We often joke about our pet peeves when attending a workshop or lecture for educators. Khalilah really doesn’t like the Q&A portion, when all too often folks ask ill-conceived questions or no questions at all and drone on about something unrelated. So I needless to say I was a little annoyed when after listening to the principal of Mott Hall Bridges Academy, Nadia Lopez share her very candid and inspiring story, that one young teacher asked her the following: “What is your go to statement to kids at your school?” You know I was rolling my eyes y’all, like is she serious? Then I had to take a step back and understand that many of us may be guilty of this. We listen to an amazing speaker and basically miss the point.
If you were in the audience with me that evening at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture then you might understand that Ms. Lopez clearly did not come there to share pithy lines to use with kids. She came to tell a story and to impart wisdom and insight about what it means to educate the kids that folks say “can’t do it”. She shared her own journey growing up and going to school in Bed-Stuy, Fort Greene, and Harlem. She talked about her years as a new teacher and her path to leading MHBA in Brownsville, Brooklyn that we New Yorkers may know by the tagline: “Brownsville never ran, never will”.
Ms. Lopez doesn’t shy away from the “real talk” about her students and the community they come from. She explained building a school population and community from scratch as she shares how she recruited students from the surrounding housing projects where the average annual household income is just $11,000. Her students as she describes them have been relegated to a culture of low expectations. Lopez’s mission is to disrupt the well-worn narrative as she puts it and to”open a school to close a prison”.
She is clear that the work is not for lightweights even as she jokes that “crazy is the criteria” for remaining persistent and dedicated in the face of obstacles. But Lopez believes in her students and their potential and she makes that very tangible for them. Taking her students to visit Harvard University, she explains is about making spaces of achievement attainable.
Listening to Ms. Lopez speak about her students and her staff and reminded me that schools are community spaces and the people who lead them matter. Our school leaders are not important because of their titles but rather because of their ability to engage everyone in the important work of nurturing and educating our children. Ms. Lopez is that kind of leader.
So let’s go back to the well-meaning young white teacher and her “go to” query for Ms. Lopez at the end of the evening. Although the question annoyed me the response was simply everything. She replied, “I tell them ‘I love you and I think you are brilliant and we’re gonna get through this together'”.
If you haven’t already, go and get Nadia Lopez’s book, The Bridge to Brilliance. You will be inspired, enlightened and encouraged to keep doing what you do every day for our children.
Finally, make your way to the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture for its Ed Talks, where educators, research scholars and thought leaders share ideas and engage the community in rich dialogue about a wide range of education topics.
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