Reflections and Transitions

change

This will be my last blog entry on wordpress and in the Pina’s Lens collection. I have not decided to stop writing, I decided to launch my own website this fall!

 

WHAT & WHY?

I started this blog back in January of 2013 while I was attending Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) for my Ed.M in Secondary Mathematics Curriculum and Instruction. Since then, I have taught for 4 consecutive years at Codman Academy Public Charter School, began to take care of and raise my little sister, proposed to my long-time girlfriend, our President went from Black and competent to an Electoral College voted egotistical selffish lying Businessman, and I became one hell of a math teacher!

I went from:

noidea in the classroom (at least that’s what the 1st year felt like)

To:

crushingit by implementing student-centered strategies that increase meaningful student engagement, using differentiation, and fostering a growth-mindset within my students… ALL WITH DATA TO PROVE IT!

This is why, I am starting my own website. I can post articles and updates about my ongoing research (identify and using the principles of videogame engagement in the classroom), my work with the “Better Math Teaching Network“, my poetry, and some of the best practices and teaching videos I have learned and or developed over my teaching career. I think this is a move in the right direction for my professional career, and what could be an effective attempt to merge my passions of poetry, teaching, and videogames.

 

REFLECTIONS

I went through all my entries and had all the feelings. Feelings of embarrassment due to grammar and spelling errors in many entries (I’ll work on that more thoroughly in the future). Feelings of confusion as some entries really served no purpose (like my first entry). Feelings of amusement and admiration (can someone admire his or herself?) as quite a few entries were raw, reflective, honest, and attempted to be provocative.

This website will out-live me, but it doesn’t have to be my legacy. I could choose to delete, update, and or edit some of these entries, but I do not want to. Each entry represents a time-stamp in my life. However, there are a three entries that I feel represent my journey from January 2013 to July 2017, and I recommend you to read them on your own time.

#1 “Sleepless in Cambridge

This entry was written after my graduation from HGSE.

“…The cigar is about half-way done when I notice the duck walking along the dock. With one magical flap of her wings, the duck takes off down the river. I wonder what that duck was thinking? Could she be feeling the same way?

Words are so hard to find, yet each component of my lexicon is bursting from my mind. I do not share these words to seek any sympathy, but to subdue the headache that has been itching to come forth.

The sun is beginning to kiss the horizon, making it blush from surprised affection. I stare in awe…”

#2 “Don’t Call Me a Conspiracy Theorist!

This entry was written as a response to a conversation I had with a friend.

“… I prefer to be called a Critical Theorist for two reasons: (1) The act of activating ‘outside-the-box-thinking’ and trying to connect events thru an analysis of cause and effect and benefits IS AN ACT OF CRITICAL THINKING! However, there are many people who do try to ‘connect-dots’ after conducting some research, and end up forming in-conclusive conclusions. Hence reason (2) The connotations of being called a Conspiracy Theorist is to be parallel to being crazy, over-reacting, and over imaginative… it becomes dismissive. To be dismissive of someone, no matter how “out-there” their views may be, is not a good thing; in fact their view should be analyzed and concluded to be wrong, right, or shades or truthfulness…”

#3 “UnSpeaking the N-Word (Conclusion… for now)

This entry was apart of a series (three total) in which I was personally pursing and reflecting on the word “Nigger”, and how I use and hear it.

“…Over this series of blog entries I have explored my own experiences with listening, saying, reading, and discussing the N-Word. I have now read countless articles, watched a few hours of youtube clips, read responses and heated debates amongst my friends, and listened to some of my favorite musical artists.

Here is my conclusion for the N-Word, for now:

“I have decided to stop using any variation of the word nigger no matter the intent behind my use of the word” 2/13/2014 @ 12:58am…”

#Bonus “My Five Stages of a New Single Guardianship

This entry is one of the most personal entries I ever wrote because it was a open letter reflection about my mother’s health and stepping-up to become my sister’s guardian.

“…Most of all, I appreciate you for reading this. The most common thing I am told, “if you need anything let me know.” But, the most common response I have, internally, is “well, what do I need?” Five dollar gift cards to Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, or a local grocery store would be extremely helpful. Continued request to hangout by my friends are very helpful. But, the most important request I have for anyone who is my family, friend, or just a reader, is a check-in. Call my up and see how I am doing. Send me a random letter. Send me a random facebook message of a funny story. Send me a random text. Send this blog to a mutual friend who you think should know about what I am going through…”

 

TRANSITIONS

Aside from launching my website, I am also going to start teaching at a new school this fall. My decision to leave my current school is a personal and professional choice.

Personally, I look forward to working at a school where I feel my work with be valued and I will be valued beyond the relationships I build with my students. As a Black male math teacher, with a masters from HGSE, and experienced, I deserve to be treated and viewed as valued. I have constantly received the message that “I’m special” because of what I have been able to achieve; rather what I haven’t done: having multiple ‘baby mamas’, a criminal record, back credit, living with my parents, and a history of drug use and or dealing. To have constantly received that message over and over for years, it’s no wonder I struggle with the contradiction of wanting to be treated as “special”, yet wanting my accomplishments to be viewed as ‘normal’ for Black people. Therefore there should be no need to be treated “special!”

can-of-worms1

Did I just open this up?

Professionally, I will now have the chance to collaborate with other colleagues who are teaching the same content, and have a math instruction coach. Having coaching in my content has been a challenge. The primary (honestly the only) support for instruction I received was in my classroom management. That is not a bad thing, but when feedback becomes nitpicky than it is time to seek deeper feedback and support. I have received quite a bit of this from being apart of the “Better Math Teaching Network”. However, when it comes to black male teachers, we are celebrated for the relationships we build with students and pushed into positions (Dean of Students, Coaches, Principals, Dean of Discipline, etc.) that are in the service of ‘managing’ students, not teaching them. This is reflected in the broader picture of public education (no matter charter or traditional). I do not want that to be my narrative, I want to be known for my craft in the classroom. This is why I am pursuing National Board Certification and having a Student Teacher in the near future.

