What kind of world do you want?

“If you don’t stand for something you will fall for anything.”

I believe it was Malcom X who coined this provocative and relevant thought (and if my citation is inaccurate, I’m sure Malcom X said this at some point, while living this philosophy as his truth). And it’s so accurate, right?

I am obsessed with great content, and especially when that content assists in creating real and raw perspective. For example, when Kerry Washington accepted the Vanguard Award at the GLAAD Awards this past weekend. Pause and listen to her speech. This speech is incredibly valuable, and something which should be replayed over and over – there is a lot more we can be doing, and a lot more inclusion we should be observing. I’m curious to see how Kerry continues the dialogue.

Outside of this speech, and, of course, the previous posts I have used to articulate my thoughts on activism or the current reality in my home state of Oklahoma, I want to pause and show some appreciation for my alma mater, the University of Central Oklahoma. This past week, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion at UCO launched a campaign, advertising The Tunnel of Oppression, which is a phenomenal simulation to help students better understand privilege and oppression, and how these concepts impact everyone. Check out the posters below:

UCO Tunnel of Oppression - Asians..

UCO Tunnel of Oppression - Black Men...

UCO Tunnel of Oppression - Disability...

UCO Tunnel of Oppression - Muslims...

UCO Tunnel of Oppression - Gay Men...

UCO Tunnel of Oppression - Native Americans...

First, I want to thank these brave students for “coming out” in these posters. Whereas many people of color are already “out” as noted by race (being, “color blind,” is not a thing, and all of that), sitting with these search items is a heavy and intense moment – a reality faced by any oppressed or marginalized individual. Next, I want to highlight that these, “Societal assertions,” are very real and are played out for people every single day. And this should not be a surprise. In fact, if you gasped at the items listed in the search bars above, I challenge you to think about your surroundings a bit more critically. This is certainly the case following the OU SAE incident, and has been a theme in a lot of the conversations I have had with friends and colleagues now two weeks after the release of the video. We must challenge a little harder, and push a little deeper.

And this starts with inclusion. How are you integrating inclusion into your conversations and into your personal and professional engagements? As Luke Visconti argues, and I tend to agree, it is so much more than simply asking (expecting) baristas to talk about race in the 20 seconds they have with a customer at Starbucks. If we want inclusion, diversity, equity, multicultural understanding, etc. to be something that is espoused and enacted, it must be something that is integrated through every fiber of an operation. As Visconti points out, it must start from the top (and in the most, see-someone-to-be-someone, kind of way).

One year ago, I was a cluster facilitator at LeaderShape, a leadership retreat for college students. The university where I was working did a campaign to advertise this opportunity, and passed around various flyers reading, “I see a world where ______.” Individuals could write in what kind of world they see. For example, “people have clean water,” “cancer is fully treatable,” “we find peace,” and, “everyone has a puppy,” were a few of my favorites. When I filled out my own flyer to be hung on my office door, I thought long and hard. What kind of world did (do) I want to see?

And, today, I ask you this same question, among others:

How do you see the world? What kind of world do you want? What kind of contribution can you and will you be willing to make? Do you dare?

Engaging,

Michael

*I see a world with liberty and justice for all.

My high school was, “pretty black.”

My junior year of high school, I went on a leadership retreat with a group of students from my high school and also from another school in the district. This particular school was considered the “high class” option in our school district, and mostly consisted of the more privileged kids in the area. This has potentially changed over the years, but at this specific point in time, it always felt like, when compared to this school, I attended a school for urban-peasants. Back to said-retreat. This particular experience involved community members from the city and also in-depth conversations about leadership and ethics, as well as a series of other, meet-the-right-people-because-you’re-awesome-teens, opportunities. All the guys were staying at a local dentist’s house (this was their attempt to give a city leader some “charity points,” it seemed), and the peers from my high school were sleeping in one room while the others were in a downstairs lounge area. Ultimately, good, wholesome learning/fun, right?

The interesting thing about our two schools is that the student leaders were all somewhat aware of each other. We had an understanding of the “other school” on both ends, and we were all mostly aware of the community’s view on my beloved alma mater. The second of two nights wrapped late and we all retreated to the dentist’s house/sleeping quarters to head to bed. Sometime after everyone had fallen asleep, myself and a few others in my room were jolted awake by the sound of giggling and scurrying, which lead to me jumping up to turn on the light. As our eyes adjusted, we looked around to find that a few students from the other school had sprayed shaving cream on us, and covered one specific guy in what looked like, an entire cans-worth. I was pissed. Being a confrontational adolescent, and general do-good’er, I marched down the stairs, and was greeted by a few laughing douchebags from the other school.

I started with a calm approach, and while wiping the shaving-cream off my arms, asked, “Did you guys do this?”

“Yeah, probably,” replied the douchiest of the bunch.

“Why? I don’t recall doing anything to you guys,” I challenged.

“Who cares, dude. Don’t take it so serious, it’s just a joke.”

“A joke? We don’t find it funny.”

By this point, I was shaking. I had been joined by two others from my school, one of which grabbed my arm to go back upstairs, while eventually yelling down, “Fuck you guys, and fuck your ‘joke,’” or something of that regard. I was pissed. In that specific moment, we knew this wasn’t about silly high school antics, nor was this actually a fun-intended prank. These guys were picking on us because they could, and probably even planned to do so before even showing up. These guys were use to having a consistent upper-hand, and from my experience, this ‘practical joke’ was actually about power. By the mere makeup of their school, most of these students came from some type of privilege, while my peers and I were viewed countless times as, “the charity perspective.” Now, this was not a direct quote (nor is this a, woe-is-me, passage), but anyone from Midwest City High School circa 2002-2004 (and probably surrounding years, as well) will tell you that when it came to Carl Albert High School, none could compare. It was jarring, and an ongoing frustration with our school district.

