A RE-Center Series of Notes on Justice: Dialogues with ANYANWU & NATALIE: Part 1

A RE-Center Series of Notes on Justice: Dialogues with ANYANWU & NATALIE: Part 1


We had this dialogue via a shared document over several days.

A: So Natalie, I'm just gonna come from the dome and see what stirs up because the world is saying so many things. Trying to pause anywhere or on any one thing would be amiss of how dense and layered the work of social justice education in practice is.  I think it's best to find out what the universe downloads as I type away on this laptop. This work, this labor of justice in education, when the crisis isn’t at its peak but at its reasoning, it isn't easy for practitioners to sustain themselves over the years and for some of us even over decades.  I find my peers in this work hurting one way or another, as if the very injustice they place themselves in front of, in protection of learners, families and educators, were to turn its dis-ease in and on to the practitioner. 

As a Social Justice Educator, a Practitioner of Action, as a critical pedagogy scholar, as someone that brings breath to praxis, how have you survived the storms of the people that resist forward motion?

What would it mean for us to transcend our fears in those moments when the world tells us that we are less than? What stirs in our visions and dreams? What has that moment felt like, looked like for you? What have you had to do to pull yourself out of those moments within, when the outside noise gets loud? Do you remember the intersection of your brilliance and the shadow that would try to hold it back?

N: Breathing into your inquiry here and also the offerings you make. I think the origins of my/our identities as folx committed to a deep interrogation of equity and justice matter greatly. I think the points in life when we are reacting to something- hunkering down for an impending storm or cleaning up after a disastrous one- are so informed by our points of origin. How do we start? Why did we begin to ask critical questions? When did we begin to look at ourselves, others, and the world differently? How did that change us? And the origin space is kinda tricky because the question is: did our values always exist and just surface when we are forced to confront what we believe? Or do our values grow and evolve over time as we become more mature and critical beings? My inclination is to feel a little bit of both.

A: Ohhh this is good! It is in the critical, the crisis and the challenge that I have been most informed.  I’ve learned also, these moments have required the most humility from me, required me to have integrity for the intention of the work I am doing as opposed to any ego that may drive me.   These questions that you’re animating (an activating word I am borrowing from you!), have not been where I find myself searching the most though. Your mention charges me to be more present and to actually take time to have deep gratitude for the journey thus far.  My own grounding in the value of me from a sense of security lighting each of my steps would be necessary.  Truthfully I have been so focused on those impacted by educational injustice, as well as how the manipulation of wisdom pins capitalism as a priority, that I have been entirely too distracted managing and protecting the integrity of the work.  I will be honest and be transparent that I have not mattered enough in my work.  Not if I am inclined to feel a little of both my origin story, my vision of self, and the birthing of my values. I would have to matter in my work so much more, I would have to love the practitioner in me so much more.  I would have to tame the autopilot of the practice.   Now I am definitely deep feeling, responsive and attentive in my work, but I don’t know how often that has showered my needs and my best interest. These questions you returned to my own inquiries with call on me to be more loving in self while honoring the practitioner, the child learner, and the Black Woman in me so much more. 

While I remain responsive rather than reactive in how I place charges towards educational justice, I would have to honestly say that I have not prioritized my needs or personal responses.  As a giver I have only questioned myself as a means to continue to give as opposed to the tune of restoring and nurturing myself so I can sustain my strides as I drop my nickel in the fountain of change.  2022 nudged me exactly in this way though. I heard, ‘ok ANYANWU you are still here and you obviously are not stepping away so how do you intend to do things differently?’, Professors James Dennis and Dr. Karen Stanford would say to me as a 20yr old college student “the more things change the more they stay the same”.  Now 20 years later I ask how does this inform my practice and how can I deeper change how I have been treating the dilemma of hardship, injustice and poverty steeped in the sameness of Anti-Black racism and how it dis-eases all the other ways of being that is invited and yet not welcomed suffered people merely figuring out how to do life daily. 

