An Emerging Purpose
When I think about my purpose, as an organizer, educator, and now researcher, it emerges as a journey. My purpose is the result of my identities, experiences, and most importantly, relationships. In this piece, I will share my purpose as it currently stands, some of my experiences as an organizer that have influenced my purpose, and end with some reflections on how I am thinking about navigating my new role as a researcher.
My purpose (which could also be framed as my theory of change):
If we can work together to build educational communities where we develop our critical consciousness*; act from places of radical love; and feel safe to be our full, authentic selves; then education will be part of a larger societal movement for liberation.
* which involves developing an awareness of power, oppression, and positionality
My journey: In reflecting on my educational journey, I not surprisingly realized that I have learned the most through my experiences and relationships with family, friends, colleagues, fellow organizers and the readings I have done by other scholars and researchers. Ultimately, my purpose and funds of knowledge come from the communities I’ve built. Many experiences, some of which are illustrated below, have helped me develop my purpose. Here is a list of some of my organizing experiences, with the acknowledgement that what you are getting here is essentially an abridged timeline.
In high school, I went to conferences focused on racial justice and was part of a group that talked about understanding and confronting White privilege in our lives and school. It was here that I first began to grapple with my Whiteness and what it meant for how I live in and move through the world.
In high school, I facilitated our school’s queer-straight alliance for two years with my friend Liam. It was here that I first came out and was able to use my voice in ways that felt empowering and connected to a larger purpose.
In college, I engaged in and sought out learning experiences about the history of organizing, including the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. I went to India on a three-week trip to explore intersections between the work of MLK and Gandhi and worked at the Stanford Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute. Clay Carson, the director of the Institute, had a huge impact on me during this time, particularly in terms of thinking about the strategies movements use to fight for change.
During my sophomore year at Stanford, I joined (and eventually led) a group called Students Confronting Apartheid by Israel after meeting and learning from a Palestinian friend on the trip to India described above. I learned a lot about the meaning of solidarity through this work.
I was at Stanford when California voted on Proposition 8 and was involved in organizing against Prop 8. After Prop 8 passed and made gay marriage illegal in the state, a group of us started the Emma Goldman Society for Queer Liberation to continue queer organizing work on and off campus. After Prop 8, I did a lot of learning and thinking about whether fighting for marriage equality was actually radical (and came to the conclusion that it wasn’t).
At Stanford, I also continued to think about and do work related to racial equity through a group called SPEACK (Students Promoting Ethnic and Cultural Kinship). One project we engaged in was re-starting and publishing a zine called the Re-Orientation Guide (modeled after the Dis-Orientation Guide that had been published 5 years prior) that documented organizing work that was happening across campus. Learning about past organizing work that had been done by other students was powerful.
While not exactly organizing, conversations with friends in high school and college very much helped shape my political consciousness and feel important to mention as a form of political education.
When I moved to NYC in 2011 for grad school to become a teacher, my organizing became more focused on education and immigration, in large part because of the communities I am part of and work with. Some of my organizing has included:
Involvement in various capacities with the New York Collective of Radical Educators
One of the inquiry to action groups I participated in through NYCoRE, on supporting undocumented students in schools, became Teach Dream. We have been organizing at the intersections of education and immigrant justice since 2013. In 2020, Teach Dream officially joined the New York State Youth Leadership Council as their educator team.
For a brief period of time, I organized with the ICEFreeNYC coalition (2014-2015).
I also did various forms of organizing while working as a teacher at Sunset Park High School, including working with teachers on racial identity, organizing for the Black Lives Matter Week of Action in Schools, and facilitating a Dream Team.
Ultimately, when I think back on my education, broadly defined, I realize that the most impactful experiences I’ve had happened through organizing. While I believe schools can be transformative spaces (although I do not believe they are currently built to be) I also know that there is so much learning that takes place outside of school walls, through our relationships with others. I carried this belief about the importance of relationships and organizing into my professional life as a high school teacher (where the students I worked with had an incredibly important impact on me) and bring it with me now into my life as a researcher and adjunct professor.
Reflections on my Role as a Researcher:
Most recently, during COVID, I am grateful to the spaces that have put out content and hosted virtual panels that have helped me grow and develop my thinking around school abolition including the Allied Media Conference, the Abolition Science podcast, the Abolitionist Teaching Network, and Haymarket Books/the Schomberg Center. Here are some activist scholars who I am currently looking to as models as I grow into my identity as a researcher: Bettina Love, Eve Tuck, K. Wayne Yang, Dave Stovall, Michelle Fine, Ariana Mangual Figueroa (who I am blessed to have as an advisor), Edwin Mayorga, Bree Picower, Erica Meiners, and adrienne marie brown.
I came into the CUNY PhD program in Urban Education wanting to make sure that the research I do is reciprocal and oriented toward justice. In reading and reflecting this year, I now realize that my identity as an organizer has developed alongside my identity as a researcher. In both organizing and research, I believe that process matters. A researcher (or organizer) could develop an amazing, justice-oriented product but have enacted a problematic, extractive process in getting there. Here I am influenced by conversations with peers in my PhD cohort, adrienne marie brown’s work in Emergent Strategy, and E. Wayne Yang’s article, “Deep Organizing: To Build the Beloved Community,” in addition to other readings and relationships. Yang explains that Deep Organizing involves organizing like your grandmother, mobilizing occasionally, practicing every day acts of solidarity, and organizing for education not for schooling. Yang reminds us that, “deep organizing is about sustenance, not permanence; it is about seasons of planting and harvest and fasting, not the pyramids that loom above the river valley” (Yang, 2015, p. 15). We (I) often feel the pressure of time, particularly when it comes to production. This year has been a reminder to me that sometimes, I need to slow down. Sometimes, even in the urgency of White supremacy, racial capitalism, patriarchy, transphobia and homophobia, xenophobia, etc., it’s okay to say that something is going to take longer than expected if that means that the process is more equitable, that the necessary stakeholders can be involved, and that we can allow ourselves the time to build relationships and move at the speed of trust (brown, 2017, p. 42) rather than forcing a product that’s not actually ready to be produced. Ultimately, my goal as a researcher is to do research with and for my communities. This means designing a research process in which the goals are collectively constructed and the community receives just as much if not more from the research than I do. It means listening and loving and learning as I go.
brown, a. m. (2017). Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds. Chico, CA: AK Press.
Yang, K. (2015). Deep Organizing: To Build the beloved community. In E. Welch, J. Ruanto-Ramirez,
N. Magpusao, & S. Amon (Authors), Nexus: Complicating community and centering the self: A 20 year retrospective of a college-based community center (pp. 9-21). San Diego, CA: Cognella Academic Publishing.