I’ve taken a break from writing in this blog partially because I wasn’t able to filter my thoughts and communicate them correctly. I wouldn’t say that I was in search of censorship, but I’d say I was more in search of the lesson to glean from reading whatever I put out into the atmosphere. I do operate two different blogs, and I have to remember that the purpose of this one is to share myself and bring a sense of humanity to someone in a leadership position, but that’s not the sole purpose. Another purpose is to make others think and find their own connection within the sphere of life that connects all of us. So I’ve been away from here and have a lot to say, but I’ll try my hardest not to keep you for too long. I chuckled a bit writing that because I recall how my own spiritual leader oftentimes begins sermons with the “I won’t be too long” preface. I guess it makes the speaker feel better about himself or herself, but I digress from the sidebars and will now transition into this post.
So today officially marks the first day of the 2020-2021 school year, and it’s the first year in 14 years that I’ve been out on a sick day at the beginning of an academic year. Trust me, it wasn’t intentional, but I’ve been bruised a bit over the past week- another blow to the already altered day to day operation that hasn’t been the same since March. To make all of this make sense, I have to take you back to Tuesday, which was our open house, which was done virtually. I woke up bright and early and had purposefully pre-programmed my coffee to start at 4:00 a.m. I set my alarm for 4:15 a.m to give the coffee time to brew and seep up the stairs to make awakening during such early hours less of a disgrace and more of a celebration. And it did the trick. I can remember actually smiling as I slid my feet into my Under Armour slides, and I commended myself for finally getting into a space again where I could think ahead and pre-plan the day. So I put the final touches on our virtual site, and I was ecstatic about meeting our new parents and seeing our kids again. Contrary to what people think, educators do love their kids and actually have felt a feeling of empty that can only be filled with the smiles and sleepy “Good morning” speeches that come from slouchy students who haven’t quite fully charged their body’s batteries to 100%. Needless to say, Tuesday would start this new thing that we were preparing for, and I was excited. I finished the website around 5:30 and prepared to get a quick workout in as well. That was also great and by 7:00, I was ready to leave out of the house and guide my Suburban to school. But I forgot something upstairs, and I can’t remember what it was. I went to look for it, finding it quickly, but in the midst of that I heard a great BOOM! and checked to see if my son had fallen out of his bed again. To my surprise, he was sleeping peacefully, actually snoring a tad bit. Next, I checked the front door to make sure there wasn’t an attempt to break in from the outside, and again, the door was locked and in tact, but I came on down the steps to find that my mother-in-law, who’d acted as my mother since 2013, had fallen and hurt herself.
Mother and I conversed for a short moment, and I let her know that I was going to retrieve my wife to help me get her back to a stationary state. My wife did rise from her sleep and upon seeing her mother, my wife advised me to call the ambulance. I can remember saying a quick prayer and soon after she was in the ambulance and headed to the hospital. I decided to wait around for a little while just to see if anybody needed anything else, and the unthinkable thing happened. My wife texted me, “I believe my mom has passed away.” And in that moment my heart stopped. Here was another bruise to take into the 2020-2021 school year with me, and I honestly can remember thinking that I couldn’t take anything like this. We’d already come up against a pandemic, and people were still protesting for equal rights throughout the county. Those two things were the foci for my mindset and what I’d spent some time navigating- how do we intertwine and teach our students about these things while attempting to help them become better, productive citizens. But now, that was removed from my mind. Almost like a shoot of wind, I felt a sense of calm come over me because I had to check on my wife; the awesome thing about most of the women that I know and have been blessed to have close relationships with is they rarely focus on themselves and are selfless. This is both inspiring and a point of interest, but that’s for another post on another day. After a brief hug, she stated that we needed to tell our boys. We found them in the computer room, and my oldest son immediately began crying, which broke my already bruised heart in multiple pieces. The way my wife explained this passing was by helping the boys understand that we all will leave this earth at some point, and part of becoming older is eventually leaving earth. My youngest son replied, not with tears, but matter of factly by saying, “Well, mom…I’m not eating vegetables anymore because I’m not ready to get older and pass away.” My wife and I looked at one another, as we oftentimes do when this four-year-old says the most out of this world stuff, smiled the hardest smiles, shook our heads, and continued.
In the days that followed, I was able to see all of the things I’d stated and said in action. The Friday before leaving for the weekend, I’d told teachers to make sure they take care of themselves and their families because if anything were to happen to them, their jobs would be posted before week’s end. The statement wasn’t to be derogatory or hurtful, but it was true. I wanted them to make sure they took care of themselves, yet here I was contemplating on whether I needed to pop down to my school to make sure everything went well or to take some time and focus on my own family. I analyzed the strengths of my team, said a quick prayer, and again, felt that a serene spirit take over me. In addition, the universe inserted itself into the uncertain, and my admin team told me they had it and that I better not step foot outside of my house. Some of my other principal colleagues called and told me that they would stop by the school to offer assistance wherever it was needed. Our friends and family provided us with food and snacks and beverages and their presence every day up until Mother’s funeral, and although my heart now held a huge bruise, my heart was also better. I was better because of the bruises, and I found myself smiling multiple times, even through the pain of loss. Their presence was helping us build and elevate to the next level.
