Friday, July 30, 2021

Sometimes, It Takes Hitting Rock Bottom to Realize You Were Born to Soar!

I don't know who this is for, but I hope it benefits someone....and in full disclosure, this message started out as a simple Facebook post, but as it got unintentionally lengthier than I intended for it to be, I decided to turn it into a blog post.

I have been walking in my dream as a self-employed, independent, unaffiliated, national education speaker, consultant and author for ten years now. At the age of 50, I left my purpose as a principal ten years ago to walk into my passion as a trainer of principals. The springboard to getting here however was my 6-year tenure as the principal of Newark Tech HS in Newark, NJ...the best 6 years of my professional life. Prior to my arrival to Newark Tech in the fall of 2005, I had hit rock bottom professionally. When I say "rock bottom," I mean ROCK BOTTOM...which had an obvious adverse impact on me emotionally. In today's lexicon, we would say that my mental health took a significant hit. I was not all. I was in bad shape. I was on the verge of losing everything I worked so hard for over the previous 17 years...and I was on the verge of a breakdown emotionally, because I dared to "go against the grain" professional. I dared to do certain things my way which I felt strongly were best for children...decisions I don't regret one iota today and if given the same circumstances again, I would proceed in a similar fashion. Said differently, we all have principles that we stand beside but the true test to your commitment to your principles is when they are challenged. Mine were challenged and it almost cost me my career.

My point - there's someone out there reading this blog post who's either at rock bottom or on a downward spiral toward approaching rock bottom. Rock bottom isn't always a bad place though. For me, it was the absolute best thing that could have happened to me both professionally and personally...a blessing in disguise. It forced me to dig deep into my soul to find aspects of me that I didn't know existed. I was "comfortable" for a long time...TOO COMFORTABLE...but this experience forced me to become "uncomfortable with being comfortable and comfortable with being uncomfortable." I had no solid Plan B. Yes, I was a public speaker on the side, but not to the extent of making a career of it. I was on my backside now. I was literally suspended from my principalship - I was a local news story (television, radio and print) and my termination hearing was the following week. I'M TALKING TO SOMEONE OUT THERE....I STOOD FIRM ON WHAT I BELIEVED WERE THE RIGHT DECISIONS FOR CHILDREN....I STOOD FIRM BESIDE MY PRINCIPLES...AND NEARLY LOST IT ALL.I remember it like it was yesterday...September 22, 2004...the school board voted unanimously...7 to 0 that the decisions and actions that I took in question were appropriate and that I be reinstated immediately. Again, I stood firm by my principles.

At the end of that school year, I transferred to a school district that I knew nothing about and became for the first time, a high school principal. What an experience it was. It gave me a reset. It gave me a new lease on life professionally. I found a fit where I truly belonged. I was able to be "Principal Kafele." Those six years at Newark Tech were the springboard to the work I have been doing over the past ten years, but in order to get here, I had to leave the situation that was taking a toll on my mental health. Newark Tech was my cure. My mental health and that situation were not compatible and something had to give. I made what turned out to be a life-changing start all over in a place where I had peace of mind.

I'M TALKING TO SOMEONE OUT THERE TODAY. Someone reading this essay is going through something. Someone reading this essay has been challenged. Someone reading this essay is being tested. Someone reading this essay is contemplating quitting, giving up or throwing in the towel. Someone reading this essay is contemplating walking away from your dream...your purpose...your passion. Someone reading this essay feels that they have hit rock bottom....a point of no return. My response to you is WAIT...STOP...HOLD ON! Rock bottom isn't always a bad place. Sometimes, rock bottom is the blessing you were waiting for but it came to you in a disguise. That situation you are in just might not be the right situation for you but you needed to hit rock bottom in order for you to realize it. There is so much more in you. There is so much more to you. There is so much more for you. There are so many gifts and talents that are laying dormant within you that you haven't identified or unleashed yet. There are so many people in the world waiting for you to soar in another direction....a new direction...directly toward them...people who NEED YOU! That situation you are currently in doesn't have to be your final definition of who you are. It is time for you to redefine yourself. It is time for you to pursue a new breakthrough. It is time for you to blossom into your fullness....but you might not be able to do it there.

