Tag Archives: Education
A Stance Must Be Taken
At some point a decision must be made and a stance taken to alter the unjust components of the system we are part of, or injustice and harm will continue to flourish as a result of our failure to act. It does matter how we got to this situation. It is important who was and is responsible for the suffering that people are compelled to undergo. However, regardless of who the guilty parties are the reality is that we all are the ones responsible for permitting the injustices to continue or for developing solutions to the problems inherent in our system. I believe it is our duty to do more than what is expected of us by the standards of a system that permits nearly ubiquitous suffering because the status quo is synonymous with more of the same. I believe it is not only possible, but achievable for us to improve on the systems we have inherited and the history of countless generations of humanity will confirm this conviction. It is true that it will not be easy. It is also true that we will most likely make many mistakes as we experiment with alternatives. However, if we do nothing different than what we have been doing then there is no chance that we will improve and people will continue to suffer undo and unjust conditions. Yet, should we but believe that at least something minimally better is possible and provide the most meager amount effort to see it through, then—and I am staking my life on this—we will see and feel revolutionary changes and evolution in human culture. A decision will be made and a stance taken regardless of whether it is to do nothing different, or to seek beneficial alternatives.
Genetically speaking, human being have not evolved for millennia. It has been our culture that has evolved, which has enabled us to adapt to our environments and to thrive as a species. However, evolution is not merely something that happens all on its own. Rather, evolution only occurs when an organism must respond to adversity in order to survive. Evolution however, is not a genetic mutation that occurs to a specific organism within its own biological life-span. If the organism is not predisposed to survive the factors of an environment then it simply will not be able to survive. However, if there is enough genetic variation within a population, and if some of those variants are predisposed to overcome or be unaffected by those factors, then they will have a chance of survival. Culture is a strategy for survival, but it is unlike genetic variation in that it can be adapted within an organism’s biological life-span. Like genetic variation, culture is a response to environmental factors and it has evolved over time to adjust to contemporary circumstances and conditions. The evolution of our culture has resulted in the formation of the systems by which our society operates, much like biological systems have adapted to circumstances. The relevant components of the analogy between genetic evolution and cultural evolution are sound and lends itself to this conclusion: as a democratic society we are faced with a set of factors that we as a political community are compelled to adapt to for the sake of survival, but instead of the variation or mutation happening by necessity it must freely be chosen and enacted.
A decision must be made and a stance taken if our culture is to evolve to meet the circumstances and conditions questioning our ability to survive as a species. Segregation was once a strategy that was perhaps necessary for smaller groups to survive. Today, segregation is primarily a tool of those who have power and privileges to maintain the status quo while others suffer the unfair distribution. Furthermore, those with power could share in this distribution without even remotely coming close to the level of subsistence. Since segregation is no longer a strategy that is necessary for survival it is also no longer a necessary cultural practice because the survival of those who maintain the segregation is not in question. Jim Crow was shown to be an unnecessary strategy and that it was in addition an unjust practice. Much like the wall that Donald Trump is proposing will be shown to be unnecessary for survival and unjust. We must be willing to critically analyze our practices for the merit they have in so far as they have the potential to assist us in surviving. The choices that we have to make, cannot and in fact should not be made arbitrarily, but rather, they should be investigated for their practical and moral qualities. The decision which will guide the stance we take that will also be made democratically, will only be an improvement on what has come before if people believe, and that it is fact true that their contributions matter.
The principle test of a system should be whether or not it achieves the goals for which it was implemented. If the system does achieve the ends for which it exists and it continues to contribute to our survival then chances are good that we should maintain that system for so long as it continues to satisfy these conditions. However, if the system does not achieve the ends for which it exists or it does not contribute to our survival, then chances are good that we should cease the practice entirely and seek an alternative. For example, the system of prisons is prefaced on the explicit goals of rehabilitation and deterrence, and the implicit goal of retribution. The prison system has a recidivism rate of nearly 95% and that means that almost every single person who enters into the adult penitentiary system at some point returns to prison. This reveals that the prison system fails at the explicit goal of rehabilitation. The United States has but 5% of the world’s population and yet 25% of the world’s prison population and save for the last few year has witnessed an exponential increase in population density. Therefore, the prison system is also failing at the explicit goal of deterrence. Lastly, when a person is indicted for a crime it is the public the plaintiff and the contest is between the individual accused and the state. This entirely removes the person who was harmed so far from the process that often times not even an apology from the person responsible is possible to the person who was harmed. The system also fails at its implicit goal of retribution. Yet, the prison system as it exists today has an ulterior motivation which has nothing to do with these other goals and that is profit for corporations. This hidden goal of the system is not something that the public has agreed to and are mostly ignorant of. In addition, this goal also undermines most of what the public agrees the criminal justice system should be aimed at, which is entailed within both the explicit and implicit goals of the prison system. Therefore, since the prison system fails on all counts and in addition fails to be consistent with democratic principles, this is a system that should cease to be a component of our culture.
On the other hand, although there are problems with it, the system of education when it is not interrupted by the prison system, does in fact contribute to our survival and achieves it goals. The explicit goal of the education system to prepare citizens for a diverse array of roles within society. These roles are vital to the functioning of society and thus, for the survival of the members of that society. Reading and mathematics are basic requirements for survival of the members of most societies and the citizens of the United States in particular. Education is a system that imparts these skills unto the people and thus transmits important characteristics of our society. True, that the system often fails many and these failures can often be measured along the lines of class and race. This while revealing a shortfall in the system also reveals the relevant aspects for improvement, not wholesale cessation. Nonetheless, it is apparent that when analyzing our systems, that is, our strategies for survival we may discover that they are or can function to meet the needs of our civilization, or they may not. It is at this junction that a decision must be made and a stance taken by the people about how to respond: to remain stagnant, or to evolve; that will be the question.
There is more than enough blame to go around the world multiple times over and while it will at some point be the right time to hold particular individuals responsible. However, at this moment that will neither help us to achieve justice, now to improve the conditions of the lives of those who are suffering. Responsibility aside for the moment, the truth is that we are most likely not going to make this world a better place factionalized. It will most likely require all of us to fulfill some role, many of them vital to our cultural evolution because of our experience and knowledge. At the same time, it will be incumbent upon many of the people who are in positions of power to analyze the systems that are in place and in practice that limit or completely bar cultural evolution. When practices or structures like these are discovered it will be their responsibility to disassemble them and to get the necessary help from the people most impacted and affected by these practices and structures to create new strategies so that positive and beneficial change can begin to take form.
