By Kirk Clay
“Every chance you get, you seem to hurt me more and more, but each hurt makes my love stronger than before.” — Marvin Gaye
My grandmother was an amazing woman. She was a strong independent woman at a time when society didn’t welcome those traits. As a government employee during World War II and a self-taught businesswoman, she moved from Ohio to the Washington, D.C. area. She lived close to a century and provided grandchildren and great-grandchildren with inspiration that promoted positive change in our daily lives. She taught us that we all have the power in our interactions to choose peace, joy, forgiveness, tolerance, success, and many more valuable traits. She encouraged me to make choices that would empower my family and our community to be successful — educationally, civically, and financially independent. She believed that we all can live free of the fear of poverty, violence, and death and that the roles I play in my family, community, and organizations are vital to that freedom. A year after her passing, her teaching continues to serve as a reminder for us to stay enlightened, encouraged, and empowered.
I remember how my wife and I would take our children to see her after our weekly violin class. I enjoyed watching them show her the fundamentals they had learned that day. She would laugh with delight as they demonstrated the proper way to stand, hold the violin, and “fingering.” She would watch them go over the same routine countless times. She would encourage them to “keep it up,” so they would be prepared to perform when needed. As their dad and her grandson, I would ask for advice on extracurricular activities and educational opportunities. She would tell me, “every person is blessed with exceptional talent. My talent was business and finance, but they should take time to learn, identify, and expand their gift. They are African American boys, so be careful to teach them how to love, live free, and don’t let them settle for a life of untapped talent stuck on the inside.”
Those conversations after the violin lessons taught my family and me a lot. Later, I learned that playing music itself provides profound cognitive advantages in not just learning an instrument but every aspect of student learning. Each lesson helps students hear what they see, process the language of music, and find written patterns while understanding structure to access musically memory – much like studying for a mathematical exam. Moreover, learning to read music with numbers, letter names, and written notation is acoustic feedback, so it’s naturally engaging in a learning environment. Music helps to connect the eyes, ears, and brain during the educational process.
This strategy can be beneficial while teaching students of color during such a time as this. We need to use every educational tool we have to help our children learn through these trauma-inducing times. As educators, we have to employ culturally competent strategies like these to address the traumatic feelings, experience, teach critical psychological and emotional coping skills, and discuss today’s global pandemic, economic, civil, and human rights issues. Generally, teachers have made many past attempts to implement health and racially proficient lesson plans in the past, and some were successful. However, as this time in history thrusts us into the future, we must begin to contemplate the best ways to support our children. At the same time, we have to help them as they learn and give them the information they need to be successful academically.
For instance, when a student writes an essay on the history of education reform, we have to make sure they truly understand the depth of the firestorm that current “anti-public education” rhetoric is fueling. They must know that when politicians threatened to vote against education reform bills and expressed full-throated support of regressive anti-education style laws, and when they are noticeably silent during “generationally traumatic” driven events, it matters. Students must then ask and answer the question of their neighbor’s awareness of the impact that these positions will have on People of Color. They must find ways to convey the extent that these actions indicate a pull away from a commitment to healthcare, economic, civil, and human rights. They must understand that these principles were used by Fredrick Douglas to sway his neighbors to get on the bandwagon for creating a “more perfect” union.
Just like learning a new song, we as teachers have to admit that ignoring the power that young people of color bring to civic engagement is wrong. We must stop hoping, and gambling that the past is prologue — where they haven’t had significant impact civically may not be the case this time. They may have an overrepresented influence from now on. Maybe we start acknowledging that legislation cannot be written independently of “real” healthcare, economic, civil, and human rights solutions because it cannot pass without enough votes from people of color.
So, we must articulate how policies toward people of color are impacting and turning states like Arizona into a swing state due to significant population shifts. Remember that according to the census, Arizona’s population increased significantly in the last twenty years. They gained a new congressional seat last reapportionment plus an extra Electoral College vote. My advice is for us to teach students not to underestimate the power of protest, civic engagement, and music.
- People of color in Arizona make up 24% of the voting-age population, and in 2008, an impressive 74% of those registered to vote went to the polls.
- Voters of color made up 18% of the vote share in the general election.
- This number increased to 20% in 2010.
Think about what could happen in 2020 if every eligible student of color is energized? The change we need will occur. This is particularly true in cities like Phoenix, where the population grew by 9.4% to 1,445,632, which included more than 280,000 “Key” Voters of Color. Keep this in mind– the entire Electoral College math could shift if significant mobilization efforts are made to register, educate, and turn out voters of color in Arizona. If this happens and Arizona becomes a swing state, good education, healthcare, and economic policy will be supported, and change will happen.
Like a beautiful song that “Black Violin” would play, we will go through a lot of exciting changes in the years to come. Whether or not this is the year that Arizona becomes a swing state is unclear. The political geography and demographic numbers are there. All that’s needed is the level of support required to build the civic engagement vehicle to get the best performance from the emerging electorate. I believe that the time has come for another “great generation” like my grandmother’s generation to go to the stage.
To be continued …
Kirk Clay is the President of Capitol View Advisors — a collaborative acting on its values in creative and strategic ways to connect communities with the information and resources they need to support and further their aspirations.