Scrambling My White Mind

When faced with the reality of my world, there has always been a driving force in me to do the right thing. Even in the midst of my many mistakes in life, I’ve found my vocation  as a teacher to be a wonderful resource for reaching the minds and hearts of young people with sound ideas, support and a safe space. I believe that the ability to make change in our own lives gives us the opportunity to provide that same chance to the people around us, the people we are close to, in this case, the children in my classroom.

I am reacting to an all day conference on restorative justice that I am attending with a group of colleagues in Portland for the weekend. As far as conferences go, today is another one that has caught me by surprise, similar to several I have attended over the summer. Thematically, the idea of social and racial justice has been important. Now I know those are key words that I am passionate about understanding and conceptualizing; however, this is a journey that began ardently for me over two years ago, and the ride just continues to get better.

Throughout my life I have been passionate about cultural awareness. Many times I have felt like the white guy trying to ride the cliche of a hero coming in to save the world. When I first became a teacher, I was going to be the multicultural advocate of the year, based simply upon the scripts I used to inspire my students on stage. Twenty five years later I continue to look for that script.

(to be continued)

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What Really Means Love Today

Lately the news has been grim. We seem to be riding on this roller coaster of misinformation that draws our compassion in far too many directions. It really appears that on any given day we could lose sight of what is really important to us, based upon where we see our world headed. At least for me that is a fear. Sometimes I wonder if it just self- persecution or if my insight is really trying to match up with my intuitions.

I’ve always been a feeling person, one that operates from the heart. I can sit in my home and feel tears when a dad is making sure his daughter is ready for college, because that same emotion impacted me when my little girl started her first year of college away from home. I remember, I cried all the way home, a two hour drive where I really thought I had lost my world and I wasn’t ever going to have it back. But fortunately she did return a stronger and more confident, now, young woman, whom I am so very proud of.

My son has had a similar effect on my life. I have a picture of him and I standing on the shores of the Temperance river – me kneeling and he standing next to me with his Twins cap and a smile – pressed lips smile. We were together and we had just had a lot of fun and it was a moment frozen in time that for many years afterwards I would struggle because I wanted that time back. He grew up, found his own life and moved into the next chapter of his young adulthood. I thought I lost him, and there were many nights when I cried myself to sleep. But now today, he’s a strapping young man, and he has a good life, one that I can be extremely proud of.

It is those moments of reflection that I do understand the meaning of love. It is such moments that I look at the world around us and I wonder if everyone feels the same way I do. I wonder if people watch the news and they sometimes lose hope because there are so many wrong things happening, that our minds cannot wrap ourselves around them soon enough. In trying to do so, we forget those moments in our lives that have greater value. It is the people we love that we are close to and count on knowing and seeing throughout the various chapters of our lives.

I think that’s the piece we have to stay focused on. What is important is to know the love we already have and can feel in our family, our loved ones, those friends we are closest to, the people we know we can trust and count upon on a daily basis. I think by doing that we can by example be representative of a good, peaceful march upon the negativity that surrounds us.

I think we all need to practice love.

Talking About Suicide

The other day I ran into an old friend. We had begun laughing about a coffee clutch of several gentlemen we knew that would gather daily in the summer. We’d both joined a couple of times, knew them all about as well as we knew one another, just regulars at a little coffee shop in our neighborhood. I hadn’t seen him for quite some time, and he told me that the circumstances of that gathering were a sad memory. I said I agreed, because I knew one of them had taken his own life a few years back. He nodded, we both sort of looked at each other, and then he told me another one had as well around the same time.

See, there were six guys, they all had morning routines, but they met for that 20 minutes or so for coffee and laughs, sometimes hung over, often times more powerful than the one next in their earnest desire to present their lives to one another – friends, coffee, beautiful summer mornings. I wondered about the remaining four, and how their lives had changed losing two friends, two members of a coffee clutch that seemed to last forever. I wondered about the true nature of a man’s loneliness to bring themselves to such desperate a measure as is, suicide.

See there is a lot of argument out there. A very dear friend of mine lost his brother many years ago to suicide. He would argue it is not a selfish act, whereby society for the most part might disagree because of the world left behind. But it is truly more than selfishness, because I would be willing believe not one successful suicide would ever imagine the fallout their actions will leave behind them. I do have to believe more often than not the act is one of a victim’s desperation so much so, they are unable to see any other options.

My friend and I on this day talked about the tragedy, and he said to me that there is more to life. He reminded me of his brother that he watched in chemo in a hospital room fighting every day of his life for a chance to live, and the same for all of the patients on that cancer ward.

See its hard to put it in a simple box of explanation. There certainly are those circumstances that lead to a sort of euthanasia frame of mind when struggling with a terminal and painful disease, but that raises the question of how some of the most afflicted people in the world will provide a more genuine smile than a healthy human being at the top of their game.

Suicide isn’t selective, we both agreed as we finished our coffee ready to go about our day. I think what was important for both of us was the validation of our existence and the appreciation for knowing two people whose lives had touched us in different ways and had made decisions we would always struggle to understand. In the meantime, we’d had a good talk and were lifted again in that standstill moment of time.

On Being White

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NEA stock photo


I have lived my entire life in a predominately white society. Growing up as a child I lived in a white community, later when going to college, more of the same, with a smattering of people of color entering my life gradually until moving to the Twin Cities in the early twenties. Even then, I still lived in an obviously white community, hung out with white friends, worked in places whereby most of my colleagues except for a few were white as well.

Along the way, I met people of color in various situations, college primarily, a few opportunities in the theatre and the occasional co-worker in hospital work. Actually, it was the workplace I met my first true black friend. He and I tested each other out for several months until we came to the conclusion we liked a lot of the same things, sports, politics and women. At work we became fast friends, and we supported each other through many difficult situations. We worked in a psychiatric hospital, where dealing with mental illness was a requirement of the job, skills learned taught us ideals of acceptance and tolerance in many tenuous situations. I think the importance of that relationship has a lot to do with how I would go on to treat people in all walks of my life, with an ultimate focus on respect and a desire to know about their lives and how they might impact my own.

So why do I choose today to speak of being white? I spent my morning and afternoon at the 2018 Conference on Racial and Social Justice, sponsored by the National Education Association, NEA. I knew well I would probably be a minority at the gathering, given the nature of the focus to be on its namesake, breaking down the barriers of racial injustice at the hands of a predominately white society, with a central focus being how educators handle themselves and treat their students in the classroom.

The irony of today’s session with the current events of the news is daunting in its clear connection to the atrocity of the recent Supreme Court Janus ruling and the immigration chaos happening on our border. In the conference which hosted over 800 attendees there was a general feeling of anger and frustration with the current focus toward public education, especially union driven ideals when it comes to protecting the interest of both the student and the teacher in the classroom. Couple that with the issue of racism as it permeates our society, and the break out sessions held much intrigue. I chose to sit in on a roundtable exploration of being a white teacher in a diverse classroom. This seemed readily appropriate because that is the demographic of my own classroom.

I specifically focused my day on sessions dealing with being that white teacher in a diverse setting. During that session I told a story of my own racial bias that blossomed into a heavy discussion of white privilege and the idea of whites needing to at one point, as called out by a member – figure out their own racism before they can address other issues. I immediately felt discomfort, but I was supposed to, this was all meant to be part of an all day learning session. The adage of how do you learn with disagreement and controversy holds well here. I wasn’t looking for a Kumbaya session, and it didn’t occur.

As the talk came to a close the moderators asked if everyone felt ok, and acknowledged hoping there were good takeaways. There were around eight of us at the table. I immediately said, ‘I’ve never felt more uncomfortable in my life.’ I meant it, but not in a negative way. I meant it as a moment of growth. People naturally asked why, and I told them that my feelings were that I am so wrapped up in my own privilege being a white man I have a long ways ahead toward figuring this out. My next statement then proved to be the pivotal learning moment.

I said to the group that this has been awesome, and I will take the next few days and process this, write about it, think about it and gradually come to terms with what my struggles are. A woman at the table then said to me, ‘I’m glad you’re uncomfortable. You get to go home and process this, and take a week, however long, and maybe write about it and feel better down the road.’ She then said, ‘I’m going to deal with it tonight, and in the morning and all day tomorrow, the next day, and every day as I have been my entire life.’ She was speaking from experience, she was African-American, and she was smiling, and I never felt more welcomed into a learning moment in my life. My whole pitch on what my takeaway should be, or needed to be, or ought to be, immediately shifted. I was grateful, and afterwards she and I had some time to talk and I shared a couple more stories, and so did she, and I walked away a little head blown by the moment.

So why am I suddenly having this revelation even though I’ve walked around thinking about these various aspects of racial discrimination and injustice most of my life and throughout all of my teaching career? My only answer is that I don’t experience it directly, and if I am going to be an ally for racial and social justice in my local and national society, I need to continue to listen in these moments rather than talk through my rationalizations.

