Schools as Change Agents


I am attending the California Association of African American Superintendents and Administrators Statewide Professional Development Summit. This year, I am slated to be the keynote for a session on what we can do to increase college access for students of color, but something struck me during a plenary centered around parent engagement.

A teacher posed a question to the room made up of educators, teachers, administrators, superintendents, board members, and parents. She asked, "Are schools doing enough to make sure students come to class ready to learn?" One panelist agreed schools are doing as much as they could, but suggested we engage more parents. Another panelist suggested that teachers need to ensure their instructional practice is culturally relevant. One audience member suggested students just don't care as much about education as they do other things, which draws their attention away.

As I sat and pondered the question, my answer was no. Schools aren't doing enough to ensure students enter classrooms ready to learn. I think schools have missed opportunities to lead the charge for social change in communities. Schools are the center of most communities and have more influence than they employ.

Schools should be advocating for livable wages for teachers and parents, helping families gain access to food, advocating for affordable rent, and housing, access to healthcare, transportation, and speaking out against violence in all forms. Each of these issues affect schools. Specifically, they affect students and their abilities to learn. If teachers were to ask their "difficult" students what home was  like last night, they might uncover the issues that are creating barriers to education for the students they have the most trouble.

Students often indicate distress, anxiety, and trauma in the most counterproductive ways and absent parents are often indicators of socioeconomic barriers. Instead of telling you the last meal they had yesterday was lunch at school verbally, they show it through their behavior with a lack of  focus or interest. That student that might exhibit hesitation to participate in class may have witnessed domestic violence at home. The students who are talkative and disruptive might not be able to read the whiteboard. Parents who never show up to parent conferences might be working their second of three part-time jobs they need to support their family.

So, can schools do more to push social change? Yes, and it’s imperative they do. When schools act as change agents, students fare better. On the issue of gun violence in schools, arming teachers, metal detectors and gun-free zones speak to the symptoms of broader societal issues. Specifically, lack of mental health services and guns being too readily accessible. But schools speaking out against gun violence can move the needle, especially when teachers tell lawmakers they don't want to be armed and students walk out in support of sensible gun safety laws. The same is true of many of the issues that plague communities and schools. Our work outside of schools certainly has an impact inside classrooms. Schools themselves are just a dichotomy of their communities, so it is crucial for schools to be a part of the machine bringing about societal change for the better.


They Are Not Alone – School Walkout for Gun Control Joins Rich History of Student Protests


They’re Not Alone – School Walkout for Gun Control Joins Rich History of Student Protests

On Wednesday, March 14, droves of students across the U.S. left their classrooms and took to the streets to protest government inaction on gun control legislation that could prevent mass school shootings like the most recent event at Marjory Stoneman Douglas  High School in Parkland, Florida that has shaken the nation for two decades.

The Women’s March Youth Empower, the protest organizer, said this demonstration is to honor the 17 students and teachers who lost their lives in the nation’s most recent mass shooting tragedy.

But broadly, Women’s March wants to call out political inaction on the issue around gun control. The students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, the site of the Valentine’s day shooting, are staging their own March on Washington in Washington D.C. next month. Thousands are expected to attend.

This new wave of student activism has drawn mixed reviews from lawmakers, media, and the public. Some conservative lawmakers have cast doubt on the sincerity of the students’ efforts at gun reform. They claim adults are influencing the teenagers who are not able to organize social protest on their own.

But others laud the students for using their voice in politics to stand up for themselves and their peers, especially as they are most affected by government delays on this issue. It is their lives at stake as one of the famous mottos claims, these students are fighting for their lives.

Despite public skepticism, the Parkland students have continued to push their concerns on social and televised media. Now it appears the government is listening. Many are amazed that children have been able to inspire political action where adults have failed.

On the same day as the student walkouts, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill on school safety that would enforce stricter background checks for potential gun owners. It would also investigate and create policy to guide law enforcement agencies like the FBI on how to detect mass shooters earlier on before lives are lost.

This federal bill is followed by another piece of legislation that came out of Florida’s state legislature earlier this month that would raise the age of gun ownership from 18 to 21 and certify teachers to carry arms in school.

This movement in student activism is not new.

It is a reminder of past acts by school children over the last half century who took to the streets to exercise their citizenship, participate more fully in our democracy, and create outlets to express their discontent.

Here is a timeline of high school student protests over the years. Most of the demonstrations listed are skewed toward the past 15 years, but include demonstrations that go back as far as the mid-1900s.






This week, we watched students across America do what they would have done during the civil rights days -  lunch counter sit-ins in North Carolina or walkouts in East Los Angeles. We saw students use their power and influence to speak out against inaction and advocated for social justice. This time, their advocacy was around protecting their rights to an education without fear, denouncing the National Rifle Association (NRA) and gun violence in schools.

I had a chance to attend a rally held at Lynwood High School where students walked out of their classrooms at 10 am and gathered in the quad. Each student-led club spoke, sharing thoughts, feelings, and words of encouragement for their classmates who were feeling anxious and uneasy. Students also read the names of the victims, held a moment of silence and shared a little about each of their stories. At lunchtime, an empty desk was placed on the quad in memory of every lived lost in Parkland a month ago. Students at Firebaugh High School walked out of campus and returned 17 minutes later to place signs up around campus stating their commitment to ending gun violence at schools.

