A picture is worth a 1000 words, or maybe more…

A few years ago I was fortunate enough to become aware of an amazing organization – Critical Exposure – who, through the art of visual storytelling, is empowering and training the youth of our fair city (Washington, DC) to become the next wave of community leaders. Critical Exposure, through partnerships with a host of DC public schools and other programs, encourages and equips youth to utilize photography as a powerful advocacy tool by which to spark and make real change happen in their schools, neighborhoods, and communities. This medium is thus a catalyst by which conversations can be stimulated… This powerful tool pushes vital conversations to the forefront by nurturing and building public support in a way that calls for solutions that are inclusive of community voice and input. That public support can then be coupled with the political will to make lasting change happen.

Critical Exposure is teaching our youth a valuable civic lesson through photography – a lesson that elevates their voices while also holding our elected officials, and current city and community leadership accountable.

This morning it was a pleasant surprise to see the article listed below on The Huffington Post – so…I just had to share it with you.  Enjoy!

Moving Student Photos Document School-To-Prison Pipeline

Posted: 11/03/2014 5:03 pm EST Updated: 11/03/2014 5:59 pm EST

In Washington, D.C.’s public schools, African-American students are almost six times as likely to be suspended or expelled as their white classmates. Students with disabilities are also disciplined at higher rates than their peers.

But a group of local students is hoping to use their artwork to change that.

Students participating in a program with the nonprofit group Critical Exposurecontend that disciplinary practices in the District’s public schools contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline, which pushes minority and vulnerable students out of school and into the penal system.

For the past two years, Critical Exposure has brought students together to document the problems in their school district through more than just data and numbers. The students use photography and multimedia projects to depict the difficulty their peers face in finishing school as a result of tough disciplinary policies. Some of the student photographers have been suspended at some point during their educations, and many have seen friends and peers suspended for minor infractions.

“They see what happens when students get 10 days out of school with suspensions, how students get in trouble with the criminal justice system and juvenile justice system and how it snowballs from there,” said Adam Levner, the executive director and co-founder of Critical Exposure, in a phone interview with The Huffington Post.

Scroll down to see the students’ photos.

Levner said that members of his organization’s 2012-2013 after-school fellowship class identified the school-to-prison pipeline as a problem they wanted to document. The 2013-2014 fellows then chose to continue the project, while other program leaders brought the idea to individual schools as well. (The current class of fellows has not yet decided what it will be documenting.)

Since then, Critical Exposure students have testified at public hearings about the issue and had a series of meetings with D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson. They also successfully worked this year to establish a pilot restorative justice program, which emphasizes discussion and conflict resolution over suspensions and expulsions, at a local high school.

Malik Thompson, 19, was involved with Critical Exposure throughout his high school career. He has experienced firsthand the impact of “school pushout.” Following his older brother’s death several years ago, when Thompson was in the ninth grade, he says he stopped going to his citywide, application-only high school. After several months of truancy, and what he describes as “minimal efforts” from school administrators to draw him back in, Thompson says he received a letter from the school informing him that he was no longer enrolled.

“Basically, I was kicked out,” Thompson told HuffPost.

The next year, Thompson became involved in Critical Exposure after seeing a flyer at his new school. He is now an intern at the Gandhi Institute in Rochester, New York, a nonprofit that helps promote racial justice and nonviolence education. There, he facilitates workshops for young people in schools while leading photography and videography efforts.

Thompson, who ended up finishing his high school career in a home-school program, also advocates for the expansion of restorative justice programs in schools.

Restorative justice, he said, “creates [a culture] where the entire student –- like what happened outside the school and during school — is acknowledged and taken into account.”

Thompson continued, “I think more programs like Critical Exposure should exist where young people have avenues to begin to experience their own power, to work collaboratively together with adult supporters in order to make change in their world.”

“Critical Exposure was essential to me becoming the person I am today,” he added.

Below are photos from Critical Exposure’s students, representing how they see the school-to-prison pipeline in their everyday lives, provided to HuffPost by Critical Exposure. All photo captions were written by individual photographers, but have been edited and condensed for clarity.

