Learning: Relax, just relax. It’s all going to be all right #2R1WM

By Kirk Clay

“I’d been studying the microphone for a dozen years, and I suddenly saw what I’d been doing wrong. I’d been singing too loud. One night I was listening to a record by Lester Young, the horn player, and it came to me. Relax, just relax. It’s all going to be all right.”

– Marvin Gaye –

Not long ago, we were in a public school to speak on strategies for training students in leadership development. While there, we visited old friends that work in the education community. We began to talk about students of color and their unique mental health concerns as it relates to self-advocacy and self-management. We discussed the importance and implications of self-care and learning to respect and set healthy boundaries. Lastly, we shared with them our goal to work with institutions to create spaces that are liberation focused. We shared our belief that with adequate resources and a cooperative spirit, students of color have the potential to change the future of education in America while improving their opportunities.

Some of our friends were not convinced. They countered with stories of unexpected political events from the past few years. Their point was that “it takes good policies from good leaders to make good change.” They fear that politicians will continue to use “inappropriate” targeted messages and “hyper-partisan” mobilization campaigns to drown out any policy that would genuinely improve America’s education system. Our friends are afraid that students of color may not have the resources to heal, grow, and stand up during this cultural storm.

We do not believe this to be true. First, we can teach our children to recognize and connect with others that are experiencing similar issues. Sure, it may take some work for them to identify communities that share their interests — remember that most of us alter our outward appearances for the “public eye,” but micro-aggressions will still show up as a telltale sign. Second, they must learn that it is okay to feel a healthy sense of cultural paranoia and or suspicion as you “stand up” for what you believe. Just remember to be aware of what is going on in the world and do not allow it to stultify progress. Lastly, we must remind them of the dangers of suppressing emotions through unhealthy activities – this may lead to bad habits as an adult. The key is to acknowledge the current environment while addressing the shame and fear related to it. Then normalize it while helping them to identify tools to help them stay grounded when they are in school.

We must train our students on the importance of boundaries and self-care. As you know, students of color are consistently navigating the “rigorous pulse” of school life while dealing with their own experiences and family challenges. They struggle to find alignment with being a dedicated student and honoring themselves. Many of the students I talk with have experienced tragedy at home. The only way for them to heal is to share their vulnerabilities with others. We must help students of color label the pain they experienced so that they can address this trauma from a place of health. Everything may seem amplified, but they must learn:

  1. As a person of color, they “are enough” and worthy of taking a break every once in a while.
  2. It is essential to set boundaries, use grounding techniques, and schedule time for themselves to detox.

We must always remember that everyone is affected by race, and we all have work to do — no matter race, religion, or gender. Even from a policy point of view, there is clear evidence that increased civic participation by communities of color can offset any conceivable lag in voter turnout. This has always been the case, according to a recent study, the African American share of the total vote in Illinois increased from 10 percent in 2006 to 19 percent in 2010. Due to this strong turnout, a candidate who embraced pro-education policy became governor, with only one-third of the vote from others.

Moreover, we believe that with proper education and policy momentum, people of color can impact voter turnout rates across this nation. If we close the gaps between the populations that are eligible and likely voters, we will have a better chance of regaining our voice and enacting pro-education policies:

  • Pro-education policy candidates could win Georgia with just 41% of the vote from others and Arizona with just 37%.
  • In Nevada, where Latinos represent 16% of the vote share, 69% voted for the “pro-education policy” Senate candidate. This was an increase of 4% over the 2006 turnout.
  • In Colorado, Latinos were an impressive 12% of the vote share and pushed the “pro-education policy” candidate over the top.

We finished our conversation, concluding that educators and policymakers must become familiar with theories of liberation psychology and ways to apply those strategies in their work. The truth is that students of color are most influenced by authentic educators that experience things similarly in terms of history and culture. We have and can continue to come together to develop transformational relationships that dramatically impact education, leadership, and civic engagement. We agreed that by embracing commonalities and addressing differences, we could seize the moment to build a bridge of promise for education in America. Communities of color and their expanding share of America’s educational system should not create anxiety; instead, it should reinforce America’s steadfastness for a new all-inclusive brand of education.

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.

Back to School: Something Greater Than What We See #2R1WM

By Kirk Clay

“An artist, if he is truly an artist, is only interested in one thing and that is to wake up the minds of men, to have mankind and womankind realize that there is something greater than what we see on the surface.”

– Marvin Gaye –

If you read the most popular headlines today, you would think that this is unequivocally the worst time to be a young student. As usual for most adolescents, just figuring out who you are in your development is tough enough. You are often battling feelings of acceptance, relationships, and growing academic expectations. Your identity is being developed amid the backdrop of who your family says you are, the holidays you celebrate, religious events you attend, and other cultural experiences with your friends.

As I pointed out in my last blog, this summer, we have a little more to reflect on than usual. As the education community begins to make plans for the upcoming year, there are a few questions that we must address to heal the whole school community. First, how does racism impact the mental health of people of color (POC) students? Second, in what way does “race-related” stress show up in young people? Lastly, how can students mitigate the impact of racism, learn from their experiences, and heal while living a productive life?

The two most significant areas of concern are:

·           Racial Identity Development – How we perceive, learn, and come to know who we are to ourselves, within groups, and to others in our environment.

