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The Joys & Killjoys of 2023-24: true love, world wars, Air Jordans???




Here we are again, another year in the books. Let's get straight to the joys and killjoys of academic school year 2023-2024. I hope this reflection inspires you to take some time and grace for yourself in order to remember and smile at the little things that enable you to mind, maintain, maximize, and move in a state of joy.


Joys: so what brought you joy this year?



  1. L.O.V.E.

  • Context: I have a significant other. That’s all. I mean, that’s all you get. 

  • So what brought you joy?: Of course, in my eyes, she is joy, so I obviously love her. My search for serenity, self-love, and worth in this world is my own, though. With her by my side, hand-in-hand, I have a partner, a support, a co-founder to create life, harmony, and home. 

  • Regarding my past romantic relationships, I have no tea, trauma, or toxicity to detail, distract, or deflect. Funny though, as a Black male educator navigating complicated relationships with white America, Black America, American schools, fatherhood, and self, I can say that my former girlfriends afforded me the opportunity and grace to witness and experience various aspects of a healthy relationship. Peace and love to them. 

  • Anyway, this relationship is real…real hard…real good. Real sh*t. Speaking not just from a Black man’s point of view, but from a general point of view: not too many people get to experience love, joy and or healing, period... and then especially in the context of a romantic relationship. Quite frankly, how many of our relationships have withstood and then grown from conflict, congestion, confusion, or contusions (past or present)? Love, hate, heartbreak…you can feel ‘em all in ya chest. 

  • Love is hard…to recognize, to honor, to give, to receive, to believe in…especially if one has never loved himself, never tried to love another, never allowed himself to be loved, or never considered himself lovable. Though love sometimes appears clear to me, it is still very much a mystery. Something just feels different —life, my being, my drive—it just feels different when a wounded inner child on his healing journey finds a best friend, one on her own journey AND willing to accompany another—thus bringing us together poised, partnered, and parallel. 



  • Call to Action: Black men, I hope you get to experience love that is long-lasting and limitless; love that is timeless but with time, more invaluable and more demanding of you to become a better lover, a better care-taker, and a better human being overall. My survival instincts and coping mechanisms as a Black man in America do not necessarily translate into healthy relationship behaviors and dynamics. It feels like everyone is fighting something or someone. And that constant fighting, evasion, and harm reduction is tiring. There’s no room for love, no energy to love, no progress toward healing. That said, love is still an under-developed skill-set of mine, but I'm under (God's) construction--just building. As I have matured in this relationship, I have had to check myself and call myself in and out, not necessarily beat myself up. Instead of falling back from external and internal threats–real or imagined--I am just allowing myself to fall more in love with all peoples and things around me. Lastly, the prospect of blending families and creating family is wild to me. 

  • I just hope everyone, at least once in their life, gets to experience love as a belief, a behavior, a binder, a buffer, a buoy, and a balloon.

2. Leadership

  • Context: My department chair entrusted me with leading my Sophomore Level English team. I am not a natural-born leader but rather a really solid role player and positive locker-room presence, meaning I am here to connect, collaborate, and celebrate my teammates. 

  • So what brought you joy?: There was no fancy title to put on my resume or LinkedIn. There was no fancy appointment ceremony. There was not even a stipend. HAHA. Instead, I have gained the respect of my colleagues and that respect made me feel seen and heard, thus contributing to my overall joy experienced in the workplace. 

  • Leadership is risky and rewarding because it requires sophisticated people skills and the leveraging of relationships. Sure, active listening is necessary as well as (self) accountability and goal-setting. However, people rarely talk about deferring, meaning knowing your own limits as a player and passing the ball and trusting your teammates do their thang! Leadership is not about being the best or the most popular or the most visible; it is about being present with a plan or scheme in order to make best use of people’s time and talents. 

  • I am grateful for the competence, the patience, and the grace of my co-workers who understand the difference between feedback and back-talk, the difference between adult egos and student well-being, and the difference between colleagues as professionals and then colleagues as people--real human beings with real passions, storied pasts, and pet-peeves. 

  • As a Black man in a PWI, I know what I can and cannot influence. I know that I am stronger when I have a great team, great relationships, and great people around the students and me. I praise my colleagues for spending hours reading new texts, hours grading essays, and then hours prepping and meeting after contracted hours. 

  • Call to Action: Do you see your co-workers as competitors, detractors, or incompetent individuals? How can we refrain and reframe in order to notice their level of investment, leadership, care, and willingness to grow? I ask because it is easy to see the worst or what people perceive to be the worst in a person and to project insecurities onto others.