Hey somebody out there, if I am in fact speaking to you, GET UP OFF OF YOUR BACKSIDE, start writing your new goals, devise and write your new strategy and begin to walk in it everyday in the spirt of a RENEWED YOU. Get yourself a trusted accountability partner too. Start this process right after you finish reading this essay. Don't put it off for another second. Procrastination is the enemy of all pursuits. Start today....RIGHT NOW and do know that the road will be bumpy at times, but that's okay. That's just life. Keep your eyes fixated on the prize. And realize that "flying" was always in you, but sometimes, it takes hitting rock bottom for us to fully realize that we were all born to soar in the first place.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Could the Banning of Black History Month In America's Schools Be Next? (More CRT Madness)

Like wildfire, the banning (and the consideration of banning) of what is called Critical Race Theory is spreading across the country in various different states to the detriment of tens of millions of children and to America overall. As indicated in an essay I wrote yesterday entitled,
Critical Race Theory, Sleight of Hand, & Some and Mirrors, I see this as nothing more than subterfuge, deception, a ruse. In my eyes, it’s not CRT that they want to ban because as I read and listen to countless individuals, they don’t even know what CRT is. No….what they want to ban is the truth of America’s ugly history over the past 402 years relative to Black-white relations in this country. For example, you will recall that in the summer of 2020, then President Trump was scheduled to speak in Tulsa, OK on Juneteenth (June 19) which sparked outrage from the African American community in particular. It brought the Black Wall St. race massacre and the meaning of Juneteenth to the center of media attention nationally. Millions never heard of either prior to this moment. What we see with these "Critical Race Theory" state bans is the consequence. These legislators in these red states are essentially saying, "Oh hell no...there's no way in hell we are going to allow the truth of America toward Black people historically to make its way into our classrooms. We will suppress that truth by any means necessary!" This is where we are now in America’s schools.

Since I became a teacher back in 1988 in Brooklyn, NY, I have stood firm that cultural-relevance, cultural-responsiveness and equity must be inherent components of America’s classrooms; particularly when Black and Brown students are present. I consider these to be nonnegotiable components of the teaching and learning dynamic. But I stand equally as firm on the teaching of African American History and this, I do not confine to the presence of Black students. America is comprised of each race and countless cultural groups but there is only one race of people who came to these shores involuntarily – Black people. Black people are uniquely American. We all have roots in Africa but most of us do not have fam back home in Africa (that we are aware of) that we can call and say we will be coming home to visit on a summer vacation trip. America is home. It’s all we have. What family we know is here and throughout the Western Hemisphere. Our story is therefore a uniquely American story. There is no such thing as American History without the fullness of the African American story. To write us out of history is to pretend that we don’t exist and to pretend that we did not come here as slaves (captives). The banning of CRT is nothing but a modern day attempt to further suppress the story and experience of Black people in America. It’s a way to control the thinking of the masses of children in America’s classrooms.


Dr. Carter G. Woodson, considered to be the father of Black history in America due to his creation of Negro History Week back in 1926 which evolved into Black History Month in the 60’s wrote sixteen books but the one that is most pertinent to the times is a classic and perennial best-seller, the Miseducation of the Negro, written in 1933. There’s a paragraph in the introduction that is often cited and recited, and recited by me countless times over the past 35 years. It reads as follows:


“When you control a man's thinking, you do not have to worry about his actions. You do not have to tell him not to stand here or go yonder. He will find his 'proper place' and will stay in it. You do not need to send him to the back door. He will go without being told. In fact, if there is no back door, he will cut one for his special benefit. His education makes it necessary.”


