In my life’s work as an educator and my personal life I am learning to do the things that feel right. Especially when I follow my gut feeling on things related to work I seek a combination of what sounds like tons of fun for my life and is aligned with my purpose to meaningfully serve others. As I reflect on how that’s been working out for me I can be honest that it usually freaks me out and leaves me grasping my forehead and asking myself why I even got into this (whatever it might be) in the first place. Recently, I’ve been “failing” at a lot of things when I follow that bliss+service combo. It’s been scary, and sometimes feels foolish like I’m wasting my time and energy on things that “aren’t working out” or appear to have minimal impact. And then things like this happen… I received this amazing appreciation note from a colleague who stopped by my house during a workshops series I run for second year teachers on Restorative Justice in schools. I’m so grateful when I’m reminded by colleagues, students, experiences, simple feelings or synchronistic moments that I am on the right path. It’s validation that the side projects, the volunteering, the all-nighters, the risk-taking and the failures are worth it.
The best thank you card I’ve ever received and never expected.
I’m learning and growing and becoming the woman, the educator and the community leader I know I am meant to be. We each have a voice telling us to go forward and do something; no matter how bold, simple, challenging or beautiful it may be, we all have something to add this this world. I’m learning that in order make our biggest impact we must have the courage to start small and follow our passion and happiness. In reality, authentic service and an life’s exciting adventures stem from someone who is in love with who they are and what they do.
Last night as I lay in my bed, ready to fall asleep, I encountered my privilege in the silence. I was bewildered by that nighttime silence for the first time in my life. Just minutes away, yet worlds away, I knew my students could at the same moment be trembling in fear as gunshots fire outside their windows. Four murders in one week. Countless shootings heard on the block. Student homes being targeted with rounds of bullets and molotov cocktails. Students in hiding, students crying, students acting out. The stories flood from fearful hearts into my powerless hands; it was her cousin, his cousin, right next door….”Miss…it’s going to be a war”. The neighborhood has become a prison and a battlefield for our youth and families. One students says, “I worry for my family who loves nature and to be outside…now we cannot even go outdoors for fear of being shot”. My mind flashes to last summer’s memories: bike rides through the neighborhood at dusk with family and friends. I have that privilege of peace and freedom and did nothing to earn it; my students would be putting their lives at risk to do the same. This is unfair, infuriating, devastating.
I can do nothing except shed light on injustice and inequality and equip my students with courage in their hearts to speak their truth and stand for something that makes our world a better place. This is not a gang problem, a black problem, a brown problem, or a Baltimore problem. This too is my problem, our problem. As Martin Luther King Jr. reminded us, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly”. I am once again reminded that to remain silent is to take my privilege for granted and further darken the shadows of injustice. I have the privilege to speak without fear of retaliation or becoming a target of violence and so I must speak. I hope that you too will have the courage to speak on the topic, explore your opinions and realize that until we remove the chains of poverty and inequality amongst our brothers and sisters none of us are truly free. If anything, please reach out to a loved one, pray for our communities, or just be grateful for the blessings you may be so privileged to experience. “If we do not have peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other”- Mother Theresa.
As a friend, a parent, an educator, a boss, a service provider, or generally a connected human, I can imagine that at some point in your life you have experienced the ironic frustration that sometimes happens when others seek your support in times of need. I think it is a fairly common human experience to feel annoyed, or even undervalued, that someone ONLY thinks of you when things are tough.
I’m guilty of this in both my personal and professional life. I’ve been frustrated with friends who only call to talk about their problems. I am the friend who has only called when I was lonely. I am the daughter who hadn’t called my Mom for two weeks and then called crying at the end of a horrible week. I am the student who only gets in touch when I need that recommendation. I am the teacher who has begrudgingly helped a kid who acted like a jerk all semester and then sought support a week before the semester’s end. I am the co-worker who said yes to helping out, but felt hurt because you made it clear I was your last resort. I am the partner who said no (because it’s easiest to say know the ones you love the most, right?) and had to live with the pain I caused by leaving him alone in that darkness.
The experience of being annoyed by someone seeking your light in their darkest time come straight from the illusions of our ego. When we involve our own judgements and fears of self-worth, it becomes about us, and not about the person in need. These judgements are also the reason that so many of us shy away from reaching out to our loved ones, our colleagues, our support networks, etc. Instead of judging people for when, how, or why they reach for you light in a time of darkness, it would help make this world a better place if we all tried our best to accept the blessing (and the privilege) of being that light for someone else.
Recently I was sent a random email from Teach for America asking me to approve a blurb they wrote about my work as a social justice educator. They thought of me when re-designing a part of their final interview process meant to “update how we talk about race, class, and privilege, the importance of personal identity and reflection, and community partnership”.
Thousands of new teacher applicants across the country will reference me and my students as they discuss Restorative Practices and Culturally Relevant practices and as part of their “theory of change”. Who would have thought…
“Let’s talk for a moment about Charla Agnoletti, a 2009 Colorado alum who focused not just on Language Arts, but also on developing “the skills [her] students needed to deal with the disproportionate levels of conflict, oppression and social issues they face as low-income youth of color.” Charla saw her students as “warriors for peace and justice” which led her to pilot restorative justice and culturally relevant practices within her class. She is now leading these efforts at a school wide level as her school’s first ever Restorative Justice Coordinator. Her past classroom curriculum and her current school wide initiatives focus on “creating critical consciousness in youth by discussing issues central to their lives while teaching practical tools for peace and justice to immediately implement in [their] community.” A student of Charla’s noted that Ms. Agnoletti “filled [her] with knowledge that will walk alongside [her] for the rest of [her] life.”