Is It Time to Revive Critical Thinking in America?

This article appears in The Huffington Post, where I am a contributor: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/is-it-time-to-revive-critical-thinking-in-america_us_58e6c72ce4b0d6001f07f330

Trump, Casey Affleck, Brock Turner, and the Soft Bigotry of low Expectations

In July of the year 2000, then President George W. Bush spoke about his vision for education at the NAACP’s 91st annual convention. He made headlines from the speech in main part by his use of the term “soft bigotry of low expectations”:

“Discrimination is still a reality, even when it takes different forms. Instead of Jim  Crow, there’s racial redlining and profiling. Instead of separate but equal, there is separate and forgotten…I will confront another form of bias: the soft bigotry of low expectations…we have come so far in opening the doors of our schools. But today we have a challenge of our own…There’s a tremendous gap of achievement between rich and poor, white and minority. This, too, leaves a divided society. And whatever the causes, the effect is discrimination.”

Truer have never been spoken as it relates to challenges we face in education in America, even 17 years later. As I watched the political rise of President Donald Trump and the low bar set for him, however, I find myself finding the “soft bigotry of low expectations” being more and more applicable to him. I have never seen a United States president have such a low bar set for him. The only reason I can find is that he is a rich, famous, white male, and like many others who occupy this group such as Brock Turner, Mel Gibson, Roman Polanski, Ethan Couch, and Ryan Lochte, the ultimate consequences towards these individuals vary, but the initial assumptions about their actions are usually excused or downright defended in ways other people simply are not.

U.S. Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte lied about being robbed in Brazil when he and his entourage were the guilty party for vandalizing a gas station. Ultimately he suffered some consequences but initially when his lie was unearthed, some called what he did a “youthful error” though he was thirty years old at the time. Mel Gibson, among other things, told his wife that he hopes she gets raped by a “pack of niggers” and sat front row at the Oscars in 2017. Roman Polanski admits to raping a child yet still in this decade receives standing ovations for his movies at the Oscars while some of our favorite stars appeal for his exoneration. Collegiate star swimmer Brock Turner received 6 months in a county jail for rape, or what his father called, “20 minutes of action” and was released after 3 months. Lastly, Ethan Couch committed vehicular homicide and got off because he suffered from “affluenza meaning he was too rich and spoiled to be held responsible for his actions. What these men have in common is that they are rich, popular white males and therefore they are given a benefit of the doubt, which so many other groups are denied, as Sady Doyle wrote in her brilliant article: “What we lose when we give awards to men like Casey Affleck.” Enter Donald Trump.

Throughout the campaign and well into his presidency, Trump has demonstrated a level of incompetence that we have never witnessed. All one has to do is compare the analysis of his campaign to that of Hillary Clinton. Despite Clinton’s many flaws and flawed campaign, the fact of the matter is that she, like President Obama, have had to be twice as good in their campaigns to receive just half the accolades showered upon Trump. Hillary Clinton by many accounts won all of the presidential debates, knew her facts when discussing the issues, and made her campaign about policy, demonstrated by her ability to speak knowledgeably on the issues. Trump focused much of his campaign on bombast, rhetoric, hate, hyperbole and outright lies and was praised by many because he “tells it like it is.” What does “tell it like it is” mean when what you “tell” is a lie?

From stating that President Obama wiretapped him, that he saw Muslims in New Jersey celebrating 911, that millions of people voted illegally for Clinton, and countless other fabrications, Trump has repeatedly lied and when he gets called out on his lies, he is excused because he is a “businessman” and not an actual politician. It’s so weird because, for everyone else, once you decide to run for political office, you’re a politician. It’s sort of like 1+1=2 for most of but for many Trump apologists, 1+1 can actually = 1.5 if he says so. Furthermore, Obama spent his entire two terms working imperfectly to unify America through his policies and social commentary in the face of massacres like Sandy Hook, while Trump gets called “presidential” for being able to read calmly from a teleprompter for an hour. This is the presidential equivalent of Chris Rock stating that fathers shouldn’t expect to receive praise for actually raising their own children.

