Those sorts of movies always have a central theme of you need a white savior to come in and empower marginalized youth. But the thing is, those kids don't need saving, and additionally, if I'm being real, you can't empower someone else; people can only empower themselves. So what about the educators that work in these communities for more than a year like me? Will I become jaded after fighting for social justice? How do I deal with the trauma that comes with teaching in areas that need so much more than just great educators? I have worked in underserved communities as a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) educator for four years going on five, and this week might have been my hardest. I received a text and several phone calls explaining that one of my favorite students had been arrested for homicide. This wasn't just any student, this was the student who wants to be a marine biologist. The student I took to my alma mater, Pepperdine, where he answered all the questions correctly from my past college science professors. The student who had just dropped off his transcripts to enroll in college in the fall. The student that was working his first real, good paying job. But in the news, headlines read "gang member," "murderer,” and “thug" from South Central. How can these two people be aligned? I'll tell you, systematic oppression! Even if he is guilty -- and I will refrain from comment because he's awaiting trial and everyone is innocent until proven guilty — does he deserve to be in the most overcrowded jail in the nation, where it's rumored that there are rats, where ramen noodles cost $5 (that's not a rumor, I saw that when I put money on his books) and where inmates aren't given showers? Oppression begets oppression. This overcrowded jail costs one billion dollars per year to operate, and this is paid for by local taxpayers like you and me. And is it weird that I find some solace that my student is in a gang because the gang he is in is the reigning power in the jail, so at least I know he might just make it another day?
People don't always understand that education is interconnected to everything in the world and doesn't remain neutral just because it is in a schoolhouse. Education is affected by all the b.s. of this capitalist nation because education is political. Neoliberal policies directly affect education. Remember Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs? I have had students say that they were too poor to buy tortillas. What? They are literally like a dollar a pack! I can teach or coach all day, but at the end of the day, until we start realizing that education is just the ploy in the game to promote equality and not equity, we will never truly reach liberation. I don't know the right answer, but I do know that we need more agents of change fighting for social justice. I also know that I feel extremely blessed for my mother, who raised me with wisdom and provided a safe space for me to rest my head. Because one's environment and upbringing impacts one's wisdom to discern between right and wrong. And yet, I know that having parents to instill wisdom upon you is a privilege, and with privilege comes the responsibility to share it.
Brene Brown states that the more privilege you have, the less ability you have to empathize. So I empathize with my student because he is just another human that got caught up in the game of life. There are many reasons for his struggles, but not all of the reasons are entirely of his own actions. So I say all this to say, pray and every day strive to fight against the system that oppresses people, which, in return, just facilitates oppression even more rapidly.