for Tymon Birchett
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If I could find the spot where truth echoes
I would stand there and whisper memories of my children’s future
I would let their future dwell in my past
So that I might live a brighter now
Now is the essence of my domain and it contains
All that was and will be
And I am as I was and will be because I am and always will be
From “Sha-Clack-Clack” by Saul Williams
Last night, I went down a YouTube rabbit hole of 1960’s era videos from gospel legend Clara Ward and her singers. I was not sure what led me there again but I love old school gospel in any case. I found it interesting how the Ward singers had “praise breaks” before it was common to see them in live gospel performances. Their footwork is reminiscent of most praise breaks I see these days, nearly 50 years later.
That was last night. Today I was able to put into words the manifestation of my vocation as a teaching writer.
Dr. Bettina Love from the University of Georgia and Get Free Hip-Hop Civics came to my job to present a professional learning experience to us. We’re the founding staff of a public charter school opening in two weeks in Washington, DC. The topic was how to use hip-hop as a tool for teaching civic education, among many other things.
First and foremost, hire Dr. Love immediately. She’s a teacher’s teacher and a phenomenal speaker. Her presentation is truly multidisciplinary.
Something had been on my mind for a few weeks–mainly an article I read about how rappers can relax their executive function in order to freestyle. This study, from 2012, has similar results to jazz musicians who are able to improvise.
You have to “zone out” a bit in order to freestyle. You have to reach a kind of zen state in order to improvise.
The article was not new, but it had been sticking with me for a while.
Dr. Love spoke about how some things are just in the DNA of our people. She showed images from a lot of sources, mainly of people who were in the throes of disassociating from their executive function, or those for whom executive function had not yet fully developed, such as a two year old freestyle rapping gibberish, yet keeping perfect time.
It all came together.
Is not different from this:
Which is not different from this:
Or even writing.
I very rarely tell this story publicly: When I wrote Epiphany, there was a scene in me that I hadn’t written, but knew I needed to write. It was tough. Painful. Adrian was walking away from Isaiah, and Isaiah knew there would be a good chance he’d never come back to him.
I didn’t write that scene. That scene was delivered to me. Those characters used me and I spoke those words that I would later write out. I yelled. I cried. And finally those characters had spoken, satisfied that I was the one chosen to tell their story.
I went into the zone to retreive that story, and then I wrote it.
There were other times when writing–and even when teaching–that everything around me turned surreal, or perhaps hyperreal, and I just went for it. I was in my body, but I didn’t know where the words were coming from. And the next thing I knew, there they were. These chapters. These theories I posited to my students. These words.
So if I can briefly go into this fugue state in order to write or teach, and rappers can zone out while free-styling, then certainly I can and must find a way to ensure that when the truth echoes, my students are there to receive it. I can and I must figure out how, on a metaphysical level, to go to that place where my students can learn without the trauma or lingering pain of those teachers who have tried and failed.
I ache for my students. They have been failed for decades, victims of experiment after educational experiment, while their former teachers move on after a handful of years to become attorneys, consultants, or wives. My students could not learn from those who do not whisper memories of their futures. I may spend the rest of my life looking for that metaphysical place where authentic learning happens, but I know that it’s there and I know that finding it is what I’m supposed to do.
I have never felt closer to God than in this moment. I have mentioned that being a Quaker has allowed me to sit in stillness and wait expectantly for God’s message to me. I suppose I foolishly presumed that the message would be delivered on Sunday at Meeting for Worship.
Here I am, God. Use me. Help me find the spot where truth echoes so that these students can live in a constant state of discovery and a-ha moments. May they be overwhelmed with and even frightened by their own brilliance, but may those fears be cast aside in favor of confidence and self-awareness.
Let them actualize. Let them Be. Let them say “I AM ________,” with whatever they want to fill in the blanks, and mean it. Let them also say “I AM” and let that be enough.
I am a writer.
I am a teacher.
I am ready to live that life, once and for all.
I need more time
I need more time
But it’s too late
They start shooting at children and killing them!
One by one, two by two, three by three, four by four
Five by five, six by six, but
My spirit is growing seven by seven
Faster than the speed of light…
When I was in 9th grade, Coolidge High School in Washington, DC, had a full honors program. I took honors English in a class of maybe 15 students. It was a pretty good experience.