At the end of the day, too many of us in America are quick to excuse the actions, ignorance, and downright crimes of white men of status, while we are quick to turn boys into men when they are murdered at the hands of law enforcement and others as we did with Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, and Michael Brown, who had just reached the age of adulthood at 18. Comparatively, Ethan Couch was a juvenile when he actually killed four people and went home to sleep in his own bed simply because he was rich. President Donald Trump, a man well into his 70s, continues to get a pass and even be praised for his downright ignorance of basic common knowledge. He can say it’s OK to sexually assault a woman and call it locker room banter and it’s OK. He can admit to being a racist and an anti-Semite and it can be excused because he said he is the “least” of these. The list is exhaustive and will continue to grow until some of us in America make the conscious decision to no longer give rich white men a pass because the bar we set for them is set so low. This soft bigotry is indeed a new type of discrimination and is having hard consequences for the entire country.

Elevating the Black Male: Strategies to become a more culturally competent teacher

As I look back at my days as a Boston Public Schools student, and as I look at the multitudes of black male students still being excluded from the educational process today, I’m left to believe that we are dealing with nothing short of a tragic epidemic. As a seventh grader in the early 1990s, I remember a white male teacher dragging me to the office telling me: “Do you think I’m gonna put up with your s_ _ _ all year you f_ _ _ _ _’ punk?” Fast forward to 2009 and I’m speaking to a black female principal in DC. She sees one of her students from a distance and says: “He’s really gonna make a great prisoner one day.” Here we have 2 different cities, over 20 years apart, 2 different races, and 2 different genders, but one overwhelming similarity—low expectations towards black male students.

My belief is that if you develop strategies to reach your black males, you learn techniques to reach all of your students. Below are some strategies that will assist you in improving not only the participation of your black males who may be struggling, but ultimately give you a diverse range of tools to pull from in order to make for a dynamic teaching experience for all of your students!

Have high expectations for all of your students and communicate them. Many teachers fail to communicate that they expect all students to succeed in class. By default, there are students who are going to feel as if they cannot succeed. Whether it’s by their placement in the back of the class, their watching the same students get chosen to speak, or even the different levels of discipline for different students, your message will be communicated one way or the other. If you truly believe everyone can succeed, show them!

Increase your knowledge about their history. One game I play when I conduct my trainings is asking teachers to name 10 black male famous athletes, actors, and musicians. In less than 30 seconds, we have the answers. However, when asked to name 10 famous black male (living) doctors, scientists, or authors, the list often is never completed. If you widen your knowledge of black male success, you will not only develop a better picture of what is possible for your students, but you will also help them craft an image of themselves that is greater than what society tells them they can be. What you know is what you’ll show!

Utilize a wide range of equitable practices in order to involve all students. Rather than calling on the same students, utilize random calling popsicle sticks drawn from a cup so every student knows they could be called upon at any time. Students are more likely to be prepared if they believe they’ll actually be asked to participate. You can also have random grouping so students do not get comfortable with the same students. Lastly, remember that every student does not always learn solely by written exams. Develop additional ways that students can present their knowledge be it through oral presentations, musical interpretations, or group projects. Much of these practices can be found in books like The Skillful Teacher by Saphier, et al.

If you make a dedicated effort to utilize the steps above and just have a mindset that, as Donna Graves states, there’s not an achievement gap but a teaching gap, you will turn yourself into a teacher with the ability to incorporate not only your black male students, but all students irrespective of race, creed, color, gender, or religion! Teach on!

The New Struggle (lyrics)

I didn’t live at the time of martin & Malcolm
Read about their struggles kept wonderin how come
How could one deny another’s human rights?
How could you lynch a brother right at first sight?
I’m like damn, is this what we call human-ity?
Surprised more didn’t die from insanity
But now in 2017 I see history rhymin’
Everywhere I look I see my civil rights dyin
Tryin to keep a positive outlook
But then I turn on the news see Sandy hook
Go and talk to a school and they got no books
Tried to see my man Malik but his visa’s took
Hate crimes on the rise, I close my eyes
In my minds the only place they care for black lives
Cause alllivesdontmatter when our blood gets splattered
Whether we got phds or homeless clothes tattered
They buck is in the head spillin out our views
Then they broadcast it on the nightly news
Remindin you and me they don’t care about us
Declining youth jobs, jails disappearin us
Mr. President I heard you wanna drain the swamp
But it’s the little fish every day getting’ stomped
You and your boy bannon got eyes like they cannons
Shootin down our dreams but you’re not understandin
I used to believe in the public schools
Despite its flaws knew it could be something new
But under Betsy let’s see I think what’ll be
Is the death of the system for you and me
They wanna privatize schools privatize our lives
Prolly privatize air we breathe before our eyes
While they keep lyin’ with #alternativefacts
Trump sotckin up his staff with alternative blacks
Oil pipelines they wanna shove down our throats
While his cabinet gets richer man we better stay woke
Cause why we sleepin they creepin into all we do
Kickin’ out immigrants even legal ones too
But if it’s gonna change its up to me and you
To get up and resist whether muslim or jew
Republican, democrat, black or white,
Hetero to homosexuals let’s do what’s right
We must never give up we must always fight
In the courts on the streets and hell yes on the mic
Time’s always right to do right so said mlk
So we gonna keep marchin cross the USA
Gonna keep fightin for that equal pay
Gonna uplift our own hombre it’s a new day
Don’t think for a second that we gonna give up
Cause on shoulders of the ancestors where stand up