  • Politics, personas, and principles (principals) will always be a part of the profession. I am not asking anyone to overextend themselves or bend over backwards for any curmudgeons, con-men, or anyone who is truculent, stubborn, or overly self-righteous; however, I am asking MYSELF to be curious, compassionate, and celebratory of any qualities that make a colleague a dedicated teacher, a trusted adult for young people, or someone who is looking to grow, collaborate, and lead. Essentially, can we train ourselves to find the best in people? Friends, I am still on this journey, let me tell you. 



3. Higher Powers/High People in High Places

  • Context: I am human enough to admit I am a hypocrite. I know I need to be and do better by my co-workers. I know how to critique, complain, and conveniently exit the kitchen when it gets too hot. I can be quietly and vocally critical of myself and others. And that’s unfair to my colleagues, especially my administrators. 

  • So what brought you joy?: Sitting with individuals in high positions over dinner or drinks and hashing out my critiques–and most importantly, them checking me respectfully. It is hard for me to shut my big mouth and just listen sometimes…listen to how people hurt and how people are hurt by my words and my actions. I do not want to be a part of or associated with the white noise, the back room talks, or the gossip. Unknowingly drinking the corporate kool-aid once upon a time left me with headaches and tummy aches, so I am working on drinking water instead of sipping any tea--except for the digestive ones. I really respect and admire my one colleague, who knows when and how to avoid the school scuttlebutt. When she sees a small pack of teachers huddled in a classroom whispering like mice, she just peeks her head in and confidently says, “I don’t want to know the chisme. I'm out. BYEEEEEEEE!” That's the type of self and situational awareness I aspire to have.



  • My joy stems from my colleagues' forgiveness, loyalty, respect, and commitment. Less than desirable working conditions mixed with egos, emotions, and the endangerment of people’s livelihood can challenge the resilience of any work relationship, personal or professional. 

  • Call to Action: Sure, we all have opinions and feedback; and not everyone who’s “ya skinfolk is ya kinfolk;” however, when I feel disenchanted, disagreeable, or distant, I have to remember all the good that this person has done for the kids, most importantly. And not to have one or two bad moments invalidate the past good they have done. It is easy to point out when things are not going well but harder to recognize when some bad news never reaches your inbox or comes across your desk. There are higher powers at work and you sometimes need to have a little faith and gratitude. I have the privilege of not being bothered or burdened because of the people around and above me handling their business. And so, it is probably better for me to mind my own. If anything, I am working on saying “thank you for ____” more than “I can’t believe they ___.”

  • At times the job is very personal and people can be very passionate and pissed off. However, I cannot let my career define my character and so, my character flaws and in turn let my gross work-life (im)balance turn me into an overgrown hallway monitor, a Black scarecrow, a toy soldier, or some sort of pseudo-vigilante. I am no Batman or any kind of anti-hero, for that matter. Moreover, Franz Fanon taught me to hate masks, rightfully, and I would rather focus on contributions, not capes.


4. Straight Trippin'

  • Context: Who doesn’t love field trips? First of all, who can afford field trips, especially in today’s economic climate? Talk about climate change! Well, when families pay private school tuition, one of the benefits includes some optional travel. Keyword: optional. I love cramming in those old minivans, singing in unison, and seeing social bonds blossom outside of the classroom. Ranging from cultural immersion expeditions to college tours, I traveled to Wheeling, West Virginia, Southern California, Atlanta, Georgia and Nashville, Tennessee this year.

  • So what brought you joy?: The joy is in the community and fellowship with my students in and outside of the classroom. Because I am a genuine goofball and comedic relief in the classroom, my students, no matter how geeky, nerdy, or cool they think they are, feel safe and comfortable enough to be their full selves. No matter how old they get, they’re just big kids at the end of the day. I try to set the tone to let students know that we are family when together, especially on these trips. And yes, our little mixed-race ensembles with our Lululemons, Vans, and Vineyard Vines draw many stares from onlookers. I won't recap entire trips, but you do remember when we were all scared traveling down those dark dirt roads in West Virginia. To my students on that trip, remember my words about “stranger danger” and being aware of your surroundings. 