This transition, along with a few others, will keep pushing me towards greatness and fulfilling my pursuit of happiness. I thank you for reading this entry (and any of my previous entries) and (hopefully) looking forward to witnessing my journey this fall.

Best and with appreciation,

Francis Patrick Pina

Happy-International-Thank-You-Day

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My First March: Better Now than…

How would you end the title to this entry? Would you insert ‘never’? How about ‘later’? What are your thoughts on ‘yesterday’? I tossed those and other words around my mind, pushing myself to really reflect on what I was going to do this morning, and what I ended-up doing by this evening on Saturday, January 21st. I decided to join my fiance and many more people to march in the Women’s March in Boston. This was my first march.

I have been to two New England Patriots Superbowl parades, one Red Sox World Series parade, one Bruins Stanley Cup parade, one NCAA Hockey Championship parade for BU (in my Senior Year and there was cake), three Saint Patrick’s Day parades, and a few New Years First Night Parades in Boston.

I have not marched for “Black Lives Matter”, “Occupy Boston”, “Boston Pride”, “Peace Walk(s)”,  or any other march/protest that I do believe in. This was my first.

I don’t want to excuse my lack of physical activism by the fact that I am a teacher and poet. While those outlets are helpful and powerful in their own right. I haven’t put my feet where my facebook post is.

Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t been impartial or silent in my beliefs or views. I just think I’ve made decisions to act in ways that are safe and not vulnerable. While I want today’s Women’s Marches (globally) to be safe, peaceful, and encouraging, I placed myself in a more vulnerable position then watching it on TV or via live-stream.

As I was getting dress I started to think, my first march was as an ally. I started to wonder how all those White people felt whose first march was along MLK Jr.? What of those White people who rallied with Abolitionist, not because it was the ‘hipster’ thing to do in their time, but because they believed in it? Any movement looking for success, needs allies for encouragement, support, resources, and to build a coalition that provides a stronger front.

I marched, not just to support equality and the rights of women, but to also help physically build that coalition. To meet any stares at my ‘pussyhat’ with smiles and confidence that progress can be made.

I also marched because…

 

 

No movement in this Nation, this Country, this idea has been successful solely due to Presidents; it was the boots on the ground, the door-to-door, the media shareout and blasts, and the marches, sit-ins and rallies that garnered the spirits of THE people.

I witnessed the raw power, diversity, and conviction of the American people who want progress, tolerance, and Civil Rights upheld for everyone today.

One sign I read stated: “Things are not getting worse, they are getting uncovered. We must hold each other tight and continue to pull back the veil – Adrienne M. Brown”.

Reread that quote again.

 

I marched and will continue to march and build coalition thru my actions because of that sign.

Besides, Mother Nature has always had a way of humbling humanity and revealing truths (Climate Change). And if birds are marching:

screen-shot-2017-01-21-at-4-58-44-pm

WE ALL MUST MARCH!

 

Credit Appreciation

One of the hardest things to deal with professionally, is feeling that your work and worth is not being recognized by your supervisors and/or the ‘higher-up’s’ at your workplace. Over the last few weeks I’ve been feeling as if my work and worth was unrecognized and unappreciated. So I was upset, surly, and slightly resentful of working at a school where student issues that may impede learning was understood, but issues a teacher may face that impedes their teaching were over-look.unappreciated

During a moment of being surly and texting a few of my co-workers, one colleague bestowed some wisdom and appreciation that made me reflect on the why and how I was feeling. Through my reflection I realized that I was looking for something from someone who could not give me what I wanted. I wanted my supervisors and Principal to recognize my achievement of making-it through this past school year given the context of my personal dilemmas (See my blog entries “Three States of a Personal Matter” and “My Five Stages of a New Single Guardianshiphood“). However, I could not expect the ‘depth’ of appreciation that I wanted from them if they did not have the context of how challenging this year was for me. Furthermore, I was getting appreciation and love from the people who, not only matter to me the most, but also knew what was happening in my life. Perhaps I was being unappreciative of the appreciation I was getting?

appreciation-quotes-teacher-appreciation-gifts-teacher-quote-in-frame-the-organised-23632-440x440

Teaching can be a thankless job. A job in which you will give more checks, then you’ll ever receive. A job in which you will make non-believers believe in themselves. A job in which discounts a few and are skewed towards purchases only for the classroom (Aside from Chipotle’s free burrito or BOGO deal during ‘Teacher Appreciation Week’). While I has shown appreciation to my colleagues and vice versa from time-to-time, it different to get that appreciation from people outside of the school building. So after having the school year that I did, I desired more displays of appreciation to match the grit, perseverance, hope, and consistency that I gave.

Could you blame me? I do think so. Could you expect better from me? I would hope so. While my sister has poor communication skills of her appreciation, so many close friends, few family members, and my girlfriend have given me so much support, love, and appreciation. In fact, YOU have too! Just by reading my blog YOU have supported me and helped me feel validated in my feelings. YOU have let me know that I am not alone and typing to no-one. Only YOU can prevent forest fires!

Sorry about that terrible joke.

On this 4th of July Weekend, I have a lot to be thankful for and a lot to keep myself growing. I can thank YOU for that; the collective YOU of readers, bloggers, close friends, family, and my Love. So please enjoy this 4th safely and reflect of all that has been done to get you to where you are now. Not just the American Revolution, but your family’s revolution, your personal revolution, the events that make it possible for us to stand where we currently are. America has a long road to travel on, and I just want to thank you as I too participate in being the change we want to see in this world.