Schools need same “Zero Tolerance” for hate acts that they have for students of color

              Across the country, Trump supporters have been targeting people who look foreign, threatening their lives and attempting to bar them from entering schools and their jobs. Trump’s half-hearted request for his supporters to “stop it” while at the same time blaming the press for overblowing these racist and islamophobic incidents does little to help solve the problem. It is also true that there have been incidents of Trump supporters being attacked. Everyone who is found to be guilty of any crimes need to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, but what about our nation’s students who are harassing other students? What should happen to them?

              From schools like Westland Middle School in Maryland to the Royal Oaks Middle School in Michigan, racist, islamaphobic graffiti has been painted on walls, students have barred Latino students from getting to their lockers and other students have chanted “Build a wall” in their cafeterias. Statements from school leadership basically state that investigations will occur and are fairly vague beyond that. If schools do not implement the same “zero tolerance” and “tough love” policies that they use to discipline students of color, the hypocrisy will speak volumes.

              It has been well documented that across the country, students of color are suspended, expelled, or disciplined in other ways often at 3-4 times the rate of their white counterparts and are disciplined more harshly for the same offenses, even in preschool. Everything from “talking back” to dress code violations have led students of color missing excessive time from school or being excluded from school altogether. Furthermore, Special Education has been seen in many schools than nothing more than a system that prepares students to do a bid in prison because they spend most of their days isolated from the general school population participating in non-intellectual activities. The Justice Department has indeed investigated several of these schools across the country and brought charges to some districts.

              If our nation’s (pre) K-12 institutions that have such a slanted record on school discipline, they must be even more vigilant in the face of intolerance we are seeing now at schools across the country. How can a student be suspended for a “menacing tone” to a teacher but not be suspended for threatening to deport their classmate? How can a student be given in-school suspension for violating a dress code but not for blocking a path for students to enter their school in hate-filled imitation of a wall? How can students be taken out of school in handcuffs for writing on a desk but not severely disciplined when they are found to be the ones who wrote hate-filled language on school grounds?

              President-elect Donald Trump is still receiving kid-glove treatment from the media. He is still has paid surrogates on our news networks spinning every question posed to them. We cannot treat students in our schools who are committing hate crimes or other violent and threatening acts to also be treated with kid gloves just because of the color of their skin or the socio-economic status of their parents. If this country is serious about healing, it starts at home but must spill over into our schools. Our youth need to know that we will move forward as a country with dignity and respect for our fellow man, woman, and especially the child. Too many black and brown students already feel ostracized from their educational enclaves because of the lack of culturally competent educators. They should not now be made to feel ostracized from their country simply by entering their school door. We can and need to do better.

 

I’m Black, I rap, I’m Under 40, And I Don’t Use The Word “Nigga”

              I haven’t felt as embarrassed as an African American as I did when I heard comedian Larry Wilmore call President Barack Obama “my nigga” at The White House Correspondence Dinner. Don’t get me wrong. There have been many moments that I have considered low points for our culture but this was the lowest. The only thing that is more offensive to Wilmore’s ignorance is the response by people who have no problem with the use of the word because it’s just “Keepin’ it 100” or “Keepin’ it real.” Yes, Wilmore kept it real—real stupid. For anyone who says that this is just a natural term for us to use and that we’re used to it,” let me explain the three reasons why they’re wrong.