  • The Lockers
    “Coming in the building feels like turning in my stuff before entering a jail cell.” — Angel L.
  • Untitled
    “The teachers can go through the gate without being stopped, and students are stopped and asked to show a pass. Students are treated like they’re prisoners. They already have to be escorted by a teacher to get through.” — Karl L.
  • Ban The Scans
    “This photo represents what we have to go through before entering our school everyday. I think it’s uncalled for, and nine times out of 10, if any violence … would occur it would be outside the school. According to DCLY [D.C. Lawyers For Youth] high quality mentoring for every D.C. child between 10-17 years old would cost $63 million, versus … paying $305 million just to incarcerate them.” – Sean “Lucky” W.
  • The Blind Pipeline That Youth Cannot See
    “This photo represents how some African American youth are on a path to prison that they can’t see or don’t know when it’s coming. The reason I say that is because most of us are expected to go to prison sometime in life. Statistics say one out of three African American males will go to prison in their life. In elementary school us African American youth are predicted to go to prison or jail based on standardized test scores and suspension rates.” – Sean “Lucky” W.
  • The Jail That Surrounds Us
    “This is a picture of the black long gate that surrounds my school, with only three ways to enter and I know that this is a tactic that jails use to keep ‘criminals’ in or out.” — Mike
  • Rights
    “The American flag symbolizes the rights we are granted as citizens and the freedom we have to manifest ideas and expand our knowledge. The bars represent restriction and confinement. Two conflicting ideas. We should not feel like our school system is detaining us and preventing us from flourishing.” – Anaise
  • Troubled Past
    “My name is Jacqueline Smith I [have] live in Washington D.C. most of my life. Im 20 in the twelfth-grade and excited to graduate in 2013. It took until my last year to figure out how school and education was important. This year has really opened my eyes. Because back then even when I was little I didn’t understand why my mom woke me up early in the morning just to go to school because I never felt like it … In middle school I was suspended a number of times and got expelled from school. But when I was suspended I knew that I was free by staying home watching TV … I changed because I didn’t want to fail.”
  • The Everyday Routine
    “Everyday students have to enter through the auditorium doors and place their backpacks on the X-Ray machine. Then they walk through the metal detector to meet their bag on the other side and then must wait for the bags to be searched by a security guard. This makes students feel as if we’re going inside a jail to meet someone, or as if the staff sees us as criminals. Statistics show that 70 percent of students [who are] involved in ‘in-school’ arrests or are referred to law enforcement are black or Latino. If DCPS [D.C. Public Schools] wants to lower these numbers then why do we have the same procedures of entering a jail [instead of] a comforting environment of being welcomed to school?” – Mike
  • Untitled
    “This photo is of a young man who is sitting at a desk. The desk is in the school hallway and he is the only one outside. ‘My teacher put me out here.’ In most cases, the student is not at fault. Sometimes teachers do not know how to deal and give appropriate punishments. Restorative Justice should be implemented in our schools because, not only does it help students learn how to deal with their behavioral problems, it trains our teachers to deal with students in a correct manner that doesn’t allow their personal judgement to affect the student.” – Samera
  • The Box
    “Every morning for the past three months after walking through the metal detectors, 17-year-old Skinny has to explain to the security guards before being wanded why the machine went off. Skinny has an ankle monitor on, or ‘the box.’ With a curfew of 8 p.m. every night, he feels trapped and isolated from the world. Skinny is on probation and was told he would get the monitor off a month ago. When that did not occur he became disappointed. At times he refused to go to school due to his frustrations. D.C. public schools allow up to three unexcused absences until truancy reports are sent out. I am very concerned about his education and the consequences from the days he has missed.” – Samera

Moving past procrastination…

My writing seminar last night was really an eyeopening experience for me. It was a reminder that I am a procrastinator.

This month is the start of my fourth, yes fourth, year in my PhD program. At times is has seemed that time has moved slowly, while at other times it is hard to believe that three years has already flown by. 

My coursework in now behind me and now comes the really hard part – my dissertation.  As I start to think about where to go next the first hurdle that I have to cross is my Capstone B article. Everyone who knows me knows that my passion is rooted in public education. From the first time that I stepped foot in my classroom at Lake Shore Middle School in 2003 until today, public education has been at the very core of my personal and professional pursuits. Even in the midst of working to attaining this degree, public education has been a major focus and hence the area of concentration for my article.

Finally getting to this point, although its been a journey of struggle and self-discovery, has been a process that has been pretty straightforward until I had to really focus on my own research and that is when the procrastination, and feelings of uncertainty and self-doubt, started to take hold.  Can I really do this? Am I intellectual enough? Is what I have to say important? Am I meant to be here? The list could go on and on… and honestly it does.  The list of self-doubt, which is ultimately grounded in procrastination, lives on in my head and I have to just tune out the ‘noise’ and focus on what I know – I HAVE TO FINISH THIS PROGRAM and I CAN FINISH THIS PROGRAM. I can’t let my procrastination, which thus breeds self-doubt, keep me from what I know God has for me.

I am not the first mother/wife to pursue a PhD… My accomplishments are not my own – the way was being paved for me long before I was even born. I look at my grandmother, my mother, my aunts, my sisters, my friends, and know that this is possible. I look at them and I am constantly inspired.