Our world is turning upside down on itself and the consequences of our actions are quickly catching up to us and are going to leave us with a set of conditions that are going to be nearly impossible to address unless we do what we can to adapt to them before them emerge. Climate Change is a latent phenomenon that grows exponentially as the factors are compounding over time. There is still yet time to make the necessary cultural transitions to adequately address this threat, but time is running short to evade the impacts of the negative feedback loop that is ahead of us. Countries are at odds economically and militarily, and the tension is so tight that one slight move in the wrong direction and the entire structure will come cascading down. The victims of such an atrocity will not be the people who make the decisions, but rather, the general public of our societies who are merely attempting to get by relatively well. It may seem as though my sense of urgency is unfounded, but that is only because our energy sources have not been tapped, desertification has not destroyed most of the arable land we depend upon for food, and borders are not being flooded beyond capacity with millions of starving and terrified human beings seeking anything better than what they are fleeing. When these conditions begin to be felt, then the economic constriction will follow and the protectionism that is a major component of our cultures will be expressed with the military. Those who have not fallen victim to the former calamities, will be present for the latter.
None of this is necessary though and it can all be avoided should we choose to make a decision and take a stand on experimenting with alternative strategies. It is imperative that we stop thinking and acting in the realm of the short-term, and from the perspective of the micro-personal, and began thinking an acting in the realm of the long-term and from the perspective of the macro-personal. We only have one world to live on and we have to share with all the people and other species that are here. Because we have the capacity for rational thought and forethought, it is our duty and our responsibility to be responsible stewards and wise planners. The conditions and the factors that require evolution are present or soon will be. We have the unique opportunity to choose what and who we evolve into as oppose to either facing extinction or evolving into something unwanted by necessity. Culture can evolve by choice, it does not have to be compelled. Whatever the choice of the people is though, it is us, all of us who are responsible for these decisions and the actions that they will guide
A Prisoner on the Streets of America
I am a true renaissance man and I have experienced so many forms of life and held so many positions or roles that it is difficult to narrow my thinking down to one foundational experience that has shaped and influenced my life. I died in a car accident when I was seven years old and the outcomes of being brought back to life and my faculties resulted in every person who was close to me expressing that I had a great role to fulfill on Earth.
I grew up in rough, alcoholic, and often violent home when I was younger and this heavily shaped my perception of poverty, addiction, relationships and vulnerability. My parents split when my mother had to flee from my father after he threatened to kill all of us before killing himself. That morning was the last time I ever saw my father and that definitely had a major influence on my life. The only place my family could flee to were areas in Oregon where my brother and I were the only black students in the schools. This was at a time that Oregon still had a prohibition in its State Constitution stating that Oregon was to be a white utopia and that black people were not permitted to settle within the limits of the state. Those experiences definitely shaped my perception of the world and my life. When we finally escaped the racist treatment of the people in Oregon, we moved to the Central District in Seattle where my brother and I, being tri-racial and coming directly from an all-white area lacked much of the social capital needed to be accepted by the black community in Seattle and found ourselves ostracized as outsiders. Those experiences also shaped my perception and influenced my life.
Shortly thereafter, I found myself indoctrinated into gang-life, criminal activity, and drugs. As a result of my behaviors, I spent a lot of time incarcerated and even went to juvenile prison for an extended period of time. It was there that I began to write poetry, which later in my life would lead me to being a spoken word and hip hop artist and being named Renaissance the Poet. After I was released from their prison, I was not able to shake the gang or the drugs, but the poetry stuck with me. On my eighteenth birthday I was given a drug called ecstasy, and under its influence was when I had my first experience with god. That experience caused me to leave the gang and the drugs alone and before I knew it, I had walked across the country from Washington to Massachusetts where I joined and became a priest in a cult.
I stayed with them for the better part of a year before I was able to escape from the mental imprisonment and the only method I knew to shut out the demons swirling in my head was to use drugs and alcohol to silence them. However, when I found myself back in Seattle I was ensnared by the chains of addiction once again and when the excitement of my return wore off, all of my family and friend severed their ties with me. I was left homeless, without prospects, and alone. Worst of all, the drugs were no longer working to silence the demons swirling in my head and a deep depression set in. After giving up everything I thought I was supposed to give up for god I felt truly alone because to me at the time that not even god could save me from myself.
Without anything else holding me to the planet or the people on it, I decided to take my own life by jumping off the Aurora Bridge. However, while I was walking to the bridge from Lake City, a lesson I head while I was in prison came back to me. There was an O.G. Vice Lord from Chicago that came to visit us and he told us that strangely, he discovered that he felt more free when locked-up, and more of a prisoner when he was on the streets. At the time I heard him say that, I thought he was out of his mind, but as I became a victim of the streets and was on my way to end my life I finally understood what he meant so many years earlier. Aside from having my liberty taken from me, the single other largest factor to the peace I felt while I was in prison was that I was not using drugs. So, while I was on my way to the bridge I decided to call the emergency services and with the direction they gave me while they treated me overnight in a few short weeks I was able to find my way into a chemical abuse treatment facility, which changed my life forever. I have been sober ever since and I have never felt as hopeless as I did that night I walked to the bridge to end my suffering.
Getting sober did not solve all the problems I had in my life, but it did provide me with the tools to access a level of peace necessary to confront those problems. I had four felonies and several misdemeanors on my criminal record. Furthermore, I had failed high school and at the current standing when I left, I was a 0.0 GPA student. I had no place to call home, no friends, and my family wanted nothing to do with me. I was able to gain access to a half-way house for people in transition from institutions and shortly after I began living there I woke up to the news of 9/11. I did not know it when I moved in, but the house was run by a Mormon church, and while there is nothing wrong with helping the community, I had a hard time coping because of my experience with the cult I was in; there were too many similarities. Then given the factors of my history that were barring me from both employment and education, I decided to go to a Job Corps facility.
If there was any experience in my life that I believe really set the stage for the man I was to become, then it was my experience at Tongue Point Job Corps Center in Astoria Oregon because it was there that I learned that I as an individual could have a positive impact in the lives of the people around me. Job Corps used to provide a bi-weekly allowance for the students that lived on campus, but that stipend was very limited. However, students could get a job to subsidize the funds they were lacking and I was encouraged to become part of the student government. I did and within a few months I had worked my way up the being the student body president of the facility. Aside from providing for the extracurricular activities for my fellow students we also challenged microagressions and negative stereotypes, although, at the time I did not know that is what we were doing. We challenged the center’s policy on sagging pants and how it related to the administration’s and staff’s perceptions of black youth who sagged their pants. I sagged my pants at the time and I was the president. More important, it was the issue that the students wanted me to bring up and fight for them.
While at the job corps facility I earned my G.E.D., my high school diploma, and printing apprentice certificate, and even started college. My goal for attending college was to go into law school, become a lawyer, then enter into politics and eventually become the president. It was a mixture between my experience at Job Corps being the president and a class I had in when Mr. Mollette my high school history teacher that told me that any American citizen could become president, one of the days that I passed through his class. I dropped out of school a few quarters after beginning and returned to Seattle thinking that I would get into college, but that was much easier said than done. My criminal record from when I was a juvenile still haunted me and I was barred from employment in most establishments.
