Ariel Community Academy students are investing on Wall Street by fourth grade For 20 years, the school’s graduates have gone on to become doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs and investment bankers

There is a school in Chicago where students are introduced to stocks in kindergarten and trade stocks by the fourth grade.

Ariel Community Academy is a public school on Chicago’s South Side — the vision of John Rogers, founder, chairman and CEO of Ariel Investments, and Arne Duncan, former U.S. secretary of education.

Rogers founded the school more than 20 years ago. Among the graduates are doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs and, of course, investment bankers.

“I tell people all the time that the best way to learn about investing is the way my father taught me,” said Rogers. “He gave me real money to invest in real stocks. That’s the heart of what makes our program work. It’s not a game.”

Here’s how Ariel Community Academy works, according to principal Lennette A. Coleman and former students.

The school goes from kindergarten through eighth grade, each with two classes of approximately 25 students. Three instructors are dedicated to teaching financial literacy: one at the primary level, one at the intermediate and one for middle school. The rest of the curriculum is similar to any other grade school, with classes in math, science, fine arts, music and technology. And they have a “dynamite baseball team,” Coleman said.

Financial education starts in kindergarten and the first grade, where they learn the very basics about economics and personal finance. “They learn about saving money and spending money,” said Coleman. “The instructors use a curriculum that is age-appropriate.

“They are taught about wants and needs, and the difference between those things,” she said. “We may look at the fact that the cost of a bike is $200 and the average person makes $400.

“It is very simple, basic concepts about what money is and the value of money related to different subjects,” she said. “They get an understanding that money comes from somewhere. You can earn it through talent or effort. Some people think and some people work with their hands.”

By the third grade, the students begin to learn about stocks, bonds and curriculum.

“In the fourth grade, they begin to learn about portfolios, picking and managing stocks, as well as entrepreneurship and creating business plans,” Coleman said.

Students start in kindergarten with the $20,000 originally contributed by Ariel ($10,000 for each of the two classes in the grade). In the early years, the portfolio is managed by Ariel and Nuveen Investments. By the later grades, the students are actively involved in making the investment decisions. A Junior Board of Directors (composed of sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students) decides how to invest the money until they graduate.

By eighth-grade graduation, that portfolio has grown. The original $20,000 goes to the following year’s kindergarten class to start the process all over again. The surplus, or profit, is divided. Half is donated back to the school. The other half goes to the students in the graduating class.

The average profit is $12,000 to $13,000, although it has been as high as $32,000, Coleman said. If the student uses his or her cut of the profits to open a college savings account, Ariel will match it with $500.

“Ninety percent of the students opt for the savings account and get the match from Ariel,” she said.

Ariel Financial Literacy Event 031215

One of those students was Victoria Bills, who started at the school in the sixth grade. By the eighth grade, she was head of the investment committee.

“The moment I set foot in Ariel and saw that I could be a portfolio manager, that’s immediately where I wanted to go in life,” she said. “I wanted to be in money management.”

She went on to the University of Chicago Laboratory High School on a John Rogers scholarship, and later Babson College in Boston. Today, she works at Ariel in institutional sales.

Mario Gage is another graduate. His mom enrolled him in the school in the second grade because she loved the concept of financial literacy.

“She made us follow the three-jar system,” said Gage, now 25 and also an employee of Ariel. “When we got money, we had to split that money into three different jars. Ten percent went into the charity jar, 30 percent went into the savings jar and 60 percent went into the spending jar.”

She enrolled Gage and later his brother Miles, who is two years younger.

“It was cool, and an eye-opening experience,” Gage said of his experience at Ariel. “It’s something youth, especially minority youth, don’t get exposed to.”

Ariel Community Academy students in the classroom with Ariel Investments chairman and CEO John W. Rogers Jr. (left, in blue shirt and tie), city of Chicago treasurer Kurt Summers (center) and Arne Duncan (right), managing partner of Emerson Collective.

Ariel Community Academy

His class’s profit was $14,000, which left $7,000 to be divided among the graduating eighth-graders.

Among the highlights of Gage’s time at Ariel, he said, were field trips to the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, Ariel Investments and the McDonald’s annual meeting. He also joined a youth investment club outside the school, one exclusively for African-American youths ages 12 to 18.

“Not only did it affect me, but it affected my family,” he said. “My mom started getting into stocks and started her own portfolio.”

Gage’s mom, Michelle, a human resources director, said she has always talked finances with her sons. “When they grew older, they started teaching me.

“All children learn how to read in elementary school,” she said. “Some love to read and some don’t like to read, but, hey, all learn how to read. I’ve always taken the approach that I want my kids to not only learn how to manage money but to love it.”

When Gage graduated from Ariel Community Academy, he also received the John Rogers Scholarship to attend the University of Chicago Laboratory High School. He graduated from the University of Chicago with a degree in economics and went to work for Ariel Investments. He now travels and lectures on financial literacy and assists Ariel with its financial literacy initiatives.

Rogers said the concept for the school started 20 years ago when Duncan worked at Ariel coordinating community affairs. His first project was the I Have a Dream Class, which he borrowed from a program at New York City, in which a class was adopted with the promise of making college affordable for the students.

The idea to focus on financial literacy came after Rogers attended a conference with personal finance journalist Jane Bryant Quinn and former U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission chairman Arthur Levitt. They talked about the need for more financial literacy in schools, especially public schools. He immediately called Duncan, and Ariel Community Academy was born.

“Sometimes financial literacy is all about keeping credit card debt low and how to manage a mortgage,” he said. “All that is important. But in this day and age, you have to be a financial expert to prepare yourself for retirement. Pensions plans have been replaced by defined contribution plans (401(k) or 403(b)). Stock market knowledge is more important in this country than ever before. We need to keep up.”

David Robinson’s advice on effective social change: ‘Slow down’ ‘The Admiral’ says it took years to get his school and investment fund up and running

SAN ANTONIO — The students making their way through a first-floor corridor at Carver Academy and College Prep grew wide-eyed when they bumped into the school’s founder. A few gasped when the still-trim, 7-foot-1 Spurs legend David Robinson stopped to wave, and they beamed when he posed for a few selfies.

Most of these young people were not yet born when Robinson’s Hall of Fame NBA career ended in 2003. But, to them, the man nicknamed “the Admiral” is as much a star for what he has done off the court as for what he did on it.

Robinson launched what was then called Carver Academy 16 years ago with $10 million of his own money. It began as a small parochial school serving elementary students, but it is now a publicly funded charter school that enrolls more than 1,100 pupils. Most of the students are Hispanic or black, and most of them are from low-income families. Nearly all of them are on track for college, school officials say.

We’re in an age when athletes are embracing social activism in a way that rivals anything in the past. Following the lead of former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, scores of NFL players have stirred a national debate by taking a knee or sitting during the national anthem to call attention to police brutality and racial injustice. Others have worn T-shirts or hoodies to protest the deaths of Eric Garner or Trayvon Martin. Many athletes have started foundations or otherwise tried to leverage their wealth and fame to spur social change.

It is a level of consciousness that heartens the 52-year-old Robinson. And while Robinson is careful not to criticize any protesting players, he says it remains to be seen whether their strong words will be matched by meaningful deeds — or make the kind of difference that is happening at Carver.

“There is certainly more awareness now. Guys understand their influence and opportunity,” Robinson said. “I’ve talked to a lot of young athletes. They care. They want to do something significant. The question is, how? How do they do it?”

It is something Robinson knows firsthand. It took him years to turn his dream of a school into reality. He says the athletes eager to make change should be prepared for a similar struggle.

A line of students eagerly greet David Robinson as they walk to their next classroom at the IDEA Carver College Prep campus. “I’m a teacher at heart,” said Robinson. “I’m a lifelong student.”

Julysa Sosa for The Undefeated

“Guys in the NBA visit Carver all the time. Some of them say, ‘This is great. I want to start a school too,’ ” Robinson said. “My reaction is usually, ‘Wait. Slow down.’ You’ve got to be sure this is what you want to do. There is so much to learn. It is daunting. When a lot of guys come into the league, they are not prepared to write a check, much less run a school or build something.”