He said it best when he said, “When you control a man’s thinking, you do not have to worry about his actions.” This is my interpretation of the goal of banning CRT. It’s about banning the Black experience so that control of the minds of America’s children may be maintained in classrooms relative to the truth of the past.


So what about Black History Month? Of course the reading, studying, learning, researching and celebration of Black history can never be confined to one month and in this case, February. But February is still most significant because it provides us with the opportunity to highlight…zero in if you will, on Black history during that particular season. I look at it as a month long “celebration” of Black people. But when you juxtapose it with the banning of CRT, it raises legitimate questions. Is the banning of Black History Month next in America’s schools? Will it be watered down? Will it be reduced to “nothingness?” Will teachers be intimidated from teaching it? I said it a “zillion” times and I will say it again, YOU CANNOT TEACH NOR DISCUSS THE BLACK EXPERIENCE IN AMERICA DEVOID OF A DISCUSSION ON RACE. It is an impossibility. It cannot be done. And this is why I call the banning of CRT ”sleight of hand” & “smoke and mirrors.”


As I close, I want to draw your attention to 50 questions that I added to the conclusion of my newest book, The Equity & Social Justice Education 50. The book is written for educators and my premise for the questions is that teachers must be conversant in these eras of Black history, regardless of the racial composition of their students. These questions represent American history and not having familiarity with each is just unacceptable for a multiplicity of reasons. But in the context of this blog post, in a state where CRT is banned, these questions would be considered violations of the ban because they require discussions of race…which may make some of the children feel uncomfortable…which is the deception that is being used to ban CRT.


Please take a look at each of these questions and ask yourself whether or not you are conversant in these eras of American history.


1.  What do I know about the circumstances upon which the first Africans arrived to America?

2.  What year and location did the first Africans arrive?

3.  What do I know about the Middle Passage?

4.  What do I know about Black participation in the Revolutionary War?

5.  What do I know about the intricacies of the “peculiar institution” known as enslavement?

6.  What do I know about the abolitionist movement including the rise of the Black press?

7.  What do I know about the Dred Scott decision?

8.  What do I know about the Emancipation Proclamation, including Black participation in the Civil War?

9.  What do I know about Juneteenth?

10.  What do I know about the Black Codes?

11.  What do I know about the 13th Amendment?

12.  What do I know about the 14th Amendment?

13.  What do I know about the 15th Amendment?

14.  What do I know about the reason for HBCUs?

15.  What do I know about the reason for Freedmen’s Schools?

16.  What do I know about the reason for the Freedmen’s Bureau?

17.  What do I know about the intricacies of Reconstruction?

18.  What do I know about the Compromise of 1877?

19.  What do I know about Plessy v. Ferguson?

20.  What do I know about the founding of the NAACP?

21.  What do I know about the Garvey Movement?

22.  What do I know about the Harlem Renaissance?

23.  What do I know about the Negro Leagues?

24.  What do I know about the plethora of inventions and discoveries of Black inventors and scientists?

25.  What do I know about the history of lynchings of Black men and Black women?

26.  What do I know about the history of race riots and white mob violence toward Black men and women?

27.  What do I know about Black Wall Street?

28.  What do I know about the Rosewood Massacre?

29.  What do I know about the Tuskegee Experiment?

30.  What do I know about the Great Migration?

31.  What do I know about Black participation in World Wars I and II and the Tuskegee Airmen?

32.  What do I know about Brown v. the Board of Education?

33.  What do I know about Emmett Till?

34.  What do I know about the Montgomery Bus Boycott?

35.  What do I know about the Little Rock Nine?

36.  What do I know about the Greensboro Four?

37.  What do I know about the 4 Little Girls?

38.  What do I know about the March on Washington?

39.  What do I know about Bloody Sunday?

40.  What do I know about the treatment of Black soldiers after the Vietnam War?

41.  What do I know about the Civil Rights Movement?

42.  What do I know about the Civil Rights Act of 1964?

43.  What do I know about the Voting Rights Act of 1965?

44.  What do I know about the Black Power Movement?

45.  What do I know about COINTELPRO?

46.  What do I know about the Black Studies Movement?

47.  What do I know about the struggle for Black racial justice beyond the ’60s and ’70s?

48.  What do I know about the historical and contemporary tensions between the Black community and the police, which include the mass incarceration of Black men?

