Love The Skin You Are In, Educating Students of Color #2R1WM #MoreThanAvote

“A lot of people endured a lot of hardship, humiliation, suffering, and pain. The least I can do is be my best, live my best life, and treat myself and my surroundings with respect.” – Nannie Helen Burroughs 

I remember my first day interning at the White House. It was 1994, and I was assigned to the Presidential Personnel Office. After barely setting my desk up, I was alerted that all interns would meet in the auditorium for a quick briefing before the day started. I arrived as quickly as possible and grabbed a seat. Before the session began, I was pulled aside by an African American staffer. “To get the most of this experience, you must love the skin you are in. You are God’s Divine Design. He does not make mistakes. Don’t get caught up in wanting to be or trying to be like someone else. Everyone is gifted in different ways. Love being you.” Those words changed my life. I later learn that my grandmother asked her to watch after me, she worked in the dining room, and she lived in southeast Washington, DC.

My supervisor was from Arkansas and the White House Political Director. I enjoyed having a desk across from him. His job was to process SES, Schedule Cs, and Ambassadorships positions, and I was the only intern in the office. He was a senior staffer, one of the First Lady’s best friends, and always meeting with interesting people. After the first month and my workload began to slow down, he would occasionally invite me to eat lunch with him. “What’s your background?” “Where are you from?” At first, I felt his questions were pushy, and I didn’t know how much to share, so I froze up and couldn’t even remember my name, let alone my biography — generational trauma will sometimes do that. One day at lunch, my grandmother’s friend notice how uncomfortable I was, pulled me aside, and reminded me just to be myself. I followed her advice and began discussing shared values, connected with him, and the rest of my internship was terrific. From then on, we spent most of our alone time pondering, evaluating, and theorizing on American politics. I learned a lot discussing Washington Post articles with him, but most importantly, I felt like I belonged in the White House.

What I learned that summer is that no matter your background, gender, race, or religion, your success largely depends on opportunity, talent, and rapport. I learned how hard it is for a student of color to process workplace microaggressions. However, my supervisor demonstrated a willingness to connect with me and created space to engage him. Note that this form of exchange will be particularly beneficial for students of color during this global pandemic, economic, civil, and human rights crisis. Amid a persistent barrage of fractious issues stemming from a lack of quality education, financial freedom, and adequate healthcare, we must encourage and cultivate mentorships.

We must not compromise the promise of freedom, equality, and justice, especially if it compromises our democracy.

Recently I was talking with a past NAACP mentee about what it’s going to take for the United States to bounce back from this global pandemic, economic, civil, and human rights crisis. “A well-resourced and strong public education system.” His point was that a thorough, reflective, and individualized process for educating young people on civics principles would help. Also, we agreed that there is a need to expand democracy to include more significant numbers of young voters of color. 

For example, a diverse electorate may help to stem a wave of “voter suppression” laws, executive orders, and voting impostor laws in multiple states. Thankfully, the Department of Justice has the power to interrupt these regressive efforts by not granting a clearance under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act — first passed in 1965 to outlaw voting practices that disenfranchised thousands of Americans. States with both (a) “tests” or “devices” that restricted the opportunity to register and vote and (b) less than 50% voter registration or voter turnout can no longer make changes concerning voting without “clearance” from the Department of Justice. This includes everything from redistricting, purging voter rolls, and changing polling places.

That’s the idea, but here we are, years later, in the 21st century, and politicians are still making it difficult for Americans to participate in democracy. According to a recent report, since 2011, more dozens of states have passed or attempted to pass laws and executive orders that disenfranchise voters of color. In Florida, the governor is pressing election officials to purge voter rolls with citizenship discrepancies – an action in the past that yielded a list of thousands of people of color. This process had a 78% error rate, and hundreds of people were wrongly purged. In the past, these actions produced federal lawsuits by the Department of Justice that claimed the violation of federal voting laws.

Remember the “pregnant chads” of 2000 that became the determining factor for a 534 vote presidential victory. During that same election cycle, Florida’s Secretary of State ordered election supervisors to purge ex-felons from the voter lists. This list “flagged” more than 90,000 names, of which close to 60,000 were purged. More than 54% of the list were people of color, and Congress passed the Help America Vote Act in 2002 to create standards for states to follow while updating outdated voting systems.

What will our democracy gain from implementing laws that will have a disproportionate impact on voters of color?

  • Florida voters of color make up 29% of the voting-age population, and 69% are registered to vote. In 2008, voters of color were 28% of the electorate, although more than a third did not vote.
  • In Texas, Latinos accounted for 65% of the State’s growth between 2000 and 2010.
  • Among young voters between the ages of 18 and 19-year-olds, over 60% are people of color and 41% Latino.
  • Houston grew by 7.5% to 2,099,451 with over 400,000 “Key” VOC. Harris County has over 800,000 registered VOC.