Nigga is not a term of endearment

Let’s really “keep it 100.” I am a rapper. I also have been “hip-hop” since birth so I am no newcomer to hip-hop culture. It’s the soundtrack of my life and so I will always love hip-hop. Anyone who listens to hip-hop knows full well that in our music, the term “nigga” is used more negatively than positively. Even Tupac who stated that “NIGGA” meant “Never Ignorant Getting’ Goals Accomplished” rarely used the term “nigga” in an endearing way. Sure there are verses where rappers talk about rollin’ with “my niggas” or bringing their “niggas” through the door once they became successful. In reality however, the overwhelming use of the term “nigga” is negative as in “niggas hatin’” on each other or “killin’ niggas” as well as their kids and other family members. Whenever I hear a term like “brother” being used in rap, it is indeed use positively as it should be. We cannot believe the terms “brother” and “nigga” to be synonymous and anyone who says “nigga” is used as a term of endearment particularly in our mainstream hip-hop music is just wrong. Don’t believe the hype.

Acceptance of the term nigga is not generational

A few years ago, rapper and mogul Jay Z appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show and they had an honest debate about the word “nigga.” Jay Z made the argument that many users of the word use. He said that it’s generational and that the overuse of the word has taken the power out of the word. He also said that the intent behind the word is important, a point to which I agree. The fact of the matter however is that many black people younger than Jay Z do not use the term “nigga” and find it deplorable. I am younger than Jay Z and Nas and many rappers who rose to prominence in the 1990s and the 2000s. I work with youth across the country and run into students from kindergarten to college who deplore use of the word. It is also clear by Wilmore’s use of “nigga” that there are people of Oprah’s generation and older who are quite comfortable with the word. To accept, however, that people of my generation and younger have just accepted the term is flat out wrong. I am a Jay Z fan and even wrote my doctoral dissertation on Jay Z but on this point, I couldn’t disagree more with him.

White people still own the word “nigga”

There is always a debate about whether white people can use the word but we cannot reclaim a word we never owned. The argument is a waste of time. Not only can white people use the word, they still own the word. Some believe that Kendrick Lamar’s explanation of “nigga” coming from “negus” in ancient Africa. Please. I doubt Master John was thinking about ancient Africa while whipping his slaves. White people still use the word on a regular basis. I am a professor of cross cultural communication at American University. When I discussed hip-hop and the term “nigga” to my 70 plus majority white students (many wealthy) I asked them if they repeat the word “nigga” when singing their favorite rap songs. They all honestly raised their hands. I was not mad because they were just being honest but it revealed to me that an endless debate over use of the word is pointless because we live in a society where historical context doesn’t matter and all students on college campuses hear the word every day in music or from their black classmates.

At the end of the day, we as black people have lost the ability to make a case for the termination of “nigga.” I’ve heard some gay people refer to each other as “faggot.” I believe that there are Jewish people who may refer to each other as “kikes”, Latinos who refer to each other as “spics” and maybe even some Chinese people who use term “chink.” The difference with these groups is that they have not mainstreamed the most derogatory terms into global lexicon. Rapper Drake is half Jewish but you would never hear him utter the word “kike” in his music. Michael Jackson, probably the most not-racist person in history had his album pulled and was roundly condemned by his “friends” like Steven Spielberg because he used the word “kike” in his anti-racist song “They don’t care about us.” That should have made the message very clear to black people: degrade yourselves all day but as soon as you go beyond the plantation, expect to be whipped back into form.

As KRS-ONE so eloquently put it, “That mic you speak through/goes from here to Mogadishu/and how you represent us is the issue.” Across the globe, from Japan to Israel, we have made it acceptable to use the term “nigga” without providing any context because too many of us don’t know the context. I’ve been called “nigga” in Senegal and South Africa by people who thought they were being cool. I’ve watched Japanese sitcoms where they call each other “nigga.” At the same time the word becomes globalized, the #blacklivesmatter movement and the overall fight for black dignity has not. People want to dress in “our” clothes and play “our” music but take it all off when they go home. They want everything but the burden. All Larry Wilmore did was make the word acceptable for an entire new generation of black and non-black people to get comfortable with the word by referring the first black President in that way. There is nothing funny about that and as Joe Madison said, he tainted the legacy of the first black president and, as Reverend Al Sharpton said, it was at best tasteless. We can and need to do better.