Robinson’s patient brand of activism led him to not only open a school but to also co-found Admiral Capital Group, a private equity firm that helps pay for his good deeds. Admiral controls more than $1 billion in office space, hotels and apartment developments. The company also has invested alongside several NBA and NFL team owners in an online platform that helps coaches at all levels break down game film as well as a separate online platform that automates management of youth athletic leagues. The firm sets aside 10 percent of its profits for donations aimed at making social change.

“The business is a sustainable way of making a long-term impact,” said Daniel Bassichis, a former Goldman Sachs banker and the firm’s co-founder, who once served on Carver’s board. “It has a constant income, which is key. Most [athletes’] foundations do not have this kind of income.”

Admiral has also helped guide investments by other professional athletes, including Spurs guard Tony Parker, former NFL defensive lineman Justin Tuck (who served an internship with the firm as an MBA student) and retired major league outfielder Torii Hunter. Not only are the investors immersed in the details of their investments, but they also receive advice on how to make lasting social change.

“There is so much to learn. It is daunting. When a lot of guys come into the league, they are not prepared to write a check, much less run a school or build something.”

For instance, each year the firm hires 25 Houston-area high school students to work in a Hilton Garden Inn hotel it owns there. The idea is to expose young people to careers in the hospitality industry. If students take to the work, they are given scholarships to the University of Houston, which they attend as Admiral scholars.

Robinson’s vision for social activism came into focus three decades ago during a two-year military commitment after his graduation from the Naval Academy. During that time, Robinson visited a couple of dozen Washington, D.C.-area high schools to deliver a simple message: Just say no to drugs.

Most students seemed thrilled to have the basketball star in their midst. Still, Robinson’s words frequently fell flat, particularly with the students who most needed to hear them. He realized he had to do more than say something. He had to do something.

“I realized it was like trying to put a Band-Aid on a big wound,” Robinson recalled. “Some of the kids would say, ‘This ain’t reality to us.’ From what they knew, drug dealers were making money. Or education wouldn’t change their lives. I found myself wondering, what can I do to help these kids? How do I make change?”

Robinson, a devout Christian, prayed on it. The answer he got convinced him that he should one day open a school to help guide young people to make better choices, regardless of the difficult circumstances they may confront.

“You can talk until you are blue in the face, but you can’t change people,” he said. “But you can plant seeds, and education is a natural way to plant seeds.”

Robinson nurtured his dream for most of his NBA career, making donations and connections and learning what he could about educational policy. Finally, he made his move, opening Carver Academy in 2001, two years before he retired from basketball. As a parochial school, it had just 120 students. To expand its reach and relieve the constant fundraising pressure, Robinson agreed in 2012 to convert Carver into a publicly funded charter school by joining forces with IDEA, a nonprofit that operates 61 schools serving 36,000 students across Texas. Robinson is now a member of IDEA’s San Antonio regional board.

The school, renamed Carver Academy and College Prep, now has more than 1,100 students in kindergarten through 11th grade. (It will add 12th-grade classes next year.)

David Robinson originally founded George W. Carver Academy in 2001. Eleven years later, he partnered with IDEA Public Schools to expand his goal of accessible quality education for all children.

Julysa Sosa for The Undefeated

“When I started Carver, I did not know what I was doing,” Robinson said. “It is a huge undertaking: fundraising, curriculum, finding partners. It is a commitment, and it takes a long time to learn.”

Carver is located not far from the Spurs’ home arena. “We have students in homeless shelters, or who have lived in cars for periods of time. There are all kinds of life issues,” said Guadalupe Diaz, principal of Carver’s elementary program. “But there is an abiding belief that they can overcome. They can do it.”

One of Robinson’s core beliefs is that tough circumstances should not be seen as insurmountable obstacles to achievement. He named the school after George Washington Carver, who was born into slavery but nonetheless went on to become a widely respected botanist, inventor and teacher. He thought Carver’s life story contained a lesson for young people today.

“If you think you have a bad situation, that man grew up in a worse situation,” Robinson explained. “But Carver knew there was a reason he was here. That led him to do amazing things. We have to start where we are, use what we have and make something of it. And never be satisfied.”

Robinson says another one of his core strategies is to inspire young people to tap into their own gifts and leverage whatever opportunities they have.

“Every time you turn on the television, people see rap stars, athletes and actors. You don’t see the everyday people who are doing well. The culture points us to these unattainable roles. How many of us are going to be athletes? Practically nobody. Success is not being Jay-Z. There is only one Jay-Z. Who is telling kids that this long journey of being a father is crazy important? The idea is to get them excited for the life before them.”

Too often, Robinson said, schools that serve low-income students succumb to the instability and low expectations that often accompany poverty. It is a problem identified by many educators but one Carver has apparently found a way to conquer. Its elementary school students consistently score near the 70th percentile on standardized math and reading tests, an achievement that officials attribute to their individualized focus on the students. Parents have responded: This year the school could enroll just 120 new students out of 300 who applied through a lottery.

“Who is telling kids that this long journey of being a father is crazy important?”

“What I think Carver has figured out is how to help students grapple with community issues that might come up and not hold them against the kids,” said Brittany Hibbert, an assistant principal at Carver’s upper school. She said students and administrators do home visits, staff Saturday school and take calls from students at night. “We literally do whatever it takes.”

High expectations and individually tailored instruction help. But it is also helpful that one of San Antonio’s best-known celebrities is a regular presence at Carver. The first floor of the upper school has a small museum dedicated to Robinson, a two-time NBA champion, 10-time All Star and former league MVP. There are jerseys from the Naval Academy, the Spurs and the two U.S. Olympic teams he played for. There are also medals and trophies, and even a small section of basketball floor marked with the footprints of Robinson and some of his former teammates and coaches.

“His presence is significant,” said Chang Yu, principal of Carver’s upper school. “His name appeals, and it resonates quality, sportsmanship, education — all good things that people gravitate toward. He definitely is a factor in our success.”

Robinson says that is where many people who command the spotlight can be helpful. Robinson applauded stars such as LeBron James, Chris Paul and others who have backed up their calls for social justice by donating millions of dollars for things such as after-school programs and college scholarships. As he watches more athletes find their voice embracing the new civil rights movement, he said he will be dividing them into two categories: those who just say things, and those who back their words with action.

“I can say anything I want to say, but you can also go back and track what I’ve done over the last 20 years to see if what I’m saying matches up,” Robinson said. “Where is your money going? What have you given to? So you have the nerve to make a public statement. Now I am going to check and see how much you’ve done so I can determine whether your statement has any value.”

Why this mom allows her 12-year-old son to play tackle football CTE and head injuries are terrifying, but the team dynamics help the whole family

I have learned to dread the month of August. The sticky, swampy heat that blankets Washington, D.C., doesn’t bother me much, nor do I dread the countdown to summer’s end. Like many parents, I’ll trade a stretch of 90-degree weather for the peace, quiet and order of having my children where they belong: in a classroom.

Every day in August, my son Blake, 12, suits up in pads, helmet and mouthguard for football practice in his 115-pound division in our local tackle league. It’s his third year in the league, and his first playing slot back on offense and defensive end for the team. Weekly scrimmages have started, game films are being watched and studied, and updated copies of the head coach’s playbook arrive in my email inbox on the regular.

To be clear, I’m not a fan of Blake playing tackle football. His father (my ex-husband) and I argue about it every year — before, during and after the season. The risks for kids getting hurt are too great, I say, especially as they get older and play against bigger, faster and meaner opponents. My ex and I agree that the data about chronic traumatic encephalopathy (also known as CTE, a degenerative brain disease found in athletes, military veterans and others with repetitive brain trauma) and neurological injuries in professional players are horrific. Recent findings by Boston University are terrifying: CTE was found in the brains of nearly all of the deceased professional football players studied. More and more professional football players, as well as athletes in other sports, are now refusing to let their own children play tackle.

To be clear: I’m not a fan of my son playing tackle football.

Yet, despite weeks of arguing, pleading and attempts at bribery, I gave in. I’m once again on board the tackle train. Why? Because Blake loves the game and wants to play. And my ex makes a valid point that the game of football has changed since we were kids. He says it’s being taught differently, and measures are in place to avoid excessive hitting, especially during practice.