Our country needs everyone’s help to bounce back from this global pandemic, economic, civil, and human rights crisis. Learning to love the skin you are in is a practice through which students of color and this country can redirect our social awareness and cultivate culturally competent civic, academic, and life strategies. It means engaging with each other to reflect on difficult issues and developing solutions. As mentors, we must be careful not to dissuade students from engaging in self-analysis even if we are not sure of the consequences. Quite the opposite, they will benefit from learning about themselves, and we should help them develop those strategies and ensure that the playing field is leveled for them. We are a nation of three hundred million Americans, and we all love this country. Therefore, there is no excuse for denying students of color opportunities to shape America. We must not compromise the promise of freedom, equality, and justice, especially if it compromises our democracy.

To be continued …

Kirk Clay is the President of Capitol View Advisors — a collaborative investing and 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.

Just Give Students Of Color What You Want #2R1WM #MoreThanAvote

“War is not the answer, for only love can conquer hate” – Marvin Gaye.

I can remember the first “Rooftop Pajama Jam Card Tournament,” I hosted in college. Our university was celebrating a major athletic victory in college basketball – we made it to the NCAA’s Final Four Tournament. I was president of the Caucus to Improve Black Affairs, and my peers wanted to do something special on campus to bring the African American students together to chill. We debated what food to serve, movie to play, and what issues we would share with the school community during the planning. Our basketball team was scheduled to play soon, and students were debating whether the basketball team should stay in the locker room as a form of protest. A dorm Resident Advisor (RA) said it best “Just give college athletes what you want. When you give others what they want and need, everyone will paradoxically receive what we want and need. If you wish to have power, empower others. If you want money, give money. If you want praise and recognition, give praise and recognition. What we do for others will be done for us, so if you want to see them play, we’ve got to pay.” This statement reflected how many students of color felt but not every member of the Racial Awareness Piloting Program (RAPP) felt the same way. 

“What you don’t understand is that you people should be happy to even be in the big dance.” I quickly moved to close out the conversation after that statement because we all began to feel the microaggressions taking control of the debate. The question is, what steers people to accomplish greatness in life — students of color in particular? Leading scholars would say that the righteousness of a person’s aptitude is a considerable driver. Successful students of color indicate that perseverance, purpose, and thirst for living free of the fear of poverty, violence, and untimely death are big motivations. Whatever the driver, an academic achievement often pushes African American students to use actions, art, and words to validate themselves.

Moreover, this “righteousness frame of mind” helps students of color overcome the generational trauma they live with every day. Spoken words have meaning; they attach consequences to the capabilities and actions of the people hearing them. Over time words can contribute to or detract from educational success for students of color. Yes, the human spirit is flexible and effective communication, if used appropriately, can enhance learning. Positive language indeed gives students a general feeling of purpose, and there is a clear relationship with accomplishments at school. It makes sense that encouraging language would promote positive actions, better performance, better grades, and a stronger community. What about negative language?

When we give others what they want and need, everyone will paradoxically receive what we want and need.

Living in a community of color during this global pandemic, economic, civil, and human rights crisis makes it easy to see how the lack of quality education, financial freedom, and adequate healthcare impacts society. I see how microaggressions and words of hate play out in real-time. The use of language in a way that, if called to question, the offender can deny any intent to disrespect others. The use of terms and or remarks about issues to spark a reaction. Underneath this is a subtle reference to values in a manner that manipulates American society.

What’s worse is that tactics like this bring out the worse in all of us. The use of shock to motivate one group of people also triggers a downward spiral that adds to civic dysfunction and encourages hateful language and ineffective policies. It’s an outrage that during one of the most challenging periods in American history, we are held hostage. Unlike the bipartisan response to the financial crisis in 2008, there has not been a real attempt to legislate compassionately.

What’s clear to me is that something changed in 1994, and American politics has not been the same since. Remember, after 40 years of one-party control of the house, politicians developed a strategy to win at all costs, and they won. Now, the philosophy of “say anything to win” has become a mandate, and only the American voter can break this cycle. Will politicians attempt to manipulate voters with the use of fear and hateful language? Will they use wedge issues to mobilize their base?

I think back to the 2006 elections when these extremists unleashed a harsh “cultural war” to get their base to vote. The political atmosphere is similar to that of today. However, there’s strong evidence that things may be different this time. We’ve had many years of new registrants, and many young voters plus voters of color (VOC) will return to the electorate.

This political geography is highlighted in majority-minority cities like Norfolk.

  • Norfolk’s population grew 3.4% to 242,803. 
  • This increase gives Norfolk more than 83,000 “key” Voters of Color. 
  • People of Color are 26% of Virginia’s Citizen Voting Age Population. They were 24% of vote share in 2008 and about 23% in 2010.