Beyoncé the latest example of women held to a higher standard than men

It has been more than a week since Super Bowl 50 and the world is still taking about Beyoncé’s performance, which was captivating at best, or a slap in the face to the family friendly event at worst. From The Jacksons to former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, the performance either made you proud, angry, or somewhere in between. As some prepare to boycott the NFL or Beyoncé in anger, it seems that there is one point that we are missing—Beyoncé was not the only performer on stage, but she was the only woman. The critique she is receiving is yet another double standard in the way women are treated harshly for their actions while men get a pass.

Starting with Beyoncé, I find it shameful that few people are mentioning the fact that Coldplay and Bruno Mars also performed. While many on social media jokingly thanked Coldplay for opening up for Beyoncé and Bruno Mars, the fact remains that it was Coldplay’s performance and they added Beyoncé. Since they clearly rehearsed for the performance, Chris Martin knew exactly what Beyoncé was going to do as it relates to her Black Panther attire. Should he not be protested as well? What about Bruno Mars? Was he not also dressed in the traditional black leather attire of the Black Panthers? I started to wonder how common situations like this occur and I instantly harkened back to Super Bowl 38. 

At the end of the halftime show of Super Bowl 38, superstar singer Justin Timberlake, ripped off part of Janet Jackson’s costume and exposed her right nipple. This event, commonly referred to as the “wardrobe malfunction” or “nipplegate” led to Janet Jackson’s music being blacklisted by Viacom, CBS, MTV, Infinity Broadcasting, and Clear Channel. Justin Timberlake received no such penalty. I then found myself asking—are the Beyoncé and Janet Jackson examples both sexist and racist? Miley Cyrus reminded us that it is not always about race.

In 2013, Miley Cyrus performed her hit song “We Can’t Stop” at the Video Music Awards. She invited R&B crooner Robin Thicke out to sing his new hit song “Blurred Lines.” During his song, Miley Cyrus bent over and “twerked” (grinding her behind against his groin region) while the crowd raucously applauded. Many on social media and in the press, however, did not applaud. Miley was roundly criticized for her raunchy performance and Robin Thicke got a pass, even though Cyrus claims that the move was Thicke’s idea, they did rehearse it, and he wanted her to look “as naked as possible” to reflect the women in his video. None of that mattered though. America sided with a then 36-year old married man who was somehow seduced by a teenage girl. America has a problem.

While the three events written about here represent mainstream pop culture, we can see every day how in 2016, men are still held to a lower standard than women. It is evidenced in Secretary Clinton being condemned for “yelling” though I’ve heard every male candidate in this election yell at some point with the exception of Dr. Ben Carson. It is evidenced in the continued praise heaped over the great American dance icon Fred Astaire while few struggle to remember the name of his partner Ginger Rogers, who did everything Astaire did but backwards and wearing heels, as President Obama noted. When will we wake up?

So as the protests against Beyoncé or the #beycott continue, Coldplay and Bruno Mars play on with no repercussions. We shame Beyoncé but do not shame an America for not knowing that the bay area where the NFL celebrated its 50th Super Bowl is the same place where the Black Panthers also started 50 years ago. We do not shame America for the sweeps of homeless populations living around the San Francisco 49ers stadium while those inside the Super Bowl ate hot dogs with gold flake toppings, celebrating American excess at its best. No. At the end of the day, we condemn the sole female performer who used her opportunity to shed light on a moment in American history that too many of us are either unwilling or incapable of studying and understanding and that is the real affront to American values.

When Boston Latin School Students Wore White Sheets In Protest…Against Me

I entered my senior year at Boston Latin School (BLS) with a spirit of triumph. I felt like I finally made it. In earnest, I was on the extended plan, having repeated my seventh grade year. BLS was every bit the challenge I was told it would be by then Headmaster Michael Contompasis who said on our first day of school: “Look to your left, look to your right. By graduation time, many of you won’t be here.” I spent most of my years at BLS barely passing most classes. In fact, the end of my sophomore year was the first summer that I did not have to attend summer school. I came back my junior and senior year focused and ready to be a leader at BLS…and that’s when my real education started.