49.  What do I know about contemporary issues of racial and social justice in the Black community?

50.  What do I know about the infinite number of examples of “Black excellence” that has existed since the arrival of the first Africans to America as indentured servants and subsequently throughout the period of enslavement through the present?


For further reading, order my newest book, The Equity & Social Justice Education 50: Critical Questions for Improving Opportunities and Outcomes for Black Students (ASCD) wherever education books are sold.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Critical Race Theory, Sleight (Slight) of Hand, & Smoke and Mirrors

I have been watching the debate and banning of Critical Race Theory (CRT) with great interest over the past several weeks. I have so many thoughts and emotions about it that I want to share but I don’t have the space in a short blog post so I will keep it simple. First, what is CRT? I’ve watched so many anti-CRT people on television being interviewed about it and when asked the question, they typically do not have a clue. In other words, angry people fighting against something that they know little to nothing about.


Let me take you back to my undergraduate school days beginning in 1984. After spending 5 years in high school while attending 4 different high schools and doing absolutely nothing academically and finally graduating with a 1.5 GPA, I attended a junior college for the next five years as a full time, unemployed student and never graduated. I had a comparable GPA with zero ambition for my life. In an effort to do something with my life, I enrolled in a 4-year university in my home state of NJ, maintained a 4.0 for most of my tenure there and graduated Summa Cum Laude. How so? On the first day of classes, I stumbled on African American history. This did not occur in classes. It happened in the campus library. I stumbled on a book about the parallels of the lives of Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King , Jr. This occurrence changed my life forever. The one book led to another…and another…and another and I became a voracious reader of African American history with an insatiable appetite for more and more. As I read, I was simultaneous fascinated and angry throughout that initial year and for decades after. Fascinated because I never knew that as an African American, I had a history that was so vast, replete with joy and pain but angry because I never learned not even a modicum of this in the classroom from K – 12. I discovered through all of this reading that Black people in America had overcome tremendous odds…some of the most overwhelming odds known to humans over the past 400 years. I was angry. I needed to know why the truth and fullness of the American story was never told to me in a classroom. To date, I have never taken a Black Studies course but I built a personal library that I am most proud of. The question again – why was I never told? Learning this history literally made me feel invincible. I felt like I was some sort of superman because I came into an understanding that I was a descendent of a magnificently strong and brilliant people which is why and how I went on to graduate near the top of my entire class.


In 1988, I become a 5th grade teacher in Brooklyn, NY. The students were Black. It made sense to me that with all of my new accumulated knowledge of American history with an emphasis on the African American experience, that this content should be infused in all of the content areas in an interdisciplinary fashion, and that is exactly what I did while staying true to the curriculum. What a refreshing year that was. I soon after went back home to Jersey and once again, taught 5th grade and implemented the same approach that I did in NY. At the completion of my 4th year in NJ, I was named the school, district and county Teacher of the Year and NJ State Teacher of the Year finalist. I knew instinctively that my students were performing at the high levels that they were performing because of the infusion of African American history into their learning. In other words, I used an approach that was culturally relevant, culturally responsive and equitable. And obviously, I brought I high degree of cultural competence to my students.


In 1998, I became a school administrator and in 1999, a principal. I went right to the superintendent’s office upon my appointment and sold him on the significance of infusing cultural relevance into student learning with an emphasis once again on the infusion of African American history into the content areas and a couple of stand alone courses in African American  and African history. We subsequently went on to outperform the rest of the State of NJ of students of similar demographics solely because we put the students on the pages and in the lessons – in other words, we were culturally relevant.