I gave up on the idea of ever being able to afford college and found myself working in a used retail store for about a year when I began my journey into construction work. A man I met started hiring me on weekends to do odds and ends for him and paid me well. Then he brought me on as his first full time employee and decided that I would become his apprentice and eventually buy him out and take over the company. Within a few years I had become a professional heavy equipment operator, pipe-layer, estimator, and project manage and then I became a partner in the developing construction company negotiating contracts with Mid Mountain Contractors, Turner Construction, King County, and the City of Seattle.
During this time with the construction company I also started, hosted and ran the Cornerstone Open Mic & Artist Showcase, a hip hop and spoken word open mic that happen monthly at the Fair Gallery and Café on Capital Hill in Seattle, with my best friend and adopted brother Marcus Hoy. Mark Hoy and Sean Stuart are the people who named me Renaissance the Poet, because of the rollercoaster life I had lived prior to meeting them and the skill I had with poetry. The Cornerstone, as it became known, was a hub for revolutionary minded poets and artists from around the Puget Sound area where we discussed and challenged some of the most disparaging issues confronting our generation, such as, patriarchy, sexism, racism, and state control of citizens. Some of us may have been revolutionaries and activists at the time, but for the most part we were simply artists learning how to exercise our minds and our voices while we were learning how to exist and survive in the world we were all born into. In the more than five years that we hosted the Cornerstone, there was not one fight, and this was nearly unheard of for any hip hop venue anywhere at the time. Many relationships were forged there and the underground cultural element of resistance and justice was kept alive and fostered.
In 2010, our company won the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business “Minority Business of the Year” award. However, I always felt that I had missed my true calling to fulfill a great role on earth and thought that becoming a lawyer was the method I was supposed to take to achieve that role. In 2008, the economy spun on its head and we went into a dire recession that put a lot of pressure on our company. In 2011, a couple years after I had destroyed my knee mentoring some youth with the organization called TSB, the Service Board, battling to keep our business afloat and continuing to damage my knee, I realized that construction was never a trade I wanted to be in and decided to do whatever it took to go to college. So, I left R.J. Richards CE LLC and enrolled in North Seattle Community College (NSCC).
Somehow and somewhere along the line I had gotten this plan for my life and what I was supposed to do with it embedded into my head. I am going to write a new socioeconomic system for the entire planet that is environmentally sound, socially just, and equitable for all; and I am going to see it implemented before the day I die. I began studying history, philosophy, economics, sociology, psychology, biology and mathematics and my understanding of the world exploded my perceptions of humanity and the insurmountable character of my goal. That is when I became involved with another student government and I was brought in as the Student Fee Board Coordinator, which was the treasurer for the college. To do that job I had to study the Washington State laws associated with public monies and student fees, and to study ethics because I had to select and train a board and we were going to have to make tough ethical decision. Before that I knew being part of the government enabled me to have a lot positive influence in the lives of marginalized people from my experience at Job Corps. However, I never fully grasped how much power the United States Congress has on the lives of every citizen in the United States until I was given a smaller, yet similar role. People can design all the best programs in the world, but if they do not have the funds to get them started and to maintain them, then they may often never be able to achieve the goals of their programs.
At this time OCCUPY was challenging the corporate structure and control of people’s lives worldwide after the economic collapse in 2008. Like Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote about the white clergy who questioned the movement while he was in the Birmingham jail during Project Confrontation, I agreed with their aims, but I disagreed with their methods. I disagreed with the mostly because I did not comprehend how they could be successful. It was a leaderless movement with demands that ran the spectrum. At the time it seemed to me that the movement lacked the necessary cohesion to achieve its aims. It was not that I disagreed with any of the demands. To the contrary, I believed that all of the things people were asking for should be achieved. My issue at the time was that I thought they could achieve more of their demands if they focused on them one or few at a time. I did not get involved with the movement because I did not understand it.
In 2013 I graduated from NSCC and had been accepted to the University of Washington (UW). When I first started at NSCC I thought that I would enter into the Law, Societies, and Justice program at UW, but by the time I entered the university I had settled on double-majoring in history and philosophy. I was still intent on progressing onto law school. I thought getting a good background in reading and research, with training in analysis, which the discipline of history would provide me with would be helpful in this regard. I thought having a strong understanding of morality and ethics, and the philosophical frameworks they are grounded in, plus developing my argumentative skills, which the discipline of philosophy would provide would further prepare me for law school and the work ahead of me. My ethical training began with a look at global justice, which confronted issues such as poverty, hunger, gendered vulnerability, social contracts, state legitimacy, climate change, immigration and feudal privilege, and many forms of oppression. It was these arguments about justice, which is to provide for that which promotes most the flourishing of all human beings, not the interpretation of it as punishment common in the United States that exposed me to the concepts of obligation and responsibility. History provided me with a lens into why these conditions exist and what factors led them to come into being. The courses at UW changed the way I envision my role in the world and I began to feel an immediate responsibility and obligation to use the knowledge and wisdom I had to benefit people.
During the summer of 2013, Sarra Tekola, my partner in life, brought me to my very first protest. We traveled down to the Columbia River on the border of Washington and Oregon States to participate in the Portland Rising Tide opposition to the coal and oil that were being shipped from the west coast to China. At the time, Sarra was an Environmental Science major at UW and part of the Divest University of Washington coalition and she schooled me on how important the issue of climate change was to our survival as a species. She also hipped me to the fact that people of color worldwide are the not only the first impacted by the effects of climate change, but are also the most impacted by it as well. She informed me that the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a group of the best and brightest scientists on the planet determined that if we as a civilization burn enough carbon to increase the temperature of the planet by two degrees Celsius cumulatively, we will enter into a negative feedback loop of destruction that we will not be able to recover from. Desertification will destroy once plush and arid farm lands, like what had happened to her father’s people in Ethiopia. Melting polar ice caps will submerge places like the Philippines displacing millions, many of whom will die in the process. So, it was important to protest the extraction and transportation of carbon producing materials for everyone on the planet, but especially for people of color because people of color have nest to no power in the decision making circles like the U.S. Congress and the United Nations. It was scary and every moment I thought I was going to be arrested. Canoes spread across the river to block any ships and people spanned the bridge above holding signs, while a group rappelled off the bridge to display a huge banner. We did not stop the extraction or transportation of fossil fuel materials that day, but it felt good making a stand with like-minded people for the sake of justice.