I should have been at work instead of at these rallies. But I felt it was important that our students saw us and knew we heard them. Unlike a Florida lawmaker, who felt student's voice does not matter, I think the opposite. When they have a message for us, we should make sure we open our ears to hear their views.  Youth voice and leadership is essential, and we should do nothing for them without first hearing from them. So, as I was on my way to work, I followed my gut and headed to the rallies instead. I am glad I did.

I have never been more proud to be Lynwood alum. I know our future is in good hands. I saw leaders emerge because adults gave young people space to use their voice and leadership. It was terrific watching news feeds of students all over the country come together united, often going against the grain to do so. If we adults made any mistakes this week, it was those of us who prevented students from walking out of schools by threatening them with punishment for doing so or those of us who discredited their voices. We have to make sure we continue to create opportunities for youth advocacy and civic engagement. We should never get to a point where we replace youth voice and leadership with our own. I am so proud of our students.


An Informed Student is a Powerful Student


By Danielle Mayo

Schools all over the country took time away from academics to prepare and execute a 17 Minute National Walkout to honor the lives of the 17 students and staff members whose lives were taken during the February 14 mass shooting that took place at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Ft. Lauderdale.

Conversations on the country’s gun laws lead the dialogue each time there is a mass shooting; and yet, no real change has been implemented to combat the violence guns help create.  Instead, the 45th President of the United States and the Secretary of Education think it’s helpful to have teachers carry guns instead. 

You know, fight fire with fire.

In response, schools are peacefully protesting gun violence in opposition of the National Rifle Association’s refusal to make changes and Trump’s distasteful idea of arming teachers.  

Black people in this country already have to deal with police officers who continue to have prejudices and deadly responses to young black men and women.  What do you think will happen across the country with teachers who are licensed to carry?

The very same thing.

Stress and racial incongruencies will simply lead to murder.  There is no rational explanation for this. It’s just a tit-for-tat that is unsafe and simply insane.  But if there’s ever any beauty in a tragedy like this, it is that somehow and some way, individuals are able to find unity in adversity.

Abramson Sci Academy demonstrated this beautifully as students gathered in the school’s back field, braving cold temperatures to stand together.  Some created signs. Some recited poems. Some likely didn’t even understand why they were engaging in the walkout, but they still participated, nonetheless.

Even more beautiful was seeing students of the school’s Essential Skills program (a specialized educational program the school provides to address the intense physical, educational and emotional needs of students living with pervasive mental and physical disabilities) be a part of this protest.  The Essential Skills teachers could have easily chosen to keep the students inside and voted against pushing non-electrical wheelchairs through dirt and grass to get their students there, but they didn’t. Instead, they made sure all students had the same exposure, ensuring no one was left behind.


I could see passion and fire in the eyes of the students who were older and were comfortable and confident in using their voices to speak out.  I could see hurt in the eyes of those who have been exposed to gun violence within their communities. Apathy from those who remain playful and unable to connect the seriousness of it all, ut even from the different backgrounds and experiences, they stood together.  Peers challenging one another to pay attention. Peers teaching one another powerful sentences to chant. Peers helping one another create signs illustrating opposition to gun violence. Adults staring in amazing because in this moment, this is truly what education is about.

It’s more than arithmetic.  It’s more than a GPA. It’s about instilling appropriate decision-making, problem-solving skills and discipline to make a change in their communities and in-turn, the world.  It’s about ensuring they are informed about policies, the law, their rights, and ways in which they can make changes they believe will be beneficial to them. It’s about allowing them to be creative and make mistakes, all the while supporting them and letting them lead the way.

We can’t live in fear that they will fail.  We can’t live in fear that others and systems will fail them.  And this student-led protest was a shining example of the success and empowerment that can occur when we don’t only focus on academic content, but also teach our youth that they too, do have the power.

My plea to everyone who took part in yesterday’s walkout is to keep marching. Keep shouting. Keep voicing your opinion. It’s working. They are hearing us. This is not the time to get tired or give up. We have to keep up the good fight and one day we will prevail!

She Persisted


As a father, my goal is to raise children that are fearless and brave, understanding that nothing is beyond their reach. For my daughter Lailah, my goal is to create an environment where her dreams and goals are attainable and valid- an environment where she knows the only barrier to her success and happiness are the limits she places on herself. Recognizing her hard work and persistence removes those barriers. I'm aware of the inequities she faces as a young girl, and this pushes me harder to join in the work to remove them for all women since Lailah will follow in their footsteps. We simply all fair better when women are in their rightful place, leading.

Last week, like I've done every year on March 2, I made my rounds to elementary schools sharing the joys of reading with students. Typically, I pick one of Dr. Seuss' books or a book that I can get through with reasonable ease and in a short amount of time.

This year I read, She Persisted: 13 Women Who Changed the World by Chelsea Clinton and Alexandra Boiger, a book befitting of Women's Month. The students in that class hung onto every word in the book. They asked questions and identified with the stories and themes in the book. Their response drove home the point that although for some people it might be cliche; representation matters, especially when we talk about representation for women and girls. It was as crucial for the young girls in the room to see themselves in the characters in the book as it was for the boys to see girls in those roles.

