has been a challenge.  The first week of school, I had to send her out for yelling and cussing in class.  When she came back, I sat with her in the hall and told her I cared and that I wanted her to succeed.  She said she would try better.  It was an uphill battle.  Days where she wouldn’t listen to a word I said or everything illicited an eye roll and an under the breath comment.  Days of tears over her boyfriend.  And days of just straight up yelling.  She called me names that I won’t repeat, and every day that she showed up, I winced as I forced myself to speak calmly to her and to show her compassion even though I didn’t feel it.  I’d see her in the halls and try to strike up conversation, and she would ignore me.  I came to a point where I had finally given up.  There are just some kids that you can’t reach.

Five minutes before the last bell to signal Christmas break, she handed me a present wrapped in notebook paper.  It was her modern art project that described who she was as a person.  The wrapping described what the project meant and why she chose specific colors.  Words such as “hurt, insanity, pain, guilty, and hopeful” scribbled on one side. She wanted me to have it.  Me.  The teacher who she couldn’t stand.  Who made her do her work and try even though she claimed she had no plan to graduate.

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And I’m reminded how God waits on me.  How I curse him and rebel and he keeps loving me.  Keeps longing for me. Keeps fighting for me.  I’m reminded that this season is a season of waiting.  That gifts like this are only meaningful after you’ve overcome.  Gifts like this only matter to the person who has persevered.  Who has given all that they have to offer and when they’re ready to give up, hope shines through.  And I’m thankful God sent me this glimmer of hope.  I’m thankful His son died for this somewhat ugly world.  I’m thankful for the waiting.

The Ugly Truth About Dating in 2015: Told By a 30 Year Old

You meet a guy. You’d like to say in a bookstore, but it was in a pub. You talk for hours. About God and books and childhood memories. He asks for your number. You smile as you look over his shoulder to make sure he gets it right. You check your phone constantly for 78 hours. He never texts. You mourn the imaginary life you had created with him backpacking across Europe.

You meet a guy. You’d like to say in church, but it was online. You think he finds you so interesting. He wants to meet. You go for a walk. He takes the street side. He loves how smart you are. He isn’t intimidated. You text for weeks. When you try to add him on social media, he blocks you. He’s married. You mourn his marriage. You mourn your imaginary marriage.

You meet a guy. It doesn’t matter where. Your standards are so low. He doesn’t open doors for you. He looks around the restaurant at other people when you talk. He texts later, “you into FWB.” You urban dictionary the phrase…”friends with benefits.” You think…that’s my value. No commitment. No future. No strings attached.

Then you cross the bridge over the ocean with tears in your eyes. Ready to text Mr. Unavailable, Mr. Can’t Open Doors, Mr. Not Worth My Time. And you look up. And the sky is purple and pink and orange. It’s as if God is screaming, “You are worth more, my daughter.” And a walk in woods results in a beautiful red leaf that makes you stop and stare at the ground. And friends from across the entire country call you and love you. And another friend says he will be more intentional about spending time with you and you run together and have coffee.

And tomorrow will be a new day. And a guy will text, “DTF?” (beware of using urban dictionary on that one). And the guy who never texted will text at 1am. And you’ll wonder how couples ever make it work in this country. But you have to remember that sunset. If nothing else darling, please remember that sunset.

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It is the Journey: A Lesson Learned Outside My Comfort Zone

I had the opportunity (read terrifying experience) to travel to a city and finish my YogaWorks training. I live in a small town. I know everyone here. Basically, all people here are famous. We walk down the street and peoplIMG_7451e say “hello” and ask about our day or our parents or our job. The only scary thing here is being caught at the super market by half the people at your church with no make-up on. So I filled up my gas tank, bought a Pellegrino, and left my comfort zon
e to go study in DC. Did I mention that I cannot parallel park? Not even a little bit. Not even at all.

The people I met during this training were amazing. They didn’t have it all together like I thought they would because they lived in a city and I lived in a conservative, tiny, beach town. We were all humans trying our best, failing constantly, and living our lives.

I met a guy at this training. He was so fit and strong. I knew he wasn’t afraid of anything. He killed arms balances and inversions. His instagram was full of perfect pictures in amazing poses.

Tonight I saw a photo he posted. He genuinely looked happy. I could see the light seeping out of his body…joy. And I commented. I told him he looked happy. To my surprise, he replied, “Thank you Elizabeth! Handstands are a continual journey for me, and I try to look at the bright side of those trial and error moments.” And then I realized…it is the journey. And we are all on one. We never reach the destination. It is a continuous struggle between acceptance and growth. The moment we get there…we will always need to be somewhere else. So why not embrace the trials? Embrace the errors? Find beauty in the every day moments? And help each other in our journeys?

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Drum Circles, Thin Spaces, and Labyrinths: Coming Home

I’ve written about thin spaces before.  According to the St. Francis by the Sea website, thin places are “places where people have sensed the intersection of the sacred and secular, of heaven and earth.”

Here’s the thing about thin spaces…sometimes they happen when you least expect them. And often times they happen with unexpected people.  I was invited to a drum circle on International Peace Day at an Episcopalian Church. We met around a labyrinth. As I arrived, a friend asked me to light some sage. She was walking the labyrinth with incense. Everyone was so welcoming. Hugs, handshakes, and eyes and ears that wanted to hear each others’ stories. And then about 75 of us sat around this labyrinth and we made music. Music with drums, egg shakers, tin cans, or anything we could find. We shed our masks we’d donned because society told us we should wear them. I looked out at the crowd. All ages and backgrounds and faiths stepping up and letting go and laughing in unison. Swaying to the music. Putting glitter on our faces like it was fairy dust. The Reverend looking on with a glint in his eye and one of the biggest smiles I’ve ever seen. And those moments were thin. Those moments I felt God in the breeze as He looked down at us. I felt Heaven come a little closer. And I was a little more home.

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