Still, my elder son, Cole, went on the record years ago about hating tackle, much to the dismay of every football coach we’ve ever met. Cole is a 6-foot-5, 190-pound bruiser at age 14, but he’s made no bones about not liking the violent contact required by the sport. Good to know, my G. Because if you hate hitting or being hit, football cannot be your thing.

The problem is that there are few sports that can guarantee a zero risk of injury, including gymnastics, cheerleading (it apparently ranks very high in catastrophic sports injuries), baseball, lacrosse and soccer. Just this past season, two of Blake’s AAU basketball teammates got concussions after diving for loose balls and hitting their heads on the hard court. That’s one more than his football team suffered all last year. Head injuries happen in sports, obviously. One friend’s 16-year-old soccer-obsessed son got a concussion from a header during a game. Doctors eventually inserted a permanent metal rod into his right arm after two bad breaks from rough play. Another friend’s son played rugby at Middlebury College; his on-field concussion was severe enough that he has since quit the sport for good.

Mama has been seated on the sidelines for the past two seasons chasing a Xanax with peppermint latte.

But while Mama has been seated on the sidelines for the past two seasons chasing a Xanax with peppermint latte, football has been teaching Blake valuable skills. He’s learned about teamwork, pushing through emotional pain, being a gracious loser and sticking together with colleagues through adversity. He has respect for the trustworthy older men who are coaches and assistant coaches. As an African-American woman, my concerns for my black sons can be overwhelming. Having additional adult role models in my “village” helps ease my anxiety (somewhat) about the risks to teenage boys, including racial strife, unethical police and judicial officers, and the high rates of drug use among black youth.

Another upside to letting the lad play tackle football? What he’s not doing. The hours that Blake spends on the field at games and practice are hours away from a television and cable TV, wireless devices and social media.

Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Talking to Blake about getting injured while playing football turned out to be a great opportunity to discuss things we often take for granted, such as good health and true sportsmanship. Seeing a whole team take a knee on the field when a player is hurt can be profoundly touching. It’s the type of kind, empathetic gesture I wish happened in many other areas of our daily lives.

But I don’t need a list of excuses to let my kid play football. I’m not a head-in-the-sand kind of mother. I balance worry with being the kind of parent who is mindful and encouraging. At least until next summer when the battle begins again. Maybe that’s the summer Mama wins.

Jalen Rose is not just talking about change, he’s making it happen The basketball veteran is doing his part to help the community through his leadership academy

There’s an age-old adage that says there are two types of people in this world: people who contribute to the mess and people who ignore the mess. But for the sake of accuracy, let’s add a third: the people who help clean up the mess.

And NBA veteran and ESPN sports analyst Jalen Rose is definitely that third type, as he continues to influence and assist those beyond the hoops world.

Rose, with co-founder Michael Carter, began The Jalen Rose Leadership Academy (JRLA), which was established on the foundational aspects of respect, determination, excellence and family. Since 2011, the academy has been empowering scholars with not just the knowledge but also the necessary skills needed to succeed academically — or to “unleash the transformative powers of learning” to create a better world for themselves and those around them.

“I always felt it was important to try to give back, No. 1, to my community, but also to the less fortunate, and understand that we need everybody to have opportunities in order to actually have harmony in our country,” Rose said. “My way of trying to influence was through education.”

As an original member of the “Fab Five,” the Detroit native and his fellow University of Michigan freshman teammates were known for their cultural impact on the game of basketball. Their style on the court and their freshman swagger led them to be the first team in Final Four history to start five freshmen. But Rose was just beginning to make his mark in the basketball world.

After being a freshman standout, Rose went on to be drafted in 1994 by the Denver Nuggets and lasted 13 years in the NBA. After retirement, he decided to pursue a career in broadcasting, earning his bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland University College. Rose is also the co-host of his own show, Jalen & Jacoby.

But JRLA is a way of paying his good fortune forward with an open enrollment, tuition-free public charter school that serves more than 400 ninth- through 12th-graders. Rose and his team are devoted to providing the same quality education to students who don’t have the opportunity to attend an institution with more resources and funding.

“We’re basically trying to put [the students] in a position to succeed in the same college classroom and also compete for the same job and career opportunities in the future, so that’s why we call it bridging the education gap. It’s really bridging the financial gap.”

Necessarily, fundraising is a key component to funding the school’s financial needs. Rose developed the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy Celebrity Golf Classic, along with an annual auction to raise money for facility improvements and provide the school with the appropriate accommodations.

Despite the difficulty of JRLA being a charter high school and not a part of a network of schools or a feeder school, its high success rate makes it even more satisfying for Rose, the school and its students.

“There are so many people in our country that pay lip service to what we should or should not be doing to move our country forward … people that have voices that talk about what should be done but physically aren’t doing it themselves,” Rose emphasized.

And Rose is not the type to just put his money where his mouth is. He’s putting in everything and more, from investing in the school to creating career opportunities for its students. He’s doing the work.

“[I’m] hands-on like a member of the staff.”

And that work is paying off.

“We graduated more than 90 percent of our scholars, with 100 percent of all graduates gaining college, trade, technical school and/or military acceptance. And more than 83 percent have matriculated to college, and that’s significantly higher than the state average. There’s one thing to talk about the outcomes, it’s another thing to achieve them,” Rose said.

Michigan’s state average for those who graduated from public schools is 62.3 percent in the 2013-14 school year, and JRLA is exceeding that in just six years of opening.

“We really understand that we’ve taken the toughest road, [and] to have outcomes have been amazing. We’ve still got a lot of work to do, but we’ve come a long way and I’m proud of it.”

However, Rose didn’t expect that his impact would be through starting a school.

“It definitely wasn’t something I set out to do. It wasn’t a goal of mine. It wasn’t a dream of mine. It’s really just something that happened,” Rose said.

Although the school is named after him, Rose says the existence of this academy is a tribute to anyone and everyone who has helped him in the process. From the teachers to his ESPN colleagues to corporate sponsors such as Jeep to Detroit Pistons owner Tom Gores, his list of thank-you’s seems endless.

“There are so many people that have dedicated their time, their energy, their passion, their money. Too many to name,” Rose said. “You can never truly say thank you, and I’m always going to be indebted to anybody that’s ever lifted a finger for JRLA and/or its students.”

With most of the students coming from the inner city, JRLA’s collective fight has and will always be for equality in the education system despite one’s socioeconomic status.

“I realized really early the economics of your situation as it relates to education a lot of times puts you in a position of success depending on your family’s fiscal dynamic,” Rose said. “If your family is fortunate enough to live in the suburbs … and clearly I’m not a fan of this, because they designate that you pay more taxes [so] that the school district should get more, which really is just a different level of segregation.”

To put education costs in perspective for the Michigan area, below are the numbers at a glance.

The top private schools in Michigan are the most expensive. For example, to attend high school at a Detroit Country Day School or Cranbrook is upward of $30,000. That’s an investment of about $120,000 for all four years.

For a family living in the suburbs whose child attends a mid-tier public high school such as a Birmingham or Bloomfield public school, the state provides a little more than a $12,000-per-student allowance. That’s a value of $48,000 per student.

According to The Detroit News, there are public schools in the metro Detroit area that receive the minimum allowance per student, ranging between $7,511 and $8,229, which equals about $32,000 per student.

“For about eight or nine years through my foundation influencing five public school students each year via scholarships to college, JRLA really just became a graduation of that mission,” Rose said.

Aux Cord Chronicles XII: Back to school survival soundtrack Face it, summer’s over: 22 songs to get your mind right for the new academic year

S

omeone please start a petition to get rid of the month of August. The month is useless. It’s just training camp, then injuries at training camp, then crappy NFL preseason football because of training camp and finally, worst of all, back to campus. We get that it’s a joyous time for parents, but please don’t make it too obvious? We can clearly see you pumping your fist in the bathroom and doing little happy dances everywhere. But for anybody who’s going to be sitting in a classroom anytime soon, this playlist is for you. Featuring songs from A Tribe Called Quest to 2 Chainz to Buju Banton to MF DOOM, this playlist will hopefully be enough to get you through to Christmas break.