The summer of 2014 I went to Greece with the Jackson School of International Studies (JSIS) of UW to conduct research on immigration. I thought my time in Greece would help me to work on the issues surrounding immigration in the United States. Greece had been suffering from a major recession for several years and was also experiencing a major influx of people from the Middle East and the African continent. Most of the migrants were fleeing from deplorable situations and most did not intend for Greece to be their final destination, many wanted to continue onto other European Union (EU) nations. Greece was the entry point by both water and land into the EU for many migrants. However, the EU had tightened its policy on migrants and because of the Dublin II Regulation, the EU was returning any migrant discovered in any country to the country they entered into the EU at to process their applications of asylum. In addition to the recession, and the lack of financial assistance from the EU for both the residents of the country and the new influx of immigrants, there was also a nationalist and xenophobic organization oppressing the immigrants named Golden Dawn. Golden Dawn was a two-winged organization like the Dixiecrats of the South because they had nineteen percent of the parliamentary seats in Greece, in coordination with an organization like the Ku Klux Klan because they had a grassroots physically repressive regime harming immigrants. Immigration could be studied in any country in the world, but the particular set of conditions in Greece enabled us to observe the systematic denial of almost every singly right it is commonly agreed that people inherently possess simply for the sake of being human.
My second night in Greece at the American College of Greece dorm that UW has a satellite facility, I was taking a smoke break in the smoking section when for officers on two motor cycles turned the corner and immediately jumped off their bikes and pointed assault rifles at me simply because I am a black man. This may seem like a strange assertion until you have been to Athens, Greece and become acquainted with the reality that millions of people smoke and because of the smoldering heat that many people are out on the streets at night. There was nothing about me or what I was doing that was out of place except for the color of my skin. Luckily, I had my passport on me at that particular moment and I was saved from being hauled off into one of their immigration prisons. Their whole attitude toward me shifted as soon as they discovered I was an American, but until that moment I felt as though they regarded me as less than the mud on their boots would have shot me just to get a laugh. It was not until I hung out with an enterprising group of migrants from all over Africa in Monostraki Square—an electric flee market—and spending time with a parliamentary member that I learned Greece was a police state, and that the police had the authority to act independently of the government. I heard stories of how the police would select a street that migrants were known to frequent, then would block the exits, beat all the people of color and then imprison them. I spent most of my time in Greece terrified for my life from both the police and Golden Dawn because I did not have the social networks or rights that I had back in the United States. However, two nights before we left Greece I received word about the execution of Michal Brown in Ferguson, Missouri by officer Daren Wilson and I knew there was no escape from state sanctioned or permitted violence.
The O.G. Vice Lord’s words came back to me and kept playing over and over in my head about how we are prisoners on the streets. Being a black man in America I exist as W.E.B. Du Bois mentions, with a “double-consciousness,” constantly viewing myself from two lenses; I experience myself as a man, and I am also always conscious of my status as a “black” man as viewed by white Americans. People of color in the United States suffer from dire economic sanctions which impose poverty upon us with a capitalistic system and an ideological framework of individualism. The system of oppression is held in place through red lining, the regressive tax system, voter disenfranchisement, poor education, and limited access to capital. Until I began researching the School-to-Prison Pipeline (STPP), I did not understand why many of the people I grew up with ended up in prison or dead, or locked in the revolving trap of poverty. I did not understand or even know about the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC) or how it was linked to the Military Industrial Complex (MIC). I had learned, like most people are taught that Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution ended slavery. However, what they do not teach is that slavery was abolished “except” in the case that a person is convicted of a crime. From that debt peonage and convict leasing emerged and over time prison slavery became a huge industry in the United States to the point that now America which has five percent of the world’s population also warehouses twenty-five percent of the world’s prison population. The largest consumer of prison labor in the United States is the U.S. Department of Defense, a.k.a., the MIC. But prisoners also fabricate furniture and produce paint and clothing for many companies. Prison labor subsidizes many industries that otherwise would be too expensive to conduct in the United States, industries that create products other countries would have a comparative advantage producing. Prisons are an oasis for profit that is garnered from the exploitation of millions and that also disproportionately disparages communities of color.
Applying the aforementioned information about the PIC to the statistics about the rates of suspension, expulsion, and incarceration of the youth of color in the U.S. the School-to-Prison Pipeline began to make a lot more sense. Black children and children of people of color are three times more likely to be suspended or expelled from school. From the ninth grade on, one suspension or expulsion makes them fifty percent more likely to be incarcerated. After these children are incarcerated they become seventy-five percent more likely to enter the adult penitentiary system with prison slave labor, and over eighty-five percent likely to remain trapped in recidivism for the rest of their lives, in addition to their being disenfranchised from their first incarceration in accordance with the Fourteenth Amendment. At the heart of all these factors is a phenomenon known as Institutional Racism/Discrimination that permeates America’s society and institutions. The police and prosecuting attorneys have been granted arbitrary discretionary power and legal protections to act with impunity in its dealing with citizens. So, in toto, the U.S. Department of Justice with all its subsidiary prisons and law enforcement agencies when stripped of its colorful and well-sounding appeals to justice and order dissolves to a system of oppression, suppression, and exploitation. With this understanding of the ‘criminal justice’ system in the United States, the fact that most of the people I grew up with wound up in the negative feedback loop of poverty and exploitation, or how and why Michael Brown’s executioner was able to commit the atrocity with impunity were no longer mysterious to me. We, being people of color, whom at any time can have our very lives stripped from us because the laws of this country deny that we have a right to life, are prisoners on the streets of America.
Therefore, when I returned from Greece and Black Lives Matter, which was started by Alicia Garza after the assassination of Trevon Martin in 2012, decided to organize and protest the abuses of law enforcement and for justice in the Michael Brown execution, given my sense of responsibility and obligation to use the knowledge and wisdom I had to the benefit people of my community, I joined the movement for Black Liberation. My participation in the movement has taken many forms over the last year reaching from protests, to arrests, to testifying at Seattle City Hall and King County Metropolitan Council chambers, to giving a speech to Washington’s Governor Jay Inslee. All the while I was still a student at UW continuing to learn about the system we live in and the factors that helped to created it. My academic pursuits definitely suffered when I became involved in the movement because my time became divided, but that does not mean I have not continued to be successful. I highly doubt that I will be selected as the valedictorian as I was when I graduated from NSCC, but I nonetheless, have managed to maintain a very strong GPA given all of my community activity. However, that has no longer been my primary objective. I have used my education to learn what happened during previous social movements and struggles and I now understand the importance of a leaderless movement and demands that are specific to the regions they are made. I have learned precisely what I did not understand about the OCCUPY movement. There are some similar macro-problems, such as racism and institutional discrimination that people of color suffer everywhere, but those problems are expressed differently in different places. Furthermore, there is a history of the U.S. Department of Justice, through programs like COINTELPRO under the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) that systematically destroyed activists and Civil Rights organizations in the 1960s and 70s.