Happy-International-Thank-You-Day

The Case for CommonCore and PARCC via a Boston Teacher’s Lens

//If you’re only interested in my ‘sparknotes’ position on CommonCore and PARCC, scroll to the bottom//

Let me get the ‘divisive’ statements out the way.

1) I support CommonCore

2) I support the PARCC exam

holdup

Now, let me get the ‘unifying’ statements out the way

1) The implementation of CommonCore and PARCC has not only been messy, but it should be re-access how the decisions to implement them were made.

2) The PARCC should not be a graduation requirement for high schoolers in Massachusetts.

Why do I support CommonCore?

Simply because I support having a common set of academic content-related standards to which teachers across our nation should be aiming to teach our children. Our nations educational system is diverse and represents the virtues of our democracy. Public schools, Pilot Schools, Private Schools, Boarding Schools, Exam Schools, Charter Schools, K-5, K-8, K-12, 8-12, middle schools, high schools, and more types of schools make up the options available to educate our kids.

With so many options, the questions of which is the best is hard to answer. Especially since the proper question is, which is the best for my child? Educators, politicians, policy-makers, family members, and friends all play a role in helping a parent or guardian answer that important question.

Resources and availability drive that debate, but in the case of CommonCore, we must focus on the goal, the purpose, the virtue of K-12 education. So, what is the purpose of K-12 education? What skills do we want students to develop? Do we want a child from Seattle, WA, a child from DeKalb, IL, a child from Portland, ME, and a child from Ferguson, M. to have the same options after crossing the stage at their high school graduation?

If we do, then we must start thinking about a common set of standards to hold all K-12 schooling options accountable. This is what I think the CommonCore allows us to begin doing. I do agree with the sentiment that the ‘content’ of the CommonCore should be debated, because we have yet to come-up with an answer as to the purpose of K-12 schooling.

I purpose that the purpose of K-12 schooling is to develop an American society in which each citizen is prepared to enter a post-secondary educational institution, a career program (including the Armed Forces), or pursue a volunteering opportunity within a community.

It is with that purpose that academic content, social-emotional content, and moral content should be written; in a manner that provides breath from within the depth. However, that was not how the CommonCore standards were developed.

Why do I support PARCC?

I support the PARCC test because it is an assessment that is designed to measure the attainment of applying the understanding of the CommonCore. At the moment, Massachusetts has a high-stakes (an assessment in which a child must pass to graduate high school) assessment called the MCAS. It is administered to students multiple times through-out their K-12 schooling, but it is a graduation requirement to pass it in 10th grade. At the moment, students need to pass only two content domains: English Language Arts and Mathematics. The disconnect between MCAS and the CommonCore is that the MCAS does not connect to the CommonCore standards.

As the CommonCore continues to be adapted by states and schools, it makes sense to have a metric to assess the implementation of the test! Currently, the MCAS does not do this and it does not look like the designers of the MCAS are planning to.

adopted_cc

Why has the implementation of CommonCore been messy?

It should be messy! The very nature of implementing a common set of standards across grades with the diversity of our education system is what makes this process messy.

So, instead of explaining the mess, I want to present the end goal and work backwards; a la ‘backwards planning’.

The goal is to eventually have all high school graduates, who have been through and education experience from kindergarten to 12th grade,  learn and demonstrate understanding of the CommonCore standards. Those high schools, using my take on the understanding of K-12 schooling, would be college, career, or volunteer ready as assessed by a set of assessments that are derived from academic, social-emotional, and moral content.

How do we get to this end goal?

1) DEBATE THE COMMONCORE CONTENT ITSELF

2) IMPLEMENT IT ACROSS OUR NATION TO ENSURE EQUITABLE OUTCOMES FROM ALL OUR LEARNERS

3) HOLD SCHOOLS AND DISTRICTS ACCOUNTABLE WITH ADEQUATE SUPPORTS

4) DEVELOP TEACHER BUY-IN AND ESTABLISH A COMMONSET OF TEACHER DEVELOPMENT PRACTICES TO ENSURE WE HAVE THE BEST TEACHERS IN THE CLASSROOM

None of this is easy nor are the outcomes immediate. We have to fulfill steps 1 and 2 because the debate has not included voices from all respective schooling options. Even if we had achieved that, we would not see holistic measurable outcomes until we had high school graduates who were taught through the CommonCore from kindergarten to 12th grade. Until then, we will experience 8th graders entering high school with various gaps in their education because supports, standards, accountability, time, expectations, and/or resources were not in place.

It is those factors, that garner a whole separate debate, but if we can have legal systems and supports in place for our English Language Learners, our students with Individualized Educational Plans, and our students with 504 plans, that we can and need to establish a set of expectations and standard to which we aim for.

Whenever we establish this ‘holistic’ CommonCore, we must not place the responsibility on the students, but on our schools. I do not support high-stakes testing because it does not present a clear indicator of future success in college, career, or volunteerism. Having an assessment be a graduation requirement to ensure that an individual student puts forth their best effort, is not a good reason. That responsibility falls on the schools to frame any assessment to be taken seriously and that effort is a reflection of a student’s integrity and abilities.

I think the reason we will have students’ continue to guess, rush, give-up, and/or not take a test seriously is due to our educational system not building character in our schools; students who are socially-emotional strong, students who buy-in to the purpose of their education, students who respect their teachers and what is asked of them.

It may seem a tall-task to develop students of the nature, but there are many schools who are building some of these characteristics in their students. When we, as an American society, engage in discourse that embraces diversity and has a common goal(s) in mind, we can achieve anything.