What can we do to help? We must encourage students of color to build networks of compassionate connections. Studies show that the more positive the school community, the more successful the students. These include have conversations with educators and friends that mostly strengthen them — this is essential to their success. If a youth coalition of consciousness came together to demanded honest and trustworthy leadership, we could revitalize and expand our democracy. The truth is, we all love our country, and that means every community in it. That’s what motivates most Americans to be compassionate. Hateful language will not help us bounce back from this global pandemic, economic, civil, and human rights crisis. When we give others what they want and need, everyone will paradoxically receive what we want and need.

To be continued …

Kirk Clay is the President of Capitol View Advisors — a collaborative investing and 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.

Create Yes We Can Students of Color #2R1WM #MoreThanAvote

“Education and justice are democracy’s only life insurance.” – Nannie Helen Burroughs 

Texas was the sight of one of my most memorable Congressional campaigns. I remember hitting the ground and not being sure where I should begin. This was a special election, and the voter’s last opportunity to voice their preference for representation. I lived in Beaumont, but Galveston Island was my headquarters and base of operation. I chose this location because of Juneteenth, and it’s a great historical significance for the African American community. Also, it had a large youth population — I had a theory that people of color would be essential in a low turnout election like this, and I figured young voters of color would be necessary to turn that key. 

My first contact was with a group called A. Philip Randolph Institute (APRI). Attending an emergency meeting, I walk into a heated discussion between a senior woman in charge of youth outreach and a middle-aged gentleman in control of its finances. “Yes, we can train students of color to take the lead in that precinct. We need them because we are shorthanded.” Her point was simple, “don’t impose thoughts of lack and limitation on these students of color.” When we think they can, they will believe they can. When we erase our doubt in their ability, they will face this challenge with confidence and a yes-we-can attitude.

She was also hitting on another truism – Americans are resourceful. In particular, we are witnessing “true resourcefulness” from communities of color during this global pandemic, economic, civil, and human rights crisis. Especially from civil rights institutions like the NAACP, A. Philip Randolph Institute, Urban League, NCBCP, and the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies with their fearsome, seemingly everlasting civic engagement programs and innovative mobilization instruments. It may be hard to believe, but this has been the case for many years. It’s not just civic engagement, healthcare, and economic justice; our work has had a tremendous impact on public education. Admittedly, our public schools have not made it to the “Promised Land” yet; we are a lot closer to achieving our high aspirations. Now students of color are not just learning to read, write, and mathematics; they are becoming self-advocates, social managers, and financially literate. They are mastering sophisticated tools that will create systems change now and in the future.

As the A. Philip Randolph youth outreach director later explained, “We must develop and invest in their education and proficiency because our existing paradigm as it relates to social safety nets like healthcare are unjust.” Therefore, our education aspiration has to be culturally competent to understand, preserve, and enlighten all people’s intelligence. Our lesson plans must be both student-focused and grounded by evidence-based scholarship principles that transform livelihoods. 

When we think they can, they will believe they can. Yes, We Can.

A past Supreme Court decision regarding Arizona’s immigration law SB 1070, and The Affordable Care Act is similar to another significant moment in American history–the Court’s ruling on the Brown v. Board of Education case. That ruling profoundly impacted every person in the country and helped move this country forward regarding civil rights, social justice, and equality.

Like the 1950s, it was hard to measure the impact that decision would have on this country’s social fabric and the world at the time of the decision. We are now witnessing those results, and for many voters of color (VOC), those rulings are a strong signal that there is hope. Moreover, the fact that there may be at least one new Justice to the Supreme Court in the near future gives people of color even more reasons to be encouraged. Note that our civic engagement will help appoint someone to make landmark decisions that can move our country forward.

Like 2012, healthcare will be a significant issue for igniting greater civic engagement among students of color. According to a Gallup survey then, 21% of Latino registered voters rated healthcare as one of their top priorities. In states like Texas, 20% of children in the country had no health coverage, and 37% of Latinos didn’t have health insurance. Many adults living in major metro areas around the state are uninsured: Beaumont-Port Arthur area—26%, Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown area–24%, Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington area–21%, San Antonio area–18%, Austin-Round Rock area –18%. Interestingly enough, these metro areas still have significantly high Latino and African American populations.

Census data show the Latino population increased by 15 million in 2010, and 20% of that growth happened in Texas. People of Color are already the majority in Texas, and they believe in healthcare and public education.

  • Latinos made up about 25% of the state’s new registrants in 2009 and 2010. 
  • People of Color represented 54% of the state’s total population and 41% of the citizen voting-age population (CVAP). 
  • They represented 40% of registered voters and just a little more than 19% of frequent voters. However, over 3 million registered Latino and African American voters stayed home in 2010. 

