“You were the joy of my life, but I just kept dropping the ball… Your momma went down a road, Dwyane, that I didn’t ever think I’d come back from. But on that road I noticed you kept showing up and you’d come and see about me. Dwyane, because you believed in ME, when I got out of prison I was a different woman!”
Jolinda Wade’s words (and the other powerful words uttered in that unlikely tribute spot) moved me to tears when I first heard them. As a lifelong fan of the Miami HEAT and of course of Dwyane Wade, thinking about Wade’s famous impact on the court, yet unknown impact off the court, made me reflect on our individual legacies — particularly in education.
I’m very mindful of my responsibility as an educator — especially as a Black male educator — and I’m always humbled by the privilege of being allowed to help curate the greatest treasure a parent can leave in my care. Our legacy as educators, much like DWade’s, doesn’t live in ourselves or in the monuments we build but in the people we’ve been able to serve and serve beside.
I used to only draw upon that notion in times of hardship, but in the last few years I’ve begun to lead with that premise. I’ve hoped to share with young people and other educators the philosophy of a legacy of dignity and love as our starting, mid and endpoints for how we are to serve. We often lose sight of those deep truths day to day, or only put them up for display during parent-teacher conferences, assemblies and year-end celebrations.
In reality, we don’t always know whose lives we have touched and in what ways, just as some of our most life-changing moments or relationships aren’t always clearly expressed as such. We’re all tied together in a web of support. When we act out of love and respect, it radiates throughout the web. Who knows how many lives we’ve touched in the end? And when we stumble, it turns out we’re caught and nurtured by the same web.
This notion was reinforced this week with the tributes and funeral service of the artist and social advocate Nipsey Hussle. I wasn’t a megafan of his music, yet deeply respected most of his message about community impact, education and economic growth. His continued evolution as a man was cut short in the very community which he lived to uplift.
I have found myself often torn as an educator, giving my students the message of college or career, because oftentimes that implies “getting out” of their neighborhood and taking their talents elsewhere. Yet that notion has more often than not left the very communities we strive to uplift barren of their talent because we’ve sent them all away. Of course, on the other hand, we know the dangers of choosing to stay when not everyone in your “hood” comes with you as you evolve.
I often think of our role as educators as being willing to travel the journey of challenging those very notions. I no longer want to feed a system that tells primarily black and brown kids to “get out of the hood,” messaging that where they come from isn’t worth their time or talents. That their home is broken and can’t ever evolve.
But what do we do when the dangers of staying are so vivid? We also have a co-responsibility, while being with and in community, to truly teach our community to protect and not to strike down our own out of insecurity or fear.
The quintessential question is, how are we shaping our legacies as educators every single day? How are we cultivating minds early that aim to create change in and for their own communities? Are we dream-keepers or are we gatekeepers?
If Dwyane Wade had given up on his mother on that road, how would her life have turned out? How would his own life have gone? If someone quit on Nipsey when he was still deeply entrenched in gang life, would the Staples center be filled to honor his life some 20 years later?
The Legacy of our Hussle as educators, specifically in communities of innate excellence and minimal opportunity, lives in three (there’s many more, but I’ll surface these) calls to action:
Affirming the greatness and power within, honoring the external heroes and recognizing the ones our children see every day (in themselves and in us).
Identifying intentional steps and actions they/we can take to better our communities, now and in the long term.
Intentionally creating an ecosystem for all of our gifts and talents to not only shine but weave together toward our unified goals (We’ve got to eradicate the singular hero story…).
We have to continue to “show up on that road” for our young people and for each other. The system we fight in and against is constant, and our kids need us to be the same as we attempt to create change by dismantling it. We’re living our legacies and, quite honestly, what better way is there to live? The marathon continues…
The People’s Champions:
If you know me, you know two of my big inspirations are Muhammad Ali and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, for their athletic ability and their innate charisma amongst other known accomplishments. Many years ago I liberally borrowed the term “People’s Champion” and applied it to my many nicknames — The Mayor and/or Ninja. Yet, the term People’s Champion resonates with me when it comes to extraordinary people doing extraordinary things.
So as a feature in every blog, I want to focus on one of those people to shine a light on the brilliance and the work that sometimes doesn’t get proper notice.
People's Champion: Justin Hendrickson
Justin Hendrickson — aka “Mr. H” — is the blue-collar, love-filled principal of Southshore K-8 in Seattle’s Rainier Beach. Justin tagged me in a tweet asking how we can teach the legacy of Nipsy. How can we teach his desire to transform his neighborhood to students in their local context? That forced me to think about the fact that while Nipsy is a great loss due to his platform, we have so many “Husslers” in the community now that we don’t celebrate.
That tag on Twitter ironically made me think of Justin as my first honoree. Justin is a lifelong educator who has committed his life to serve in places and areas he doesn’t have to be. Because of his welcoming personality and respect for “the culture,” I often have to remember that Justin is a white man who models and utilizes his privilege in service of others. Eradicating the oftentimes overblown phrase of “ally,” Justin lives to serve young children of color unapologetically in and with the community.
Southshore K-8 in Seattle has undergone many leadership changes, yet he has stayed to weather the storm and to be a part of a community finding its voice to steer itself forward. It has not been an easy journey and has had its bumps, yet Mr. H’s constant workmanlike style and his ability to be of the people and for the people is a great example to educators everywhere who feel like if they don’t “look like” those they serve and therefore can’t be effective.
To learn more about Justin and to support Southshore K-8 please visit: https://southshorek8.seattleschools.org/