This was one experience in a conference that filled me with a new knowledge of what injustice truly means to our society and our constantly changing world we live in today in both America and throughout the globe. There are many experiences ahead, and I do plan to keep listening.

We Took A Beating Today

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I read the news,

it was awful,

filled up with views

made me want to ‘manafort’

 

my breakfast, lunch and dinner,

so I chose not to eat

the garbage being spewed,

drank clean water all day instead.

 

We watched a conservative rally,

full arms and gusto

no more of this sally

way toward democracy bust-o.

 

I wonder about tomorrow,

the next day, thereafter

how do we get past the bullshit,

this scenario we are so not after.

 

Whose the minority now,

who’s pulling the strings

one clown with orange hair

seems awfully happy to be king.

 

I stole away from my anger

stood outside in the breeze

looked to the stars for an answer

a Strawberry Moon was my gaze.

 

I only bring this up to say good night,

beyond the hypocrisy of the day,

when we do look out into the night

sky we are all dependent on the same light.

 

Cast your eyes upon the moon,

for forever will be yours too soon.

People Speak of Fake News

 

People speak of fake news. Certain sources do indicate a far different and accurate story behind that of the young girl’s plight in the moment. There is also the reality of everyone’s reminder of the Obama camps and photos of 2014 – similar to today’s. The reality is behind every ‘story’ there is added research necessary to find the truth.

 

We teach our student in the classroom to back up sources in order to legitimize their own research on a topic. A student will sometime question the reasoning. I will often tell a student it is not because I want to catch them plagiarizing, more because I wish they might learn how to defend their own thinking on a topic.

 

So then what might we call the end game on this ‘Time Magazine’ photoshopped cover story? The truth is both photos did occur. Let’s call it poetic justice.

 

In one light a little girl is hysterical perhaps not for the reasons the editors would like the reader to believe; however I would believe her affect represents the many faces of children we don’t see in photo ops.

 

In another light we see a smug expression on the face of the President of the United States looking down on something he shows disdain toward. (Personally I think a bad putt that when the camera is off he will tap in with his foot) The fact is he is looking detached and disconnected about something.

 

So let’s look at the picture for what it really is, a horrific artistic rendering of an American society at odds with itself and unable to step within one another’s comfort zone to offer love and support.

 

What is more vital than pointing out the inauthentic nature of the picture is to use this as an authentic learning moment and begin to do what is right for our people and the country. In the words of Spike Lee, let’s ‘Do The Right Thing.’

Photo – Time Magazine

Why I attended a Trump rally

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AMSOIL arena – Duluth


I was recently given tickets to attend the Trump rally in Duluth, Minnesota last night. Given the controversy around the issues occurring on our southern border, I felt like this was my closest opportunity I might have to put myself in a place to show resistance to his actions and the impact he is having on our society and populace. I thought just being part of the gathering of protesters would be sufficient to try to get my point across. I brought a couple of signs with me, that I wanted to hold in rallying support of the opposition. IMG_9316

This billboard stayed in my car because attendees were not allowed to bring signage into the convention. I actually had visions of someone taking a bat to the back window of my car where I had it visually placed, but we parked quite a distance away from the rally so it was not noticeable. I believe that merits the experience I had at this, my first presidential rally. I brought a former student of mine, a decade past his graduation, someone I knew had similar views to my own. We talked about what we were about to experience, but really frankly had no idea what we were about to encounter.

In all honesty, I genuinely believed if I found myself in the arena I would find similar minded people to rally around as we listened to 45 spout the same rhetoric he has for the entirety of his presidency. I was never so wrong in my life. We encountered protesters along the way, in fact, delightfully I ran into another former student holding a wonderful sign of protest – a biblical verse – Matthew 25:34-46. I made it clear to her I had tickets to go inside, but I was on the side of the protesters. We caught up for a few moments, I took her picture and told her there would be a lot of people back home, happy to see her posture on this day. The response from social media indicated I was correct.

This morning, in reflection on the experience, I do believe if I had just driven up to protest I would have been completely satisfied on one level. Having tickets to go inside the arena and experience the rhetoric from 45 is one thing; however, the greater takeaway as my companion pointed out was the mob-mentality of the audience.There was absolutely nothing this leader of our country could say that would diminish the rabid nature of the crowd’s reaction to his every word.