I have lived one incredible, rollercoaster of a life that has made me a jack of all trades, and a true renaissance man. At no time have I ever known where one event would lead me. And looking back it is very difficult to pinpoint any one specific event that shaped me into the man that I am or the man I am becoming. Taken out of context, none of the major shifts or events in my life will tell anyone very much about me, who I am, or why I do the things I do. But the words of the O.G. Vice Lord from Chicago that I met while locked up have been with me since then. There is something very wrong with feeling like and being a prisoner on our own streets. A place where one might think epitomized the essence freedom. That contradiction of beliefs filled my soul with dissonance and it reverberated through all of my life-experiences until it shook loose the warrior in me. Renaissance means to revitalize, or to bring new life. The system we live in has become a runaway train that no one seems to know how to stop or get off of, and what we need is to breathe new life into our civilization. We need a new system of values and an expanded conception of “we” that signifies, represents, and displays through action that we and our planet are all connected and intersecting components of our world organism. Each and every one is vital. No one is expendable. We all have our roles to fulfill on Earth. We are all responsible.
Ghettos: A Slave Growing Factory System
The “ghetto” is a social construct of social engineering that was designed to corral particular groups of people into cordoned zones to protect the integrity of the elite class, and in this country the white social and political position.
Ghettos were formed to maintain and sustain an economic and political advantage over people of color, and in particular, black people during the apartheid era of Jim Crow segregation. The Great Migration of African Americans from the South to the North that began in the 1920s in response to the Klu Klux Klan (KKK) violence and economic opportunity that lasted through the 1970s was responded to with a policy known as Red Lining. Red Lining was the sectioning off of particular neighborhoods for occupation of African Americans, wherein the banks in collusion with state and city officials denied home and business loans to people of color seeking to acquire property outside of these zones. Outside of these Red Lined zones, white communities developed race restrictive covenants that were written into the property deeds to bar ownership of these properties from black people. These conditions resulted in overpopulated and crowded living spaces that drove up the costs of living because in accordance with the Law of Supply and Demand; which stipulates that all things being equal, when demand for a product increases, but the supply remains consistent, then the price must increase.
After World War II (1941-1945) and the emergence of suburbs in the 1950s, White Flight, was the next response to the Great Migration, when major cities like Detroit, Michigan experienced the exodus of white citizens and white owned businesses. This had two major effects, many jobs left the cities in which African Americans had moved to and dramatically decreased the taxes collected in these areas. Since schools are funded by the system of taxation, the education in these areas suffered from a lack of funding. Without an efficient and successful education system structural unemployment, that is, the natural fluctuation of people from job to job, and the people who lose their positions due to them becoming obsolete began to widen. In the 1980s globalization led to many of the manufacturing industries that sustained these red-lined communities being outsourced to other countries leaving these communities destitute. Also during the 1980s, the Central Intelligence Agency (C.I.A.), under the Reagan administration were engaged in the Iran-Nicaragua Contra, which resulted in the collusion with drug cartels in Central America that led to the trafficking of millions of dollars of Crack Cocaine, via Rick “Freeway” Ross into the inner-cities of the U.S. at precisely the same time that jobs were being depleted in these red-lined neighborhoods, and President Ronald Reagan was writing into law the 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which instituted the 100-1 rule. The rule made possession or distribution of one gram of Crack Cocaine as punishable as 100 grams of Powder Cocaine and the only discernible difference was who used crack—Black People—and where it was available for purchase—in Black neighborhoods.
The rise of the militarized police and the expansion of the Prison Industrial Complex soon followed. Since the federal government could not intervene in state legal practices by arresting people and ‘fighting crime’ they incentivised local police institutions to do the job for them. The way they achieved this was to provide financial incentives for city police to arrest and convict non-violent drug ‘offenders’ and this with the property confiscation laws provided the motivation for a particular type of discriminatory and targeted policing that focused on minorities, people of color, and impoverished peoples particularly in inner-city neighborhoods: ghettos. Also during the 1980s and 1990s, private corporations Began taking over the public prison system and like any corporation they had a profit motive, which means that the inmates were the ‘product’ they intended to profit from. These corporation have spent millions, if not billions of dollars to lobby legislatures to increase the list of carceral offenses, and to lengthen the punishment for ‘crimes’ already punishable with incarceration. In the 1990s President Bill Clinton signed into law the “3 Strikes and You’re Out” legislation and reformed the Welfare System so that those convicted of a drug offense could not access public financial assistance; food assistance, housing assistance, and financial aid for schooling. The public education system has contributed to the explosion of the prison system as well with the School-to-Prison Pipeline. Black students are 3.5 times more likely to be suspended or expelled from school and once that occurs they are 50% more likely to end up in juvenile, and thus, 75% more likely to end up in the adult penitentiary system. Exacerbating the situation is the fact that the data reveals that Black and Latino students are 2 times as likely not to graduate from high school. And all of this is perfectly legal (the law and justice are not the same thing) because the people who have not been disenfranchised have voted on these laws and systems of oppression in the United States. Furthermore, in 1865, the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution states: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for a crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” This amendment technically determined prison as the new slavery and all that was required for it to work was to use the shroud of a ‘just and impartial court system’ to justify the slavery—a system proven to be devastating to Black and impoverished people nationwide. Pulling all of this together, slavery still remains legal in the United States, the new slave owners are prison corporations, the new slave catchers are the police, the school system is active in indoctrinating and preparing people of color for slavery, and this is all targeted on impoverished people to earn profit from the labor of the poor.
This is how the modern day ghettos in the United States were created, and why they have been sustained; ghettos are a slave growing factory system.
Do I Doom My Kids To Poverty? ((SONG))
To Support Diaspora and Apartheid Research in Athens this Summer:
This summer I will be participating in the JSIS/Hellenic Studies program hosted by the University of Washington in partnership with Harvard University in Greece, which is a research project that will analyze how #apartheid and#diaspora have and continue to impact the people in the Baltic region.
The situation that migrants face is plagued with injustice from beginning to end, from their reasons to migrate to their treatment after they migrate. However, in order to make the types of changes in policy and social behavior that will actually make a difference in regard to diaspora and apartheid we have to have accurate data about what the issues and concerns are from all the parties concerned. This is necessary if we are to make any arguments about the harms being done and further, to suggest plans of action to mitigate those harms. That is why we are traveling to Athens, we are on a social fact finding mission to ascertain the truth about the situation and are going to make recommendations based on the evidence we gather about how to address the problems our nations face. The results of the research will be evaluated and summarized in research papers and there will be a formal presentation of that material prior to leaving Greece before the parties that can make a difference in these people’s lives.
I have to find a way to make these ends meet
I’ve got myself, my wife and three kids to feed
Now this wouldn’t be a problem, if there was work to be done
But the Dictator, confiscated, at the point of a gun
The resources, that we need, to keep, our families fed
And we’re lacking Agriculture because the Markets are dead
Not because we can’t farm, but rather, because these Subsidized
U.S. Industries, have straight up neutralized us
But Irrigation, will only suffice, if and when there is Rain
But now, we’re dealing Droughts, as one of the effects, of Climate Change
And we can’t rely on aid because that mess is a curse
And The Coups and Civil Wars for power make matters worse
My baby’s crying, screaming cuz she needs something to eat
And I feel like half-a-man because I am living in defeat
I’ve got nothing to give because there is nothing to get
But, do I Doom my kids to Poverty, or risk Escaping it?