Imagine what would happen if Latino turnout went from 24% to 49% and African American turnout from 35% to 49%. Together, we could add over 1 million more VOCs, which would be the difference in areas where so many VOCs are uninsured. For example, Fort Worth grew by 38% to 741,206 and now has over 140,000 registered “Key” VOC with close to 95,000 infrequent voters. If adequately resourced, and the electorate continues to expand, we may see a significant voter turnout increase. These voters may vote for more pro-public education and healthcare reform leaders. This would put TX’s 38 electoral votes in play for future elections.

No one is entirely sure how voters will respond to this global pandemic, economic, civil, and human rights crisis. The truth is that The Affordable Care Act was an example of politicians getting something done. First, it was voted out of Senate Committee with bipartisan support, then passed with two independent politicians and upheld by the Supreme Court.

Are students of color the key to winning this battle over civil and human rights? Will they light the fire of social justice and change our nation for the better? I have confidence that they can do it. They are better situated to have an impact now more than ever. For one, they are skilled end-users of informative data, consuming it directly from social media. Second, they have a great awareness of unique cultural systems, instruments, and trustworthy institutions’ methods. Lastly, students of color are conscious of the need to embrace hope and play a part in shaping our nation’s future in a way that will help people dealing with hardships. When we think they can, they will believe they can. Yes, We Can.

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.

Take On A Student Of Color Protégé #2R1WM #MoreThanAvote

“Art is a way of possessing destiny.” — Marvin Gaye 

I remember the first time I taught at a public high school of color – a public school with a significant people of color population. The school was entirely male and majority African American. I spent two hours before the bell reviewing for my first lesson – I wanted to be the perfect teacher. The entire morning I sat in my classroom rehearsing my introduction, classroom management strategies, and the lesson plan. Then the bell rang, and lessons from my Grandfather came to conscience. “Young people need someone to mold, motivate, and mentor them. Just help them exemplify the interests, attitude, and enthusiasm worthy of influence, and the rest will take care of itself.” 

He was right; our career accomplishments, life experiences, and values should inform and influence school lesson plans. Every one of us remembers a teacher who made us work harder and inspired us to achieve great things based on hard work. In turn, the rapport and relationships built during those moments became energy for our subsequent aspirations. Moreover, networking with an experienced person — accomplished in the area of our passion — was enormously influential. Sitting in class, sharing ideas, and providing feedback to one another gave us access to incredible success opportunities.

As a secondary benefit, my colleagues tell me that educators gain a great deal from mentoring students of color. Working through an alumni mentorship program creates a meaningful connection for both the teacher and student while giving experienced educators a chance to contemplate and restructure their teaching approach. This enriches and informs future school work for both, so everyone benefits from “collective synergy.”

To be successful, we must not compromise the promise of quality education, financial freedom, and adequate healthcare — especially if it compromises diversity.

How can we inform, translate, and connect education to communities of color during the global pandemic, economic, civil, and human rights crisis? Would a mentorship program be correspondingly constructive for educators, students of color, and alumni when we are social distance learning? 

Recently I was talking with a protégé about the connection between civics, education, and financial independence. During that conversation, we began talking about the virtues of expanding democracy to include more voters via census, reapportionment, and redistricting. The concept is that an accurate census count will create a diverse electorate and help to pass a pro-public education policy. Therefore, civic engagement could lead to quality education for students of color.

We must acknowledge that many states have a history of practicing “voter suppression” laws, especially during census years, justifying Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. The Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965 to outlaw voting practices that disenfranchised thousands of Americans. States with both (a) “tests” or “devices” that restricted the opportunity to register and vote and, (b) less than 50% voter registration or voter turnout no longer make changes concerning voting without “clearance” from the Department of Justice. This includes everything from redistricting to polling places.

More than two dozen states have passed or attempted to pass laws and executive orders that disenfranchise voters. At one point in Florida, the governor pressed election officials to identify non-U.S. citizens on the voting rolls. The list of 2700 people comprised mostly of people of color, was found to have a 78% error rate. More than 500 people on the list were later identified as actual citizens. 

Do you remember “pregnant chads” in the 2000 Presidential Election and the subsequent 534 decision? During that same election, Florida’s Secretary of State ordered election supervisors to purge ex-felons from the voter lists. Experts later reported that the file “flagged” close to 91,000 names, of which more than 57,000 were purged. More than half of the list—54%—was African American and Latino. This prompted Congress to pass the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) in 2002 to create standards for states to follow and update outdated voting systems. Each State transitioned to electronic voter lists.

What are the essential questions in the minds of students of color? Can they help the U.S. bounce back from this crisis, communicate their interests, and accelerate social change? My advice is to believe in the righteousness of your issues, civic engagement, and get active. For Example, Florida and Texas have undergone political, racial, and geographical transformation.