I recommend this book for all parents of both girls and boys. Kids should know what women have done when given the opportunity as well as what they have done when they created the opportunity for themselves. Boys and girls have to understand that women can excel at anything they persist in doing. Fostering a love of reading in youth is essential. Reading is all the more impactful when the themes, stories, and characters reflect who you are.


White Flight and Who Really Needs Protecting


By Lamont Douglas

After I read the article, “‘White Flight’ Remains a Reality,” I thought back to my days as a young man and recall hearing  “you know whites used to stay back there” or “that used to be a white school, park, grocery, or part of town” never realizing the impact. Although white flight is a term we have heard often, many times we don’t talk about  its destructive remnants. 

In its path, white flight leaves abandoned buildings throughout suburbia, rural areas, as well as many inner cities in America. The barren wastelands we usually see driving down an old highway are becoming more prevalent. One begins to ask, “What is so sacred to a group of people (who are lifelong colonizers) that would make them only dwell in a settlement as long as it is feasible to them? White Flight brings up some very thought provoking questions indeed. 

  • What eventually happens when each and every time an ethnic group of your disliking comes too close into your desired territory of dwelling? 
  • Do you continue to pack up and flee leaving behind economic turmoil that still affects outcomes in the territory? 
  • What happens when you become the minority and the space that is untainted by ethnic hands in your beloved America is at a minimum? 
  • When you have pillaged all of America for all her worth, what will you colonize next?

This group of white Americans are the worst group of humans. They are liars and infidels. They pose themselves as loving families, but they perpetuate racism, bigotry, prejudice, and hated while simultaneously believing it’s only about a better way of life for their own. The worst part is that they dwell among us. They are the very people who you enjoy a sporting event with. They falsely befriend you at a festival, parade, gathering, or bar. They are ok schmoozing, mingling, drinking and hanging as long as when we leave, you go your way toward the ghetto, redlined area, or acceptable dwelling that’s not located in their neighborhood.. Because if you are, “there goes the neighborhood.” They are fine with you entertaining them, serving them and cleaning up after them as long as you go back on home when you’re finished or they can go to their safe, protected, and at times, gated community; safe from you in their own reality. 

Finally, they have no problem moving into an area because it’s cool, hip or happening with your cultural identity…just as long as that cultural identity will be held in check in a few years, carried out at a minimum, and at decibel levels that is conducive with their way of living. When that is achieved and you have shared all that you have and they have pillaged your soul, they will conveniently raise taxes, insurance, and impose their form of tariffs that will get you well away from that area.‘White Flight’ does remain a reality. It is a destructively nomadic way of living and it will soon take away all they think they are saving. 

The next question is: what are we going to do about it?

Betsy Devos fails the test, Again!


Devos might be one of Trump's least qualified appointees. Time and time again, she has proved to be inept on the fundamental understanding of public education in this country; this was first evident during her confirmation hearings when she could not respond to simple and direct questions about education policy. Then, she mischaracterized HBCU's in a grammatically incorrect statement and rolled back critical Obama-era civil rights protections making marginalized populations of students more vulnerable. When given the opportunity to curtail the student debt crisis, she added fuel to the inferno.

Her recent interview on 60 Minutes was an embarrassment. If I were a part of her communications team, I would have pulled the plug on the interview. Devos' responses or lack thereof shed a negative light on the Department of Education as a whole. Devos said she believes that introducing more choice pushes failing schools to do better. When asked about how her policies or work in education in her home state of Michigan improved schools, she danced around facts. When pressed with the reality that schools under her influence were doing worse, she fumbled her responses.

When it comes to public policy, no one gets it right all the time. There are always unintended consequences and the need for course correction as you gather new information and data. With that said, whether the results of your policies are positive or negative, you should be able to stand by the results and be able to speak to what went well or what needs a second look. In doing so, you maintain public trust, but also capture learning and experience key to the path ahead as you work to do better. Devos cannot stand by her work, has demonstrated she has not owned up to how she has failed Michigan schools, and has not learned from the experience. How is she supposed to improve the state of education in our country?

There is a learning curve for everyone when taking on a new role. I did not expect Devos to have all the answers during her confirmation hearings, but I expected her to address the flawed policy at the start of her term leading the department. But almost a year after her appointment, she is still out of touch, out of line, and still grossly unqualified to the US Department of Education. She should resign, and an experienced and successful educator should succeed her.


Get Racist Teachers out of the Classroom


By Shawnta Barnes

Recently, the racist behavior of two Florida teachers was exposed.  Social Studies teacher Dayanna Volitich, who was using the pseudonym ‘Tiana Dalichov’ online was secretly hosting a white nationalist podcast “Unapologetic.”  Math teacher David Swinyar used the n-word and said to his students, “You all should not be dating all these African American boys because they aren't worth it.”  Volitich was removed from the classroom, but Swinyar only received a 10-day unpaid suspension.  

Some of my colleagues were shocked by these news stories.  They couldn’t comprehend a racist person would teach children of racial backgrounds they believe are inferior to the white race.  I had as much shock about racist teachers being part of the profession as I did about Trump becoming President of the United States.  Hatred and racism permeate all sectors of our society and racist beliefs about certain groups propelled Trump to the White House. With social media providing platforms for people to express their views, racist behavior is more easily brought to light.  