Junior year was when I really began to question my role and experiences being black at BLS. I realized how the complexion of my classes got lighter the more advanced courses I enrolled in such as English Honors. I recalled times where I was disciplined more harshly than white students for the same offenses—an issue plaguing many school districts today. I started to realize that in my entire 7-year experience at BLS, I read one book by a black author—ironically Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. I remembered how I would only see pictures of black leaders on the wall during Black History Month. The more frustrated I became with my experiences, the more opportunities I sought to be a leader. By my senior year, I was president of the Afrikan Kulture Society, and I ran for senior class president and student council president. My experience running for senior class president was my final wake up call.

On election day, I entered school and found a great deal of frustration on the part of many black students. I was told that several white students wore white sheets on their heads to protest my candidacy. Many students skipped class that morning to go to the office in protest. I, maybe out of fearlessness or stupidity, went about my day. I had not experienced physical bullying at BLS since the 7th grade and by my senior year, I felt very comfortable defending myself if I needed to. What I remember more about that day than seeing students crying was the inaction on the part of my teachers and administration. As Dr. King said, at the end of the day, we’ll remember the silences of our friends than the words of our enemies. In fact, it was not until maybe second period where one of our European teachers, Mr. Berger, told students to take their hoods off when we they showed up for our French class. I remember asking myself how these students made it through part of the day with those sheets on and today, I ask myself why they were never disciplined and this is at the heart of what I see with the #blackatbls controversy today.

My experiences at BLS are why I have become a diversity educator today, working with schools nationwide including Boston Public Schools on how to create more culturally competent schools. While I am not directly involved in the current issue at BLS, I know what it feels like to be marginalized there. But even with my challenges at BLS, my time there was not all doom and gloom. I lost the senior class president race but won the student council presidency. The senior class presidential team was multiracial, and I definitely graduated BLS college-ready so I can speak to BLS’ great potential to create strong students. I also had some great teachers who were instrumental to my development. I just can’t help but think, however, of all of the other students like me who never felt truly welcomed at BLS and either left the school or just became less engaged.

In full disclosure, I have not stepped foot in BLS in several years and I do not know the current headmaster Dr. Lynne Mooney Teta so I cannot comment on what the school has or has not done recently to promote respect for diversity. What I do know is that I represent many black alumni who, rightly or wrongly, have not fully engaged BLS at the level we should have beyond graduation because we felt as though the school did not care much for us, so like many graduates of color from many majority white high schools, colleges and universities, we left and never looked back. My hope is that the #blackatbls moment can serve as an opportunity for all of us in the BLS community past and present to deepen our commitment to respecting diverse cultures and having courageous conversations so that there will never be a need for a #blackatbls moment in the first place.

 

 

How student leaders can respond to controversial topics in the news

It is beyond an understatement to say that we are living in very dangerous times. It seems as though every time we turn on the television, there is another story on some hot button issue from mass shootings to police/civilian interactions. From racism, anti-Semitism, and islamophobia, to immigration, education, and terrorism, it is very easy to feel overwhelmed by the challenges we face today. In my work as a youth speaker and an UPstander, I encounter leaders like you every single day who may not be sure on how to respond to these challenges from a leadership perspective.

It is easy for any of your peers who are not leaders to say whatever is on their mind with no concern for the ramifications but as a leader, you took an oath to work towards bringing people together, be it in your school community or beyond, depending on the issue. But how can you honestly speak about an issue like #blacklivesmatter or a tragic mass shooting if it is far removed from your daily experience? Here are 3 steps you can take to become a more effective leader on hot button issues.

  1. Educate yourself on the issue

We live in the information age. There is simply no excuse to not be able to educate yourself on an issue. The challenge, however is whether you will diversify your sources of information. For example, if you are reading about the tragic shootings in San Bernardino or the killing of Laquan McDonald in Chicago, you should not only consult one media source, as most people do. Remember, you are a leader! Don’t only watch CNN, MSNBC, or FOX for example. Watch all three plus additional sources like NPR and other reputable websites and journals that can educate you. Require that your team do the same thing and then make an informed decision on how to move forward.