N.W.A. “Express Yourself” (1986)

West Coast hip-hop was never the same after a hip-hop group from Los Angeles popped up on the scene in 1986. “Express Yourself’” is self-explanatory and still resonates today.

A Tribe Called Quest — “Push It Along” (1990)

First things first: RIP Phife. A Tribe Called Quest’s 1990 debut, People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm is home to some of the group’s most well-known songs, namely “Bonita Applebum,” “I Left My Wallet in El Segundo” and “Can I Kick It?” While you can’t go wrong with any of those songs, “Push It Along” stands out because of its succinct yet metaphoric chorus, which can be interpreted two ways. No one likes sitting in a classroom for what can seem like hours on end — but just keep pushing. Like Jarobi says on the outro, In my way there’s boulder, but you know what I had to do? I had to push it along. Life’s all about being proactive rather than reactive. Don’t be surprised by your grades at the end of the semester. Ask your professor how you’re doing and you’ll be surprised by how open he or she is.

Nas — “The World Is Yours” (1994)

You’re going back to school and trying to figure out what it is that you want to do or be in life. This was the mindset of 18-year-old hip-hop artist Nasir Jones in Queens, New York, while recording his debut album, Illmatic. Considered one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time, there’s no secret about the message of this track — if you put your heart and mind to it, the world can truly be yours.

Montell Jordan — “This Is How We Do It” (1995)

As one of the all-time house party staples, Friday nights have not been the same since Montell Jordan dropped this track in 1995. Who else could have enhanced a sample of Slick Rick’s 1989 “Children’s Story” and turned it into a club banger? Keep this in your playlist for when you’re ready to jam to a golden era tune.

Buju Banton — “Champion” (1995)

The standout track from Buju Banton’s 1995 dancehall classic Til Shiloh serves as a reminder to always be confident in your abilities. There’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance. So tread carefully, but don’t let the subtle intricacies of patois keep you from claiming Me all ah walk like a champion/ Talk like a champion. When college gets extremely difficult, just remember who you are.

C-Murder feat. Magic & Snoop Dogg — “Down For My N’s” (1999)

Nine times out of 10, your favorite black Greek-letter organizations on campus will have this track blaring from speakers as they do their favorite strolls on your campus’s yard, or at a house party. This track is truly a “ride or die” anthem of brotherhood/sisterhood … and what better way to be down for the culture? Save this track for when you’re ready to up the fellowship ante with your peoples.

Juvenile — Back That A– Up (1999)

Juvenile single-handedly made an era’s anthem with one simple battle cry: Cash Money Records takin’ over for the ’99 and the 2000. Never will this song get old. And once you hear the beat drop by producer Mannie Fresh at any function, you better grab a hold of something or get ready to get hype — Cash Money Records is taking over the spot for the next four minutes and 25 seconds.

Jay-Z — Dirt Off Your Shoulder (2003)

Need a motivational track to get your semester going? Why not bump to one of HOV’s greatest hits? It influenced President Barack Obama to dust off his shoulder during a Democratic primary speech. After all, you gotta dust your past off and start the academic year fresh.

Crime Mob feat. Lil Scrappy – Knuck If You Buck (2004)

There are usually two things that happen when Crime Mob pops off at either a house party or a club: The crowd goes crazy and bops to the ATL classic or a dance riot breaks out on the floor. Either way, this Dirty South gospel was made for getting crunk. And, for the record, no, “Juju On That Beat” could NEVER compare to the original.

MF DOOM — “Deep Fried Frenz” (2004)

When will MF DOOM get the credit he deserves? He makes an entire song about how we should carefully select friends while sampling two songs (“Friends and Strangers” by Ronnie Laws and “Friends” by Whodini) about friendship! That level of depth is borderline nonexistent in today’s hip-hop. Don’t let his use of skits prevent you from missing out on DOOM’s exceptional lyricism. Still, what DOOM is saying cannot be overstated: Choose your friends wisely. As DOOM eloquently put it, Jealousy the number one killer among black folk. Not everybody deserves to be your friend, and when somebody shows you who they are, believe them.

DJ Khaled — “We Takin’ Over” (2007)

It’s mind-boggling to think that DJ Khaled is known by many as that guy from Snapchat with philosophical advice. Well, congratulations, you played yourself. Six years before the release of the photo-sharing app, Khaled curated arguably the greatest song of his career in “We Takin’ Over.” As a senior, this song will forever hold a special place in my heart (and not because Wayne’s verse was the first I ever committed to memory). This epitomizes the difficult journey so many seniors have taken — from the eagerness of freshman year to the doldrums of sophomore year to the nostalgic anxiety of senior year. The world better watch out for us ’cause we takin’ over (one city at a time).

Little Brother — “Dreams” (2007)

In case you didn’t know the great trio of Phonte, Big Pooh and DJ/producer 9th Wonder out of Durham, North Carolina, once known as “Little Brother,” the group was one of the most highly acclaimed underground hip-hop groups of their time. The title of the song about says it all: Have dreams, while keeping in mind that dreams alone don’t keep the lights on.

F.L.Y. (Fast Life Yungstaz) — “Swag Surfin’” (2009)

No matter what school you attend, but especially at a historically black college, this track is almost mandatory to know line by line. Whether you hear it in the club, in the gymnasium or your school’s stadium, you better grab your nearest friends and be ready to surf with swag.

Big K.R.I.T. — “4EvaNaDay (Theme)” (2012)

Want a subwoofing, bass booming, Dirty South track to start the first day of school? Well, this track, made by Mississippi rapper and producer Justin Scott, aka Big K.R.I.T., is for you. As said by K.R.I.T., If it don’t touch my soul then I can’t listen to it. … Listen and enjoy.

Lupe Fiasco — “Around My Way (Freedom Ain’t Free)” (2012)

Let’s face it: Being black in America is an everyday struggle, especially with the political climate of the United States today. In 2012, Wasalu Muhammad Jaco, better known as Lupe Fiasco, created this track to paint the problems in the American social, economic and political systems. Five years later, the words still resonate. If you need a track to raise your consciousness as the semester begins, Lupe’s got you covered.

Meek Mill “Dreams & Nightmares (Intro)” (2012)

We’re more than two years removed from the Meek Mill-Drake beef, yet Drizzy fans still refuse to acknowledge the greatness of this song. Even Toronto’s favorite son had to recognize it at one point. Regardless, it’s one of the best rap intros of all time. This song tells the tale of Meek’s dreamlike ascension in the rap game before launching into a full-blown assault on all his haters, with the Philadelphia native dropping knowledge throughout. From I had to grind like that to shine like this to I’m the type to count a million cash, then grind like I’m broke, the entire song is an ode to anybody who has endured the struggle. If you take that mindset into school, the sky’s the limit. Play this at any college party and everybody should be screaming this track verbatim. Key word: should.

Travis Scott — “Apple Pie” (2015)

On the final track of Rodeo, “Apple Pie” is Scott’s way of telling his mother that it’s time for him to go out into the world and make his own way. For many of us, college is that time. Don’t be afraid to follow in Scott’s footsteps and jump off mom and/or dad’s porch. Separation anxiety will hit you like a ton of bricks, but it eventually subsides. Anybody who went away to school empathizes with the line I hate to break your heart, I bet I’ll make the mark/ That y’all see a legacy go up.

Kamaiyah — “How Does It Feel” (2015)

Oakland, California’s own Kamaiyah initially burst on the scene after receiving Pitchfork’s “Best New Track” honors for “How Does it Feel” in late 2015. Her inspiration? She was trying to make “it cool to be broke again.” Being broke and college broke are two entirely different things. College broke is really humbling because you see how terrible things can be if you don’t find your side hustle. Sell mixtapes, work at the bookstore, become a party promoter — do something that’ll put a little extra change in your pocket. Making a way where there’s no way is what college is all about. And when you finally find your hustle, don’t be afraid do your little two-step while proudly singing I’ve been broke all my life/ Now wonder/ How does it feel to be rich?

