The Great Unearther

It is true that a child’s education begins at home. However, a teacher who has an agape love of the people can take a child, no matter their state, providing them an elixir of love, life and truth that develops a sensation of empowerment and liberation, turning them from a mere human into a superhero. As a child, I use to wonder why so many superheroes were White only; Batman, Superman and Spider-Man didn’t look like me. It was when I became an adult when I realized why; the system of White supremacy cheated the world out of Black and Brown superheroes that could have been. We’ve been cheated out of leadership. We weren’t cheated from a man from outer space or from a high school student bit by a spider. Rather we were cheated from men and women who overcome racial oppression daily, evidenced by their very existence. When I became a teacher, I realized my agency to develop the very superheroes whose voices and abilities that our society has fought to suppress. I knew others who realized the same; and then there were others. There were other who didn’t view Black and Brown students as superheroes at all. There were others who defined being a superhero as one who was proficient enough to earn a nine to five job, earn a college degree and get a career, or simply one who did not become a statistic. Some teachers were only interested in making Clark Kents; they didn’t realize that deep within their students resided the spirit of T’Challa. That spirit lives within every Black and Brown child across the nation. That spirit is a part of their history. That spirit is American history buried underground. Thankfully there are unearthers… One such unearther is Colin Kaepernick.

The United States Constitution is one of the more power teaching tools in an educator’s tool belt. In it, educators can teach on the commonalities of our inherent rights; rights that bind us together as a human family. What is unfortunate, however, is an educators failure to teach where prejudice and greed has led humanity down a destructive path concerning the interpretation and execution of the document itself. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., famously challenged America to live up to the true meaning of it’s creed. We educators reverence Dr. King’s call that day in Washington D.C., yet many curriculum decision makers choose to maintain narratives that speak convenient truths to history. It is convenient to reflect on Dr. King’s activism with admiration for his stand against racial prejudice in the Jim Crow south. What’s unsettling for some is examining Dr. King’s call to challenge systemic racism expressed in housing and wages for workers. It’s convenient to have respectability politics as your filter for highlighting certain figures of civil rights over others. Likewise, it is convenient to exalt peaceful and non-violent protest while demonizing self-defense resistance and calling it violence. It is inconvenient however to teach people the origins of the Deacons for Defense; a group of Black Christians who protected Blacks in the Civil Rights movement and Blacks who registered to vote from White violence. It is inconvenient to teach people the origins of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense (BPP); a group of Black people who patrolled Black neighborhoods to protect Black people from police brutality.

For many, the BPP were the outward manifestation of fears held by White society since before the antebellum period. A Black organization espousing beliefs that all Black people should arm themselves with guns, even if by legal means, is intolerable to White society. Unfortunately, this is the convenient truth allowed space in mainstream discourse. Inconvenient for those who preach that narrative is to admit that the BPP contributed to the self-awareness, self-esteem and self-preservation of Black people. The BPP affirmed the magnificence and beauty of Black people; both on the inside and out. The BPP created a free breakfast program to feed low-income children so that they performed better in school; J. Edgar Hoover saw this as a threat. It is convenient to leave out Cointelpro from history curricula also, but I digress. The BPP embraced female leadership and sought wider coalition building with other oppressed groups. At the heart of the organization was their ten point platform. A student of history and setting, Colin Kaepernick chose Oakland, California, the city where the BPP was founded, to house his first Know Your Rights Camp.

The Know Your Rights Camp (KYRC) is a free campaign for youth fully funded by Colin Kaepernick to raise awareness on higher education, self-empowerment, and instruction to properly interact with law enforcement in various scenarios. Kaepernick enlisted the help of Christopher Petrella, a professor of American cultural studies at Bates College, with creating the curriculum for the camp. Petrella has taught at the camp and has written think pieces to frame the lessons and discussions during the workshops. In addition to Oakland, camps also took place in  New York City and Chicago. A staple of the camp is the camp’s ten points; similar to the ten point platform of the BPP. Both the BPP and the KYRC call for the freedom, safety, life affirmation and education of oppressed people. These ten points inform the instructions participants receive for how to interact with law enforcement. While a major focus of the camp is on interactions with law enforcement, the KYRC also engages participants with other empowering workshops. The camp gives seminars on nutrition, dressing for success, financial literacy and the history of Jim Crow segregation. Campers walk away with not only a ten points tee-shirt, but they also leave with an ancestry kit to gain information on their background.

Kaepernick mirrored the KYRC after his own growth and maturation as both an athlete and a man. As individuals, whether we perform athletically or not, we should strive to be in the best physical, financial and psychological health we can be. To be so, we must learn how to take care of our bodies physically, learn how to manage our financial resources properly and also gain a handle on the what and whys of our society. Over time, Colin Kaepernick developed in each of these areas, and he is still growing. However, he recognizes the need to help young people of color get an earlier start on these modes of self-care – by educating them on how and why. This is the skill of a master teacher; one who can turn the experience of acquiring information into a spiritual catharsis.

One may argue that educators do not have the luxury to do the things happening in the KYRC. I would argue that the KYRC is a necessity and not a luxury. Students must know the basic skills of reading, writing and arithmetic. They should not learn these things absent of emotion and purpose. When you offer substantive information of relevance to children that lends itself to practicing the core skills and competencies necessary to move to higher academic and critical thinking levels, you’re offering a curriculum that means more than meeting AYP. Many schools who educate Black and Brown children claim to do just that – however many of them aren’t; most schools would not dare attempt to host  a KYRC or implement KYRC curricula. Most school leaders do not want to unearth the spirit a KYRC can call forth; they cannot trust what they cannot see. They  want children to learn how to move with society, not learn how to challenge the society. They want a padded resume without incident of incompetency and controversy hindering them from the next job. These are the individuals who only see mainstream superheroes who affirm Americana… these individuals do not unearth, but rather they till the ground. The KYRC may never be welcomed by a public school district for fear of backlash. That is okay; extraordinary outcomes often come about by unconventional means. Superheroes aren’t made in front of an audience… they’re often times made underground. Educators must ask themselves, will they be unearthers or will they strive to keep superheroes and their history buried?

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