Great Expectations
Sep 22, 2013

Pride at our children speaking and being heard

Friday's "Students Speak" event at The Barnes was amazing and necessary. In an educational climate that finds Philadelphia's funding and achievement crisis making headlines in print and on cable TV, setting aside an evening to listen to our children articulate the plight of academic progress for themselves is nothing short of miraculous. They spoke plainly and passionately. And, by God, they made me proud!

When I first started working as a teaching artist, I specifically requested assignments with high school students. I hadn't realized how many adults are literally afraid of our teens until I started speaking about my desire to work with them. My declaration came with all kinds of advice from well-meaning friends. Things like: don't wear any jewelry and try not to take a purse, so you don't become a target for mugging or theft. Make sure you try to keep the doors of the classroom open so you aren't sexually assaulted. Don't stay on the school grounds after dark. Make friends with all of the security guards. The supposed Do's and Dont's were a frightening array of rules that you would generally give a single young woman who first moved to "the big city" on her own. Not the kind of advice that has anything to do with teaching, learning, or grooming an atmosphere of academic accomplishment.

This is not to say that I didn't have some serious incidents happen in my years moving in and out of classrooms, as a hired consultant with a bunch of various nonprofits. Student fights. Setting school property on fire. Predators who stole our vehicle keys while our group was in Atlantic City on a trip. Siblings of students in our program being gunned down while class was in session. Horrible, tragic, unfortunate incidents, yes. But that never completely prevented my babies from shining. We cried together, hollared and screamed out of frustration, and had those moments when we could have choked each other with our bare hands too. But the victories were glorious and gained because of a fierce resistence to surrender. Each setback was met with my cheerleading, my incentives, my history lessons and redirects. Students called me all hours of the day, asked me tons of questions best handled by their parents instead, overstepped all reasonable boundaries needed between an adult and the children under their supervision...but I would never say the challenges weren't worth it. There is nothing more gratifying than knowing you played some significant part in awakening a child to their own brilliance and potential.

Last Friday, as I listened to our panel and the older students who also agreed to share their experiences and thoughts with our audience, stand firmly in their truth and speak life into the way they plan to achieve their dreams despite the failings of the adults in charge, I was filled with hope. There is a certain power in consistent underestimation. When people think little of you and your "kind," once you are fully invested in your own success, you can slay all opposition and disbelievers. Each of the teens on our panel have a dogged determination to overcome the nonsense that is being served to them in the name of fiscal responsibility. They are already being held up to the sky by family, teachers and mentors who see the light in them. WURD did our part in amplifying the message by giving these children a forum to state their reality. Now we've got to believe. And work. Our children will rise to the occasion, if we stop speaking power into their obstacles and keep their eyes keenly focused on their highest expectations.

Here is last week's playlist: