Letters to my little sisters.

A week from today is my 40th birthday. *shimmies*

I’m very excited about this milestone. Aside from seeing Ailey, I’m not sure what else I’ll do to commemorate it. I want to go dancing. Salsa, like Ailey’s Revelations, is high on my list of favorite things.

As we were planning this week’s episode of Whiskey, Wine & Moonshine, Sojo realized this would be our 40th episode. We decided to call it 40 Before 40. It’s literal, in that it’s the 40th before I turn 40 (Ms. Smart and Sojo are a tad younger). But it’s also a play off bucket lists and things people want to accomplish before milestone birthdays.

I hadn’t created a 40 before 40 list, but I thought it might be enlightening if we discussed what we have accomplished thus far in life, what we have planned for the next phase, and what we would tell our teenaged selves if we could send some love to our past.

Sharing encouragement and life lessons with younger women is something I’ve long wanted to do. I have particular areas in mind, and some of my current planning is grounded in this work.

Our episode was an interesting one. Unfortunately, Sojo wasn’t able to join us (shout out to Kedar), and Queen Neen from the In Deep Show was there in her stead. We talked about body image, romantic relationships, sex, finances, health, and career.

For the seasoned readers among you, what have you learned that you would like to share with the younger generation? What do you have planned for the next phase of your life?

Revelations

Every Valentine’s weekend, the magnificent dancers of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater command center stage at the fabulous Fox. I’ve gone perhaps once every five years or so since I was a little girl. I don’t remember much about my first show other than I was there with my mom and one of her friends, and I was quietly awed about what I’d seen.

Since then, each time I’ve returned, the beauty, power and magic of Revelations is what I most long to see. Years I don’t go, I pacify myself with YouTube.

When I’m lucky, I find older videos, sometimes 20 years old, and watch them alongside the newer ones. The dancers’ athleticism and grace, and the pictures they create on stage are awe-inspiring.

Last year I hadn’t moved back to Atlanta by the time AAADT came and went. Still, I was disappointed I didn’t go to a show. I missed them. It’s been too long, I told Blue. I’m turning 40 next February. I have to go see Ailey next year. An early birthday gift.

Fox AileyThis year, just in time for the second great thaw of 2014, we went! I have rotating list of favorite things, and Revelations has a permanent place in the top five. I’m not alone:

More people have seen Revelations than any other modern dance work, and it has been enjoyed by over 23 million people in 71 countries across six continents.

If you have the opportunity to experience Ailey in general and Revelations in particular, don’t miss it.

Restoration in CPS

I’ve been reading, writing, thinking about schools as sites of love. Nationwide, districts are moving toward less punitive and more restorative approaches to school discipline. This shift comes at a time when the civil rights arms of the Department of Education and Department of Justice released guidance to districts about minimizing discriminatory and exclusionary discipline policies.

I’ve read comments complaining that humane approaches to discipline mean ignoring misbehavior and allowing classrooms to deteriorate into chaos. This does not reflect the reality of schools that work to improve their climates nor the students and communities who are positively impacted by the changes.

Moving away from zero tolerance and other harsh discipline codes requires a multi-pronged approach including:

  • supporting teachers with classroom management,
  • helping faculty and staff unpack racial and ethnic stereotypes
  • eliminating zero-tolerance policies which by definition ignore context and mediation
  • regularly reviewing discipline policies for alignment with student achievement goals and common sense
  • reviewing discipline records for consistent application of policies
  • decriminalizing simple student misbehavior
  • devising thoughtful approaches to correct and redirect unwanted behaviors

Late last week, the Chicago Tribune published this piece about Chicago Public Schools (CPS) working toward restoration.

“Chicago Public Schools has one of the highest suspension and expulsion rates and the disproportionate use of suspensions,” {District chief} Byrd-Bennett said. “We are going to reverse that trend.”

Efforts are underway to collaborate with the privately run charter schools within the district, but challenges may be ahead:

The city’s charter schools have been criticized for pushing out troubled children with harsh discipline policies and fines. Charter leaders have maintained that tougher discipline has led to safer schools.

The Illinois Network of Charter Schools said in a written statement that it takes “very seriously” the use of appropriate discipline, and looks forward to collaborating with CPS to examine the issue. 