As an educator my passion and drive comes from my students: their hopes, aspirations, creativity, questions, rawness, leadership, knowledge, and bravery.

I hope to be part of the discussion that brings forth a day that all schools have a set of expectations that prepares students for college, careers, and/or volunteerism.

WHAT ARE MY FINAL THOUGHTS?

noPARCCnoCC

I guess I do not support CommonCore as a whole, but I support the spirit of the CommonCore. It is this spirit that needs to be discussed and rallied upon. All the different educators from their respective types of schooling options for children, the policy-makers, and the politicians must grab a seat at the round table and answer the question: What is the purpose of our K-12 educational system? I have attempted to answer that very question and I will continue to learn the answer to this question.

roundtable

Why are there so many teachers against the CommonCore? Because they do not believe in or know the purpose of the CommonCore. Too many teachers are not only ignorant of the spirit behind CommonCore, but they are not trained or supported to adapt it.

What is the biggest knock against PARCC? The fact that it is a computer-based assessment and there are plenty of schools in Massachusetts that do not have the resources to implement PARCC. Schools need laptops, bandwidth, and proctor training to use the technology that is being used to implement PARCC. Money must be ear-marked to make sure schools have those issues address to even implement a test.

So, are politics a driver for you? You support YOUR teacher union? You a charter school acolyte?

My political learnings are not driving me in my thoughts concerning CommonCore. My only concern with any teacher’s union is the protection some teachers are getting who do not deserve the protection. If the approach is all protected or none protected, then my stance is all accountable (including myself) or none accountable. I do not support that one type of school is better than another because it is not about the schools, it is about the proper choice that provides the best educational experience for the child. Where I work may not be the best educational experience for all students, the same way that not all private or boarding schools may not be the best educational experience for all students. Parents and children should have options that are viable and not driven by a lack or resources, nor proficient teachers, but by which school culture would be the best educational experience for that child.

Aside from sports teams, schools should not be divisive. So can the adults(teachers) in their respective spaces stop ‘choosing-sides’ and simply keep the children’s’ best interests in mind?

Screw the “Math is Hard” American Narrative

Screw Yahoo! !

To post an article call “Math dorks have been waiting a century for Saturday” Is an insult. Sure I teach math, but that doesn’t mean I am a dork or a nerd. Math is a content but what you learn are skills. Skills that are foundational to STEM fields and simple cash register arithmetic. From leaving a tip to deciding which coupon to use, math is applicable because the skills are transferable.

America is one of the only countries where we can say “I hate math” like it is a badge of honor. Then we wonder why other countries are leading the STEM fields. No one in America can celebrate “I’m bad at English” or I’m bad at US History”. WE must change this narrative that math means uncool. Not to say math is cool, but math is education. And if you care about educating our youth, your kids, your siblings, then start reflecting on how you view math and change this dominate narrative that math is for dorks and hard.

Screw the Google image search for “Math Meme” !

math_ecards

Why? Because simply do the search yourself and tell me you don’t smirk because you relate the messages that appear. Not turn that smirk into determination to realize you have internalized the “Math is Hard” Narrative.

pi

What makes Saturday, March 14th at 9:26 am and 9:26 pm beautiful is the uniqueness that it represents the furthest digits of pi (3.1415926 etc) that our calendar can represent (Besides March 14 of 1592 at 65 minutes and 35 seconds pass midnight of the previous night).

What makes math so important? Many people will still read this post and say, “I’m not using math at work.” But that is false logic. Heck, are you using the Chemistry you learned? What about those years of Spanish or French? What of those years of reading Shakespeare? Many of the things you learn in school are not directly applied, but build a reference point and/or skill set for application if the event calls for it!  To clarify, math is a skill-set that has many different classes of skills: algebra, geometry, statistics, arithmetic, etc. Each skill-set class builds your mental capabilities to soundly reason and balance variables to make decisions. So many people complain so much that math doesn’t use real life examples, but then when the variables are real-life those same people don’t call it math! What do you call those lists you make when you are deciding between two options (maybe you did this to decided between two cars, apartments, or colleges).

Math is foundational, and just because you don’t see the foundation, doesn’t mean the building isn’t there. (huh?!) 

What I’m trying to say is, not matter the use, size, building materials of the building, there is always a foundation. I challenge you to think about the ‘buildings’ you enter in your life and what those foundations are.

Also, it helps to develop an understanding of math because you do not want to be this guy

WhoWantsToBeAMillionaire

IN THE END, MY MESSAGE IS SIMPLE:

stop-math-hate

Hearing Patricia Arquette Out

Let’s leave Patricia Arquette alone! Being Critical doesn’t mean you’re being a critical thinker. Read me out…

p_a

When she said, “It’s time for all the gay people and all the people of color to fight for us now.” She was purely aiming for trying to build some solidarity. Look, by all means the plight and fight for equality for Gays and People of Color (and I bet most of you are forgetting about Asians or Native Americans who ARE APART OF THE COLOR) is far from over.women

However, if you want to see the fruits bearing from the branches, we must see the tree; and that tree labeled ‘Woman’ has many branches with various plights, fights, and historical baggage. Can’t we all agree that a movement us best fought unified and not divided? So, can’t we try to all come to the table and discuss solutions and education each other on our diversity that brings diverse struggles? This ‘banner waving’ of ‘my plight is bigger than yours’ is not productive. Hence, did you honestly think about Asians and Native Americans when you heard people of color?

America got us messed up! Got US messed up. Perhaps the semantics of “people of color” = “African Americans” is more important and I am missing something, but the fact is WE ARE ALL MISSING SOMETHING. And more importantly, WE, no matter what ‘group’ you’re apart of, have some housing cleaning to do ourselves.