Many people of color I know have a story about a teacher they felt either was a blatant racist or seemed to treat kids of color differently than white students.  Even with culturally responsive training happening in districts across the nation, racism is still present in the classroom.  Earlier this year, I was in a two-day racial equity training.  During the training, there were times when the facilitators would do a check-in and give everyone a chance to express him or herself.  One person read an excerpt from Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and afterwards concluded the training was a waste of time, that Dr. King’s dream is currently a reality today, and if certain groups people just worked hard enough and stop throwing out the race card, they would be able to achieve their goals in life.

My father’s family ended up in Indianapolis because the Ku Klux Klan burned down my paternal great-grandparents home more than once.  During the last occurrence, they left Cedartown, Georgia and didn’t stop until they arrived in Indianapolis, Indiana.  Guess what?  People who had the same beliefs as the KKK back then procreated and passed their hatred down to their children.  Those beliefs appear today under the white nationalist or the neo-nazi movement and some of those people also happen to be teachers.  

A colleague asked me, “Do you think a person could overcome racism?”  I always lean towards the optimist side. So yes, I believe it is possible.  Although I have this belief, our children don’t have time for racist teachers to change their mindset while they are in the classroom.  When teachers have sex with students or physically assault them, we want them out of the classroom and we should demand the same for racist teachers.  The damage they could do to our children could last a lifetime.  

We don’t have time for shock and amazement about these situations.  We need to continue to expose racist teachers and get them away from all children, especially children of color, and fast.

McDonalds and Womens Day



Anyone who has driven through Lynwood this week took a double take at an iconic symbol that looked a little out of sorts. McDonald's franchise owner, Patricia Williams, made a bold and unprecedented statement in honor of International Women's Day. She turned McDonald's iconic golden arches upside down making it a ‘W’ in honor of women everywhere. Williams, the owner of 16 McDonald's franchises, got her start in Lynwood and chose to make a statement with her location on the corner of Imperial Highway and Long Beach Boulevard, two of Los Angeles' busiest intersections.

In her time in Lynwood, she has employed scores of young people including Lynwood's current Mayor, offering them scholarships and necessary on-the-job training. Additionally, she has been a fervent supporter of local schools and community events. Today, she sets her sights on highlighting women. From the packaging and products to signage and crew uniforms, Patricia Williams, and her teams will turn every golden arch in sight upside down in tribute to the phenomenal impact women have had on society and the broad scope of history and their extraordinary accomplishments.

Seeing how impactful this gesture has been so far, I hope it stays in place beyond this month. The impact women have had on my life, and the world is so indelible that one month - one day is not nearly enough to honor them. Though women have seldom received enough recognition for the work they've done to shape this world, it's important to make sure we show our appreciation for what they mean and what they have done. Their place is not in supporting roles, but on the front lines, leading wherever they chose.


Shut up and dribble


Shut up and dribble

Shut up and throw the ball

Shut up and stand for the anthem

Shut up and honor our flag

Shut up and keep your hands on the wheel

Shut up and pick the cotton

Shut up and go through the back door

Shut up and sit in the back of the bus

Shut up and stay in your own neighborhoods

Shut up and go back to your country

Shut up and speak English

Shut up and whatever you do

Don’t speak up about oppression

Don’t speak up about politics

Don't use your platform to benefit anyone but yourself

Lebron James and Kevin Durant took a ride in ESPN host, Cari Champion's, Uber last month and engaged in thoughtful and insightful dialogue about growing up without their fathers, manhood, basketball, and politics. When the conversation shifted to Lebron's criticisms of Trump, he had this to say.

The climate is hot. The number one job in America, the appointed person is someone who doesn’t understand the people. And really don’t give a (expletive) about the people. When I was growing up, there was like three jobs that you looked (to) for inspiration or you felt like these were the people who could give me light. It was the president of the United States, it was whoever was the best in sports and then it was, like, whoever was the greatest musician at the time.

Kevin Durant added:

When you’re talking about leadership and what’s going on in our country, it’s all about leadership. And I learned that playing basketball. I learned a lot of life skills from playing basketball. ... You need to encourage people and that’s what builds a great team, and I feel like our team as a country is not ran by a great coach.

The video of Kevin and Lebron's uber ride lasted about 16 minutes and covered a variety of topics. But Fox News Host Laura Ingraham took offense to their criticism of the president and thought it best to put them in their places:

I’m numb to this commentary. Must they run their mouths like that? Unfortunately, a lot of kids — and some adults — take these ignorant comments seriously. Look, there might be a cautionary lesson in LeBron for kids: This is what happens when you attempt to leave high school a year early to join the NBA. And it’s always unwise to seek political advice from someone who gets paid a hundred million dollars a year to bounce a ball. Oh, and LeBron and Kevin: You’re great players but no one voted for you. Millions elected Trump to be their coach. So keep the political commentary to yourself or, as someone once said, shut up and dribble.,

This type of rebuttal is nothing new, from Bill Russell, Muhammad Ali, the Syracuse 9 to Colin Kaepernick. Black athletes have used their voices, influences, and platform to speak out against racism and injustice only to be told to stick to what they are paid to do and nothing else.