So…now is the time for me to move past my procrastination, self-doubt, AND make it happen. I am starting with the first word and moving to the second. I am trusting in God and my amazing system of support. This process is totally up to me, my success lies in my hands. Hold me accountable my friends – this is the homestretch!  Here I go…

Access to Ferguson…

It has been almost two weeks since the death of Michael Brown and beginning of the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri. I, like many, have watched the unfolding of these events in horror and disbelief. The news media has been our access to Ferguson and as they have reported I have watched intently. I am grateful for the amazing journalists that have told the stories of Ferguson as they have developed. The situation in Ferguson is a reminder of how journalists put their safety on the line to bring us real life stories.

There is no journalist that I adore more than one of my best friends, Errin Haines Whack. For more than a decade she has told the stories of many people, events, and politics through her reporting – from the LA times, to the Orlando Sentinel, to the Associated Press, to the Washington Post, and now as a freelance journalist. She is also the Vice President-Print of the National Association of Black Journalists.

It is no surprise that she was on the ground in Ferguson to bring the reality of that situation to us. I have followed her articles and reporting very closely.  After watching her interview this morning on MSNBC’s The Daily Rundown, I felt like I had to share her journalistic brilliance with you. Take a look! (if you can’t tell by now, I am a proud friend!)

Article: This is America in 2014? What I witnessed last night in Ferguson was appalling – Fusion.net

Article: 7 takeaways from today’s Ferguson police report – Fusion.net

Article: Clashes continue Monday night in Ferguson, National Guard on the scene – Fusion.net

Article: Ferguson gets restless sleep as community leaders call for calm – Fusion.net

Article: Community peacekeepers urge calm in Ferguson – Fusion.net

Article: The other side of Ferguson and its message of support – Fusion.net

Video: The healing process for Ferguson – Daily Rundown on MSNBC 

75th Anniversary of the Alexandria Library Sit-In – August 21, 1939

Matt Dull

ax-tucker080702140717857175 years ago today, on August 21, 1939, Samuel W. Tucker organized probably the first sit-in of the American Civil Rights Movement at the public library on Queen Street in Alexandria, VA. Five young men were arrested: William Evans, Otto L. Tucker, Edward Gaddis, Morris Murray, and Clarence Strange; with a sixth, Robert Strange, serving as a lookout for Tucker who followed events from his office three blocks away at 901 Princess Street. Today, CPAP MPA student Janet Arrechea and I are participating in a celebration of the 75th Anniversary organized by the Alexandria Libraries. Here is the announcement:

Please join the Alexandria Library at the Barrett Library, 717 Queen Street, Alexandria, VA, 22314, on Thursday, August 21, 10a.m., to celebrate the 75th Anniversary of the 1939 library sit-in. Keynote speakers will be Civil Rights Activist and Director of the African American Civil War Museum Frank W…

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Powerful perspective from an unlikely source…

It is no secret that I am in the throes of studying for my qualifying exams – one of the many milestones for my PhD program – and in an effort to prepare I have been reading, reading, reading.

As a part of my preparation I have been re-reading a book that I read a year ago, Ronald A. Heifetz’s Leadership Without Easy Answers, but this time with the events unfolding in Ferguson, AND across our nation, playing in the background of my mind, I am reading this book with fresh eyes. Several passages struck me so deeply that I immediately felt the need to share.

In chapter 3 of his book, Heifetz discusses The Roots of Authority:

“…the deal to confer power in exchange for a service is made so automatically that the phrase ‘social habit’ may fit better than ‘social contract.’ A contract is a deliberate arrangement between consenting parties. Yet so many of us who grow up within one society know of no other set of possible arrangements. We have not ‘agreed’ in the sense of deliberately choosing among a set of alternative options.”

“The concept of social contract [is]…the cornerstone of democracy. …democracy requires that average citizens become aware that they are indeed the principals and that those upon whom they confer power are their agents. They have also to bear the risks, the costs, and the fruits of shared responsibility and civic participation.”

The human “…capacity to internalize the teachings of authorities enables the formation of culture and, consequently, large and flexible societies and organization. …our cultural norms fulfill in many ways the social functions of authority.”

Although culture is important, “robust culture” cannot replace the need for systems of authority.

One of the passages that gave me pause was found near the end of chapter 3. I was in awe of the eloquence with which Heifetz was able to examine the dysfunction that is nurtured in the presence of the distrust of authority:

“…the perpetuation of the culture requires a trustworthy network of authorities so that [individuals can]…internalize a fairly coherent set of norms. In the absence of such a network…”there is dysfunction. Such as “…disconnecting…from the larger community…and its promise [which can breed and internalize]…a deep distrust of societal authority and the norms it represents.”