Now what I am sure stands out for the reader of this blog post is that my students were Black so the challenge compared to a racially diverse student body will look different but attainable. Due to space, let me use one singular example – Black Wall St. in Tulsa, OK. Much of America never heard of Black Wall St. until the summer of 2020. I was deeply familiar with it since the 80s when I began my reading journey. I taught my students about it in the 80s and 90s. Black Wall St. is a part of the American story but it is only one example of the American story relative to African Americans. Black Wall St. is both a story of triumph and a painful story of America’s ugly past as it relates to African Americans. Here we had in the Greenwood section of Tulsa an economically thriving community….a self-sustaining community where there was little need for the dollar to ever leave the community. Everything that the people needed was there and it was built by them…which is key….a total of 35 square blocks. It was built out of survival. Racial oppression and racial injustice was real (and continues to be real) and opportunity was limited. Black people in Tulsa and other parts of the U.S. had no choice but to build their own thriving economies…out of survival. This began in 1906. In 1921, 100 years ago, there was incident on an elevator where a 19 year old Black young man was accused of attempted sexual assault of a 17 year old white young woman who was the elevator operator. He was subsequently arrested (although never to date proven guilty) but the angry white mob outside of the jail where he was being held wanted access to him in order to lynch him. The events that followed led to the massacre of Black Wall St….the entire Greenwood section of 35 square blocks burned to the ground including over 300 deaths whose remains to this day are still unaccounted for....due to an allegation of an attempted sexual assault that was never proven. This is a part of the American story that to this day, many don't want ever to be told in a classroom. No race theory...just facts.


My point – opponents of “Critical Race Theory” argue that CRT is inherently racist and it will make white children feel uncomfortable in the classroom. HEAR ME WELL – nothing that I have written above is CRT. What I have done in this blog post is to share with you my personal journey and to share briefly with you the origins and destruction of Black Wall St. – again, a part of the American story. Black Wall St., both its origins and destruction must be an inherent part of the Social Studies and American History curriculum. But the story cannot be told devoid of a discussion about race toward ensuring that the white students in the classroom do not feel uncomfortable. You can’t tell this story without a discussion on race because Black Wall St. was birthed in race and it was destroyed in race. There is no aspect of American history relative to the African American experience that can be told without the mention of race. It is an absolute impossibility. The existence of Black people in the Western Hemisphere is a story about race.


In terms of what CRT is, CRT argues that race is a social construct and that the policies and laws that shape America are inherently racist. As progressive educators, we are not demanding the teaching of CRT. That has never been our fight. Our fight is to simply be allowed to teach the fullness of the American story inclusive of the African American experience. Here, I am talking about the only population of people on these shores who came here involuntarily as slaves (captives). The African American experience is inherently American, but it is an experience that has been hidden, omitted, marginalized, distorted, trivialized and caricatured. It is a story that must be told. Yes, there will be children in classrooms who will feel uncomfortable but those very children need to be informed as well. We can no longer hide the truth of America’s past and present. If real change and progress are to occur, honesty must be at the heart of the evolution.


As a retired K-12 educator, CRT is not my fight at the K-12 level. This is all smoke and mirrors, deception, sleight of hand, a ruse. CRT is not the issue in K-12 classrooms. The issue is telling the truth…the fullness of the American story in classrooms. And one of the consequences in telling the truth about the American story is that the racist enforcement of its laws and policies will come to light through the discussion and this is what the opponents of CRT never want the children to know.


For further reading, order my newest book, The Equity & Social Justice Education 50: Critical Questions for Improving Opportunities and Outcomes for Black Students (ASCD) wherever education books are sold.

Reflecting on 4 Years of the AP & New Principals Academy

  It’s practically surreal that a project I started on May 2, 2020 in the midst of a global pandemic is still going strong 4 years later and...