  • Florida voters of color make up 29% of the voting-age population, and 69% are registered to vote. 
  • In 2008, voters of color were 28% of the electorate, although more than a third did not vote — Imagine the impact if all who are eligible to vote were mobilized and voted.

The same is true for Texas, where the Latino population accounted for 65% of the State’s growth between 2000 and 2010. 

  • Among young voters between the ages of 18 and 19-year-olds, 60% are people of color and 41% Latino. 
  • Census data shows that Houston grew by 7.5% to 2,099,451 — Imagine what could happen if 814,000 registered VOC in Harris County voted. Especially in places like Houston, where there are over 400,000 “Key” VOC.

Ultimately, as every teacher knows, positive relationships are essential for everyone, and the United States is essentially a network of 300 million. Therefore we must develop strategies to nurture culturally competent connections, engage in courageous conversations, and forge relationships with students of color to ensure that the playing field is level. Our country needs every person to prosper to bounce back from this global pandemic, economic, civil, and human rights crisis. To be successful, we must not compromise the promise of quality education, financial freedom, and adequate healthcare — especially if it compromises diversity.

 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.

Students of Color Can Exercise Their Rights, Mind, and Body #2R1WM #MoreThanAvote

“Crime is increasing, trigger happy…, Panic is spreading, God knows where we’re heading.”– Marvin Gaye

 During my first year of coaching in the public school system, I invited a colleague from the NAACP to team up on an innovative education experiment. We wanted to test what would happen if student-athletes were simultaneously trained in social advocacy and self-management while learning to play a sport? Our guiding principles were “Exercise your right to vote. Exercise your ability to change your life. Exercise your body for better health. Exercise your mind by expanding your knowledge. Get Active and make time to exercise #GA123.” Our question was simple, how would this impact a student of color’s learning experience? What if that student lives in a neighborhood negatively affected by economic insecurity, racial trauma, and health issues? How can playing sports help them?

 Recognizing, not all students of color have the same awareness, we were careful to build our curriculum around leadership development theories. Does leadership matter in education? We learned that as students learned leadership skills, they became skilled at managing their stress levels, increasing their academic engagement intensity, and improving their social connections for better interpersonal relationships. In the process, we were able to help them assess, cultivate and mitigate stressful and traumatic concerns in their lives while pushing them to help their peers to achieve more in school, home, and the sports arena. In this time of global pandemic, economic, civil, and human rights crisis – leadership is an essential skill. 

Exercise your right to vote. Exercise your ability to change your life. Exercise your body for better health. Exercise your mind by expanding your knowledge. Get Active and make time to exercise

As we trained these students of color on leadership development, we began to lay the groundwork for social advocacy — educating, engage, and energizing 18 -29 year-olds in civic engagement. As we began to pull together data for our study on civic engagement trends, we noticed a connection between civics, education, and financial independence. We believe that there is a significant connection between their enthusiasm level and the “change quotient.” Therefore, the U.S. may bounce back from this global pandemic, economic, civil, and human rights crisis in record time.

We can see this in places like Missouri — where the civic, education, and financial trend lines are supporting these dynamic issues and will soon have a quantifiable impact. Its unfortunate politicians who agree that the U.S. is suffering from an education crisis, can’t work together to prevent schoolwide health, finance, and civic crisis. This rancorous environment is similar to the 2006 midterm elections when pro-public education leaders took control of both the House of Representatives and the Senate. That year, young people were 15% of Missouri’s electorate, and the Senator won by just 45,000 votes. I know from experience – I led a statewide campaign in Missouri, and public education activist was the “signal in the noise.”

 Students of color will support any leader who will stand up for them in these tough times. A recent poll confirms that they are a driving sector in a new “coalition conscience” — Latinos, African Americans, Asians, Native Americans, and Young Voters. According to the poll, a clear majority (over 55%) of 18-29-year-olds believe “elected officials don’t have the same priorities I have.” They also think that politics has become too partisan (over 49%). What’s worse is that 59% believe that “elected officials” seem to be motivated by selfish reasons,” and only 24% reported “liking” a political candidate on Facebook.

 In 2008, the youth voter turnout was driven mostly by a surge in Latino and African American youth.

  • 42% and 39% of young Latino women and men voted. 
  • Over 52% of African American youth between the ages of 18 and 24 voted in 2008– the highest turnout rate among youth. 
  • Young voters were 21% of Missouri’s electorate– President Obama missed winning MO by just 39,000 votes, then VOC increased their 13% vote share to 19% in 2010.

