By Todd S. Hawley & Adam W. Jordan
It’s almost that time y’all, back to school time.
Summertime has slipped on by and the time has come to sharpen the #2 pencils, to organize classrooms, and to get ready to do the necessary work ahead in the 2018-2019 school year. In case you didn’t know, summer is a time for teachers to take a step back from the daily grind of classroom instruction and become students themselves so they can reflect upon and evolve their practice. The myth that teachers have their summers off to do as they please is just that… a myth. Part of that important work for teachers is to engage in professional development. While not every professional development experience is life changing, we are here to tell you about one that was. On July 24th and 25th in Jacksonville, Florida we were invited to present and engage with so many brilliant teachers, scholars, and activists involved in deep explorations and discussions around issues of social justice and education. This necessary work doesn’t happen often enough, and this was special.
Fellow Bitter Southerner and teacher educator, the good Dr. Rebekah Cordova, along with a team of dedicated teachers and activists — Shaunte, Lauren, Chris, Christina, Jon, Lorena, Daniella and Val — organized and enacted the first installment of the All Y’all Social Justice Series. The theme of All Y’all 2018 was, “What Does Social Justice Look LIke in the Contemporary South?” It was a unique professional development experience that Bitter Southerner readers should appreciate for two important reasons: 1. It was focused on social justice issues related to education in the South (Sound familiar?) and 2. It was free. Let us say that again, it was focused on social justice issues in the South, and it was free!
We were honored to be invited to talk about our work in the Southern Schooling column, and we were inspired by the work people are putting in to make education in the south more just, equitable and culturally relevant. This experience moved us, and we want to use our voice in this column to honor, shout out, and show some love to the good people doing real social justice work designed to improve education in the South.
Per usual, the young folks stole the show, so we will start there. To us, there is nothing more powerful than a young voice with focus and purpose. With the EVAC Movement, focus and purpose are plentiful attributes. Based out of Jacksonville, Florida, EVAC is a self-proclaimed brotherhood of African American young men pushing for a more just world. The program, organized by their teacher Ms. Donofrio, is a leadership class focused on developing justice-oriented leaders. And these boys are leading… You can find their stories from the front page of the New York Times to the steps of the White House. Check them out.
We also had the pleasure of experiencing the work of the ‘Canes on Da Mic poetry club based out of Gainesville, Florida. Led by teacher Nicole Harris, ‘Canes on Da Mic are a group of young spoken-word poets dedicated to the free and open, creative expression of young minds. Their presence and presentation had a deep, profound impact on the other presenters. Like the EVAC Movement, ‘Canes on Da Mic present counter narratives to fight stereotypes and provide a space to empower young people to speak about their lives and experiences in honest, meaningful ways. They brought the house down.
But, to be fair, the grown-ups showed up too.
We had the good fortune to meet and learn from Val Brown of Teaching Tolerance whose presentation was framed as, “The Miseducation of Valerie Brown.” Playing on the title of Lauryn Hill’s iconic album, Val questioned how what she was taught in school, and more importantly, not taught, was still framing her thinking today. She focused in on how teachers can create classrooms that reflect diversity, equity, and justice. Check her out on twitter y’all, she is on the rise.
Other brilliant presentations included Dr. Natasha Merchant discussing the combating of Islamophobia through teaching, Dr. Kasey Jordan discussing the partnering of school nurses and educators to promote mental health, and Civil Rights activist, Rodney Hurst, Sr. focused on the ways racism continues to cause social inequality and injustice today. His talk challenged and inspired everyone in attendance to do much more in the service of social justice in the South.
Dr. Regina Bradley of Kennesaw State University gave the conference keynote address. Her talk, “Alla Us or Summa Ya’ll: What Does Social Justice Look Like in the Contemporary South?” drew on her experiences growing up in Albany, Georgia, and made powerful connections between Southern hip-hop, race, and culture in the contemporary South. Like Rodney Hurst, Sr., Dr. Bradley broke it down for folks when she talked about black joy as a form of protest and then on ways to be an activist ally for people of color in the contemporary South. Her powerful words inspired us to do even more to be part of the solution and to never stand on the sidelines.
In summary, the All Y’all Social Justice Series made us proud. It made us proud of what can be in regards to teacher professional development. There were no excessive conference fees, no spectacular and expensive swag, no bells and whistles. There were only dedicated and brilliant professionals digging in and supporting, honoring, and loving teachers. This is what education can be when like-minded individuals dedicate themselves to supporting public education. We couldn’t be more proud to have been a part of the inaugural event and hope this is one that persists.
We need this. All y’all need this.
We also know there is good work going on in southern schools we do not yet know about. If you want to share any information on other amazing professional development events designed to transform teaching and learning in the South use this link to let us know. We would love to learn more and shout out the work y’all are doing.
So we want to end this column by throwing our support behind All Y’all 2019. This needs to happen, and we will be there wherever it takes place. We will keep y’all posted on details. How about a big Southern Schooling gathering next year?