I suppose in reality that is a normal reaction to a crowd of supporters. There was just something different about this energy, and that is what I struggled with for the entire time we were in the convention. We left about fifteen minutes before the end because I frankly could not stomach any more of the speech. Again he talked about similar topics of his concern – numbers in attendance, creating more jobs for African-Americans, the fake-news media section that he encouraged his audience to provide a unifying roar of boos and catcalls, and of course a chant of ‘lock her up’ to get the crowd on the same page. In addition he was adamant toward making a point of isolating any protesters that he then had promptly escorted out of the convention.

At one point he criticized a long-haired protester, asking whether he was a man or woman, telling him to go back home to his mom and get a haircut. I was a little concerned the people I am close to in my life, might fear it was me because I presently have long hair, but it wasn’t me – I was the one standing nearby that kept my eyes down for the majority of the speech and occasionally would clap three or four times so those around me wouldn’t get a sense that I wasn’t there for the right reasons. He once asked the news media to pan the crowd, and I diligently stooped down and pretended to tie my shoes. I was wearing sandals.

That is what I was truly most nervous about, becoming exposed. This was no environment to oppose the speaker, I mean, even a look in the eye felt like exposure, and I did fear for my safety. This is the first presidential convention I have ever attended, but I do not think that is a normal attendee reaction no matter the side of the fence their views might land. (Perhaps people will now reference the Democratic convention of 1968 in Chicago and rightfully so, but was that about party or their angst toward the police at the time? I was nine years old, I only remember the television coverage and some horrific story about Dan Rather’s behavior in a taxi ride.) I watched the room lather with 45’s constant berating nature and bully tactics that were not presidential in any regard.

His speech was about him and his accomplishments thus far. Yes, one can argue that he has made strides with North Korea, but we really don’t know the long term impact, outside of the hostages being released, that is huge. But beyond that what is the impact? There were no reassuring words on his part, in fact at one point he said, ‘maybe it won’t work, we just don’t know.’ My student at that point  said to me later I think that is the first time he had ever heard Trump go back on a declarative statement. I couldn’t argue.

We decided to leave around 10 or 15 minutes before he finished, partly because I was feeling anxious and partly because we weren’t hearing anything new, and we knew the crowd control was going to be crazy leaving. I said to my companion, I could feign a heart issue in the event people questioned our departure but beyond specific glares and questionable expressions, we were free to leave early.

We got outside and found a good amount of protesters awaiting the end of the convention. I won’t say thousands because that wouldn’t be true, but there were numbers, and despite feeling like that is where I should have been standing, a part of me was glad I did stand inside to experience the speech. Here’s why.

I’ve always believed it is important to listen to both sides. I was raised in a family that supported both sides of the ticket and were always able to dialogue about all the relevant issues no matter the stance. I don’t believe in the vision of Donald Trump. I think it is a sham and he has no idea what the ramifications of his rhetoric have on our society. Or maybe he does, and if that is the case, that is an even scarier prospect. He made a comment last night about no families being split up at the border last night, and I haven’t read the news today, and I have no comment on that, all I can do is think about the weeks before hand – the damage is done.

In conclusion, it was the mindset of the people walking into the arena that frightened me more than anything else. I saw a young woman of no more than twenty wearing an American flag that blended into a confederate flag. Why?!? IMG_9321What is it we are trying to create in our society today? What is it this man is doing to the sanctity of our country that is built around the tenet of supporting everyone, no matter their background, or religious affiliation or color of their skin?

 

 

I’m generalizing now, so it is time to finish my point.  Ironically, I’m listening to David Bowie’s ‘This Is Not America’ as I write my last words.

So why did I attend this convention? I was given tickets. I live less than 200 miles away. I wanted first hand to see how we are reacting to this man’s hand on our country’s rewards and ills, and last night I experienced that fraction of populace that supports his ideals. Correct, he is our president, my president and as an American I am asked to respect the office of the POTUS, but listening to a man simply try to lather a crowd with ill meant rhetoric and sad commentary on our society while constantly patting himself on the back is not what is going to lead us in the right direction. The reality of this movement leaves me scared and bewildered.

I can only be grateful that I was in the audience with a mindful companion, because quite frankly I don’t know how I might have handled being in the AMSOIL arena in Duluth alone.

Thanks for listening, and for anyone questioning my loyalties or political leaning, trust me they haven’t changed, if anything they have been strengthened. Let’s go forward … somehow.


Pictures are my own