2 Chainz — “Get Out The Bed” (2016)

If you are one of the unfortunate few who scheduled an 8 a.m. class, may God be with you. Luckily, the Drench God made a hook with you in mind: Get out the bed and grind and hustle/ Did it before and I’ll do it again. Make this your anthem and you’ll be able to take anything this cruel campus life throws at you — except maybe a pop quiz. At the very least, please try to keep your eyes open.

Big Sean feat. Migos — “Sacrifices” (2017)

I definitely could’ve gone with the Drake version. Or even Elton John’s. But the Kid Studio-provided visuals place Big Sean’s version in a league of its own. Picture this: It’s 8 p.m. on a Thursday. That party starts at 10 p.m. That girl or guy you like wants to come over at 9 p.m. — and you have a test at 8 a.m. Friday. Big Sean said it best: To get ahead, man, you have to make sacrifices. Not every single event requires your presence. Stay in, tell that girl or guy to come over and study to get that A in the morning.

Future feat. The Weeknd — “Coming Out Strong” (2017)

This one’s for the freshmen. The title says it all. Don’t get lost in the sauce. Start your college career on the right foot. Freshman year is by far the easiest, as long as you don’t succumb to distractions. Side note: Pluto don’t dance, but I make moves is one of the best bars off of HNDRXX, even if Future just flipped around The Weeknd’s opening line.

Logic feat. Alessia Cara & Khalid — “1-800-273-8255” (2017)

School can be extremely stressful. Trying to balance academics, extracurricular activities and a social life can often seem overwhelming. If you need help, please do not hesitate to ask. It is not a coincidence that the song title is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Find your school’s Counseling & Disability Services Center. There are always resources available. Remember these lyrics — It can be so hard/ But you gotta live right now/ You got everything to give right now.

Also, do not be afraid to take a mental health day. If your mental health isn’t intact, life won’t make sense.

ASL interpreter Matt Maxey went from viral video sensation to working with Chance the Rapper Founder of DEAFinitely Dope is working to unite hearing and deaf communities through music

DEAFinitely Dope founder Matt Maxey never expected his everyday communication skills to be viewed as extraordinary. And he definitely never expected to catch the eye of Grammy-winning artist Chance the Rapper, who hired Maxey’s team of American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters for the remainder of his Be Encouraged Tour, which runs through October.

Yet, the 29-year-old Atlanta native and social media sensation has given the deaf and hard-of-hearing community an opportunity to share a full music experience at concerts around the country.

“The deaf community has dealt with so much ignorance and all they’ve ever wanted was inclusion and to be accepted and treated equally while being able to enjoy life on an equal level as their hearing peers,” Maxey said via email.

Maxey, who is hard of hearing, gravitated toward interpreting hip-hop and R&B because of its rhythmic beats and the often powerful stories in the songs’ lyrics.

“Hip-hop has long been a favorite for the deaf community because of the beats, bass, and being hip, but they’ve never seen anybody truly emulate how the hearing world acts, talks, and expresses themselves and it’s understandable in sign language,” he wrote. “[Chance the Rapper] bringing on DEAFinitely Dope and being the first rapper to have his own personal interpreters, just makes me extremely happy because I personally feel like our mission has been to break barriers in the community, in society, in perspectives and stereotypes. To have an artist with the same beliefs, working with a deaf and hearing-impaired reflective of what he strives for, it’s truly a beautiful movement and social change to be a part of.”

Although the lines can be complex, there is a method Maxey uses to make interpreting fun and easier for the deaf community to follow along to their favorite tunes. For starters, Maxey studies the lyrics to ensure he understands the messages being relayed by artists. The lyrics, he said, are then portrayed in a way that people who know sign language will see how the stories are interpreted and connect it to their own life experiences.

“Hip-hop is purely visual with all the metaphors, wordplay and different moods that tracks may depict, so I must learn the words first, then I understand the song,” Maxey said. “I start signing the English words to the song to get my hands used to the song speed and mood, and lastly I picture it from the perspective of the artists and add the ASL twist to it by showing what the artist is talking about so that the message becomes clearer.”

That is exactly what Maxey did last month at the 2017 Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, Tennessee — the first big-stage festival he’s interpreted for. Maxey signed two songs he knew by heart while using the crowd’s positive vibes and energy to get him through the set. Unbeknownst to Maxey, Chance the Rapper had been watching him work the entire time.

“The next day, my friend Freddie casually walked up to me and said, ‘Chance the Rapper wants to meet you. He called and asked specifically for you, so we are setting up the meeting before his set tonight,’ ” Maxey explained. “I just couldn’t believe it. We didn’t get to meet until after his set, but while backstage, I was talking with my fellow interpreters that I had brought with me and all of a sudden, he just popped up. All I could think was wow, we’ve really come this far to get to this point. Nothing is impossible.”

Life hasn’t always been filled with success for Maxey, who founded DEAFinitely Dope in 2014 to “unite the hearing and deaf community through music and sign language.” Early on, his struggle to fit in with both the hearing and deaf communities made him question his place in society.

“I always felt like I was too deaf for the hearing world, yet too hearing for the deaf world,” Maxey said. “I think my situation is especially different with growing up in a hearing world, yet always working 10 times harder to hear with hearing aids and trying to lip-read what everyone is saying, knowing I can’t hear everything yet pretending that I could. If it was a group environment, forget about it.”

Maxey, who grew up in Atlanta before relocating to Houston, used hearing aids and was always surrounded by friends and family members to help him when necessary.

“My mother and my family never let me feel like I was a lesser person because of my disability and never lowered the standard for me,” Maxey said. “I was always slapped with the label of being gifted in the classroom, a pleasure to be around, and so many positive labels despite my disability that I never felt like I couldn’t do anything. The real question was, would I be accepted by everybody?”

After enrolling at Gallaudet University, a private institution for the deaf and hard of hearing in Washington, D.C., then Florida State College at Jacksonville, Maxey’s journey to fit in became arduous. Maxey had no formal ASL training until taking classes at Gallaudet, and he struggled to find his footing among his deaf peers. Unable to fully conform, he took on odd, unfulfilling jobs to make ends meet. In the process, he relied heavily on drinking and partying as coping mechanisms for his “destroyed feeling of self-worth.”

Maxey soon realized the lifestyle he was leading was neither productive nor conducive to a viable career. Instead, he distracted himself by beginning a YouTube channel where he uploaded videos signing rap lyrics. Immediately, Maxey noticed the skyrocketing number of views his videos began receiving and how invested the audience was in the rare sight of a black man using sign language to rap lyrics.

From there, Maxey began sharing his videos on other social media platforms before getting involved in #4BarFriday, an Instagram freestyle competition created by Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard to allow users to share their rap battles. Maxey’s first entry was completely in sign language, with written lyrics posted in the description.

“I’ve been taking speech therapy for 18 years, [people] made fun of for my speech my whole life, and [I’m] extremely self-conscious of how I talked, which was why I found so much comfort in taking on the voice of an artist through sign language,” Maxey said. “The positive feedback was overwhelming from the community with the majority of the people commenting that they’ve never seen a deaf person rap before. I posted another one seven weeks later using my voice, and Damian Lillard posted it on his Instagram. The support, praise and inspiration was tremendous.”

His viral videos and accounts, which have amassed more than 45,000 combined followers, prompted Maxey to want to do more for the deaf and hard of hearing. In 2014, DEAFinitely Dope was born. As it gains steam, Maxey often reflects on the beginning of his journey while encouraging others to find what makes them happy in life.

Instagram Photo

“Find your passion, find your purpose, and fulfill it by any means necessary,” Maxey said. “I’ve truly lived life in a way to where nothing and nobody could come between my music and I, and with so many people witnessing the journey from 100 likes to 25K likes on Facebook, I just hope they feel inspired to the point that no, your deafness does not prevent you from being an inspiration to do more and do better. With spreading nothing but positivity, I hope people leave feeling better about themselves, encouraged, hopeful, ambitious. We need more of that instead of tearing each other down, negativity, and being content with being stagnant in life. Life is what you make it, so make it where the generation after you will enjoy and learn from the life you have lived.”

Naomi Bradley writes books to encourage early reading She’s the author of ‘Reading At One’

Former classroom educator and mom Naomi Bradley left the classroom to home-school her children and is now promoting an early-reading process for children.