·           Cultural Trauma – a dramatic loss of identity and meaning, a tear in the social fabric, affecting a group of people that have achieved some degree of cohesion.

For students like my neighbor, who attends Ron Brown College Preparatory High School, this begins their final year as RBHS’s first cohort of graduating seniors. Before these scholars walk across the stage and enter the adult world, there are a few “POC” student-centered issues to address. For example, they need to be prepared for the possibility of living in an environment where they will experience race-related micro-aggressions. Moreover, they may be exposed to a racially charged domestic terrorist activity and feel shocked as they learn how expendable some people view POC lives are. These experiences could cause feelings of anxiety, anger, and or depression then lead to a physical manifestation of “stress” in the form of stomachaches, headaches, and even “post-traumatic slavery syndrome.”

The 400th anniversary of Africans arrival in America is this year. The seeds of post-traumatic slavery syndrome were planted at the beginning of our union, and the legacy through past actions of prejudice, discrimination, racism, and microaggressions exist today. For example, the U.S. Constitution states that America will count every person every decade and use the results of that count to apportion seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. However, this originally had profound injustice embedded in it by stipulating that slaves held in bondage were counted as three-fifths of a person. In 1868, Congress ratified the 14thamendment, allowing former slaves to be counted as full-individuals, one result of the costly, bloody struggle of the Civil War.

Immediately following the Civil War, during Reconstruction, over 600 African Americans occupied various elected offices across the nation. With the end of that era came an almost century-long period of despair, which began when African Americans were habitually disenfranchised through Jim Crow practices, lynching, segregation, institutionalized racism, and incarceration discrepancies, to name a few. By 1965, only 300 African Americans occupied elected offices. This type of social injustice has had a lingering impact, and can only be accounted for through reparations and addressed through appropriate policies.

Our children see the effects of this injustice daily. When our young students feel upset by the things they read or see on social media and don’t have a clear reference point to connect their emotions and behaviors, they stop trusting their neighbors. We have to give them confirmation that we have been here before. They must know that it’s okay to “feel the feelings.” Let’s acknowledge that these issues were previously swept under the rug but not anymore. We must inform them that their feelings are appropriate and will be affirmed and supported. We should teach them to recognize what triggers them and show them the necessary coping skills. They should always protect themselves and maintain personal safety but be sure to live their truth.

To be continued …

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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.

Pitching and Defense Wins Games Like Organizing + Redistricting Wins Economic Justice

By Kirk Clay

People ask “what makes Kevin Kiermaier so special?” Is it his home run percentage? No. How about his batting average or the RBIs he produces? Nope. He’s an average hitter but his 5.0 defensive WAR (a statistic for how many wins a team has with or without a player) in 2015 sets him apart from the pack. What’s more, he has ranked in the top ten of “most valuable position players” in baseball two seasons straight.

What makes him and many players like him so impactful is their defense! They catch a lot of balls and that wins games. Accordingly, baseball clubs across the league are investing more in “golden glove” contenders to improve their defensive capabilities in hopes of gaining a competitive advantage. Why? Baseball’s new crop of high-powered pitching “stunners” are regularly producing games with 2-1 scores therefore teams have to defend better to win.

The same is true in political settings across America today– economic and social justice initiatives are being decided by close margins. What’s sad is that the people who most need our help are falling further behind while economic and social prosperity is thriving in other communities. It’s clear that America is at a watershed moment and we have to defend our values to win in communities that are affected by economic and social justice issues.

Meanwhile, teams of institutions and politicians are creating strategies for winning the next decade of policies. State houses, city councils and many other institutions are quietly preparing for what will soon decide electoral boundaries for our representatives – the census, reapportionment, and redistricting. These strategies will have a major impact on who is counted, how much resources a community receives, who votes in what jurisdiction, and who is elected to public office.

The U.S. Constitution states that America will count every person every decade and use the results of that count to apportion seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. In the beginning, we used the population count to levy taxes or property and to pressure people for military service. Also, slaves held in bondage could be counted as three-fifths of a person. In 1868, Congress ratified the 14th amendment, allowing former slaves to be counted as full-individuals.

Times have changed. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 1970 there were about 1,500 African American elected officials.  By 2010 the number of African Americans in elected offices had passed 9,000. However, improvements to representation must not be confused with improvements in economic and social justice. Based on the number of elected officials reported by the Census Bureau in 1992 – 513,200 – in 2010 African American elected officials surpassed 2% of all elected officials but how do we turn that into a positive for all?

As in baseball, the census and redistricting work for 2020 must maximize civic empowerment by defending past improvements while agitating to move the nation closer to fair-minded policies and representation for everyone.

To achieve this, we must focus on three things: 1) more local level civic action to set up long-term pathways for economic and social justice; 2) the strategic use of grassroots organizing to push for change; and 3) aggressively defend and reject any attempt to harm the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

This work is not just about apportioning seats in 2020, it also impacts local-level elected offices this and next year. In fact, significant shifts in the U.S. population since the last redistricting will influence control of the next congress. District demographics has already changed and in order to maximize economic and social justice we must take action at this critical juncture to make sure there are no unforced errors in policy.

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Kirk Clay is a Partner at Capitol View Advisors and a Chief Strategist for Political Contact Management 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.