Building A Better World
Last year, I just couldn’t write an essay for #31DaysIBPOC because everything left me feeling like I had nothing to write about. This year, thoughts are coming much easier and I can find the energy to write about something, but what? I thought hard to remember what fulfills me mostly as an educator but, also as a librarian, a mother and as a Black woman. I wanted to write about what sustains my hope and brings me joy. And then, I remembered.
It seems that we are learning a little more about this virus, that perhaps we’re learning how to safely move about. I prefer calling this opening back up rather than going back to normal. I think we have to know our ‘normal’ was ‘abnormal’. While there are some vestiges prior to the pandemic worth holding on to on both individual and collective levels, there is no societal ‘normal’ to cling to in the wake of such massive loss, grief and unrest. So much was laid bare over the past year, so much oppression that we didn’t need then and will not accept now. Hopefully, we’re working even harder to know what matters, to protect what matters and to be part of what matters. I know I am!
Do we dare hope?
I think of all that is fragile now. From the environment, to supply chains, ways of knowing and individual psyches, especially individual psyches. Dare I hope too hard for what is to come?
I don’t know that I can teach anyone how to sustain their own hope, I mean I was a good teacher but not quite that good! Perhaps I left some inspiration, some dreams undeferred along the way. Isn’t that what any teachers does, isn’t that why we teach?
Back when I was still in the classroom, I had dreams and hopes of my own. If, after all a good teacher is a good learner, isn’t she also a dreamer of dreams?
For me, the world has always been the best classroom. I remember the year that I unofficially christened ‘The Field Trip Year’. I figured out how to use public and private transportation with my class I identified numerous events around the city with student pricing and we were off! My students in that tiny, historically Black parish school in Indianapolis had numerous experiential learning opportunities in science and the arts. Being in the world reminded us we were of the world.
We can come to realize how small our world is and how big the rest of the world is but, even with our wings clipped, we can visit beyond the margins of our cage.
Back then, when the world was more open, I took to the skies through fellowships, seminars and workshops as much as possible. February meant deadlines with the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Lily Foundation or Fulbright. More random, and easier to miss deadlines, came from the American Economic Association, the East Asian Studies Center at Indiana University or the Laurasian Institution. I wanted to immerse myself in real learning and these applications resulted in the most precious and memorable learning opportunities one could ever hope for. Travel, for me, was bliss.
It began the year I was teaching African American History and my colleagues would place every piece of mail they received about Africans or African Americans on my desk. I read them. I applied for the GPS Fulbright to Cameroon that was announced in one piece of mail and I was accepted. I could read about African countries in books but once I went, I knew the realities and I wanted more. Oh, was I able to find more!
When my Black students dared to suggest all Asians looked alike, I could show them the picture of my Japanese quilt group and ask them to show me two people who looked alike. There’s no economics class like one discussing markets in a Russian classroom and there’s no better way to approach the global dynamics of racism than in Salvador, Bahia. In discussing the historical presence of Chinese, Italian and Jewish Americans in the Mississippi Delta and why these groups were there, students could begin to see the complexity of race in America. When we studied WWII in US History classes, I could show them photos of the soldiers I met from the 442nd, of remnants from the bombing of Pearl Harbor or I could mention the duty of German school children to the German cemeteries in France and the call to peace that exists in Hiroshima today. Of course, the ultimate trips were when I could pair up with other teachers to take our students overseas. I eventually lost touch with these students but I do know that all but one went on to college and that she went into military service. I admit that I’m a nerd and I truly value my travels as learning experiences but, there were also fun times like watching the sunset in Rhumsiki, up in the Mandara Mountains and fishing for piranha in the Amazon.
Leave here, my Black friends, my Latinx and my Asian American friends, and get the opportunity to experience what it feels like to be seen first as an American. Leave here and begin to feel whole. Seek your bliss. And, then teach some more.
There’s still a world out there and we are all still a part of it, not apart from it. I’m not going out much tomorrow, not next month or two either but, I hold on to this dream to continue expanding the margins. I dare to hope.
Now, in this moment as I savor my memories, I know that I don’t want to go back where I’ve already been. A whole new world, new opportunities await me, and I hope to continue finding joy!
This blog post is part of the #31DaysIBPOC Blog Series, a month-long movement to feature the voices of indigenous and teachers of color as writers and scholars. Please CLICK HERE to read yesterday’s blog post by Grace Choi (and be sure to check out the link at the end of each post to catch up on the rest of the blog series).