  •  It makes my day to see former students all grown-up when we take current students on our school's annual SoCal college tour. Man, it is a trip when you hear “Mr. White!” and I turn around to see one of my former students. Whether they are with their friends or solo dolo, they always stop whatever they’re doing to greet me, hug me, and update me on their lives. What’s funny is that once I see their faces or hear their names, I am young enough in my 12-year teaching career to have all of the memories flood my mind. It is a blessing to co-create such a connection with students that we–no matter the time we had then or the time we have now– both remember and relish one another as human beings. 

  • During our third annual HBCU college tour, I loved seeing the faces of my Black students light up when watching their first-ever Delta stroll. There is nothing like seeing Black college students dressed to the nines, in suits and heels, hittin’ the books and the floor! Some of my students have never been to the Dirty, Dirty let alone heard about or seen a historically Black college. Maybe I can convince my older brother to make my 2-year-old nephew a Morehouse Man one day!  

  • Call to Action: If you have the time, money, and energy, please go on a field trip or two every couple of years.  Especially if you have students who are a bit difficult in class, maybe that field trip could be the change of scenery necessary for you to learn more about a student. Yes, I realize that a kid with behaviorial issues in school may not be that much different outside of school, but remember, our kids give us so many second chances. Please advocate for stipends for such extracurricular activities. 

5. Graduation

  • Context: They’ve all got to graduate at some point. Class of 2024, thank you for the laughter and the gray hairs. 

  • So what brought you joy?: Graduation is bittersweet; for many of us, our paths split and then we go our separate ways. This year, the joy was in the funny sketches, the complex conversations, the just-dance sessions, the sketchy promposals, the hallway run-ins, and the final autoethnography projects. We have such a good time in my Sophomore classes that many of my students return to get a second dose of my unconventional teaching methods their Senior Year. What always gets me are the leaps and bounds the students make between their Sophomore Year when I meet them and then their Senior Year when I sometimes want to flee them, lol. I teach an Elective Senior course, so students make a choice to come and deal with me for another semester. Every day feels like a family reunion–in all aspects, good and bad; it is inexplicable how certain personalities gel and make for interesting class dynamics but all are grounded in love, learning, and real life.  I think Senior Year is the year that I really see both the “adolescent” and the “adult” lines blur and bifurcate. At times, I am speaking simultaneously to both their messy inner child and their aspirational adult selves. Truthfully, they’re probably doing the same with me, maybe with more awkwardness and authenticity. For one of my Black Senior boys, I hugged him daily on site, no questions asked, no debatin’. 

  • Furthermore, my colleagues eventually graduate in the form of moving on to new jobs or retiring. Point-blank, I see and feel the joy in our final year together. 



  • Call to Action: Learn to be hard on older students while being gentle with them. I would not be doing right by them if I did not teach them self-accountability. I praise them for holding me to my own words, so a mutual accountability is foundational to building genuine connections. I remind my students that we care enough about each other to talk with and to talk back to one another while doing it all in person, face-to-face, eye-to-eye, not behind a computer screen. Remember, students developed certain social anxieties during COVID, so the fact that they are sitting in a room, participating, and taking the opportunity to socialize makes me nod proudly with a small smirk on my face.


Honorable Mentions

  1. Student Productions: We might raise our voices at each other during late-night rehearsals, but we never forget to share a good laugh before we call it a night. Great student leaders were born in the face of uncertainty, discord, and tension this year. Oh, Ted and Buster!

  2. New Life: While scrolling through Facebook and Instagram, I can't help but to cheese every time I see my high school friends and college classmates with their newborns. I am overjoyed to see fathers craddling their little creations or taking morning strolls with their little bundle of joy. I can't wait to be a father.

  3. Mamma's Gifts: Frivolous but I gotta keep it a hunnit. For Christmas, my mother bought me my first pair of Air Jordans in my adult life; I am no sneakerhead, but these shoes made me feel like Lil Bow Wow in "Like Mike." For context, the last pair of Jordan's I had was in elementary school--the original Air Jordan 12s, I believe. And yes, I've already creased them.


Killjoys: what didn't bring you joy this year?

[note: in no particular order]

1. Housing

  • Context: Honestly, owning a house is a privilege and a luxury, anywhere. Expensive is an under-statement nowadays. Housing in the San Francisco Bay Area is astronomical.I continue to see one-bedroom houses for $700,000, and those are considered  “good deals.” I just wanted to dip my toe into the housing market as one of the many homeowning hopefuls. And I found (loan) sharks and piranhas, and ironically, many people are under water due to rising property taxes and general inflation. Well, I don’t swim too well and I can’t get my locs wet, so I came out of that pool of papers, property problems, and (loan) packages, clinging to my pennies and my principles. There is either bliss or misery in ignorance. Before this process, I was blissfully ignorant; during the process, I was miserably ignorant. Now, after the process, I'm just indignant. The only joy was my real estate agent, a Black woman who looked like me, spoke like me, and understood (money) like me. 

