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Sunday, June 28, 2015

Ode to the grace of the phonomenal women who teach America's children


On my journey from New York to Jersey, I reflected on the power, the beauty, and the strength of the women I am meeting on my walk to DC. In bumper-to-bumper Friday rush hour traffic, I heard President Obama’s funeral eulogy for Charleston’s 9 new beautiful Black Souls.     
In this age of hatred, this age of suicide bombers, murder, and intolerance, in this age where presidents and world leaders shout vengeance on the graves of the innocent almost daily. America’s President sang Amazing Grace. Those words “how sweet art thou…“ I was lost, but now I am found”.  Can a song save our nation’s soul? I say yes it can. In my eyes that song changed the narrative of hate begets hate. History was rewritten, and I could hear nine beautiful Black angels singing with our President from the house of the Lord.  America did not just lay the dead to rest in Charleston. President Obama lifted them to that pedestal of God’s grace, and gave the world a glimpse of the power of forgiveness, hope, and love.  He modeled the way to God’s Grace. He show us the way just at the time the world needed to see it, hear it, and feel it.       
There is no doubt in my mind that as each of the nine released their last breath; God’s angels came to carry each of the them home. There was no judgment for their souls, only love and acceptance into the house of eternal love.  As I watched the faces of those nine families on television I saw women holding their families strong.   
Men may give the speeches, but it’s women who hold us strong.  I have been blessed time and time again by the strength of the women in my life.  My mother, my sisters, my wife, and every female teacher have graced my every step. Their grace lifts me higher. Trust me, I could not have made it to this day without their strength. Every step I take is a step on the shoulders of the women in my world.  I could not help noticing our audience on Thursday at Hofstra University was mainly women.  I found myself in the presence of a sisterhood of strength, glory, love, and grace. I could hear my mother whispering rest easy son for you are in the sisterhood of love.         
Hofstra University would be the last New York event on this "Walking for justice not just more tests” tour. The event appropriately was titled:   “Teaching And Learning In The Times of High Stakes Testing”. It was a forum with a moderator, three panelists, and myself.  There were 30 people in this room along with 3 panelists and my self. We had 34 people, 30 women, and 4 men.  Women by far have outnumbered the men at every event. Many are teachers, aunts, mothers, and grandmothers. They embrace and inspire my every step on this walk to DC.     
The focus was a celebration of the end of this school year. Tonight would be a celebration for teaching and learning stories, writing music, and our hopes for change. On the night before the last day of school on Long Island teachers came together not to complain, not to say we can’t go on, not to say we give up, but to say you cannot break our sisterhood. These female teachers came to say we’re not backing down, and we're not walking away from this fight to save our children and our public schools.  Their eyes reminding me of that grace, that strength I have found in women my whole life. I was in the sisterhood of love and hope.       
Our evening began with Barry Finch a Connecticut folk singer singing a song he wrote for my walk: “Come Join The Walking Man Band”.   As Barry sang I surveyed this room of women who teach Long Island’ children every day. In many ways this room was like a dozen other walking man events.  It's no secret a majority of our nation’s teachers are women. I find them gracing my every step on this journey to DC.  Women are a majority of teachers, and some education reformers foolishly believe them weak, palatable, and easy to control. 
Only a fool would take women lightly.
Only a fool would think them weak. 
Only a fool would think them easy to control.
Only a fool believes he can breach the teaching walls of that sisterhood of hope, love, and grace protecting our children in our nation’s classrooms.          
I discovered the grace and power of women from my mother, my sisters, and from the many women who taught me at every level of education I went through. Women have always been my role models, my heroes, and my saviors.
As a young boy I had no real male role model at home. My father was an alcoholic, an abuser, and forever angry. He left our home when I was 10 years old. The night before my father left, his screaming and shouting was the worst I could remember.  My sisters locked themselves in the bathroom, my father pick up a chair and started to break down the door. My mother told him to stop, but his anger was a raging storm. The cause of his rage was my sister Mary Ellen had not yet done the dishes.  My mother moved between the door and my father. He threw the chair across the room, and raised his hand ready to hit my mother. He swung his fist, but I ran quickly to block the blow. I could barely stand the force of his blow. Seeing his only son bloodied, bruised, and assuming the role of the man he should have been ended the storm of rage and pain. He would walk out that door, and not return for 15 years. Some children pray for new bikes, but my prayer to the Lord on that night was oh dear God please make him go away forever.        
The times that followed would be dark, rough, and the level of poverty to come would match any Charles Dickens’s dark tale ever written.  Hunger would become part of every day, and cold would dominate our lives for the next couple of years.  Eviction became common, candles would light our nights not electric lights, and the gas was off more times than it was on.  For the next two years in school I would be as troubled as troubled could be. I would go from a good student to all failures. My failures had nothing to do with my teachers. I was like millions of our children attending our nation's public schools. No test score could define my pain or end my failures.         
For two years, I was a child who would find reasons to fight every day. Somehow my teachers understood and found reason to love me more each day.  My teachers during my darkest years were women. When I had no socks my teachers gave me new socks. When I had no hat and gloves those female teachers gave me a new hat and gloves. When my coat was ripped, patched, and torn those women gave me a new coat. Those women never once gave up on that angry boy, and those women did all they could to heal me. Evaluate that Secretary Duncan.
Evaluate that you corporate education reformers.
Evaluate that you who write the tests crushing our children.
         With no male role model in my life, I was like millions of our young boys today in our public schools today. My mother would be my role model. My three sisters are my heroes. Together my mother, my sisters, and those female teachers would become my saviors.  They turn my anger into hope, my hate into love, and lit the way out of my darkest hours. 15 years later my father was dying. He would return home to die. On his return I became a man of honor, dignity, and hope, but only because my mother would not let me hate my father. She insisted that forgiveness and love would welcome my father home. She insisted I would honor him. My mother would ensure that he would find peace in her sisterhood of love and grace. 
I thought of my mother, my sisters, and my women teachers when I saw women women at the services for the Charleston 9 women holding their families strong. I know well how women hold us strong. How grace rides on the wings of women.   
Momma loved Maya Angelou’s poem Phenomenal Women. She knew it by heart, could recite it whole, or part, and did anytime her only son forgot the beauty and power of women.
She would strut about our apartment saying:
“Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size   
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,   
The stride of my step,   
The curl of my lips.   
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,   
That’s me.”  
I dedicate 20 miles to the sisterhood holding us strong in our nation’s classrooms. Ten 10 miles on Saturday and 10 on Sunday are all for those phenomenal women gracing my walk to DC. Harriet Beecher Stowe said: “Never give up, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.”

If you find my walk strong,
If you find my message one of hope,
If you find my message one of love’s grace for children,
Then know it rides upon the wings of the Phenomenal women who teach our nation’s children.
Tell Secretary Duncan he can’t evaluate their grace.
Walking to DC,

PS if you want to know what song I listened to for 20 miles over two days...It's Peter Gabriel's "Shaking the Tree" > <

Come sing it with me on my walk to DC.
"Souma Yergon, Sou Nou Yergon
We are shakin' the tree
Souma Yergon, Sou Nou Yergon
We are shakin' the tree

Waiting your time, dreaming of a better life
Waiting your time, you're more than just a wife
You don't have to do what your mother has done
She has done, this is your life, this new life has begun

It's your day, a woman's day
It's your day, a woman's day"

Read more: Peter Gabriel - Shaking The Tree Lyrics | MetroLyrics