Students of color understand the relationship between civics, education, and financial independence, and there will be ample opportunity for them to exercise their civic voice in the future. Young African Americans and Latinos are more than 15% and 18% of the total youth population. In 2020, Young People of Color will be over 37% percent of the 18-24 voting-age population. Kansas City, Missouri, grew by 4.1% to 459,787 and is now close to 40% POC, of which many voters are under 29. They know that being registered to vote makes you relevant. Also, students of color now know that sidestepping civic responsibilities can create a leadership vacuum that will suck the hope out of the political process.

 Leadership is an essential skill, especially in this time of global pandemic, economic, civil, and human rights crises. While there is no way to train every student of color on strategies for navigating the complex relationships between social advocacy, self-management, and sports, we must try. The truth is that a good leader will find ways to develop, highlight, and contribute to all students’ success. As students learn how civic engagement impacts their economic security, racial trauma, and health — their influence will extend through their interests and affect education policy for every American. Let’s help them exercise their right to vote.

 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.

Inquire Within, Help Students of Color Cultivate Inner Wisdom #2R1WM #MoreThanAvote

“Politics and hypocrites is turning us all into lunatics.” — Marvin Gaye

The great author Ralph Ellison wrote, “I’m an invisible man, and it placed me in a hole—or showed me the hole I was in if you will—and I reluctantly accepted the fact.” He reminds us that there is more to creating spaces that are liberation focused than just knowing what’s right – you should also do what’s right. In his 1952 book, Invisible Man – a story of a young, college-educated black man struggling to survive and succeed in a racially divided society that refuses to see him as a human being – Ellison opens up a conversation about civics, education, and financial independence. This story points to how being our authentic selves can help us bounce back from this global pandemic, economic, civil, and human rights crisis.

Not long ago, I received a call from a Black Lives Matter activist asking me to be her Congressional campaign manager. We knew each other from past work and shared a close relationship through a civil rights leader that lived in the district. After talking with him and coordinating living arrangements, I traveled to the state, to be her campaign manager. 

My first day on the ground was a bit unusual; our every step was being filmed for a movie scheduled to air on Netflix, which meant our every conversation was public. It took a few weeks to build electoral momentum, but we soon hit our stride and took the lead in our Congressional bid. Soon after, we began receiving public criticism for our campaign theme #BeThe1st — asking voters to make her the first woman represent CD-1. We were ridiculed on social media for her “body type,” and it affected her confidence. She began to question if she “looked like” a Congress member and wanted to change her look. I advised her, “Inquire within, the answer to every question in any situation lives within you. The intelligence inside you has all the answers, so consult your inner wisdom. Don’t question, analyze, or doubt the first answer it gives you. Listen and obey, and we won’t go wrong.”

We doubled down and ran as our authentic selves. Later, we experienced a devastating car accident that forced us to decide to suspend the campaign for health reasons. She wanted to continue our rigorous schedule, but the doctors recommend “bed rest,” and I decided to put her health above the campaign. We did not win that race, but she ultimately won that congressional seat in the next election.

“I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.

 After teaching in schools of color – schools with a significant student of color population, I’m reminded that “it takes good policies from good leaders to make a good change.” Leaders should not use “inappropriately” targeted messages and “hyper-partisan” mobilization campaigns to disrespect others. Using culturally insensitive terms or twisting offhand remarks about gender, race, or religion, sparks reactions, and unintended consequences. Underneath these micro-aggressions are subtle references to our values that feed a sense of cultural paranoia and or suspicion.

The use of shame and fear to motivate partisan supporters also triggers a downward spiral that adds to society’s dysfunction. We are in one of the toughest periods in American history. There is a campaign to suppress emotions through unhealthy activities while ignoring the looming financial crisis. What’s worse is that tactics like these produce anti-public education leaders. Our goal should be to acknowledge the current environment and work to fix the problems while addressing culturally relevant issues related to it. 

Back in the 2006 elections, extremists unleashed a harsh “cultural war” to get their base to vote. The political atmosphere is similar to that of today. However, there’s strong evidence that things may be different this time. 

  • We’ve had four years of new registrants, and many young voters plus voters of color (VOC) will vote for the first this year.
  • Political geography is surging in majority-minority cities like Norfolk; the population grew 3.4% to 242,803. 
  • This gives Norfolk more than 83,000 “key” Voters of Color. 
  • People of Color are over 26% of Virginia’s Citizen Voting Age Population — they were 24% of vote share in 2008 and about 23% in 2010.

It’s incredibly important for students of color to learn to address unique cultural concerns at an early age when the mind is most active. Studies show us that learning the appropriate way to heal, grow, and stand up for what they believe in during this cultural storm will stay with them. I like to compare helping students of color to address their unique concerns to self-advocacy and self-management – everyone needs to respect and set healthy boundaries.