So, it begs these questions, “Who has the right to criticize the president, or more specifically, who has the right to use their voices and platform to help those who are less fortunate? What happens when people with a platform and influence do nothing to shed light on injustice?”

My Top Ten Dr. Seuss Books


By David McGuire

Today marks the 114th birthday of Theodor Seuss Geisel, a.k.a. Dr. Seuss. Around the world, millions will celebrate this birthday. Dr. Seuss was more than an author. He was a movement. It could probably be argued that nearly every American learned to read using Dr. Seuss’s books. For over 75 years, Dr. Seuss’s books have inspired and encouraged readers. It was the unique artistic style and voice that made his books some of the most successful selling books of all time. He was a master of wordplay and rhyme and his imagination took readers on a magical and unforgettable ride. Dr. Seuss is an author of 60 books. His books have been turned into movies and TV classics and have impacted and influenced literacy all over this country. On his birthday, we celebrate Dr. Seuss.  Below, I have shared my top ten Dr. Seuss books:

1. Oh, the Places You’ll Go

This graduation top seller was given to me after I graduated from high school and after I graduated college. It is one of my favorite books of all time mainly for its inspiration about the struggles and successes of life. It was the final book he published before his death.

2. One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish

I think this is one of the best introductory books that Dr. Seuss created. I enjoyed this book for its simple language and its rhymes.

3. The Cat in the Hat

This book is about a rainy and boring day for children stuck in the house. That rainy and boring day later turns into a time filled with adventure and fun.

4. Green Eggs and Ham

This book is arguably the most popular Dr. Seuss book. There is a story this book was written off a bet. The bet was that Seuss couldn’t write a book using 50 words or less. It is safe to say he won the bet and wrote one of the most successful and popular children’s books of all time.

5. Hop on Pop

This popular early children’s book is used to support readers in the early stages with basic phonics and concepts. It is a collection of short poems with the subtitle “The Simplest Seuss for Youngest Use”

6. And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street

This was Seuss’ first children book. It was the first book published under his pen name Dr. Seuss. The book was originally rejected by over 15 publishers before it was finally picked up. He wrote the book while on vacation with his wife.

7. The Lorax

It is well known that while Dr. Seuss was alive, he rejected the idea of his books becoming movies. The Lorax was a motion feature picture in 2012 and was a television feature in 1972. It was centered on the theme of greed. It was believed this was Seuss’s favorite book.

8. Fox in Socks

This book was published in 1965 and has a similar resemblance to Green Eggs and Ham. The book features two main characters a Fox and Knox. The Knox has difficulty throughout the book following along with the Fox’s densely rhyming tongue-twisting words until the end of the story.

9. Dr. Seuss’s ABC

This children book should be a required text in all kindergarten classrooms. This book introduces children to the basics of the alphabet through short poems and characters.

10. How the Grinch Stole Christmas

This was another popular Dr. Seuss’s book turned movie. It is a must read during the Christmas holiday and must watch movie and television special as well. The book was written and illustrated by Dr. Seuss and published in 1957. The book is about a Grinch, who hates Christmas and steals all Christmas themed items from a town called Whoville. Eventually, at the end of the story, the residence of Whoville convince the Grinch there is more to Christmas than gifts under the tree.

Despite the controversy surrounding Dr. Seuss’ earlier work as a cartoonist, it is impossible to ignore the impact his stories has had on literacy.  Celebrate his legacy by reading one of his books today.



Five Lessons I Learned from Michelle Obama


By Shawnta Barnes

Sometimes life grants you opportunities where the reward clearly outweighs the investment. Hearing, then Senator, Barack Obama, speak in person, was one such opportunity for both my husband and me. It was Monday, May 5, 2008, the day before the Indiana primary election and Senator Obama was scheduled to speak at a campaign rally at the American Legion Mall.  As a child, it never crossed my mind a person of color could become the President of the United States. Just the possibility of this becoming a reality convinced my husband and me to stand for hours after work and wait in a long line. With tired feet and hungry bellies, we were blessed with tickets close to the front of the crowd - thanks to the kindness of a stranger.

Fast forward ten years later and life presented me with yet another opportunity to hear an Obama speak. This time it was with Former First Lady Michelle Obama. She was part of an event put on by the Women’s Fund of Central Indiana called, “A Moderated Conversation with Former First Lady Michelle Obama.” I knew I had to be there to hear one of my sheroes speak.  She is hope realized for many women of color.  I wanted to soak up any wisdom she had to offer and apply it to my own journey in life. The ticket wasn’t cheap, but it was well-worth the investment for the lessons I received. I’ve detailed those lessons below: 

When you get a seat at the table don’t waste it.