Do ‘Black women’ get there due during the Civil Rights Movement?
What about the response to Tom Hanks’ Oscar speech for ‘Philadelphia’?

(link to video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bBuDMEpUc8k

At the end of the day. If the tree labeled ‘Woman’ is not being looked after, then the branches will take nutrients from each other, and not fruit should be worth that (inequality) cost.

tree

Specifically, to the working sphere that Patricia Arquette is in, men make up the vast majority of producers and the targeted audience of most movies. Heck, look at the history of movies that won “Best Picture” and then tell me how many are directed at men? Tell me how many have a strong male protagonist? Tell me how many have a strong female protagonist? Tell me how many are paired with a woman winning “Best ‘supporting’ Actress”? Not many. In the movie industry, too many projects writing by women don’t get green-lite, and too many projects are not pushed by the studios with female directors. Within her sphere, Patricia Arquette was speaking to her experience and her sphere of influence. She was not standing by like the ‘white-women’ of Slave masters, but serving a charge. Was it graceful? Nope. Was it bold? At first. Was it new? Not at all. Was is better than silence on the issue, damn straight!

Do we know if Oscar winner Patricia Arquette is aware of the plight or fight other women who do not racially look like her go through? What about women who just don’t speak like her? I don’t know. But can there be a fault in a star is they don;t know, not from ignorance, but from experience? If there had to be a step for her, this was it. May the backlash, not only educate Patricia Arquette, but may it also give her a ‘right-on sister!’

My Five Stages of a New Single Guardianshiphood

Catharsis

This blog entry has been on my mind since this past August. The image truly represents what this entry means to me. This entry to more personal than my previous entries as this one is a window into my personal life and sharing more personal information that only a handful of people know. This does not share the total experience of the last five months. I appreciate the love, support, and check-ins my friends have given me. I appreciate the strength of my father and sister. I appreciate the support, love, ear, voice, actions, and understanding of My Love. I appreciate all who read the following as this is “MY FIVE STAGES OF A NEW SINGLE GUARDIANSHIP-HOOD”

STAGE 1: DENIAL AND ISOLATION

Last August I received a phone call from my sister to come and check on my mom as she was not ‘acting weird’. At this time, I was planning the Second Phase of moving from my old apartment, wrapping-up my summer teaching responsibilities, and prepping for my fall full-time teaching. That phone call would be the beginning of a long-road for my sister and myself.

Several days after arriving to my mom’s apartment and finding her is an altered state and calling 911, I would learn that see was suffering from Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. Which could have been brought-on by her years of poor life-style decisions and her previous condition of Lupus, this new syndrome came in and completely shut-down her health. In response I isolated myself from friends and family as I had so much added to my plate: seeking guardianship for my mother, filing paperwork, checking with her job, her insurance, filing for Mass Health, getting my sister ready for her first day of high school, figuring out how to pay my mom’s bills, cleaning her apartment, and then handling my own professional and personal responsibilities. I was in denial of what had taken place. I felt I could shoulder the weight and get things done because this should only be a few weeks of hospital visits. My mom would get her physical health back. My mom would get her memory back. My mom would be back.

Then the questions started. Why did this have to happen now? Who can offer support? How will I make time for everything? How do I ask for support? I needed to find answers and try to build supports. Building supports continues to be a process, but I could no longer be in denial once my mother went from the hospital, to a rehab center, to another hospital, missing my sister’s Birthday, then her own birthday, then my birthday. It was now nearing Thanksgiving.

STAGE 2: ANGER

The next few stages progressed in rapid succession. I had established a routine: Stay at my mother’s apartment Monday thru Friday, go home for the weekend (to wash clothes, iron clothes for the week, spend time with My Love, and relax), and repeat.

I had essentially become a Single-Parent during the last five months. I because responsible for my sister. She was beginning her first year of high school. We established a routine: Wake-Up at 5:30am, eat breakfast, lessonplan (if needed which was the case most of the time), go to work time 5pm, errands (if necessary), cook dinner, make sure my sister finished her homework, sleep, repeat.

I started to get angry about the current situation. I was angry that my sister’s father (we have different fathers) did not step-up and help take care of his daughter (although this was not a surprise since he has been absent in her life the last 9 years). I was angry that my mother did not get better and couldn’t remember anything because her short-term memory was gone. I was angry that I couldn’t handle all my mother’s finances because I couldn’t afford to, I was angry that I was about to spend my first Thanksgiving without seeing my mother and tasting her cooking. I was angry that there was so much to do, but little support to file papers for insurance, her job and medical leave, her bank account, my sister’s school paperwork, my own paperwork, and not being able to save money like I wanted to. I was also angry because I couldn’t be the best teacher I wanted to be in the classroom because I did not have the time to plan/prepare.

STAGE 3: BARGAINING

self_care

I began bargaining with myself and making sacrifices with my time. My mother had to be moved to another facility that could better serve her mental state. At this time, she did get her physical health back, but her mental stability has only remained stable. I made a bargain to see my mother less to give myself more time to lesson plan, relax, or get other errands done. She was now an hours drives away, so I bargained (what I felt was neglect) that I would only see my mother once a week because she wouldn’t even remember my visit after a few hours anyway. I bargained only doing teacher work on Sunday’s so I could have some weekends for Self-Care. I bargained that I could push myself to my physical and mental limits during the week, because I would have Friday night to take my foot of the pedal. I bargained that I would reach-out less, because I did not want to talk or deal with my mother’s health and potential long-term implications: What if my mother has to stay at the nursing facility indefinitely? How long can I keep up this routine of not being at my apartment? What is my mother’s government housing kicks her out because she is not living there? What is they charged rent based on my income because I am living there now, which means I can’t pay two rents, which means moving into a two-bedroom apartment, which means, what happens if my mom get’s better; where will she live? These are the questions I have bargained avoidance with Self-Care. However, this is not healthy.