Bradley, who lives in Atlanta with her husband, Walter, and children Love, Charles, Faith and Hope, began teaching techniques on how to read with her firstborn daughter, Love, when she was 22 months old. Bradley has written a parenting book called Reading At One and also started her own private learning center called Love Bradley Academy in Atlanta.

After the release of Reading at One in 2015, Bradley released The Big Book of Beginner Reading Stories. She designed the book because she noticed there was a lack of reading and literacy-promoting instructional material with black characters. According to Bradley, who has a master’s degree in education, the self-esteem of a child is developed by the age of 3, so it is imperative that students see themselves in their reading materials early in life.

Bradley is also the author of the rhyming bedtime story Goodnight Princess, which has an English and a Spanish version. Her latest book, Aaron Knows About Africa, details historical facts about seven African countries.

All of her titles can be found on WeBuyBlack.com, Amazon and Kindle.

Activist Brittany Packnett is woke, and she’s empowering others too Her journey of self-discovery fuels her passion to fight for education and black lives and against depression

Culture, education, social and racial activism have all been parts of Ferguson, Missouri, activist and educator Brittany Packnett’s life since she was a toddler. She remembers seeing pictures of herself with her parents at rallies. The photos were a foreshadowing that she wouldn’t escape kismet.

Some 20 years later, she just may be the face of modern-day wokeness.

Packnett, 32, said she doesn’t consider herself famous. She considers herself to be just visible.

“I know I’m more visible than I thought I would be. I didn’t set out for this. I didn’t seek fame or visibility. I’m not an entertainer. I’m not an athlete. I’m not someone who said, ‘I want to be a star.’ I really just love my people a lot. And I love black children a lot. And I want to see us live. I want to see us thrive. I want to see us enjoy the kind of life that our ancestors fought for. And that’s the way that I was raised. I feel like every time I’m able to access some of that joy, I try to hold on to it in my personal life. I just want to see us all be able to live lives of full humanity, ’cause that’s what we deserve. And then all of this other stuff happened. So yeah, it still is a shock for me.”

Packnett is a regular guest on fellow activist DeRay Mckesson’s podcast, Pod Save the People. The two formed a friendship because of their activism. She was recently named one of Essence’s 100 Woke Women. She rose to prominence after Michael Brown was shot dead in Ferguson at the hands of police. Packnett was outraged, so much so that she knew something needed to be done. So the educator set out to protest, serving as one of the leaders in the Ferguson protest movement. Along with other passionate activists, including Johnetta Elzie and Samuel Sinyangwe, she co-founded Campaign Zero, a campaign centered on police reform and an end to police violence. She was also a member of President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing.

Influenced greatly by her father, who died in 1996 — the Rev. Ronald Packnett, pastor of Central Baptist Church, a large historically black congregation in St. Louis — and her mother, Gwendolyn Packnett, a social worker, she and her younger brother, Barrington, have a sense of community and sharing. Like their father, Barrington Packnett graduated from Yale Divinity school.

“It’s fascinating because when I was on the streets of Ferguson, especially in the first days, people would walk up to me and say, ‘Oh, you’re Rev. Packnett’s daughter,’ or ‘You’re Dr. Packnett’s daughter.’ There are folks in St. Louis and still, if my dad were alive, that we wouldn’t actually have been in that kind of crisis, which is really humbling. And it makes me feel even more responsible, not just to our community but to his legacy, to my parents’ legacy, to do good with this platform.”

The St. Louis native earned her bachelor’s degree in African-American studies from Washington University in St. Louis and her master’s degree in elementary education from American University. Packnett is vice president for National Community Alliances at Teach For America. As an activist and change agent, she is a protester and organizer and co-founder of We The Protesters. From joining #BlackLivesMatter to sounding off on the #BlackWomenAtWork social media movements, Packnett is in the midst of activism and keeps the conversation about racial progress going.

She recently spoke to The Undefeated, where she opened up about self-preservation, social activism and her rise in visibility that have shaped her wokeness. For the first time, she speaks up about her battle with depression and a new endeavor.


What was your first moment of activism?

So I don’t think I can remember my first moment of activism. But I do remember the fact that there were no black Santas at any major mall in St. Louis. I had to be about 10 or 11. My father called one of his contacts at one of the local news stations. They came out to the mall and did a story on a rally that he hosted there, and the journalist turned to me and said, ‘Why do you think it’s important to have black Santas at the mall?’ And I didn’t know it at the time because I didn’t have language, but I was essentially talking about representation. I was like, ‘We shop in these stores, we celebrate Christmas too. It would be nice to go and talk to a Santa who looks like me.’ And I remember going to school later that week and some of my friends had seen it, and they were like, ‘I just don’t understand what the big deal is.’ I went to a majority-white school, and they were like, ‘I don’t understand. It’s Santa. It’s just Santa.’

But I was raised to know that in the small things and in the large things, the recognition of our community and humanity matters. Period, end of story. Whether or not other people want to acknowledge it or understand it doesn’t mean that it’s not important.

Were there any experiences in high school that shaped you into the activist you are today?

I feel like myself and a half-dozen other folks of all different races started a diversity organization, the very first one in the school’s history. And that meant that among other things, we would do awareness speeches in our morning assemblies. And this white upperclassman did not like the fact that we were doing that, and I ended up being the object of his ire for some reason. He used to follow me around after class … in between classes, rather, and harass me. He would say, ‘Is my whiteness oppressing you today?’ The irony of it is rich, though. You actually are being quite oppressive because you are harassing me and I’m just trying to go to school. But I just ignored him, and then one day I turned around and just told him it wasn’t OK for him to do this, and he spit at me, which was a trauma that I think I … not I think, I know I buried for years. I didn’t talk about it for years.

I ended up going back to my high school in the midst of Ferguson — I want to say about September, October of 2014 — and they asked me to talk about my experience on the streets. And that was the first time I told that story since 2000. It just came up and came out, and I realized that reclaiming my story in a place that could have broken me was a really important step for me to take. So, yeah, to answer your initial question, I kind of don’t remember a time that I wasn’t doing this.

What experiences of activism in college stick out?

You know, college was an interesting time because it was the first experience that I’ve had that I feel like was the intersection of what I really care about now. It was working on an institution that I cared about but it was deeply imperfect, engaging in the act of protest and activism and being unafraid to do so, and also going through my own journey as a black woman and learning to love myself and see my own power to be able to go and effect the kind of change that I wanted to see in the world. And I feel like that is what I do every day now, and college was the first place that I got to live in that intersection and really explore what it meant and take the hits and have the hard days, but also have the moments of triumph.

We also did a lot of work on labor. I was one of the co-founders of an organization called Student Worker Alliance. The group ended up shutting down the administration building. I was on the other side of campus because I was also charity and alumni chair for our junior honorary and our big carnival was that weekend, so I couldn’t shut down the building. So I would, like, run water to the building and come and make sure that people were good and then run back to the carnival and make sure that we were raising money for our charity and that people were enjoying themselves.

I also was really physically ill during a lot of college, so I wasn’t always making the best decisions for my personal health, but I always just wanted to see issues of justice win the day. I was constantly making that sacrifice.

I think my college activism taught me a lot about privilege, because in that instance I was not a member of the most affected. I was not a member of the group that was dealing with the injustice. I was the privileged student swiping my card every day to go get food. I was not going to be fired for my activism. I was not going to be fired for speaking up for this. I was not going to risk losing the ability to put food on my family’s table because I engaged in this. It was important for us to engage in a way that didn’t silence folks who did work on our campus, and people that we were fighting for but also fighting with.

Can you share the physical illness you experienced in college?

Yeah, I had bad ovarian cysts in college. I also really suffered from depression. And so the combination was toxic in a lot of ways. I lost a lot of weight my junior year. I was in a relationship that was not healthy for me. There were lots of classes that I just stopped going to. I think for a week straight, all I ate were peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. And I just think that it’s hard for people to imagine someone like me that they might see out speaking out about issues, dealing with something that’s very human. We don’t talk about mental illness a lot in the black community, but thankfully my mother is a social worker by trade, and so she knew the signs. And even when I wasn’t ready to talk about what I was feeling, she knew how to hold me up and make sure that I was cared for in the midst of that.