Immigrating, is easier said than done
Cuz it seems that everything is set to keep us where we’re from
Passports, Visas, Customs, and on and on
And everything costs the type of Money we ain’t got
Our options for a better life are limited and dangerous
Trudging Deserts, crammed in Ships, jumping barbed and guarded Fences
Risking life and Health, to get at better Chances
Suffering, is nothing new, but here ain’t got the answers
My daughter wants to go to School so she can learn to Read
Cuz she wants to be a Scientist to make sure all can eat
But, that will only happen, if we make it to the West
And as her father all I want is to give the best
But protected, their Feudal Privilege, keeping us at odds
Walls to Separate us, Segregated by the Laws
So, yes it’s Illegal, and it’s Dangerous
But, Doom my kids to Poverty, or risk Escaping it.
So say we make it, beat the odds, this is what we’re facin’
Aliens, like we’re not humans from this race and
We don’t bleed the same when beaten for tying
To take advantage of Opportunities you squander, while lying
Claiming that you care, but don’t want us sharing
Land, Food, Work, or Health Caring
And instead make departments like the I.C.E.
And Detention Camps to stop us from being free
Where we’re tortured, starved, deprived of Human Rights
Forced Free Labor and Deported at night
Shipped back from whence we came, like, that is more humane
As if to say, we deserve the cards laid
And my daughter deserves to not be educated
My son deserves to starve, and I to live depraved
But there is a small hope that we just might make it
So, do I Doom my kids to Poverty, or risk Escaping it?
To Help Me Fund My #Diaspora and #Apartheid Research, Please Follow the Link Below:
For More Information on Diaspora and Apartheid, Please Follow the Links Below:
I Need Your Assistance and Support, I Cannot Do It Without You
I Need Your Assistance and Support, I Cannot Do It Without You
Thanks to the several contributions thus far for my research project this summer, I am starting to pull close to the cost of the plane ticket. As you may be aware, the earlier that I can purchase the ticket the cheaper it will be and the better likelihood that there will actually be a seat when I need there to be a seat. Right now, depending on the negotiation that I can do with the airlines and booking agencies, the cost is approximately $1,500 for round-trip fare, but that will increase over time.
I need your help to get to Athens to perform my research on the impacts of immigration; #diaspora and #apartheid. So, please click the link below and give what you can:
Thank you so much for your love and support:
Carradin Michel, Derek Whitney, Jess Spear, Carter Case, Janet Hoppe-Leonard,Luzviminda Marcotte, Cody Lestelle, Sharran Moynihan, Sarra Tekola, and Roman Richards
For more information about Diaspora and Apartheid please follow the link below:
A Few Words on Courage
Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is the willingness to persevere through a challenge in spite of being afraid. In fact, if there is no fear then, there cannot be courage because courage is a response to fear.
Growing up I lacked all measure of courage and I tried every means imaginable to escape my life. I was caught in a true dilemma; I was afraid of both failure and success, and both led me to quit everything I started. Though I mostly just masked my fear with drugs and alcohol, and pretended as though becoming a drop-out and a drug addict did not bother me. Ironically, it was because my addiction divested me of hope and morality unto the point that my body was only a vestigial shell of a human, that I found the courage to fight for something greater; to fight for the life I had been granted and the place in our world I was promised. Those fears never left me, I am still to this day deftly afraid of failure because I know its pains all too well, and I am also afraid of success because I am not sure who I will become.
However, after losing everything but the glimmer of a dream to become a lawyer and to be the first person in my family to graduate from college, I was possessed with a willingness and a desire to face my fears, conquer my dreams, and break out of my shell.
Collegiate Rapper ((Rappers = Nerds))
New track from the “Rappers = Nerds” project, ‘Collegiate Rapper’ byRenaissance The Poet a student at the University of Washington and prior co-creator and co-host of The Cornerstone Open Mic & Artist Showcase.
This project is about building the community, and empowering ourselves through education and this song is about the struggle a young minority faces while dealing with the system of higher education.
For some background on the song check out:
Started on this track, way back, but never thought I’d make it
Pain is over-rated, fated, to be illustrated
So to demonstrate it, the facts originated,
Inside the heart of a mind, addicted to rhyme, that’ll never be faded
See, seein ain’t believing, but reason the season needed
Feed it, like a stomach and read it until defeated
Would ya believe it, I succeeded?
Beat it, and now it’s more that I’m needin?
Feanin for readin like treasures or women, shit, I’m a heathen! I’m breathin
Dreamin, while feadin off demons
gleamin the realist of feelins
As They, surface to meanings,
I mean I’m seein the end
as I be turnin the bend
Of desire, fires of love
burn inside of this man
Passion’s more than enough, to accomplish my plan
My Intellect sure helps, as I seek to expand
the limits, and the boarders, of all that I am
As a Rapper and a Poet with a Bachelor’s in Hand
Who’d have thought, who not, that I would go to college
Go to get that knowledge, polished, rivalin scholars
Spendin all them dollars, to rise up out the garbage
The steep end of the heap, deep, leaping from the trenches of Martyrs
Me, never thought I’d see it, sobeit that I’m not dreamin
See it, I’m in these classes, & I, still hardly believe it
But must concede it, In to the Realist
Chapter of my life, and into the illist, challenges, so fearless,
But Humility the dearest
Because, when it comes to the task,
alone is a mask, that’s worn in a dash,
the rash are reluctant to ask, for help in a smash
but how are they goona pass their classes
When they’re movin so fast, they can’t, hold onto their asses
the masses drownin , assignments are mountain
& he with the skill surpasses
Expectations, foresight insufficient to displace this
Boils down to relations, and who we orbit in these space ships
Cause this is a foreign land, for a man, who should be in prison
Not at the UW, doing the best that he can, to earn degrees,
Can you feel this?
