Listen to the Kids! The Revolution and Politics of Imagination

By Ron E. Lynch, Jr. @atlasrey 

Editor’s note: This should be read as a conversation between a teacher and his students, and while reading this as an open letter of sorts, we can all learn how to be both better teachers and students.

Back in August 2015, Kanye West got on the VMA stage and rambled on about a lot of stuff that most people don’t remember, but he did drop some wisdom with “Bro. Bro! Listen to the kids.” The next day in class, we recreated that speech and discussed why more folks in education needed to, in fact, listen to the kids. We laughed, knowing that that possibility was narrow because it would require adults to acknowledge the creative power that kids regularly show on the daily basis that demonstrates their genius.

Just investigate any vine or the latest viral trend, and you will see the ingenuity of Black and Brown kids’ ability to turn dust into diamonds.They do what that the adults in their lives have grown too privileged to contend: things that they don’t want to do, while still maintaining their soul.

In what often feels like stolen time, I did not want to have to talk to you about the dirtiness of American Politics, again; or, specifically, how Sec. Hillary Clinton and Donald J. Tr*mp will never see us, the way we see each other. I didn’t want to dirty our interactions even though I knew that there would be people in your realm of authority (teachers, deans, and principals) that would choose dishonesty, because it is easier to lie when you lack the imagination for truth.

Then Tuesday happened.

I couldn’t process the pain and fear you were experiencing, so I tried to think of a time when I didn’t know domination intimately. I located the 90s and found a memory to squeeze into and went there because time-travel functions as survival for people like us.

“Only those who can read, write, and love can move back or forward through time.” -- Kiese Laymon,  Long Division

“When I grow up i’ma be a geologist or an astronomer or a model or an actor?--No, I’ma be an actor/model astrogeologist.” Yeah, that feels right. For now, at least. I know that we would have been best friends if it weren’t for the time difference, because I live in the same ‘hood that you will come to know as home, but right now you are something and somewhere between the cosmos, time, gender, race, creation, infinity, and love directing me to know no use of borders or limitations. You are gods and I’m struggling between future professions like “Oh, I forgot I wanna play soccer, too."

Whatever I land on doesn’t matter because I know I will be a father. A really good father, like my mama, is a really good mother. So, on a spring day in ‘98, I’m on my mama’s defunct exercise bike, pedaling my kids to the beach because that is what fatherhood is: doing cool things that your kids love. I knew that because mama, every spring, bought flowers so that I could plant a garden. Or because one summer day en la madrugada she woke me up to watch a meteor shower. YEAH! We laid in our driveway in the middle of the ‘hood, under the stars and you all’s grace to watch possibility danced across the sky.

So I pedaled and pointed at the sandcastles, mermaids, purple oceans, and seashells as we made our way.

My mind slips, and I am back chasing 27 years and gaining, but ‘98 is still in the air that I inhale.

Before we could ever arrive, too many adults in my life tamed my imagination to ensure that I survived, because childhood is not a place Black kids get to know for long.

“The familiar people and things had failed her so she hung over the gate and looked up the road towards way off...Janie’s first dream was dead, so she became a woman.” -- Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

I move back in time often to try-on memories of what it felt like to be free. It is my best stab at a solution, but somehow I’m 22 and have forgone envisioning having kids; because they deserve to have a parent that is alive, or at the very least, not always in conflict. I cannot imagine a life in which racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, or xenophobia, could touch their lives and not react rashly. So in order to have a chance at survival, my psyche could no longer factor kids into my dreams.

Ironically, my 8 year-old-self retains more power than the bitterness I have hoarded toward adulthood because somehow I became a teacher. Y’all’s teacher.

Teaching is an odd profession; in that, you think that you are signing up for one job, but at some point, early on, you realize that teaching is not the sum whole of what you do, but rather a small fraction of it. And while I’ve never located myself as a father-figure, I am protective of the students I serve. These “students” are the people, my kids, y’all, who have continuously saved my life.

I am not sure, what it feels like to be a parent, or how close these two experiences parallel, but I have literally yelled and screamed and protested at every and any person who has not meant you well. I have cried and been exhausted and tired and disgusted and on the brink of my own destruction, and it has been your dreams and hopes and love that has guided me to return the next day, the next week, the next year, the next Instagram post even when my worst fears of fatherhood were actualized in and out of the classroom.

I have seen the ways that sexism and misogyny touch your shoulder and knees, or how subtle racism scorches your ability to learn, then tramples your GPA; or the way power is exacted over you and then dangled in your face to be glorified and exalted. You are resilient, not only because you have to be, but because the adults around you lack the wisdom to listen to what you need from the stakeholders in your life, without deciding what life has to be versus how life can be.

“Ser joven y no ser revolucionario es una contradicción hasta biológica.” -- Salvador Allende

Since Tuesday, I’ve watched so many of the other educators in your life struggle with “What do we tell our students now that our nation has decided to no longer keep their hatred for our bodies and Otherness thinly veiled?”  We are all trying to find the right words to plant you in comfort, even though we are not certain ourselves how much violence our bodies and lives will face now that domination has emboldened the likes of a Trump to have, not only, the audacity to run, but the support to win.

Echoes such as “You’ll be 18 soon, be sure to to vote in your local elections.” Or, “Our ancestors have gone through worse.” Maybe, even “Love trumps hate” are the only offerings I’ve heard. These are all pleasant platitudes that make us feel better good, but they are not enough to keep us protected. And no matter if it is what we would like to hear, it irresponsible now, more than ever, to be dishonest.

What you should know is that you cannot rely on us to dream a path for you, because adulthood has made us complacent in false compromises that feign themselves as help or direction, but are really oppression-stained-lies repeated into normalcy. It is time for you all to be the leaders that you have imagined yourselves to be way back before you knew time as a system of governance. You all have what most adults lack: the imagination to create a better world and the soul to create it.

I want so badly to gift the words that my mama gave to me in ‘98 to ensure that my imagination was powerful enough to conceive an actor/model astrogeologist futbolista, but I can only ever locate her silence, then memories where she fulfilled motherhood by doing all the cool things that her son loved.

The words that you need to hear are planted in the memories where we have shown you, and not lectured you. You have to find the things that you love, and it will be our jobs--my job to pedal you to where you need to arrive, pointing out the things you may not see. 

Your job will always be to continue to do the work of imagining and to never lose your soul.

“My childlike creativity, purity and honesty is honestly being crowded by these grown thoughts. Reality is catching up with me, taking my inner child I'm fighting for custody.” -- Kanye West, Power


Ronald E. Lynch, Jr. is a writer, editor, and fearless Afro-futurist educator from the land of Houston, Texas . He is committed to helping Black, Latinx, and/or queer youth find liberation in the ways that that makes most sense to their agency and survival. Ron is an alumnus of Morehouse College where he studied Cinema, Television, and Emerging Media Studies & Film and Spanish. He is a co-founder and co-director of The Black Teacher Association. More importantly, Ron loves his little raggedy children. They have taught him more things than he could’ve ever wish to have taught them.

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