The students I taught were inner-city youth, often labeled "at-risk" because of their zip codes and other circumstances that they had no role in creating for themselves. More than anything, I wanted these students to actualize what it meant to be "at-potential."
"Educate yourself ... in some way, every day," I told them.
Right now, millions of people are taking part in protests all over the world in an unprecedented stance against racism and injustice. We are living through a historic moment. And while in it, educating one's self is imperative.
Courtesy of Matthew Pepitone.
Full disclosure: History was among my least favorite subjects (a close second to math) when I was a student. I was far more interested in studying the future.
Well, here I am in that future, realizing how much it has been shaped by events in the past.
"Those who do not know their history are doomed to repeat it," my uncle always said, as far back as I can remember. I understand his words now.
Educating myself has required looking at the ugliest moments in human history—the slaughter of Indigenous peoples in the name of "civilization," the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 and the Holocaust/Shoah, to name a few. As a result of doing that, I am able to see the lines that connect to this tipping point moment happening here in America and other places.
Educating myself has meant realizing that doing nothing makes one complicit.
Many of history's atrocities happened because too many people did nothing. Educating myself has required studying the principles of social justice and servant leadership. This is vital for making informed decisions when choosing candidates to vote for, whether in one's municipality, state or country.
Educating myself has required finding ways to advocate purposefully, even if that's simply donating to an organization that supports our basic human rights. There are many of them out there.
The past few weeks have been deeply painful for me as a Black man, having experienced firsthand many of the injustices that people are taking to the streets in protest of. But while I have been distraught over these events, I am not dispirited.
This is mostly because I see so many socially conscious citizens—members of various cultures and social groups—standing up, speaking out, and taking action. These individuals are demonstrating a conscious awareness of being part of an interrelated community of others. There is a "we feeling" happening, rooted in a "sense of us."
I often wonder how many of the people who are taking action now became more socially conscious as a result of educating themselves. I'd like to believe it has been the experience of many. I'd also like to believe that it will continue to happen as more and more people look at injustice in all forms, confront their own apathy to it, and start asking themselves how they can be better.
Each one of us can commit to that.
It starts with learning something new every day, like I told my students. The future of this country—and the world—depends on more people seeing themselves being "at-potential."
Courtesy of Matthew Pepitone.
Devan Blackwell, M.A., an Executive Member of NAA, a graduate of The New School for Social Research, can usually be found in pursuit of possibilities—for learning and learning spaces.