I walked into school, cool, with one goal to find
Earn a Law Degree, complete, with an opened mind
Shatter the glass ceiling, pealing, the feelings denied
Breaking the cycle, inventing the Michael, and vetting out all of the lies
Free, or so I thought, the plot, coined me enemy
I’m black, and I rap, that there, the center piece
Of their argument, I must be ignorant, try’n to be
& try’n to see, more than was destined to me, more than being a thug in the streets
But why, supply the American Dream
If the plan was to hold it from me
But they don’t understand that I walk with a team
Composed of friends and family
Who will never see me fail
cuz I fight for them like they fight for me
and together, we trudge this hell
So, no I won’t be giving up
Renaissance ain’t had enough
Graduating Valedictorian, just the beginning of
My struggle to become a lawyer
at the UW
A dream once impossible
A crude bluff
Dreams, are how it all begins
Dreams, are what define the ends
Dreams, are not just latent plans
Dreams, are what define the man
Reflections of My First Quarter at the University of Washington
Regardless of how impossible the achievement of my dreams seems at times I have found that my fears are often not based in reality. The reality is that, yes it is true that, our world is full of hardships and even set-backs, but it is also true that I have been granted everything that I need to overcome those obstacles. The sobering reality lay also in the fact that even though I have been granted everything I need to overcome any and all obstacles that are set before me, that I still forget it from time to time and find myself wallowing in self-doubt, remorse, self-pity and shame as if I, Michael Anthony Moynihan was destined to be a failure. And no matter how much my brain may try to convince me of these things when times get rough and I am faced with hardships, it is simply not the case that I am destined to be a failure because I am meant for greatness and so are all of you.
Quite some time ago I set out to record the experiences I have had while I trudge through the higher education system on my way to earning a Law degree for three reasons: (1) to process what I have been through; (2) so that I have a record of my experiences to refer back to; (3) and most importantly, so that I can share my hardships and successes with all of you who are either going through the same struggle that I am or you are interested in pursuing higher education and want to know what to expect and some tactics to meet with success. In this particular essay I will be analyzing my first quarter at the University of Washington, challenging the assumptions that I held when entering the school, exposing the difficulties that I met during the quarter and how they were overcome.
When I graduated from North Seattle Community College (NSCC) in June of 2013 with my Associate of Arts degree, and was honored as the valedictorian I thought I had this higher education thing figured out. Yet, when I got to the University of Washington (UW) I discovered that I was sadly mistaken. Now although my education at NSCC was and is an invaluable asset, and I definitely had to put every ounce of my being into successfully completing the program, I was not as prepared for the transition to university life as I thought. I had it worked into my head that I was going to carry the same success with the same techniques from community college into the university setting and that I was going to continue to earn the 4.0’s of which I had grown so accustomed. As Sarra Tekola, a seasoned student at the University of Washington in the Environmental Science program and an Audubon scholar, a UW Diversity merit scholar, and a McNair UNCF scholar put it:
“You cannot use the same strategies at the university level that you used at the community college level and expect to meet with the same level of success. You are going to have to adapt and it is not going to be easy, but I have no doubt that you will be able to handle it. Just remember, that if you were to just come to this school and start earning 4.0’s, then the school would not truly be challenging you and it would not be doing you any good. The fact that you are not earning 4.0’s, right now, is proof that you are being challenged so, do not be discouraged, all transfer students go through this their first quarter at the University of Washington, but we all also caught ahold of the ropes. You got this.”
Sarra said this to me when I came to her for advice halfway through the quarter and I was bashing my head against the wall in disgust at my apparent lack of ability to adapt. Advice that I desperately needed because I was just about ready to throw my hands up and call it quits. I assumed that I would not have to invest any more effort into my education at the UW than I had at NSCC, but that was not the case. Their expectations at the University of Washington are ten-fold what they were at my community college. I was expected to accomplish two to three times as much reading every week, on top of the assignments that were due, and to be able to comprehend the material and synthesize compelling arguments that compared and contrasted all the material covered throughout the quarter. In short, I was expected to have a complete and intimate understanding of all the material covered and to have it stored in memory for quick retrieval in practical application scenarios. I was not prepared for that, and as such, I was caught off guard and I felt unworthy because I was not performing at the level that I expected to be performing at. Miss Tekola’s words of encouragement and reassurance came at just the right time and told me precisely what I needed to hear: the UW is not community college and the same techniques that worked for me there will not work at the university level, but don’t give up because the first quarter is always the hardest, it is the transition period after which you will know what is expected of you and how to accomplish that.
The next major hurtle that I encountered centered primarily on other people’s opinions. It is true that I have just endorsed the opinions of Sarra Tekola, and although it may not be explicitly evident all the time, not everyone’s opinion, or rather not every opinion is of the same value. If it is the case that, you have wisely chosen the direction of your life, then it is not the case that, when you encounter hardships that opinions of encouragement and discouragement are of the same value. First of all, life is full of hardships and earning a degree is no exception to this fact. Second, and perhaps more important, is that opinions of discouragement dissuade us from accomplishing our goals, and if we are dissuaded from our goals then it may be the case that we accomplish nothing. While in contrast, opinions of encouragement will in times of despair, reinforce our own resolve to accomplish those goals. Thus, if the measure of other people’s opinions is measured in terms of whether or not they help us to achieve our goals, then not all opinions are of the same value and when we have justifiable goals, then encouraging opinions are to be valued above discouraging opinions. Tekola’s opinions were of the encouraging sort, so they are to be valued because they have helped me to achieve my goals; that is why I have endorsed her opinions.
However, when I began to have trouble during my first quarter at the University of Washington, in particular with the philosophy course that I was taking and I made mention of it, one of the major opinions I heard in response to my concerns was to “give up on philosophy”. And although I disagreed with this opinion entirely, if nothing has come through more clearly in my first course in philosophy then it is this: before an argument can be rejected, it must first be analyzed and then either one or all of the premises must be questioned and rejected or the reasoning drawn from the premises (the conclusion) must rejected, but it cannot be rejected on solely emotional grounds. The basic reason given for not pursuing a degree in philosophy was that they believed it to be a useless discipline, but I challenge that premise.
Before this quarter began I decided that I was going to major in both history and philosophy because they are two of the primary degrees that people get before going to law school. The history degree will teach me how to do research, which is what precedent law in America is all about, and it will also teach me how to analyze the documents that I uncover through my research, which is precisely what will be necessary to prove any case. The philosophy degree will teach me about moral and ethical frameworks, which are vitally necessary for the organization of humans in society and for the creation and interpretation of that society’s laws. It will also teach me how to analyze and to form arguments, which is an essential skill of a great lawyer. Thus, philosophy is not a useless discipline, at least not for me and my aims, or for anyone who intends to participate in law or politics in any measure.
The second and more troubling premise of the argument that was made for my giving up on philosophy was inherent in their assertions, though implicit in their arguments: if it is tough, and it since is unnecessary, then you should not do it. However, as I have shown philosophy is not an unnecessary discipline already, I will focus on the former portion of the claim, that “if it is tough… you should not do it.” If that assertion were true, then we would not have Olympic gold medalists, and nor would slavery have been abolished, nor would women have been enfranchised with the success of the suffrage movement. The list could go on ad infinitum, but I think that these examples make the point explicitly clear that some pursuit being tough does not justify not doing it.