As Ellison states in his prologue, “I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.” Suppose a new coalition of conscious Whites, Latinos, African Americans, Asians, Native Americans, Women, and Young Voters all demanded honest and trustworthy leaders. Our nation could quickly bounce back after this global pandemic, economic, civil, and human rights crisis. If we all are civically engaged, this turmoil we have today will give way to a full, coordinated community experience. Moreover, we should continue to develop transformational relationships that dramatically impact education, leadership, and civic engagement. If we unify, the entire nation will discover a renewed sense of civility. Students of color will develop a healthy self-confidence, see themselves as capable learners, and become authentic leaders. In turn, they will be the first generation to live free from the fear of poverty, violence, and premature death.

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.

Dig Deeper to Help Students of Color Learn, Remember, and Perform #2R1WM #MoreThanAvote

“Music is one of the closest link-ups with God that we can probably experience. I think it’s a common vibrating tone of the musical notes that holds all life together.” — Marvin Gaye

I have to admit; I love to teach in schools of color – schools with a significant student of color population. There is something about introducing impactful content with culturally relevant material and developing strategies for learning, memorizing, and applying academic theory. The best part of my day is helping students identify, design, and map a path towards educational, civic, and financial success. Additionally, I love creating opportunities for a “Cinderella” or “Underdog” to be successful. My Grandmother was my first pathfinder. “You can teach children anything if you dig into your heart to understand them more compassionately. Dig into your pocket to share more generously. Dig into your time to spread it more unselfishly.” Before every class, I remind myself that I’ve only scratched the surface, and it’s time to dig deeper.

Most of us believe academics and sports are two subjects that contrast one another. The first is about reading, writing, and achromatic, whereas the latter is about strategy, agility, and grit — this belief typical. However, after we analyze both, we realize these two disciplines are more similar than not. The arenas are different, but you’ll find a bridge for learning, memory, and performance if you dig deeper. What tools will we give students of color to build that bridge, and what is the most effective strategy for facilitating their learning, memory, and performance?

We all know that a key to doing well in any sport starts with high aspirations and a winning mindset. The truth is that many athletes are trying to win championships that don’t. Therefore, any athlete who does not at least aspire to be a champion has less chance of doing so. In turn, any student of color who does not have high expectations for themselves has less chance of doing well. Moreover, studies indicate that high expectations also help students achieve academic confidence. When students of color are asked to learn high-level material, they dig deep to access data in their minds. While doing so, they push themselves to memorize information. When tested, they score well and have faith they can do it again.

With this in mind, we should develop lesson plans connecting culturally competent material, unique tools for learning, and high aspirations. For example, we should ask students of color to use online tools for committing vocabulary to memory. We should instruct them on how to teach scientific concepts to family, friends, or teammates and ask each other for feedback – you learn best what you teach others. It also helps to do weekly revisions of class notes in the form of a journal – paying attention to names, dates, and ideas. Lastly, we should ask them to retrace these steps by memory. Remember, “active retrieval” forces a student to set high expectations on themself. So studying may seem challenging to achieve, but successful testing will increase their academic confidence.  

“We must give them more opportunities to impact the world in an authentically irreversible way.”

We see examples of this momentum, and it creating confidence in the U.S. economy. In 2007 we lost over 2.6 million jobs in the great recession. Through President Obama’s fantastic leadership, we turn that around, and in 2011 the U.S. manufacturing industry became a “Cinderella” story. Toledo added about 1,800 manufacturing jobs in 2011, and General Motors and Chrysler hired over 1,600 people by 2013. Correspondingly, unemployment dropped to 7.9% and manufacturing comprised 18.3 percent of Ohio’s economy.

This winning mindset was driven by a version of Franklin Roosevelt’s “Lunch Pail, Hard Hat Coalition.” This “Underdog” coalition was held together by influential public education leaders, administrators, and teachers in many communities — Latino, African American, Asian American, Native American, Student, and Women. Before the great recession, they began digging deep civically. As a result, governorships and Senate seats flipped in Ohio, Colorado, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Missouri in 2006.

Voters of Color (VOC) were a significant piece of this coalition. Their presence was felt in places like Ohio’s Cuyahoga County — 12% of the vote share, and VOC were 14% of the electorate. What’s more, Ohio voters are historically leading-edge – electing pro-public education African American mayors in Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Toledo, Dayton, Youngstown, and Mansfield.

  • Census 2010 — Columbus grew by 10.6% to 787,033. Giving Columbus more than 145,000 “key” Voters of Color.
  • Ohio’s 3rd Congressional District had the second-largest VOC voting block of Ohio’s sixteen congressional districts. 
  • CD-3 includes high performing VOC precincts on the Southside, Northeast, and Eastside (Precincts 35-B, 17-F, and 28-E).
  • Economic bounce back — Ohio increased its manufacturing jobs by about 4 percent a few years after 2009 with more than 24,600 jobs for working families.