STAGE 4: DEPRESSION

While I was exactly depressed during this time in my life, it has become incredibly hard. My Love and I cooked Thanksgiving Dinner and tried to make it as normal as possible. Balancing the different dietary restrictions, picky-ness, and choices, we was able to put together a feast that was not only acceptable to all, but pretty darn tasty.

Thanksgiving

But it was still not the same. My mac-&-cheese was not my mom’s. Our collard greens was not my mom’s. My apartment was not my mom’s. This is when I started to think about the enviable task of Christmas. Will my mom be home? I can’t bring her home because when her memory resets, she will think everything is fine and be at home so trying to drop her back-off would be a task: telling her what the last four months have been like, that she missed birthdays, etc. etc. These  instances still do occur, I mean each time I see her or speak on the phone she ask the following questions: What did the doctors tell you? Am I coming home? So, what about your sister? What about my job? Where is my cell phone? and occasionally, where am I? Can you get me a drink/ cigarettes?

Christmas was the toughest time. While the routines established by my sister and I have paid off greatly: my sister’s grades are good, I am reaching some benchmarks I set for my students, and my mother’s cat was no longer peeing on the floor next to the litter box. However, this Christmas was going to be fewer gifts to receive, fewer to get, and only my sister and I as My Love was going back home. My sister and I visited my mom and they both cried because they both knew they couldn’t be together Christmas morning. I tried my best to save-face and be strong. It was tough.

STAGE 5: ACCEPTANCE

Post Christmas has been a time of reflection. While the timing of my mother’s health and current situation couldn’t be worst, my sister and I have gone through the worst of it: Missed birthdays, missed holidays, and missing. We both have talked about what is going on and accepted that we will need to continue waiting it out. While this is going to be hard to type, I have accepted that my mother will no longer build memories that we can share. I have accepted that my mother (unless improvements happen to her mental abilities) will not remember when I get married, have a child, my sister’s graduation from high school, and future holidays.

It is upon understanding the current situation facing my sister, my father, my mother’s family, My Love, and my mother, that we all can move forward.

movingForward1 We will move forward and tackle things as they come-up. I move forward with a growing appreciation for all the single parents out there because I know how hard it is to balance time, responsibilities, and the growth of a young teen. I appreciate all those who cook for the holidays because it is hard to get timing, cleaning, cooking, and set-up accomplished to make everyone happy. I appreciate all those who have experience similar circumstances.

Most of all, I appreciate you for reading this. The most common thing I am told, “if you need anything let me know.” But, the most common response I have, internally, is “well, what do I need?” Five dollar gift cards to Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, or a local grocery store would be extremely helpful. Continued request to hangout by my friends are very helpful. But, the most important request I have for anyone who is my family, friend, or just a reader, is a check-in. Call my up and see how I am doing. Send me a random letter. Send me a random facebook message of a funny story. Send me a random text. Send this blog to a mutual friend who you think should know about what I am going through.

The best support I can ask for is support. Don’t sit-back and wonder ‘how’, just contact and ask ‘how’. This is a sentiment I am working on myself because I have friends and family going through tough situations as well. Let’s all aim to make 2015 a Year of Love.

EDIT (12/29/14 @6:42pm) I don’t want my friends to at all feel guilty or think I am trying to shame anyone for a lack of reaching out. If anything, this is my clear attempt to put what I have been dealing with out-on-the-table.

Black Shadows

It has been a long time since my last blog entry and I have so much to catch you up on. I will save that for another blog entry, but for now, I wanted to put pen to paper, then fingers to keys, then fingers to keyboard about the feelings I’ve been having lately. This image does a decent job capturing my feelings:

shadow

There has been so much happening in the news regarding unnecessary violence against black life, that I doubt I can capture all the emotions in New York City, the neighborhoods of Boston, St. Louis, or Ferguson. However, I can capture my feelings.

Here is my guiding question: Does living a morally fulfilling life lower your chances of being violated as a black male? What are in the implications? You could be a Harvard University Professor and get arrested on the steps of your own home; Dr. Henry Louis Gates. You could be physically cooperating with the police, but verbally combative by saying you can’t breath. You could be doing every thing right and just be in the way; Dawn Jaffier. Not every name attached with senseless death of a black face needs to be recognizable, but the principle should be: Why are black faces such a threat?

That question is mostly rhetorical because I am not trying to instigate a long-winded-educated-reflective-buzzword elaboration, but rather navigate why I feel not matter my morally fulfilling life-choices (and success), a black shadow will always follow me. I’m a Boston University graduate with a BS in Economics, I’m a Harvard Graduate School of Education graduate with a Ed.M in Secondary Mathematics, I’m a high school mathematics teacher in the Boston Public Schools, I’ve have no criminal record, and I volunteer in ‘my’ community. So, what good is all the life lessons in code-switching, evaluating tough decisions, and saying ‘no’, if I am still the most suspicious person in public?

Again this is rhetorical, because I’ve already drawn one conclusion… I just haven’t fully accepted it yet.

Conclusion: If living a morally fulfilling live does not influence the social ramifications of having a black shadow follow you, then I must solely live my life based on my own established moral ground.

My moral ground: Be a role model, do not steal, do not lie, do not make weak decisions, be faithful, be brave.

Implications: The next time I face police I will be a model of compliance and record that shit. I will bravely walk through life knowing that my anxiety will forever be raised in fear of my life and lively-hood if police can be called to the scene.

