When I started writing this blog, my views on education were relatively normal. Fairly mainstream.
Two years later, and I’ve gone off way more than the deep end. I’m crazy now. Radicalized.
To be fair, people who know me know I’ve always been crazy. To be clear, it was always more of a silly kind of crazy, a harmless Doc Brown type of thing. To be honest, now suddenly it’s craziness with a set of governing beliefs. Seriously, purposefully crazy. The kind of crazy you seem when you know something in your bones and set out pursuing that truth with all you have.
I may be crazy now, but I think it's for good reason. These have been times for awakening, for accepting new possibilities and recognizing my role in the world. I’m curious to know if you’ll come to the same conclusions I have.
It has been a long, gradual process, but this strange fall into radical ideas really started in earnest with a trip to Ferguson, Mo., on the one-year anniversary of Michael Brown’s murder.
My partner, Lindsay, is a brave, brilliant biracial woman whose life and constant activism are a daily inspiration. She knew a few folks who had been at the forefront of the protests and the movement that had built in the Ferguson community over the course of that first year, and she suggested we fly there with the boys. I was excited by the idea of being there and thought it would be good to see things for ourselves, without any filters. But I’d never done anything like it before. It was hard to picture and kind of nerve-wracking.
We spent most of our third day in town standing outside the jail in downtown St. Louis, where a few of Lindsay’s friends, including DeRay Mckesson and Johnetta Elzie, had been arrested earlier in the day during a large, peaceful demonstration. We were part of a small group of folks waiting outside with water, food, rides and comfort as people were released. Jail support.
DeRay kept losing his shoes as he ran around playing tag with Julian, my son who had just turned seven. They had removed his shoelaces when he got arrested.
Around dusk, DeRay drove us back to our hotel, and we dropped off Lindsay and the boys. He had offered to take me out to the protests in Ferguson with him that night if I wanted to go, so the next thing I knew the two of us were in the car heading north out of St. Louis.
It was late and we hadn’t eaten, so we went through a fast food drive-thru and ate in the car in the parking lot. We each re-laced a sneaker and talked.
I had been struggling with a deep-dive, no-joke depression for quite a while at that point (I still am, but I was then, too. I’m a lot closer to the surface most days now, but some days I wake up and find myself back in the deep. Then I try to swim back toward the light. It just keeps going.), and I had this strangely vivid moment, sitting there in the car with DeRay.
I don’t know how else to say this except that I had this sense that this guy sitting next to me in the driver's seat was glowing. That sounds weird, but it doesn’t matter. What I was “seeing” was that DeRay had heard something calling to him, and he had jumped in with both feet and begun living out that important purpose every minute of every day. He was doing great things.
But I also saw in that same moment that he was just a person, that we’re all just people. He was just eating chicken nuggets and needing to lace up sneakers and planning ahead for the night in case his cell phone died. Mundane things of that nature. I saw so clearly the juxtaposition of this regular guy doing exceptional things — and the onus that puts on us. It opens up exceptionality to all of us by putting the weight of everything squarely on each of our regular sets of shoulders.
It’s up to us. There’s nobody else.
The last thing I thought to myself in that vivid moment was that if this guy can be doing all this, I can get off the couch even when I’m feeling low. I can get up and get through each day. If he’s doing this, well, then things are possible.
I was right. I guess I held onto that idea like a light to swim toward in those times when I got too deep.
And really, just holding onto that light made it harder to sink so far in the first place. Purpose started to hand itself to me, and it gets harder to drown when you feel like you’ve got something important to do. Lots of days now I don’t even get near the water.
From that McDonald’s, DeRay and I drove out to Ferguson and parked on a side street near Florissant Ave., the four-lane road a couple blocks from the Canfield Apartments where the bulk of the protester presence and police activity took place.
It was an intense night. Eye-opening. I’ll get to that tomorrow.
Thanks for reading.