I ended up taking a leave of absence from school, first semester my senior year. It was a medical leave of absence, but I also needed to kind of remove myself from the surroundings that were weighing me down. I came here, to D.C. actually, and interned on the Hill for Congressman Lacy Clay, who’s our congressman from St. Louis. I did that for a semester, and it just felt like a whole new world opened up to me and that I opened up to myself for the first time in a long time. And this idea that social justice could be something I made a living at, I was reminded of the power of my family’s legacy and that I could carry on that mantle, that I didn’t have to wallow in the depths of what I was feeling, that I could actually live for something greater than myself. And that really helped pull me out of where I was.

And I know that depression is something you can’t say, ‘How’d you get over depression?’ It doesn’t happen like that.

Oh, no, I battle it every day. I battle it all the time. Therapy definitely helps. I also just had to make some decisions about who and what I would allow in my space. Managing depression … because that’s really what it is — you don’t get over depression, you can’t cure it, you manage it every single day. I would say that two points in my life where I was deepest in depression were during college: the second half of college or kind of the middle of college, really. I think I came out of it in my senior year. But also … gosh, I would say probably between 2012 and, like, last year. So when I talk about managing depression, it is purely from a place of lived experience. It’s not anything I read in a book or saw in a movie. It is what I have figured out for myself.

And the big difference between 2015, 2016 Brittany and 2017 Brittany is being intentional and deliberate about what I allow in. And so there are a lot of times that I will take a break from social media. I will take a break from watching the news. I had to give myself permission to not be at every protest. So, too, knowing full well that when I have mental instability, it shows up in me physically. Working on ensuring that those kind of triggers that I’ve identified for myself, I can stay away from as much as possible, which also just meant learning how to love people from afar and recognizing that I want everybody to win. I know that everybody is human. I also know what I need to be strong and what I need to feel like myself. And, so, yeah, making those choices has been really important. We talk about self-care all the time, the movement. I’m not an expert at it. I’m actually not very good at it.

Audre Lorde is one of my favorite writers. … I often think about Audre Lorde’s conversations about self-care, when she talks about how, ‘Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it’s self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.’ It is still very hard for me to take care of myself intentionally and consistently. But when I am able to remember it, it is because I remember that me surviving all of this and me being here to fight on another day is an act of political warfare. It would be much easier for folks to be able to take out activists and for us to not be here to raise the truth, to sound the alarm. I don’t want to imagine a world where Bri is too tired to climb up the flagpole, or where we’re too tired to march down in Baton Rouge with the activists there.

How do you balance your work with activism and your work with education?

Thankfully, my organization is very supportive, but they also understand that the two aren’t separate. I think people ask me that question often, and for me, I don’t actually balance them because they inform one another. When Michael Brown Jr. was killed, he graduated from a high school where we placed teachers. So when I was running Teach for America in St. Louis, I had teachers that saw him walking down the hallway. And whether or not he was ever taught by one of my teachers isn’t the point, because all of these young people are ours. I think looking at them like they’re all our children would get us out of what we’re dealing with now. And so I stepped out on the streets of Ferguson for the same reason that I stepped into a classroom in 2007. I stepped out on the streets of Baltimore for the same reason that I have remained in education for the last eight years. I stepped out on the streets of Baton Rouge for the same reason that my parents stepped out on the streets that they did, because all of this is deeply interconnected and even if Michael Brown Jr. had lived, there was still so much more that we owed him. He graduated from an unaccredited school. He is someone for whom a diploma should have been a ticket up, but it ended up not being bulletproof in the way that we keep promising our children that it is.

I don’t find that they are separate. Justice work will always be necessary inside the classroom and outside of the classroom. And we educate children in the context of their community. I can’t claim to care about what happens in the four walls of a classroom and not be deeply and gravely concerned about what they deal with as soon as they leave that classroom. So it’s all one and the same for me. I know that I have to keep political conversations very separate, and I have to make sure that I’m doing that kind of stuff on my personal time. But whether it’s education or criminal justice reform or police violence or racial injustice, we are dealing fundamentally with people’s humanity and making sure that all of our systems and institutions fully recognize it. And that is the business that I’m in, shifting institutions and empowering people to be able to live full lives. That’s it. Period. Education or not.

What drives your passion for activism and all of the work you do?

In some ways, it’s from knowing what life can be without that. I remember I started finding a lot of my Twitter conversations, threads and tweets with a heart emoji and a fist emoji. And in my head, I was thinking love and power, right? I didn’t quite know where it was coming from, it just came up. … Then I found a quote from Dr. King where he actually talks about this, and he talks about the fact that we often don’t speak about love and power in combination with one another. We think that they’re oxymorons. We talk about love in a way that lacks power, and so it’s usually anemic and sentimental. We talk about power in ways that lack love, so we talk about power that is reckless and dangerous when wielded the wrong way. But the combination of love and power is actually what’s going to change the world. And that is the thing that I am most obsessed with.

What’s been the hardest part of your journey?

Truthfully, knowing that I was good enough for any of this. There are assumptions we make about people with a lot of visibility, that they’ve got it all together, that they’ve got all the answers, that they are not figuring this out along with everybody else. And I didn’t start to own that I was powerful enough, good enough, strong enough, worthy enough to do the kind of work that I’m doing right now, to have the kind of platform that I have right now until very recently, through very intentional hard work and self-reflection.

What’s been the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

This is such a millennial answer. The best piece of advice I received was from Instagram. This is so shameful! I want to tell you it was from President Obama or Valerie Jarrett; I got great advice from them. I want to tell you it was from all these cool people I got to meet over the last few years. There was great advice there. President Obama gave us a good talking-to about being in the work for the long haul, and Valerie and I had good conversations about what a strong pathway looks like and how you consistently increase your aperture and your ability to do more with every step.

But I was scrolling Instagram one day and there was this picture that said, ‘You had a purpose before anyone had an opinion.’

How did you meet DeRay Mckesson?

Oh, Lord. This story. So DeRay and I both taught through the same organization that I still work for, and DeRay was living in Minneapolis at the time. He was working for Minneapolis Public Schools. I wrote a post called Education Didn’t Save Mike Brown, mostly because I wanted people who were questioning my participation in this uprising, who were questioning our students’ participation, a lot of our teachers’ participation in this uprising, to understand why we couldn’t separate justice from teaching and why diplomas are wonderful, important, incredible things but until we fix the systems that are supposed to serve, protect and uplift our students, then those diplomas will never be bulletproof.

So I wrote this piece, and they were about to run it and they were like, ‘We need a picture to go with it.’ So I sent them a picture, I want to say maybe from my second or third night out in Ferguson on West Florissant Avenue. There was a gun line, a skirmish line right behind me, and the symbol we were all using was to hold our hands up. We chant the saying, ‘Hands up, don’t shoot.’ So I’m holding my hands up in front of this gun line. There’s an armored vehicle behind me, and there are police with rifles and all that stuff. DeRay was in the TFA [Teach for America] office when they were about to run the piece, and they were passing the picture back and forth, so DeRay saw the picture. And DeRay was like, ‘I think I need to go down there. I think I’m gonna go down there.’

And there’s a picture of myself, a bunch of our teachers and alums, a couple staff members who were out there of their own volition, and DeRay the first night he was down there. And, yeah, we just started to work together very quickly.

How is the podcast world for you?

So the podcast has been a lot of fun. I’m really thankful to people for listening to it. We called the first episode American Do-over because we were fantasizing about what would happen if everybody just left the White House and we had a whole new election. We just have a nice, American do-over. But I think the podcast represents one of the many ways that we are finding new and creative avenues to engage with folks.

Pod Save the People. So DeRay hosts it, and so DeRay, Sam and I do this segment called My Two Cents in the beginning of each episode. And I think what’s powerful about it is, we are not seasoned politicos, we are not reporters, we’re not official commentators on some network. We are regular people who care a lot about humanity, who care a lot about issues of justice, talking about news that affects us all. So we talk about everything from health care to Michelle Obama’s speaking fees and how Donald Trump was making $1.5 million for speaking fees, so I don’t want to hear about Michelle Obama’s speaking fees in the ways that, honestly, the three of us often talk about things just as friends, as people who care, as black folks who are trying to make a better day.