A year ago when I read this book I didn’t interpret Heifetz’s words in the way that I do today.  His examination of leadership, and its societal relationship, is relevant to many areas of dysfunction that we see evidenced in our communities – public education, race relations, the widening disparities of wealth and achievement, and the list could go on and on. Perhaps taking the time to consider Heifetz perspectives, and work through methods of application, would be a useful exercise before we jump to fix, reform or transform something that we believe to be broken or in need of repair.

I want to close this post by sharing one last passage from Heifetz book:

“Many of us have been so conditioned to defer to authority that we do not realize the extent to which we are the source of an authority’s power. When we realize our collective power…we can retract the power we have given.”

Just food for thought.

Is this really America? The reality of Black America…

I am a Black woman, married to a Black man, and WE are raising our Black son. 

From the moment  the doctor revealed that the sex of the precious little baby growing in my womb was a boy I have been terrified. As a Black person living in the United States of America I have known the realities that our people have endured and the realities that await us each day. That history, that context, and those realities have been taught to me since my childhood. Understanding those realities are almost like a right of passage into adulthood but knowing that those realities would be even more magnified for our most prized possession, our son, struck me to my very core. In the age of Trayvon Martin, and the countless number of Black males who have been the victim of senseless violence just because they were Black, I was terrified at the thought of raising a Black male in this society.

At the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington, Reverend Joseph Lowery stated,

“…a lot has changed, but nothing has changed…”

and that statement has never been more true and more evidenced than by the events that we have seen unfold in Ferguson, Missouri.

(One of my best friend’s, Errin Haines Whack, is a phenomenal journalist, also a Black woman, who was on the ground in Ferguson reporting – check out her account.)

The scenes from Ferguson were reminiscent of the Civil Rights images that many want to believe belong to a generation past. Many want to believe that we are living in a post racial society, that we no longer need safeguards in place to ensure fairness, protection and equity. For heaven’s sake, we have a Black President.

The images of Ferguson, that I watched in horror and pain on MSNBC Wednesday night will forever be etched in my memory and on my soul. The images of Ferguson, and so many stories alike, remind us of the racial issues that our country is plagued by. This is the reality that Black children have been warned of by their parents. This is the peeling back of the veil of ignorance and a level of exposure that so many needed to see. This is one of the many stories that I will make sure to share with my son, among countless others. This is the United States of America. 

This America is the reality that many of our public education students face on a daily basis and we wonder why they can’t focus when they sit in their seats in, you-name-the-public-school-USA. This is the reason why inequities persist and achievement gaps widen. This is the reality that we, as educators and stakeholders in education, have to understand in order to ‘reform’ our public education systems nationwide. Without understanding historical context, perspective, and the realities that face our children outside of the classroom we will never be able to make the advancements that we claim we want to make. We have to look inside and BEYOND the classroom. We have to reform not only our classrooms, schools and districts…we have to transform our society. Without looking beyond the classroom we will miss the myriad of barriers and challenges that face our students outside of the school walls.

Ferguson is not an anomaly. Ferguson is an appalling reality. Ferguson is not only about Michael Brown, it is about the realities of Black America. We have to continue to watch, feel the emotions, and act.

Seeing the world through Colton’s eyes…

For as long as I can remember I have always wanted to be a mommy. When I met my husband over four years ago that dream became more and more of a reality as we nurtured a friendship that ultimately lead to unconditional love and a lifelong partnership in marriage.

Even in my wildest dreams I could never have imagined not only how amazing motherhood would be but how gloriously magnificent and breathtaking our little Colton would be. Monday, December 16, 2013, changed my life for the better – that is the day that our little bundle
of joy entered the world.

Colton’s birth has refocused me, his presence has deepened my passions, and his existence confirms my ambitions and reminds me of why I work as hard and diligently as I do. His birth was a new beginning for me.

Long before I even spoke his name I was present to the fact that one day soon I would have a child just like the children that I have for years been passionately laboring for. From the very start of my path as an educator, at Lake Shore Middle School in Jacksonville, Florida, to my days now as a education advocate, I am fully aware that the work that I immerse myself in is not just for those children but also for the future of my own.

Seeing the world through Colton’s eyes has been an immeasurable blessing – it is like being reborn and having the opportunity to rediscover the world around me. I am passionate about the future, quality, and direction of our public education system not only for my Colton but for the many other children that are just like him.  They all deserve better… ‘Better’ can be defined in so many ways: exceptional, excellent, greater, higher quality, more appropriate, more suitable, improved, superior, ‘choice’ and the list could go on and on. No matter how one might choose to define it, I will continue to work hard to ensure that children, particularly in the District of Columbia, get the ‘better’ (equitable and quality education) that they deserve.