Which brings us back to the initial assertion in this line of reasoning, “if it is the case that, you have wisely chosen the direction of your life, then it is not the case that, when you encounter hardships that opinions of encouragement and discouragement are of the same value.” I have shown that the reasoning behind my decision to pursue a degree in philosophy was sound, so it was not the case that I selected my classes poorly or that they did not fit within my overall objectives. And since I have also shown that the premises of the assertion that I “should give up on philosophy” are faulty, then it must also be the case that the conclusion is false. Since it is not the case that I should give up on philosophy, then it must be the case that the opinions of discouragement that were offered to me when I expressed dismay in my progress at the University of Washington are to be devalued because they do not help me to achieve my goals.
All of this reasoning has been accomplished in retrospect, but when I was in the middle of my last quarter it was not so clear and based on those opinions which would have derailed my progress, I almost decided to not continue my pursuit. That is the unfortunate outcome of discouragement and it is my belief that we may all be likely to encounter this type of thinking. The way I overcame this was to take more than a few moments of serious thought to discern what and why I was doing it, so I asked myself; “Why am I studying philosophy?” I have shown you the reasoning and the answer that came from that line of inquisition. This was a vital step, and though I did fully question and answer that question prior to my deciding to earn a philosophy degree, I did forget it once I was under the pressure of potentially failing one of my first courses at the University of Washington. Until this question was answered I could not discern which line of opinions, the encouragement or the discouragement was in my best interest and I was just as susceptible to be influenced by both because I could not assign value to either. That is why it is so important to take this step and evaluate why you are doing what you are doing, because we have to be able to evaluate the opinions that will flood our thoughts as we progress through our ambitions and we have to be able to discern which opinions to listen to and which opinions to disregard. To give the people who provided me with those discouraging opinions credit, if it had not been for them then I would not have question my actions for myself and I would not have come to the conclusion that I drew. And it was because I drew the conclusion that it was necessary for me to earn the philosophy degree that I am after that I started to value the encouraging opinions and reinforce my ambition to succeed with resolute determination to do so. This is why I endorsed Sarra Tekola’s opinions at the beginning of this paper and why what she said made such a difference in the outcome of my quarter.
The outcome of the psychological battle that goes on in our own heads can make the difference between winning and losing, between success and failure, between achieving our goals and leaving empty handed. I have just detailed for all of you the primary aspects of the psychological battle that I went through last quarter and how with help, I was able to overcome it. But that was only the beginning. That victory had to be translated into action in order for me to meet with success. I had to reevaluate my approach to learning at the University of Washington and revise the techniques that worked for me at North Seattle Community College and I had to learn a new way to learn.
As I stated earlier: “I was expected to have a complete and intimate understanding of all the material covered and to have it stored in memory for quick retrieval in practical application scenarios.” Before I got to UW, it was sufficient for me to read a chapter once and incorporate 30% or so to memory taking only the key points with me. However, that method was inadequate for me at UW because my courses not only expected memorization, but also a deep comprehension of the material and a synthesis of my own opinions on what I read. Until I got to UW I did not know that there was a difference between rote memorization and comprehension or how important it was to distinguish between the two. For example, there is a big difference between memorizing the rules for how to manipulate an equation in algebra and applying those techniques to a word problem wherein one has to create an equation to solve the problem. Discerning the solution requires an intimate understanding of how the rules function and how they can be manipulated. Just as memorizing a specific equation would be inadequate for solving such a problem, so was just memorizing 30% or so of my philosophy book for synthesizing arguments in support of or against a particular philosopher or ideology. In short, there is a big difference between memorization and learning how to think for ourselves and that is what I was unprepared for when I began classes at the University of Washington.
I quickly found that the method I had of reading through a chapter once was inadequate and in many cases I had to reread a chapter several times and even at times tear them apart line by line to achieve the level of understanding that was expected of me. To accomplish the transition from how I was reading to how I needed to read required an increased investment in the amount of time that I allotted to each chapter and a level of concentration higher than I was unaccustomed to. I cannot stress how important that extra investment has been to my understanding of the material and my ability to think about the things that I am learning. That was the key to success at the University of Washington. The primary difference I made by changing the amount of time I dedicated to each chapter was made to my understanding of each chapter. By spending longer in each chapter it allowed me the time necessary for me to actually think about the things that I was reading. And it was that thought process that allowed me not only to memorize the material I was expected to memorize but to also formulate my own thoughts on what I was reading. We cannot have thoughts about what we read if we do not think about what we read. I know that this may seem like a bit of common sense, but I assure that it was not for me. I had to learn that the hard way. What I have found is that people and particularly at the University of Washington are not as interested in what we read as they are in what we think about what we read. The same is true for society and that includes professional situations like politics. People want us to have an opinion, not simply to be academics who, are on the fence on important issues. In other words, people value our thoughts and it is our thoughts that are valuable.
The last major change to my learning process that I had to enact at the University of Washington was giving up on the concept that I can do everything alone. I do not like to depend on other people and I have avoided it like the plague. However, I have learned that I do not pick up on everything embedded in the material that I read and that some of the things that I miss others pick up on. Furthermore, one of the best ways to improve your understanding of a subject is to debate it. Based on those reasons I started to take part in study groups both throughout the quarter and to prepare for exams. It is so crazy to think that the way America is, it places us in competition with one another and continuously advocates the advantage of being an individual that can do things on their own. But the truth is that we function better as groups. And since we are communal creatures the assertion that we function better as groups only makes sense. As a result of these two major changes to my method of learning, in the space of one quarter, I went from assimilating about 30% of what I read to assimilating more than 70% of what I read and I am now able to wade through the strengths and weaknesses of arguments and apply them to real life scenarios in real time.
I did not walk out of my first quarter at the University of Washington with 4.0’s, and in fact I did not earn one 4.0 at all. The truth is that since I started college, this has turned out to been the worst quarter in terms of grades that I have had so far. I earned a 3.0 in Socio-Linguistics, a 3.1 in Philosophy and a 3.6 in History of the Middle East with a 3.23 cumulative G.P.A. But as Sarra Tekola said, “if you were to just come to this school and start earning 4.0’s, then the school would not truly be challenging you and it would not be doing you any good. The fact that you are not earning 4.0’s, right now, is proof that you are being challenged so, do not be discouraged.” What I learned and earned my first quarter at UW was far more important than a 4.0. I learned that my thoughts are important, that I can rely on other people, that I can synthesize the material I read into a coherent train of thought, and that I am worthy of being a student at the University of Washington. I learned that I have selected the correct degrees for what I want to do with my life and I have a firm grasp of who I am, what and why I am doing it, and how I intend to achieve my goals. Most importantly, I have surrounded myself with people who believe in me and my goals and are willing and able to provide me with the necessary feedback on my thoughts and encouragement to achieve my goals. Most importantly, just as Tekola promised me, I have made the transition from the community college level to the university level and I am prepared to continue my education at the University of Washington because I have caught ahold of the ropes.
I got this.