N: It is profound to witness you say you have not mattered enough in your work.  What are the structures and how steeped in anti-Blackness, misogyny, heteronormativity, and ableism are they to lead us to this moment? And I guess what you are offering makes me wonder how much of the change lives in you/me/us and does it matter if it isn’t seen, palpably felt, or impacting others in any way? You pour into spaces, people, and hearts, and you do it SO quickly that I am not sure you even see its depth and reach. I see a lot of folx though who say they “do the work” or about this but it is not manifesting in them moving differently, in their behaviors and relationships changing, and that makes me think about performance versus purpose that you are always talking about (Anyanwu, 2022 & likely far prior).

A: There are so many spaces in time when the cameras, the social media, the recorders, and the publishing isn’t knocking. This work isn’t about being on stage but about co-conspiring to operationalize possibility, outcomes of inching towards exponential positive impact is the great intention. As a result, it is so real to labor this work rather than performing it because when what you do isn’t being counted or accoladed and you're not counting coins for what you do, the truths of yourself really talk out loud and the mirrors and the shadows show up. The Giver that breathes within the Practitioner, the Parent, and the Educator knows the incremental moments of being a decision maker has nothing to do with lights camera action but rather measuring the best integrity you can find from the inside out from being the character that lives within you.

N: YES. And we as humans are trained to feel gratified, lauded, and praised for the difficult things we do, but really, if you truly are about equity and justice, then you know this work is painful and not always joyful and definitely does not always leave folx wanting to embrace you with a hug. And yet we persist. It is the quiet moments- the ones I would share crying with my abuela pushing her to release her internalized colorism and the deep colonization of her mind. It is the moment where I can choose to push my daughter and myself as a parent and my partner to feel into a different set of responsibilities. These quiet moments ring the loudest for me. I think about my accountability to my daughter, my ancestors, and the promises I make to myself about upholding my values even when it’s hardest.

A: This is the exact reason why I do press purpose rather than performance.  Moments become distinct memories of impact when purpose leads the charge.  Unapologetic decision-making steeped in clarity becomes an active agent of change.  I believe it is the exact intersection when the more things are the same, the more we demand real change.  Real change becomes a feeling living in action and feelings maturing within us. I believe when this form of powerful confident humility is practiced, we engage with what we see and feel before us and we experience smaller moments that would otherwise fly by. Mere Moments become incremental opportunities for people to become bonded and unified in movement becoming less malleable and more distinctive.  In these moments, they become rooted into their humanity without force and become different than the moment before.  I would be confident enough to propose that this is definitively the experience of education rather than teaching, listening rather than hearing, and being rather than merely existing. Ultimately when we transform our experience from the platforms of nouns to foundations of verbs. It is when we ask those questions we had with one another earlier in this exchange, that we become present tense and responsive rather than reactive in reflection of the past and towards a guiding support for the right now.  

Being the Powerful Practitioner while caring for the Human in you
We transcend through the following questions that charge us in sustainable and purposeful ways:

      • What am I doing to ground myself when the outside noises get loud? 
      • What does this moment feel like right now? (present to what is)
      • How can this be different than before? (a decision to work forward)
      • How do I start today? (each day as a revolutionary act of newness) 
      • What critical questions do I have for what exists now? (challenging the now resisting the distractions of past without losing one's learning)
      • How can I look at myself, others, and the world differently than what I once believed? 
      • How is what I am believing in changing me? (the building of wisdom)
      • How are my values existing, how are my values growing and evolving over time? Standing with integrity)
      • How are my values changing me? My thoughts, my actions, my relationships?
      • How do I assess whether I am living into my values? What do I do when I determine I am not?
      • How can I lead myself to become a more mature and critical being? (commitment to transformation)

We stand in clarity with the following charges for self:

      • I will transcend my fears in moments when the world me I am less than what stirs in my visions and dreams (sustaining personal purpose)
      • I intentionally surround myself with people and relationships grounded in critical love & collective accountability (maintaining connection to and with others)
      • The intersection of my brilliance and the shadows of my insecurities will vibrate energy to propel me forward. (redirection of fears and insecurities)
      • I will not be held back (daily affirmation)

Anyanwu is Human first and activist second and claims the ways of her Jamaican elders, Activists, and Coaches of Marin City, Pan African Studies and Human rights Professors at CSUN and University of San Francisco and Teaching Healers of Indigenous practices who raised her. 

Natalie is a white Puerto Rican, cis hetero non-disabled educator, advocate, non-profit leader, & mami with significant class privilege.