Over the summer, I’d attempted to write a piece on how difficult it was to principal during a pandemic and during the protests because those things left bruises as well. Because of the pandemic, I remembered the days when I didn’t have internet or cable tv. Our parents loved us, and it wasn’t that my mother was frugal but it was that the funds from Fred’s department store weren’t extensive enough to cover basic care for three boys and bills. In those bills, internet and cable weren’t necessities, so we went without those. I thought to myself, what would I have done in that instance? How would we have gotten through if we didn’t have the option of going to school to get breakfast and lunch? How tough would it have been to get assignments done while watching my two younger brothers because my own mother’s job would have been considered essential? All of those thoughts gave me a gulf of anxiety that I couldn’t shake because I was certain that many of my students were experiencing the thing I could now only imagine. But in remembering those times, I also recalled how those meager means of living also served as motivation when I had to pull all-nighters studying for major exams at Fort Valley State. In remembering those times, I recalled how I was able to see the world for what it was and how those experiences have and continue to help me relate to people who are less fortunate than me. Lack led me to recognizing the humanity in everyone, no matter how fortunate or unfortunate their circumstances were or are. And even now, I wonder how my own students will be better from these bruises that have been imparted on them? I wonder how these bruises of separation and anxiety and hurt and distance will make me a better man, mentor, leader, father, and husband. I wonder how life will be forever changed because the bruise that couldn’t be bandaged was and continues to be experienced by all of us.
In thinking of Mother, I also recognize how her own life was tied to the protests we watched on television over the past couple of months. She was born in 1942, and had previously spoke to me about how the family was impacted after integration. She and her kids had experienced first hand the perils of a promise that didn’t seem like it would come to fruition, and because she remembered that bruise, she was able and willing to give me advice on how to operate and conduct myself around people. My own mother had taught me to always dress well and articulate my words when speaking to people because they would judge me first by what they’d noticed and secondly by how I was able to converse with them. My mother-in-law frequently told me to always follow my purpose and trust whatever journey I was on. Even now, the conversations I had with her were the foundations of the verses of scripture I now stand on. But this point of protests and civil unrest is something that I’m still navigating through, and I know that I am in the position that I am in because there is purpose behind the work that I will be led to do to rectify racist politics and racial reckoning. I have been placed in this position with ties to so many different people for a cause. I have learned about the African diaspora and read bundles of books to be a voice for those who’ve chosen to silence themselves. I know that race relations are a source of pain for so many people….another bruise that I, along with multitudes of others carry that can’t be bandaged with one conversation or one policy change. And I will and must be a part of the plan to remedy those long-standing, uncomfortable conversations and ideologies.
In saying all of this, I know that this will be one of the toughest years for me as principal. It’s crazy for me because this is year seven in administration, which is how long I served as a teacher. During my seventh year as a teacher, I lost my own mother that year…a bruise I thought I’d never overcome. But I also was able to defend a dissertation that same year, had some great test scores, built the best relationships with students that I’d ever built, and was eventually promoted at the end of the year. I was truly better because of the bruise that I thought would take me out. So here we are again…facing something similar but a bit more intense; something that’s combined with other bruises that can’t be bandaged. And no matter how weird it seems, I’m excited about the possibilities because we always get better from the bruises imparted on us, and our reward after facing an obstacle always exceeds whatever pain is in our present. This year, I’m not aiming for normal, but I’m aiming for better. We’ve gotten so lost in trying to make schooling and our lives normal that we’ve almost missed an opportunity to change the face of education. We’ve gotten so lost in being thrown off our own tracks that we haven’t been able to find beauty in the new path that we are currently compassing through. The path is not as smooth as asphalt we previously accelerated down. It’s quite rocky, but all paths were once not as smooth as they are now. Someone had to come before us, hence “paving the way” for how we now operate. Get it? So as educators, I challenge us all to partner with our stakeholders, and make the most of the opportunity that lies ahead. I can remember working in my previous boss’s office years ago, and her table housed a quote that is prevalent now. It said, “Opportunity is missed by most because it’s dressed in overalls and looks like hard work.” Don’t let your Cole Haan’s or J. Crews get the best of you this year. Roll up your sleeves, hatch your overalls, and get ready to be the change our students need. The bruises we carry won’t take us out, but they’ll make us better, and I challenge all of us to be better together.
Be accountable. Be committed.