  • Call to Action: Disclaimer: I am not a financial advisor or real estate agent, but I leave you with my two cents that I saved from not buying a house. Ask any and all questions because it is your money, your time, your potential reward, your potential burden, your investment, your attempt at building intergenerational wealth. Almost become a stoic in the face of these real estate folx, for they will not just tug but swing on your heartstrings as well as try to talk circles around you. 

  • Also, make the owners or listing agents disclose any and all permits for any repair work. Again, I am not advising you. I'm just saying, that repairs and renovations completed without permits are liabilities and may earn you a call from a tenant’s lawyer or city officials. Just do a full cost-benefit analysis.

  • While I do grade a lot of essays, I will say that the house hunt made me into an eagle of a reader, meaning I became meticulous and almost maniacal in my hours of sifting through disclosure packets. And if you can, ask for the disclosures to save time from being catfished or deceived by AI-generated housing photos. For the desired properties, attend open houses and private home visits in order to see and touch every inch of that property. Yes, go get your hands dirty, literally. Bring gloves if you want. I have seen busted electrical systems, sinks in closets, and water-damaged ceilings that were marked “fixed” in the disclosures. 

  • Oh, please note that people who repair leaky roofs do not test for water intrusion, mildew, or mold, at the point of leakage and beyond. That mold be like "Bebe's Kids": "We don't die. We multiply." Shout-out to the mold man who called me out of the blue to tell me the difference. We cried that day on the phone; he cried because he loved teachers. I cried because I saved over $200k. 

  • All that to say, my small 500 square-foot apartment in Oakland will most likely be the birthplace of my firstborn.  



2. War (Mass Violence)

  • First and foremost, God bless the dead and the living… I don’t have much to say here, not because I do NOT care but because I, as a privileged American, a misinformed student of American exceptionalism, and an aspiring self-accountable global citizen, am still learning, pruning, and incrementally expanding my own sphere of influence. Unfortunately, I am no stranger to violence…mass violence. My heart is pulled into many directions. My heart goes to the folx lost in senseless street violence from East Oakland to Pleasant Grove; to the folx at the border; to the Uyghurs in China, to the Palestinians and the Jewish folx in Gaza and the West Bank, to the folx in Ukraine and Russia; to the those who continue to deal with the historical displacement, drug epidemics and genocides of the past (i.e., my Armenians, my Black folx, my Indigenous peoples and so many more). 

  • Thank you to the people online and my students in person who continue to share their stories and voices without wishing for the death of other human beings. Thank you to those who can and do hold complex personal and political positions without judging others,  virtue-signaling, committing further violence, or engaging in binary-thinking (mis)guided by whatever mainstream news outlets.  Complexity calls for more curiosity, more compassion, more courageous conversations, and more cross-cultural connections, not more savagery,not more suppression, not more silos and surely not more silence.


3. Ego

  • Throughout this year, my ego has led me to think that too many A’s in the gradebook is a sign of poor teaching. Ego and emotion, unchecked, are a deadly combo like Jason Tatum and Jaylen Brown coming at you full-speed, downhill. Sorry to the hometeam. My ego has gotten me into a few back-and-forths with my girlfriend, my colleagues, and my students, who ultimately and graciously end our heated exchanges with a smile and a hug. The ego tends to land me into self-destructive search-and-destroy missions, eventually leaving me to implode and unload; friendships end over egos and emotions; however, I also have learned over the years that long-standing, deep friendships can level egos and calm emotions. From one of my most wise colleagues, I am learning to say and mean the following: "I am sorry,” "Thank you,” and "I love you.” Shout-outs to my Sophomores for accepting my challenge and crushin' the second semester! Every A was earned, not given!


Conclusion

I love writing this annual piece because I get to sit in my joy--quite a powerful state of being for anyone, especially a Black man. Leave a comment below about what brought you joy this past school year. Lastly, never forget the strength and sacredness of Black Joy, for you are its embodiment, its guardian, and its conduit.



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Soundtrack to My Life:

Here are a few songs I enjoyed while reminiscing and writing with this piece.


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