I may not have to accept this, which is a decision quite a few other black individuals have made from being bombarded with messages that their life amounts to a news headline.

I may have to challenge this, which would be taking the road that many other black leaders have taken in the past: marching, sit-ins, boycotts, write a book, earn a Ph.D and teach a course, give lectures, become a religious figure and leader, become a public speaker, write some music, record some music, push the agenda on facebook, twitter, snapchat, instagram, email, blog, and/or pass out pamphlets and have discussions with strangers in public.

Not matter how I decide to act upon this there are two constants in my life and both are permanent: I am a self-identified and publically viewed black male, and a black shadow follows me.

UnSpeaking the N-Word (Conclusion… for now)

Once Again Disclaimer: This post may or may not contain uncomfortable language as you may infer from the title or the series of preceding entries . READER DISCRETION ADVISED.

While I do think the meme, rather alteration of “Keep Calm and Carry On” is over played; the picture below is suitable for my feelings and actions concerning the word(s) “nigger”, “nigga”, and “niggah!”

Image

Over this series of blog entries I have explored my own experiences with listening, saying, reading, and discussing the N-Word. I have now read countless articles, watched a few hours of youtube clips, read responses and heated debates amongst my friends, and listened to some of my favorite musical artists.

Here is my conclusion for the N-Word, for now:

“I have decided to stop using any variation of the word nigger no matter the intent behind my use of the word” 2/13/2014 @ 12:58am.

While this process has been complex and deep, the reason is simple: I DO NOT NEED THE WORD. PERIOD.

Think about it my brothas and sistahs:

1) My use of the N-Word as a sense of endearment is truly a cop-out. I mean, if I truly want to use a term to uplift or show relation to my Black people, I will stick with two terms that have, in my opinion, clearer intents and connotations of my desire to express my closeness to them… (refer to above) ‘brotha’ and ‘sistah’.

2) If I was to be honest with myself, my ratio of using the N-Word to indicated togetherness or satirical admiration is drastically low compared to when I use it in anger or to express complex emotions that are not SOLELY for the purpose of bridging or solidifying a bond.

Now let me be clear and set some shyt straight! Do not for a second think that I am taking a soft-ass approach to my reasoning or encouraging distance from uncomfortable contexts because of my privileged higher educational experience and constant movement within the dominant “white” culture. FUCK THAT! I am not about soft speech nor trying to drink my poison down with wine. My conclusion is from truly being honest with myself and asking “Do I really need to use this word?”

T.J. Holmes, who was a CNN anchor-turned BET host said when discussing his feelings about the N-Word, “… My problem has been that no one ever held me accountable for my, at times, gratuitous use of the n-word… There are plenty of black people who don’t want to hear fellow blacks use the n-word, but we give each other a pass. Stop.” I FULLY understand where T.J. is coming from. I mean, as an educated Black male, I live in a culture that is vastly white in it’s power dynamics. However, when I am around all my Black co-workers and it’s only us; and we like GO OUT! There’s a feeling, a sense of comfort that allows me to just be me. This is when I let N-Bombs fly. I know I am better than that and I know I can do a better job self-regulating.

So… Why? Why give up a word? I mean, isn’t it truly considered to be ‘taken-back’ within the community that it affects the most? Like how the Gay community ‘took-back’ Faggot? Like how the Little Person community ‘took-back’ midget? Like how the Native American community took back Redskin?

Simply put: NO WORD CAN EVER BE TAKEN-BACK IN A SENSE TO PERFORM A POLARITY SHIFT. We tried that already in the Black community! We took ‘bad’ and made it ‘good’. However, we, just like any word, can not re-define an established word. Bad still means bad! We can only add another definition after the ones that are well-established. The original definition for nigger is too damn strong and backed by hundreds of years to be redefined. We (as in Black people) have only added another definition below the primary one.

A real question to ask would be: Do we need to take-back this word? No Native American is trying to embrace the Washington Redskins in an attempt to ‘take-back’ a team that is a clear slap in the face of a rich and under-represented/discussed culture.

Watch this is you need further clarification: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mR-tbOxlhvE

Why not simply come together as a larger community and say…. “Hey, you know what. Let’s stop using this word and commit ourselves to use other methods to show unity and love. KINDA like we did in the 70’s!” Just a thought

Futhermore, taking a page from my ‘Critical Theorist’ book, why support the further profits of white record executes like Lucien Grainge, Roger Faxon, and Edgar Bronfman, who further and pigeon-hole artists to … well… be ‘ratchet’ and full of ‘coonery’ which then get portrayed throughout the world and lets a store in Taiwan name itself “Nigger King.”

I made a few jumps in my logic, but it is quite frustrating that the N-Word has become used as a speech tick in most popular hip hop and rap than with intention. It is the Black culture’s version of ‘like’ and ‘umm’. Except ours conveys a stronger message of pain, residual-engrained negativity, and institutionalized racism.

 

***exhales

My decision is just that. My decision. I have decided on something that works for me and will not tell or judge others for any decision they make for their use of the N-Word. However, I do challenge you. I challenge you to honestly think about your feelings about the word and to give yourself a true supportive reason to keep the word in your lexicon. While you do so, I wish you good ‘morrow my brothas and sistahs.

 

PS: Again, I was not intending for this entry to become racial in the sense I was directly talking to anyone reading this who is Black. I intended for this to be as open, honest, and direct as possible. This is not solely a Black and White thing, but EVERYONE KNOWS, this is STEMMED from a BLACK and WHITE thing.

