Tri-Sector Athletes in Education: The Aftermath of the Election is a Leadership Moment

Lift as we climb
Lift as we climb

I, like many, was depressed and dismayed, but not surprised by the election of Donald Trump as President-elect of the United States. For one, as a student of history, I am aware of the cyclical nature of Presidential politics, where candidates appeal to either the very best (JFK and Obama) or the very worst (Nixon and Trump) of a U.S. populous, extracting votes from those disillusioned and despondent residents of an adolescent country.

On the surface, Donald Trump, as a candidate, capitalized on a politics of fear, and deployed every “ism” one could muster from social memory to secure office. And it worked, for him. But beneath it all lies a more sinister outcome, that a mediocre businessman, who doesn’t have experience in or even like government, really, can secure the highest elected government job in the country on an undefined political platform, scant knowledge of domestic and global politics and demonstrated disdain for those most vulnerable among us. And I am really scared for the arrival of the “clown car” filled with other mediocre, overly ambitious, power-seeking friends of Trump spilling out for a spot in his administration. I shudder at the thought, for instance, of Ben Carson, with his galactic musings, as Trump’s “minority pick” for his cabinet.

Yet, the aftermath of the Presidential election, I believe, is a leadership moment for the masses of us who care deeply about and are engaged in educating and empowering young people and communities, and the most vulnerable among us.

There are 5 lessons, as Tri-Sector Athletes in Education, we can enact in the aftermath of the Presidential election:

Lesson 1: Allow yourself and others time to experience fear, doubt, anxiety and anger about what just occurred. As empathic creatures, we need this. But as leaders, we are conditioned to downplay emotions. It is well researched that we as humans tend to make emotional decisions and use logic as a way to justify those decisions. We witnessed that first hand in this election. To ignore our own personal suffering makes us numb to the suffering of others. So allow your staff, students and stakeholders time to share and process feelings about what took place by deliberately setting up professionally facilitated conversations in the coming weeks.

Lesson 2: Place this election in an historical context. To quote philosopher Cornel West, “racism was the snake wrapped around the leg of the table upon which the Constitution was signed.” Our country is a young child compared to the rest of the world, and has ignominious origins, from the treatment of Native peoples to enslaved Africans to immigrants to women, to name a few. Given that this history is being rewritten or wiped from school textbooks in some school districts across the country, it its incumbent upon us as Tri-Sector Athletes in Education to be knowledge workers and truth tellers, to guide people to learn not just about our history for our own sense making but to be agents of change in the world.

Lesson 3: The United States is part of a global community so we are reflecting the current times. We can read everyday about “strongman” political leaders in Western and Eastern Europe, Middle East, Asia and Africa, yet we shake our heads and wag our fingers as if that could not happen here. And it has. Dr. King prophetically asserted, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” So as we turn our heads away from global injustices or dissent blinded by U.S exceptionalism, we fail to inform ourselves and to educate others.

Further, we also need to learn from our global neighbors. For instance, Brexit, the catchphrase for the United Kingdom’s recent referendum on EU membership, was fundamentally about the anger of mostly poor and working class whites who incorrectly saw their declining economic condition tied to immigrants and corrupt politicians. Sound familiar?

Lesson 4: Stress that Presidential leadership is cyclical but the impact on policy can be longstanding. This is an opportunity to learn about what are the powers and limits of the Presidential office, for those unfamiliar or have fading knowledge. What emerged during this election were sweeping threats made by candidate Trump about how he would use the office of the President against his opponent as well as any laws he deemed wrong. These threats were downright unconstitutional. I was incredulous to hear everyday people parrot those same statements with little scrutiny or skepticism. Now more than ever is important to brush up on civics, understand the role of the three branches of government and the rights of residents in this country.

Lesson 5: Act! Each person has the ability to act on behalf of themselves and others. Leadership, like talent, is equally distributed among human beings. We all have the ability to lead. It is only when we act do we find out what we are made of as human beings. The opportunity to lead does not reside solely in a formal role of authority. A leader emerges by simply identifying a concern or by serving others. Ella Baker, a black woman from Virginia, organized for voting and civil rights in the U.S. and supported anti-imperialist struggle in Africa, yet was largely behind the scenes. Her example resonates about the power of each of us to act in our own way. So, encourage others to monitor this Presidential administration closely, to stay informed about global matters and find a cause or movement that they are passionate about and exercise leadership. We need it now more than ever!

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