During the Democratic National Convention, Missouri Rep., Emanuel Cleaver, compared Hillary Clinton’s ability to get up and rise, to the miraculous resurrection of Jesus Christ, using the life of former United States President Andrew Jackson, as an analogy.
The story is told that Andrew Jackson’s boyhood friends just couldn’t understand how he became a famous general and then the President of the United States. They knew of other men who had greater talent but who never succeeded. One of Jackson’s friends said, “Why, Jim Brown, who lived right down the pike from Jackson, was not only smarter but he could throw Andy three times out of four in a wrestling match. But look where Andy is now.” Another friend responded, “How did there happen to be a fourth time? Didn’t they usually say three times and out?” “Sure, they were supposed to, but not Andy. He would never admit he was beat—he would never stay ‘throwed.’ Jim Brown would get tired, and on the fourth try Andrew Jackson would throw him and be the winner.”
Though this election was sobering, I have hope, because human beings have a way of rising and not “staying throwed.” Black Americans have been marginalized, underrepresented, sidelined, kicked, had water hoses opened on their bodies, burned, whipped, hung, made examples of, in the most humiliating and degrading of ways – yet they have not “stayed throwed.” As an educator, as a believer in truth, I know that race is a construct, used to restrict, alienate, isolate, and marginalize. I know that this is done to concentrate power in the hands of the few, at the expense of the many. I also know that this is not a time to give up. When the wicked rise, the good go into hiding – this is a natural response.
Yet, this semester, as I have learned, by facing conflict as a student teacher, courage can take many forms. It can be courageous to stand, and be seen with someone who may not be accepted by members of an administration. It takes courage to fight for the so-called “trouble-maker” of the class. It takes courage to say that special education does not mean that a student cannot learn, it means that he or she needs different supports to access the curriculum. It takes courage to say, “That kid should not be in a self-contained classroom,” when others think otherwise. Courage means speaking about race through the literature chosen, when you cannot speak about it explicitly with students. It means not giving up, when voices of giants have trumped loudly, drowning out the voices of truth mixed with reason. It means knowing that tomorrow is a new day, and that the sun must rise again. It means knowing that though darkness covers the land, and our systems of education, that justice will one day be served. It means knowing that though we have been bruised and scarred by the conflict of just being in the space and person of “Educator,” that we are still here. I am still here, though many have tried to take me, and those who look like me “out.” We are still here, let that be the rallying cry of this conflict being faced by educators of color. In the words of First Lady Michelle Obama, “When they go low, we go high.” Let’s continue to face this conflict with higher thinking, higher actions and existing in the place of “Higher.”
What does this election have to do with education? Everything. “Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of a true education,” said Dr. King. Though many may disagree, I am not sure that a Hillary Clinton win of the White House would have allowed the extent of the exposure of the faults in America’s foundation as a Trump victory has done. This is a conflict that needed to happen. Many Black Americans have been awake to the reality of hate, yet others have claimed ignorance. Claims of ignorance are no longer acceptable.
Those of us who are now educators have a dual vision, and greater responsibility. We are accountable not only to ourselves, but the next generation of leaders of these United States. It is our job to call our precious students forth into responsible citizenship. We experienced America’s educational system as students, and now experience it as educators, and it is now our prerogative to be leaders. We have a longitudinal, and latitudinal view of damage. In the midst of our own pain, we have found ways to persevere and not “stay throwed.” This is not what I would have chosen, but I have faith in the future, for the sake of America’s children. Why? Because there are men and women with names like Cathryn, Rashida, Ellen, Cindy, Angel, and Vincent, fighting for the future of students. My anchor of hope does not rest on the laurels of this flawed government, which seeks to elevate certain members of society at the expense of others. Education is freedom. I am free, no matter how someone tries to shackle me. I will not be chained by words or expressions of hate and domination. I make the choice to remain free, and rise.
Still I Rise, Maya Angelou, 1928 – 2014