What does this teach us? Our nation can bounce back after this global pandemic, economic, civil, and human rights crisis. It will take strategy, agility, and grit, but we must innovate how we teach reading, writing, and achromatic to succeed in the long run. 

We must be intentional about applying culturally relevant research on learning, memory, and performance in our schoolrooms. Additionally, we must use culturally competent material to help students of color learn diverse approaches to memorize and retrieve information. Remember, they may not choose to become professional athletes or scientists, but we aspire to help them dig deeper. How do combat systemic racism? Teach our children to dig into their hearts to understand more compassionately. Dig into their pocket to share more generously. Dig into their time to spread it more unselfishly. We must give them more opportunities to impact the world in an authentically irreversible way. We must nurture their big ideas — we’ve only scratched the surface, and it’s time to dig deeper.

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.

Smile At Your Future – A Student’s Talent, Intelligence and Community #2R1WM #MoreThanAvote

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. 

For example, 

  • 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.

Grooming A Child’s Mind for Education, It’s A Different World – #2R1WM

By Kirk Clay

“Mercy, mercy me, things ain’t what they used to be.”— Marvin Gaye

Can you believe this past school year ended before June? All it took was a global pandemic and boom. Then protests around the world ignited a movement and has made this summer vacation a teachable moment. I guess the fact that the economy is in lousy shape adds to the dynamics and may prove to be far more significant than we know. These events make this the most momentous summer in recent history and lead parents, teachers, and administrators around the world to consider reevaluating their summer teaching plans.

As this summer kicks into full swing, it is clear that there are several important events that we, as educators, will need to address with students next school year. We may never witness another summer like this again, but this summer will always be with us, and we have to help children make sense of their new world. Remember, emotions, trauma, and memory, like all brain functions, are not isolated to one region of the brain. This function is what makes learning possible, but it can also negatively affect a child’s life experiences if not handled appropriately.

First, we must introduce the concept of “systems change.” Cross-cultural experts often portray people of color as incidental as they relate to the broader “world” sphere of human rights. Moreover, some people seem to find it challenging to connect the size of these peaceful protests to evidence-based inequality and demographic trends. Sure, it’s easy for an adult to recognize that there is a specific cultural relevance to what’s happening, but children need us to acknowledge and unpack the broader cultural dynamics. We must help young students understand how massive protests and their intensity levels are connected to a lack of resources and social investment in our communities.

More specifically, this generation grew up in a different world than we have now. There is astounding duplicity of national conscience with those that believe the first African American president’s election was both a post-racial and economic inequality high watermark. The fact is that years ago, in places like South Carolina, their parents lit the torch that led an African American candidate to the Presidency. But this didn’t just happen on a wing and a prayer. These communities began to connect the dots in early 2006. Moreover, these communities did not follow the “manufactured” models for civic engagement, and they authentically invested their hearts in what they believed.

We must help our students understand how the heart and the head are connected to education. Our classrooms are where they learn about the world around them and share big ideas. We must intentionally educate them about social advocacy and social distancing in our classroom teaching. Also, we have to share strategies to decuple traumatic experiences from their learning memory so they can retrieve information more successfully. Remember how the mind works, creating pegs in our brains on which we hang specific pieces of information that we witness, read, or discover. The trick is to facilitate them learning social advocacy, observing current health events, reflecting on what works, and encouraging them to take action.

In particular, we should help them understand how significant social and healthcare investment in engaging their communities will impact change throughout the world. We know that “hope” and “change” won’t have a chance if we don’t expand democracy to all Americans. The truth is that we need actual systems change, and many of these students live in neighborhoods that could be the difference if given a chance.

For example, POC in Florida make up 29.5% of the Citizen Voting Age Population and 69% are registered to vote. 

  • In 2008, POC made up 28.9% of the vote share in the general election, although more than a third did not vote (37.7%). 
  • Imagine what could happen in 2020 if we energize and turn out every eligible voter? Especially in places like Jacksonville, FL, where there are over 200,000 “Key” POC voters. 

We all have benefited from a good education and gained valuable tools from our parents, teachers, and neighborhood schools. There is no doubt that today’s students are more than capable of successfully navigating their feelings through this moment. That’s what keeps me hopeful. Their interests represent our shared guiding principles. Once in classrooms, students will have the opportunity to work towards creating social, cultural, and economical solutions that will heal our world. At the same time, they will benefit from the collective social, civic, and economic advancements we have made over the years. Our job is to give them the support they need to advocate for themselves and teach them how to manage themselves in this new environment. If we invest our educational resources in our children, we will most likely have a positive return on that investment, and we all will capitalize on new opportunities with communities that share our interests.

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.