Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Because a Presentation Before 9 National Presentations Seemed Like a Good Idea.

Yesterday, Akbaru Niyonkuru and I were invited to speak in a special topics on our campus, Black Lives Matter, about my work with refugee-background youth and the creation of literacy opportunities in Southern Connecticut. The course is in its third rendition, and each year an instructor guides the visitations of several faculty on a variety of subjects, all addressing issues surround the Black Lives Matter movement.

I knew when I was invited that I didn't want to do the presentation alone. It is the same conversation I had at my dissertation defense, when I announced that it didn't seem right that I was getting a doctorate degree by telling the stories of the amazing young men who offered their stories, their voices, their perspectives, and their dreams to me. They entered my life, allowed me into theirs, and the rest is history. That study was in 2010 and 7 years later, several of my participants have graduated college, are starting their careers, and continue to impact my life in amazing ways.

Following scholarship in action, however (thanking then Syracuse University President Nancy Cantor for that term), I always knew that I wanted my work to make change in the communities around me. This was at the heart of Ubuntu Academy, a summer program for relocated youth and immigrants in Bridgeport. It is a program that is now offering support year round, and that continues to provide leadership opportunities for young people who have lived amazing stories as the 1% of refugees granted asylum worldwide. Akbar is one of these youth. It is his second year in the U.S., he's already taking community college classes as a senior in high school, and he's been an incredible worker mentoring young kids in our program. He's also a fantastic speaker to share his journey with undergraduate and graduate students I work with.

His life matters and it is a responsibility to speak about it. He said in my office, however, that he never knew he was Black until he came to the United States. "I was a human before, and I am a human now." That is Ubuntu. A human is made more human in the company of other humans.

The opportunity also gave me time to highlight the tremendous success of youth from the Brown School and to share stories of the work accomplished through Writing Our Lives. We also read an OpEd written by several young men on our campus through Upward Bound about their desire to be seen as men of integrity. Too often, they felt, the labels placed upon them were unwarranted an unfair. They wanted high standards, support, and skills to make it into college. They wanted more history classes in school and to read stories that represented individuals like them.

I'm teaching back to back evening classes tonight, then coming home to sleep before an early a.m. departure to St. Louis. Akbar will not be coming with the teachers of Ubuntu Academy and Project Citizen this year, but I really wish I could put him on the national platform. He's amazing (we just need to get him to pass his driver's license test).

I told the group of undergraduates yesterday that knowledge is worthless unless you're doing something good with it to improve the lives of others. Too many take their education and go into careers that are self-serving and greedy. We need more teachers, I told them. And then I shared the story of Keith Williams, a senior in my last graduating class at Brown. He's teaching now.

That's what it's all about.

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