“If you are already telling yourself they don’t want to hear me or maybe I’m not smart enough and you’re in a position where someone has put you at the table exactly because they want to hear from you and you’re quiet - you’re going to eventually just become a
non-factor because they're getting nothing from you.”  MO

Michelle Obama’s words hit home because I have been a non-factor before.  When I first started getting opportunities to participate in conversations or to join committees, I would take notes, observe, and would rarely voice an opinion.  One day, after a committee meeting, an older black woman pulled me to the side and, “What’s the point of you being here if you ain’t gonna say nothing?”  After I got past my hurt feelings over her bluntness, I realized she was right.  Even though you know you're at the table for a reason, it still is hard to voice your opinion because you worry about how what you say might be interpreted or what it might cost you.  When I started writing on a consistent basis last January, I wrote “safe pieces.”  They were boring pieces and I wasn’t saying anything.  I was worried about how my opinion would affect my job.  Now, I don’t worry about that.  I write and speak about issues important to me including recently testifying in front of the Indiana Senate about the problems students, especially black students, are facing because of poor discipline practices in some Indiana schools.  If someone doesn’t want to associate with me because of what I said, maybe I don’t need to be around this person or if someone gets angry because of what I said, maybe I’ve hit the nail on the head and the issue needs to be addressed.  Issues can’t get solved if the people at the table who have new ideas to offer are mum. 

Be prepared to know that the work is hard, but do it anyways.

"What you have to do is just get up and do it. There is no magic.”   MO

We lie to our youth, when we don’t tell them it takes hard work to achieve your goals.  Everyone is looking for a shortcut and the reality is you have to make a plan and take the time to do the work.  Earlier this year, a student asked me, “How do you do all that you do?”  My students are aware I write a lot, teach at their school, and teach at a local university.  I tell them I have a plan and in that plan, I have a schedule that allows me the time to get the work done to accomplish the goals I have.  Yes, that means I get up early and yes, that might mean I have to stay up late and miss some social events.  If I want to achieve my goals, I have to work hard.  The payoff is so worth the hard work and the hard work opens the door to opportunities.

Save the platitudes and fix the problem.

"You can't ask people to just live on platitudes and well-wishes. You can't pull yourselves up by the bootstraps if you don't have boots."   MO

In society, we are really good at trying to patch up a situation with nice words.  For example, “I’ll keep you in my thoughts and prayers.”  There is nothing wrong with reflecting and praying but that alone won’t help a child that’s three grade levels behind catch up on reading, it won’t help the woman that is being punched by her partner, and it won’t help the family that has to choose between paying the light bill and getting groceries.  We have to take action in addition to saying kind words.  Someone asked me, “Why did you go back to the school that cut your literacy coach position to facilitate the Black History Month Literacy Night?”  For me, the answer was simple.  Praying that the families would find books with characters representative of who their children are in hopes they would read and improve their literacy is not as helpful as showing up and giving those parents tools to accomplish that goal.

Set boundaries.

“You have to know how to advocate for yourself...There are things that I need to make this work for me.  So, I was very clear about the boundaries that I needed.  This is also something that I think women do not do well for ourselves is creating boundaries within which we want to work.”   MO

When August rolled around last year, I was burned out.  I had just finished coursework to obtain my school administration license.  I had finished a policy fellowship.  I had finished interviewing at several schools for a new job after my position was cut.  I had wrapped up my contributions to the Indiana ESSA plan just to name a few.  I realized moving into the 2017-18 school year something had to change.  I could not keep saying yes to everything.  Some days, I was attending multiple meetings.  To be honest, some I wasn’t even that interested in.  My friend jokingly calls me superwoman, but I felt like a super failure.  Although I’m not perfect this school year, I’m getting better at saying no and telling people how much time I can give.  I liked when Michelle Obama shared how she would only give three days of her week to support Barack Obama during his campaign for President.  By making those demands she said, “People learned to respect those boundaries.”  People will pull you in so many directions if you don’t advocate for yourself and you should only participate in activities in which you are passionate.

Push through self-doubt.

"I want them to know that anybody who has been successful, particularly if you're a woman, and especially if you're a woman of color, you grow up with a lot of doubts in your head."   MO

"You have to practice achieving through people's low expectations of you."   MO

Although this portion of the night, Michelle Obama was focusing on the young ladies in the crowd, every woman, every person, needed to hear these words.  Achieving through people’s low expectations doesn’t stop once you finally obtain your first professional job after college.  Being a black professional is hard.  There are times my husband and I lament about situations we have endured while navigating our respective fields, his technology and mine’s education; these difficulties were simply because of our color.  People think you only got the job because of affirmative action or people think you are less competent.   Once people get to know you, they realize you do know your stuff and that you might even know more than them.  There are times I get upset internally, but I know I have to keep my head held up high and push on because my two sons and the rest of their generation is behind me looking at my example.  

So on this first day of Women’s History Month, I salute Former First Lady Michelle Obama. Your words, wisdom, and work have inspired me to continue doing my best and to know that the road may be long, but the journey is mine to call my own. It is up to me to make the best of it. I salute you!

Youth Leadership: Unafraid and Unapologetic


I am proud, per the usual, of young people standing on the front lines calling for change. In the wake of the tragic shooting in Parkland, Florida, students took up position in the front of the battle for sensible gun reform. Met with death threats, resistance from the NRA, and gun enthusiasts calling them paid actors and dismissing their voices as children who should stay in their places, they marched to the state capitol in Florida, met with Trump and spoke truth to power as they confronted legislators like Marco Rubio. In a short amount of time, with a unified voice, they managed to force CNN to host a town hall, gain commitments from US senators, pressured Trump to ban the bump stock, led advertisers to leave the NRA and raised millions for their upcoming march in Washington. This result is the norm when we value and listen to youth voice, and these results could be more common if we allow them to lead.

