Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Living a braver yes

"The Element is about a more dynamic, organic conception of human existence in which the different parts of our lives are not seen as hermetically sealed off from one another but as interacting and influencing each other" - Sir Ken Robinson

This semester I took a class—one of the benefits of working at a university. My boss was a bit surprised when, instead of digital media, advanced writing or broadcast studies, I requested to take a class in the School of Education. I discovered the description of the class while working on a website project: “Renewing Democracy in the Classroom.” The class focused on social change theory and empowering kids in K-12 to advocate for justice. And it had a practicum component.

I emailed the professor to see if she would take a non-traditional student in her class. I am 28; the rest of her students would be somewhere between 18-22. I shared a bit of my background, and she replied with an enthusiastic “Yes!” Next, she asked if I would be open to working in a middle school as my practicum assignment.

That moment, when I agreed to jump back into a classroom with an age group I didn’t know much about, was my first brave “yes.”
I went through every aspect of self-doubt—What am I doing? Do I even know how to teach anymore? Middle school? Who signs up to teach middle school? —questioning that exists. But I still said yes.

The class component was awkward at first. I was seven years and seven-ish jobs ahead of where many of my classmates were. We read books about the struggle of undocumented students and families. I knew many of them from my previous job. We studied social justice. I saw the injustices of the education system in impoverished school districts. We discussed the school-to-prison pipeline. I witnessed it.  

I was hesitant to share my experience for two reasons: 1) I didn’t want these college students to lose hope that they could make a difference, and 2) The efforts of my previous work failed (or at least that is what it felt like).

I wasn’t living a brave yes. I worked an office job and spent the majority of my day on a computer and in meetings. It was safe, predictable and insulated. My office isn’t even located on main campus, but in a collection of office buildings down the road.

Safe, predictable, insulated.

I needed those elements coming out of what happened last year, and there was comfort in being able to ignore the past for a time. My world at CU had nothing to do with what I experienced before. That is, until I signed up for Renewing Democracy.

I worked through a lot of the psychological damage in that class. We wrote reflection paper after reflection paper about our history and potential future as educators. We addressed head-on our understanding of privilege and oppression. We confronted experiences in education that had a significant impact of who we are today. Every single paper and every conversation triggered my previous work.

Every week, on Wednesdays, I left my little box of an office, leaving my computer behind, and drove 20 minutes to Angevine Middle School in Lafayette.

My group of seventh graders—Aiden, Junior, Jose, Emily, Lydia, Malea and Cesar—picked the topic of immigration for their project. As a Public Achievement coach, my role was to help facilitate and support their ideas. They wanted to share stories of immigration and deportation—many of their families had been affected. One parent had been deported three times, another spent time in jail after crossing illegally, many had family members waiting to come to the U.S.

Together, we collected and formatted interviews with their family members. In late April, they presented their stories to a packed ballroom on campus at CU.

Those seventh graders changed my life.

As the semester came to a close, I became more and more emotional. I didn’t want the class to end and I certainly didn’t want to stop going to the middle school. I cried as I drove away from Angevine on our last day.

Something changed. Something healed. And something caused my heart to say, “You are ready. Time for a brave yes.”

That week I realized I was way out of my Element in an office job. Safe, predictable and insulated were not motivators, much less life giving. As a writer, you are always one step removed from the boots-to-the-ground, hands-on work of the people you write about.

Certainly, we need people to tell those stories. That is how we attract the attention of local media, advocacy organizations and policy makers. Journalists help uncover the injustices that exist worldwide through their powerful use of photography, video and the written word.

I wrote about some amazing students this year—one is channeling her love of mountain biking into raising money for bicycles in Africa, another is the fourth in her family of four to join the Army, still another will apply her passion for advocacy and empowerment as an inner-city school teacher next year—three examples of powerful, resilient women from CU Boulder who are destined to have a significant impact on the world.

Sharing their stories was an honor. Living in their shoes is my dream.

On July 22, I will conclude my six-year career in media and marketing. On August 1, I will be joining Denver Public Schools as a sixth, seventh and eighth grade electives teacher in the Montbello neighborhood.

No longer will safe, predictable and insulated describe my profession, nor will I only tiptoe around the delicate touchpoints into a life lived hands-on. Rather, every aspect of every job I’ve held up to this point will likely collide in a beautiful explosion of massive proportions. And, undoubtedly, it will bring every emotion manifest in those experiences over the years, and hope. Always hope.

To say "yes" is to believe in what is to come, to trust that good—and God—is guiding the way, and to actively engage The Element as the central compass of a life well lived. 

It is time to live a braver yes.

-The Faithful Writer