What’s new for you?

I’ve been very into fashion my whole life, and I taught myself Adobe Illustrator. Well, my boyfriend helped teach it to me. And I can design shirts. I was walking down the street and somebody was wearing my shirt, and I was like, ‘I cannot believe this.’ I’d love to continue figuring out what it looks like to outfit people in a conscious way that both allows people to express what they believe and wear things that they believe in. So I’d love to explore that. But really, I just want to help. … I really want to figure out this intersection of love and power. I really want to help people figure out what it means in their own lives, what it means in how we shift institutions, what it means for how we shift this education game, what it means for how we ensure that the truth is being told and protest on the streets translates into real policy change. I want to make sure that we are using our power, as Dr. King says, to correct everything that stands in love’s way. And so what that will look like, I’m not sure yet. I don’t know what title that would be, I don’t know what job that’ll be, I don’t know what city that’ll be, but I am open to whatever comes, as long as I can ground my feet in love and power.

Here’s why black teachers are so important to education and to our children ‘Through Our Eyes: Perspectives and Reflection From Black Teachers’ reinforces necessity to get more of them in classrooms

“Teachers of color bring benefits to classrooms beyond content knowledge and pedagogy.”

This is what a recent study from The Education Trust, a national nonprofit advocacy organization that promotes high academic achievement, claims. And it has data to back it up.

Teachers of color represent only 18 percent of the teaching population in the United States, and black teachers are 7 percent of the teaching population, according to Through Our Eyes: Perspectives and Reflection From Black Teachers, a report published late last year that gives voice to black teachers.

And yet today more than ever, the report rings true throughout America’s schools. In the midst of the personal accounts from teachers, the report cites the reasons that continuing to recruit teachers of color, as well as identifying and creating more ways to retain them, is important. It also explains the impact that black teachers have on students and the relevance of establishing relationships with students and parents.

According to its website, The Education Trust promotes high academic achievement for all students at all levels, prekindergarten through college. Its goal is to “close the gaps in opportunity and achievement that consign far too many young people — especially those from low-income families or who are Black, Latino, or American Indian — to lives on the margins of the American mainstream.”

These excerpts below have heightened relevance and meaning during National Teacher Appreciation Week:


“The difference I would like to make is a difference that my fifth-grade teacher, an African American woman, made [for] me,” says an elementary teacher from Oakland, California, who is also a Black woman.

She credits that teacher with instilling in her a love of math, but also with fostering the self-confidence that would buoy her when other teachers doubted her ability. Now, she tries to give all her students — and especially her Black students — that same assurance.

“I make sure I get to know each and every one of my kids, and let them know that they can do it.”

This teacher experienced what research has shown: As role models, parental figures and advocates, they can build relationships with students of color that help those students feel connected to their schools. And they are more likely to be able to enhance cultural understanding among white colleagues, teachers and students. Acting as “warm demanders,” they more frequently hold high expectations for all students and use connections with students to establish structured classroom discipline. Furthermore, they are more likely to teach in high-need schools that predominantly serve students of color and low-income students. Black teachers especially are more likely to stay in schools serving black students.

State and district leaders recognize the need to diversify the teacher workforce and are working to recruit more black and Hispanic teachers. And their efforts may be paying off: Research shows that the percentage of teachers of color in the workforce grew at twice the rate of white teachers from 1987 to 2012.

But while leaders have been busy trying to pour teachers of color into the profession, they have not plugged the drain through which too many exit. Indeed, teachers of color are exiting the profession at higher rates than other teachers.

Simply recruiting more teachers of color only gets them in the door; we must pay equal attention to creating the conditions to keep them. And while it is critical to diversify the teaching force, just having a black or Hispanic teacher in the classroom isn’t enough. They must be strong teachers, so diversity and excellence go hand in hand. Holding onto teachers of color, though, requires education leaders to understand their unique experiences and perspectives. And who better to learn from than the teachers themselves.

In March 2015, our research team set out to hear from teachers color, hosting a series of focus groups with black and Latino teachers around the country. We used data from the Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS, 2012) to target states and districts with high numbers of teachers of color and solicited participants through schools, districts, and teacher organizations.

Our goal: to better understand their unique experiences, why they teach, their perspectives on the state of education, what they believe they bring to the classroom and the field, and challenges they may experience in the workplace because of their race. In this brief, we present findings from our discussions with black teachers. In forthcoming work, we will share what we heard from Latino teachers, as well.

The full report is worth reading.

This mother is helping parents discuss police brutality in new book ‘Momma, Did You Hear the News?’ Sanya Gragg is inspired to help children work through their feelings

Sanya Gragg sat in front of a group of second-graders in late April, a bit startled by what she’d just heard. It was the first time the social worker and new author had brought her new book into a classroom to discuss its lessons.

Gragg had just asked the children, 7- and 8-year-olds, about police officers. What is it their job to do?

“To protects us,” a white girl replied. “To get the bad guys.”

“To shoot us,” her black classmate, a boy, chimed in.

Not that she needed any further validation that her children’s book, Momma, Did You Hear the News?, was necessary and timely, but the disparity in the children’s answers and the matter-of-factness with which the young black student had replied convinced her she was doing what she was meant to do.

Using rhymes and illustrations modeled after her own family, Gragg in Momma, Did You Hear the News? guides young readers through the story of a young man who comes home with questions for his parents after hearing the news of police shootings of young black men.

Gragg, 46, had never written a book before, but she had often thought about writing something about how black children interact with law enforcement. As an African-American mother of two sons and a young daughter — Avery, 20, Phillip-Raymond, 16, and Saniyah, 3 — for years she has prayed every time the men in her life — the boys and her husband, Derrick — would leave home: “Father, protect them, keep them calm, don’t let them be seen in a way that is not characteristic of who they are.”

Courtesy of Sanya Gragg

She and Derrick, athletic director at the University of Tulsa, had “the talk” with their sons many times before, preparing them to defuse any potentially tense interactions with police officers.

When she left her job as a school social worker last year and had extra time on her hands, Gragg turned to God for guidance. It was then that Terence Crutcher was senselessly shot and killed by a Tulsa, Oklahoma, police officer, not too far from the Graggs’ church. Once again, the Graggs sat down their sons, at that point teenagers both standing over 6 feet tall, for the talk.

As they concluded their conversation, Gragg knew she had to make her idea a reality. It was time to write a book to help other families dealing with the same fears. And although her sons are now grown, she believed the book needed to be written for much younger children: preteens who are exposed to the news of the day, no matter how violent and disturbing, through television and social media. It’s never too early, she believes, to begin these conversations.

“As I sat on the couch with our children, I knew other parents around the country were having the same conversation,” Gragg said. “I wanted to write something that would help them get the message across in a way that their children would remember.”

Calling on her experience as a social worker, she knew that kids respond well to poems and rhymes. So she spent more than six months envisioning and writing a colorful picture book built around the rhyme “A to the L to the I-V-E, come home alive, that is the key.” The parents in the story sit down with their sons for “the talk,” using each of the five letters in ALIVE to represent a step to remember when dealing with police:

Always use your manners
Listen and comply
In control of emotions
Visible hands always
Explain everything (as in, “Sir, may I get my wallet, please?”)

Momma, Did You Hear the News? is beautifully illustrated by Washington, D.C., artist Kim Holt. Gragg hopes the book will be well-received by police departments, and she envisions collaborating with them to build community relationships. She’s also working with nonprofits across the country that work to keep young black men safe, such as Moms Of Black Boys United, Inc (MOBB United). She launched the Memorize the 5 movement and has created Twitter and Facebook pages based on the theme. All that she does is motivated by nothing more complicated, or more important, than a mother’s love for her child.

Law enforcement officers have a difficult and dangerous job, Gragg said, and if a family member were a police officer, she’d say a prayer every time they left the house, too.

“My greatest hope is for kids to memorize the five rules and remember them if they are ever in an encounter with a police officer,” she said. “We all just want our children to come home alive.”

Momma, Did You Hear the News? is available on Amazon.com.