I remember in high school being a student activist. Doing so is not easy, but required a tremendous amount of courage as resolve. My senior year in high school, I went to a Lynwood School Board meeting in protest of a change to our district's soda vending contract. Our current contract was set to expire at the end of the fiscal year. Typically, this would not have been cause for alarm, until we were notified that proceeds from vending machines on our campus would no longer fund our school activities account and would now be routed to the district office instead. As a student in Lynwood, the district office had a terrible reputation, especially when it came to fiscal mismanagement. The feeling was that we would never see that money again. The vending machines on our campus generated around 90 thousand dollars annually, which was used to fund student body activities, clubs, and sports. So it was vital that we retained these funds in order continue to promote school culture and spirit.

My peers elected me to write and deliver a speech to the school board. I spent all week working on my remarks and a list of demands. We asked that we retain the proceeds from the machines on our campus and that we, the students, be made a part of the selection process to secure more options for our student body. We felt like we had enough self-agency to speak up for ourselves and, as appropriate, have a say in how our campus was running.

That night, I remember signing up to speak with my hands shaking. The district office was aware we were coming and spent a couple of days trying to dissuade us from bringing up the issue in front of the school board. These attempts continued even during the board meeting when the chief business official pulled me aside and suggested we wait until a more appropriate time or maybe have our principal speak for us instead. I politely responded, "No thank you, the students here with me and those we represent are counting on me to be their voice tonight. I have to make sure the board hears their voices."

I began my remarks by asking all of the students and staff who came with me to stand. Even to my surprise, just about everybody in the room stood. There had to be close to 100 people standing. I went on to explain to the board what types of events we would no longer be able to support without these funds. I told them how homecoming would no longer be worth coming home to celebrate. I explained how events celebrating the diverse cultures represented on our campus would be no more. And I reminded them how my standing in front of them that night was a direct result of the culture and leadership opportunities these funds support on our campus. As I finished speaking, it felt like time slowed down as I made my way back to my seat with cheers and high-fives along the way.

After the meeting, a couple of the board members pulled me aside and told me how proud they were of us coming to speak to them and committed to honoring our demands. As a result, students served as members of the Lynwood Unified School District Vendor Selection Committee. This committee heard proposals from vendors, sampled products and made a recommendation to the board as to which vendors we wanted to service our campus. Most importantly, we ensured all proceeds made on any school's campus would remain there. Seeing the success my classmates and I secured that night is the reason I'm on the school board today. I made a promise to myself that I would run for the school board after college to continue standing up for students and fighting for my community.

I can relate to the survivors of the Parkland shooting who, as students, have to stand up and tell adults what they ought to do. These students aren't future leaders, they are leaders now, and I could not be more proud of them. When we tell young people to stay in their places, we should be inviting them to the front lines of the fight for change especially when that fight centers on what is best for them. They should not be dismissed; they should not be told to wait their turn and they should not face suspension for participating in marches or walk-outs. We have to clear the way for their leadership and amplify their voices and respond to their experiences. If we endeavor to change the world and build a better society, we cannot do so without the strength, ideas, and voices of young people.


Black Excellence is the New Black


When the Van Jones Show premiered on CNN last month, hip-hop artist Jay-Z, who often avoids the spotlight off-stage, was the unlikely guest to headline its inaugural episode.

Although Jones interviewed the rapper-turned-mogul one month before Black History Month would begin, one of Jay-Z’s responses was a powerful social commentary on the state of black America – one which is relevant to the conversations often sparked during this celebratory month.

He said, “Imagine a world where there were no more firsts for black people… All of the firsts would have been accomplished. That conversation is done. Let’s move that out of the conversation. So where do we go from here?”

Go ahead. Indulge in a moment where you suspend your knowledge of reality and imagine a world where that dream came true.

That is the fictional world that Jay-Z and Ava DuVernay dreamt in the hip-hop legend’s music video for his song Family Feud which is featured on his newest album, 4:44.

The full-length music video is a 7-minute roller coaster ride into a futuristic era when an adult version of Jay-Z’s daughter, Blue Ivy, and a host of other female powerbrokers rewrite the U.S. Constitution to make it more democratic, inclusive, and equitable for all citizens.

The story weaves a beautiful plot. But once the music video has run its course, viewers are forced to return to a reality in 2018 that is less inspiring.

Black Americans still struggle to achieve many dreams espoused publicly in present or past – that of Martin Luther King that “men will be judged not by the color of their skin but on the content of their character” and that of Jay-Z’s world where blacks have accomplished excellence in every area possible.

Instead, black Americans are living a life that more closely matches poet Langston Hughes’s timely classic, “A Dream Deferred.”

What will it take for black people to reach the heights of excellence in every sector of society, every tier of government, and every industry of commerce?

And where do we begin? Do we start with tackling inequity and injustices in our systems of education, health, criminal justice, housing, or economic development?

The solution lies in each of us. Every generation must take up the yoke of fighting for social justice in this modern era.

We can find hope in the fact that in every historical era, Americans of African descent have been able to achieve greatness despite the yoke of prejudice and discrimination. The fact is that there is no shortage of black Americans  to celebrate for being the first to accomplish an incredible feat in areas of science, industry, arts, government, literature, to name a few.