UnSpeaking the N-Word (Part.2)

Again Disclaimer: This post contains perhaps some uncomfortable language as you may infer from the title and the image below. READER DISCRETION ADVISED

Image

I wanted to take some more time before making another entry, but after last Sunday and the WHOLE BIG DEAL about Richard Sherman I felt it necessary to strike while the iron was hot.

Firstly, thanks for all the comments and thoughts on this blog and on facebook. I truly appreciate them and am open to more.

Secondly, 

ImageThis is Compton born Richard Sherman graduating from Stanford with a degree in Communication

While there are many beautifully written articles, blogs, tweets, and even a few vines about his Post-Game interview, here are my big three reactions:

1) Statistically, Sherman is the best Corner in the NFL over the last two years

2) His play just sent his team to the Superbowl

3) His interview with Ms. Andrews was not even two minutes after winning and his reaction was aimed at Michael Crabtree who he has a taunting history with and was just shoved in the face when trying to shake Crabtree’s hand after the game

What does this have to do with the word Nigga, Nigger, or Niggah?

Go to twitter and search ‘Nigger’ and ‘Richard Sherman’, better yet look at the screen shots in this article.

All of a sudden, race because the biggest issue about that interview. Why? Well, because Richard Sherman is black. When your Black ‘race’ is always an issue. When your a racist ‘race’ is always an issue.

When John McEnroe would throw tantrum as well as racquets, where were the comments about “White Trash?” I don’t hear people calling Jerry Sandusky a “crazy-ass cracker!” Even Tonya Harding… well, I have hear shit about hear, but the point is: When your Black, anything that could be considered a transgression can responded to in racial terms from ignorant people.

When I read some of those tweets to Sherman, I got mad, like want to throw my MacBook out the window mad, like write this article mad, like get arrested for peeing on the table at an all-white executive board meeting while wearing my masters cap n’ gown with hood and brandishing a clean criminal record in one hand and holding an argyle cardigan in the other mad.

Now back to the purpose of this article:

One friend of mine said

Where there is freedom of speech, there is freedom to judge speech”. 

I totally agree. With that, there is also the personal freedom to self-censor, self-reflect, self-inflict, and to be self-aware. While words only hold the power you give to them, like if you read MLK Jr.’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, but it was in brialle, would you understand it? Would you feel it? Poetically you would, but the true power of words comes from your own understanding of the words and your interpretation of what they mean when put together to make statements. While some might say the word nigger only has the power you give it, I respond by saying ‘that is a fucking cope-out!’ Sure, we give words power through our interpretations of the words context, but that doesn’t me we can ‘re-define’ those words. We have a dictionary and dialects for a reason. The definition and historical weight of the word, as spelled, ‘nigger’ is too damn heavy to ignore it by stating, ‘I give the power to the word therefore it doesn’t a/effect me. NO.

Another friend of mine said

“Removal of the N word from the vocabulary in minority youth would propel better syntax & in turn better vocabulary to replace it.”

I only slightly disagree with this statement. Removal of certain words creates room for other words, but those other words must be taught in school, at home, among friends, on TV, and in music. I don’t think kids not saying ‘nigga’ would in-turn build better vocabulary. However it would completely change THIS song. 

Another friend of mine, who happens to be White, said

“I always feel a least a little strange when I rock out to Dre’s ‘Rat-tat-tat-tat’ while crusing in my mom’s minivan, not knowing whether to rap along with all the lyrics.”

To him I say, SAY IT LOUD! Because the true essence of the effects of the ‘N-Word’ comes from CONTEXT! Look, if a non-Black person wants to sing along to a popular hip-hop song and use the word ‘nigga’ while singing along, I HAVE NO ISSUES! True, hip hop is a cultural movement build from the urban black community. However, hip hop today is a world-wide culture that is not directly tied to a race as it has become a culture upon itself. Is it time for Black people to stop claiming hip hop? HELL NO! Like Jazz, Pop, Blues, and Rock and Roll, Black people should always remind others about the appropriation of Black culture. So, why don’t I have an issue with Regis Philbin saying “Nigga, I ain’t worried ’bout nothin'”? Because I take it in context.

Now, if Regis was looking at me and said it directly to me in reference to being someone he does not consider a friend, I would have some words and fists for him. While there are two dominant spellings for the word Nigger (as spelled and nigga), the context of it’s use allows for many different definitions. I can say, “That’s my nigga!” as in that’s my brother, friend, or colleague. I can say, “Forget that nigga!” as in that fool, person, or enemy. If I was to blanket my response to the word solely on racial terms, I would not be thinking about the word critically.

Context is SO important and truly defines the intent and purpose of a word. Ideally, every Black person would only want racially identified Black people (and not the Asian immigrants in South Africa who are now considered Black since post-apartheid) to use the term in all it’s interpretations and keep it amongst us. But that is not the case. Sure, the Lesbian and Gay community took back the word ‘faggot’ to drop it and it is now fully considered derogatory, but they are not lacing songs, t-shirts and tattoos with it. The American Indian community wants to fully remove the term ‘redskin’ and this is considered derogatory because they only use it in the same sentence next to ‘remove.’ 

As I continue to think about this word, I am reminded that understanding the capacity of this word and critically thinking about what I want, my feelings, and my communities feelings at large, I can only conclude that such a complex word needs a concrete and tough solution that no one will be happy with.

CRAZY IDEA #1: Remove from the Hip-Hop community, go back to using the words ‘brotha’ and ‘sista’ and reinforcing the word as ONLY a negative derogatory word.

As for White people, not the person who is reading this, but you family and friends, STOP TELLING BLACK PEOPLE HOW WE SHOULD BE USING THIS WORD! We must callout everyone who uses it negatively and then think about if we want to only use it endearingly.

Part.3 Coming Soon