“Chicago charter public schools have a history of adopting proven and innovative approaches to creating a school culture that works to avoid the most punitive responses to behavior issues,” the statement said.

As I read this, I’m wondering about the relationship between “tougher discipline” and “innovative approaches” that “avoid the most punitive responses to behavior issues.” Tough is associated with punitive and retributive, not restorative.

Read the piece in full here.

One Night Only

Thursday I wrote about National Wear Red Day, an initiative to raise awareness for American Heart Month. Later that evening, the American Heart Association’s hosted the annual Heart Truth Red Dress Collection fashion show.

Held in conjunction with national sponsor Macy’s, the event promised a star-studded catwalk. Celebs would include Gina Torres, Kat Graham, Alicia Quarles, and Anika Noni Rose. Anika asked me to tune in if I could. I did, so I did.

The fashion show, streamed online, began fashionably late. The women sported gorgeous designer gowns, some of them strutting, dancing, and bouncing down the runway.

Although the online stream played some strange techno mix, I later discovered the live audience was treated to upbeat songs. Anika shimmied and sashayed to Dreamgirls hit One Night Only. I’ll admit bias, but she was my favorite with Bella Thorne not too far behind.

As some of the women appeared on the catwalk, messages projected behind them. The sayings included their names, their featured designer, and why they walk. I walk to empower women, for instance. Later on in the evening, Anika shared why she walks:

That was very sweet, and completely unexpected. Sending love to my mother, to Anika, and to everyone impacted by heart disease.

 

The undoing of schools as prisons

I have a post in draft form that pulls together a couple of recent articles related to schools as sites of love, but I didn’t want to let the day pass without sharing this piece from the Atlantic.

Last year I wrote for The Atlantic about a notorious North Philadelphia junior high school known for years as the “Jones Jail.” Its rambunctious students wreaked such terror on the neighborhood that the police put the streets surrounding the school on lockdown every day at dismissal. Nearby shop-keepers locked their doors and porches as 800 of the city’s poorest kids streamed out the doors, often reportedly climbing over parked cars in their unruly rush to get out of school. When the John Paul Jones Middle School was taken charter and reopened as the Memphis Street Academy, the new administration decided, to the mystified dismay of the police department , that they would strip the school of metal detectors and window gratings, get rid of the security guards, and instead utilize nonviolence based restorative practices.

The number of violent incidents dropped 90 percent in a single year.

Since Memphis Street Academy initiated restorative practices, the police department says they no longer need to send the 11 patrol officers they used to send every day to oversee the hectic and potentially explosive dismissal time.

The writer, a social worker with experience in schools and criminal justice, makes the case that punitive measures sans restoration can serve more harm than good. Restorative practices, which are designed to repair harm rather than cause it, are mentioned in new guidelines released by the Department of Education and Department of Justice (.pdf). I’m excited to read them and I’ll share my findings here. My goal is not simply to report on schools as sites of love, but also to advocate for their creation.

Read the rest of Jeff’s piece here. Don’t miss his original piece on “Jones Jail,” the Philadelphia school that bet on restoration over retribution, and won.

New Year’s Eve

It’s here. The last day of 2013. Can you believe it?

I awoke to find an email from WordPress, detailing the milestones and stats for the year. My top posts included a brief remembrance of my mother, Marla’s narrative on living with lupus, and the introduction of the Joy Jar – a beautiful idea I may revisit in the coming year.

I also began writing about sexual violence and I spent a good deal of time pondering a theory of love, something I plan to do a great deal more of in 2014. My thinking and writing are always evolving and it’s enlightening to see what resonates from month to month and year to year. I hope you’ll continue to join me on the journey.

Wherever you are in space and time, I hope you are winding down the year with an abundance of peace and joy. I pray the dawning year is full of beauty, love, and good cheer. And if you should wish it, a standing ovation…

wonder“Bravo!” I heard Dad yelling through his hands.

“Why is everyone getting up?” I said.

“It’s a standing ovation,” said Mom, getting up.

So I got up and clapped and clapped. I clapped until my hands hurt. For a second, I imagined how cool it would be to be Via and Justin right then, having all these people standing up and cheering for them.

I think there should be a rule that everyone in the world should get a standing ovation at least once in their lives.