The ultimate dream is a world where more than a limited few black Americans can break down barriers, set records and make history.  In this dream, black excellence – in every shape and form – is more than a rare exception, it is the norm.


When is the change going to come?


By Reggie Barbour

As black people, I feel like we’re stuck in a constant cycle of fighting for our civil rights. Much of how and what we do today is filled with similarities of what my parents did back in the 60’s – fighting for our freedom in this country. If you’ve ever seen the movie “Groundhog Day” then perhaps you understand this cyclical nature that I am talking about. However, unlike the movie, this wheel of repetition that I feel like we’re stuck on has been happening over the years as opposed to just one day, as shown in the movie. 

Let me point out some details…

My parents often told my siblings and me about their days of marching for equal rights – the right to sit at a lunch counter and be served. The right to go to the same movie theatre as white people. The right to sit anywhere on the bus. The right to walk down the street as a black man and not be harassed, beat or even killed. They were fighting for the right to just “be.”

I feel like we’re still marching for many of those same freedoms today. I feel like the racism they felt is still here, and quite frankly, it never went away. My wife and I were talking one day about our childhoods, and we slipped into a game of “Oppression Olympics.” We both shared details of racism that we’ve had to endure growing up. My wife told me of how she was part of the class that integrated her elementary school when she lived for a few years in Texas. “I remember those days very vividly,” she said. “I started 2nd grade in the middle of the school year and was bussed to the all-black school in one of the lowest income parts of the city. I lived in a predominantly white neighborhood. I remember the kids being jealous of the crayons that I brought with me because they said “Crayola” and not some off-brand name. That created a disconnect between me and some of the other students. They thought I was “acting white” with my good crayons.”

She went on to say “When third grade started, we were all transferred to our neighborhood white schools. Now the black kids who could walk to 2nd grade were being bussed to 3rd grade. I, however, walked to school every day with my friends. It was in this school that I realized having peers who looked like me jealous over my brand of crayons was a whole lot easier than having white people purposely push you and bully you because they didn’t want you in their school.

We had to walk home in groups to avoid one of us being harassed and singled out. We had to learn to run to the nearest “safe house” just in case we faced some trouble. We had to learn to work together for our survival.” 

I promise you my parents told me the same exact stories about growing up in the rural south. It made both of us wonder, how far have we come? 

Now as parents of two black boys, we’re having to talk with our older son about being careful and being safe. He wants to experience riding the bus and walking to school. Even though my wife and I both did those things, we’re too scared to let him do it. “Times have changed,” we tell him. But, have they really? I honestly believe we are more fearful now for our safety than I’ve ever felt before. And I know my wife feels the same way.

Family STEM Night


Building toothpick towers with mini-marshmallows, guiding tiny robots with iPads, and creating lava lamps with common household items, Washington Elementary School students demonstrated for their parents a comprehensive knowledge of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects during Family STEM Night.

Parents attended a series of workshops and were introduced to the extensive K-6 STEM curriculum at Washington, as well as to digital resources to best support their children at home. Among the popular exhibits were an inflatable planetarium and a mobile gaming truck. Students were entered into a drawing for a tablet.


“We want Washington families to know that they play a crucial role in their children’s education and that we are here to assist them when they have questions or concerns about our digital platforms,” Washington Principal Shamell Wilson said. “Whether they want to check their child’s grades, learn about Google education tools or receive tips on digital citizenship, our doors are always open.”

Washington students begin training in STEM subjects as kindergartners, learning how to conduct a simple Google search. Each grade level learns a new concept – from programming robots to computer coding to Google Apps – augmented by hands-on activities that integrate critical thinking and collaborative learning.

Washington third-grade student Yuridia Lopez displayed her problem-solving abilities, winning a toothpick tower competition with a tower that measured over a foot tall. Lopez, who enjoys constructing projects with slime, had a simple solution for building her tower.

“I looked at a picture of a toothpick tower and I tried to make it just like that,” Lopez said. “I like to do science. You create and learn things.”

Students oohed and aahed as a STEM instructor from the afterschool program Think Together showed students how to construct a lava lamp with water, vegetable oil, food coloring, Alka Seltzer and a tiny light. A volunteer from the National College Resources Foundation challenged students to build a barge using only aluminum foil, masking tape, and straws. Prizes were awarded to the students who could float ten marbles on their boats.

Parents were introduced to the Aeries Parent Portal, an online communication tool that allows easy access to grades, test scores, and attendance rates. They also examined online education support tools like (for math) and Journeys (for reading) and received advice on providing cyber safety for their children.

“Washington’s STEM programs are empowering our children to dream big and establish high expectations, as they develop the 21st -century technology skills necessary to compete for jobs,” LUSD Superintendent Gudiel R. Crosthwaite said. “The innovative thinking at Washington is indicative of the support throughout our Lynwood Unified community.”

Washington’s Family STEM Night was the result of a School Site Council (SSC) meeting in which members addressed the need to better support parents who want to help their children but have schedule constraints or are unfamiliar with the Washington curriculum. As teachers added their input, they realized the necessity for organizing a family night that incorporated all STEM classes and activities, including educational workshops for the parents.

This piece was originally published on Lynwood Unified School District’s website.