  1. Survey your community

It is very easy to not address an issue because you do not believe it affects you directly but chances are that there is someone in your community that is affected. Is the Muslim student in your school being looked at differently after the San Bernardino killings? Is the police officer in your school or neighborhood being looked at more suspiciously after videos that surface showing police officers on the other side of the country shooting unarmed individuals? Is the Spanish speaking student more on edge over the immigration debate? You have to survey your community to find out who is feeling isolated and engage them. One of the mistakes I made as a high school student council leader was not listening as often as I should have to the people who did not speak up. Remember, silence can speak just as loudly as the loudest megaphone.

  1. Actively reach out to the affected community

The word “active” is extremely important here. Your entire school community needs to see that you are making efforts to be an inclusive community. Yes it’s cliché but you have to lead by example. Be the person to sit at a different table in the cafeteria, which is still one of the most segregated area in many schools today. Create speakout events where opinions can be expressed or have a unity rally. There is no shortage of things you can do once you are committed to be an UPstander and not a bystander. Once people know that they are still accepted in the community they share with you, they may be more likely to open up to you and also less likely to resort to some form of negative behavior due to the isolation or mistrust they may be experiencing.

Leadership is an easy job if you only preach to your choir but here is the problem, preaching to the choir is not leadership. It’s preaching. You ran for office and though you were not elected by everyone, you noe represent everyone. Take that responsibility seriously. Get educated on the issues of the day and use your knowledge to build your community, not keep it divided. That is the sign of a true leader!

Think before you speak. Write before you fight.

“Think before you speak. Write before you fight.”

Omékongo Dibinga is the UPstander. His life’s mission is to inspire all across the globe to take a stand when they witness an injustice, no matter how small or large. He is a motivational speaker, trilingual poet, TV talk show host, and rapper. His Urban Music Award winning work has best been described by Nikki Giovanni as “outstanding, exciting, and new while being very old.” His book, From the Limbs of My Poetree was described byEssence Magazine as “a remarkable and insightful collection of exquisite poetry that touches sacred places within your spirit.” He was one of 5 international recipients out of 750,000 to win the first ever “CNN iReport Spirit Award.” He has received over 1,000,000 views on CNN.com.

Omékongo’s music and writings have appeared alongside artists such as Sheryl Crow, Angelina Jolie, Norah Jones, Damien Rice, Angelique Kidjo, Don Cheadle, and Mos Def. Hehas shared the stage with Wyclef Jean, OutKast, Sonia Sanchez, Dennis Brutus, Emmanuelle Chriqui, The Last Poets, and NFL great Aaron Rodgers. Internationally, he has shared his work in 20 countries on 3 continents. His writings and performances have appeared in O Magazine, as well as on TV and radio fromCNN, BET, and the BBC to NPR, Music Choice, and Voice of Americain millions of homes in over 150 countries.He has also written songs for movies as well as organizations such as NASA and the Enough! Project. He has spoken before the United Nations, partners with the State Department to conduct youth leadership trainings overseas, and speaks to leadership and youth student conferences across the country.

Omékongo has studied at Harvard, MIT, Princeton, Georgetown, Morehouse, and The Fletcher School, where he received his M.A. in Law & Diplomacy. He is currently a Ph.D. candidate in International Education Policy at The University of Maryland, where he also worked with the Southern Poverty Law Center’s “Teaching Diverse Students Initiative.” He worked for four years as the lead Teaching Assistant to Dr. Michael Eric Dyson at Georgetown University. He provides leadership, educational and diversity empowerment as a consultant and motivational speaker for organizations, associations and institutions.He has featured/lectured nationwide in venues from TEDx and Harvard to Russell Simmons’ Hip-Hop Summit and the Nuyorican Poets Café. His rap mixtape series “Bootleg” promotes positive hip-hop with remixes of songs by Tupac, Notorious BIG, Jay Z, Nas, 50 Cent, and others. His 1,000,000 Youth Campaign has directly impacted nearly100,000 youth across the globe to date. He has also partnered with Intel on its campaign to make their computer processors free of minerals that come from the war in the Congo.

Omékongo’s publishing wing, Free Your Mind Publishing,a subdivision of his organization, UPstander International, has produced 7-fusion music and motivational CDs, 7 books, and one independent DVD. His motivational book G.R.O.W. Towards Your Greatness! 10 Steps to Living Your Best Lifehas received praise from great motivational speakers such as Willie Jolley.His most recent book “The UPstander’s Guide to an Outstanding Life” is a life balance book for students. For more information, please visit www.upstanderinternational.com.