Again, back to said-retreat. We helped our most-covered classmate clean up a bit, and then spent fifteen or so minutes wiping the shaving cream out of our sleeping bags and pillows. We were all pretty upset, and just as we started to devise a plan to go back downstairs for another confrontation, the dude who was most covered came out of the bathroom, looked at each of us, and noted something along the lines of, “If we would have done this to them, we would have been sent home and in so much trouble.” We all agreed with great disappointment, and the differences between Midwest City and Carl Albert were again highlighted and affirmed. Before we could process this aloud, the same, overly-creamed individual just started laughing…uncontrollably. I remember politely joining him with a few curtsey chuckles, only to all finally look at each other and erupt into real, authentic, frustrated laughter. We eventually fell asleep, amidst the mocking of the douchebag from downstairs and planning a way to address our concerns tomorrow.

When we woke up the next morning, there was an awkward tension in the air. We agreed that the shenanigans from the previous night would would be addressed that day, and it was our hope that the guys from the other high school would greet us with apologies (if anything, an apology for the dude who had been covered most). We arrived at the first location for the last day of our weekend retreat, and before we could even get comfortable, several of the women from the other school were staring and giggling at us. I don’t remember many of the details, but in that moment, I do remember feeling so embarrassed and ashamed, and over something this group of peers considered, “just a joke.” This ‘joke-mentality’ was confirmed as the session opened with the program coordinator even making a snide remark about, “boys just being boys last night.” This moment has stuck with me for quite some time, and it was triggered this week after posting a video to my Facebook.

Let’s pause here for a moment.

The video I posted featured students from my high school, Midwest City High School, and a huge community-wide effort to help develop more funding for the high school’s Special Olympics Team. Very cool stuff. I was particularly inspired by the amount of students who were involved in the production, and specifically elated to see the continued support for students with physical and emotional disabilities. This was always one area I felt my alma mater was getting right – the amount of support and resources for students with disabilities was a focus and a shared-community value. Check out the MCHS Lip Dub below:

 *The video is quite long, feel free to skip, “skim,” or just jump to 12:20 for the final message.

Whether you watch(ed) the video or not, just after posting the link, I received two messages that read as follows:

Message 1 (from Facebook): Damn your school was pretty black

Message 2 (via text): You weren’t kidding… you really did go to a diverse high school.

Yes, my high school was pretty diverse. And yes, there were a lot of black people who attended my high school. But there were also Asian kids, white kids, American Indians, and military kids of every different makeup. I am a proud product of Midwest City High School, but for years after graduating, was somewhat fearful of what exactly this pride implied. When I went off to college, a lot of the responses I received from new friends and peers were similar to the very messages I received yesterday. The diversity was always shocking, and more so, as was how this big ol’ white kid was able to survive in such a diverse setting. This flawed perspective of many seems to imply that a bunch of black kids all at one high school must immediately mean thuggery and/or poverty (I’ve even had people ask me if my experience was like Sister Act II, pre-Sister Mary Clarence). Their ignorance was always a setback for me.

Was shaving cream at a lock-in-type overnight actually a huge deal? Probably not. But the upper-hand which was involved was a big deal to me, and to all of us. There’s a big chance the prank was not racially motivated, and I can rest with that belief. However, the friend who was creamed most was right, if it had been any of the guys who were attending from my school, a huge issue would have been made out of this ordeal. Perhaps, even ‘thuggery’ would have been assumed. Furthermore, when administrators or professionals use terms like, “Boys will be boys,” we inherently disadvantage our young boys by viewing them as game-players and unable to respect others. This, too, is a flawed perspective. And this is all ultimately why I was particularly elated to see the video from my high school.

Aside from the pure race dynamics that existed at my alma mater, there also always seemed to be a permission that you could be of any shape, size, or background, and still have some sense of human or social capital. Hell, I was a total closet-case in high school (pun intended), and aside from some of the bullying I endured, I still felt like I received a huge amount of love from all types of people of all types of backgrounds. My high school reunion would later affirm many of those relationships, some of which also provided closure from the aforementioned bullying. Whereas the, your-black-high-school, messages I received via Facebook and text were both done with good intentions, they also provided for a deep-reflection as to why I continue to support and believe in all things Bomber magic (this is what we call, “spirit”).

The beautifully diverse video above is why I care about this school, and why I continue to support an environment where these young learners can work together and create something meaningful and impacting. Furthermore, I am also provoked by the limited opportunities provided at my high school, which typically happen to be caused by (or as a result of) other’s privilege. Privilege is real, and race plays a huge role in that dynamic. Literature and anecdote will both affirm this assertion. And this is why I care about Midwest City High School, a school with, among many others, upper-middle class black kids, extremely poor white kids, wealthy American Indians, middle-class Mexican kids, and military children of all shades (as one really good friend puts it).

So, aside from raising money for the MCHS Special Olympics Team, why does this video matter?

This video matters because Midwest City High School matters (and all the ‘Midwest City High School’ equivalents out there). This video matters because many of these students may never again get an opportunity to be silly and creativity and artistic, and many of them will continually be stifled by the sub-communities in which they belong. This video matters because those two individuals who contacted me should be more excited about the student engagement from that video rather than conjuring up any assumptions as to how this big ol’ white guy “survived” at a high school like “that” (direct quotes, there). This video matters because race matters, and this video matters because these students matter.

With eagerness, heart, and hope, here’s to Midwest City High School.

#WeAreBombers,

Michael

*Let it be important to note that my experience as a white kid from Oklahoma City is incomparable to that of some of my peers in Midwest City. This post is an appreciation for the culture supported in that video, and also a tool for reflecting on some of the injustices and inequities I have witnessed over the past ten years around and about my alma mater.

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