Where Do We Go from Here?

Show Notes

In this episode of Grow Kinder®, co-hosts Andrea Lovanhill and Shauna McBride reflect on all of the changes and challenges of the past year. They talk about how listeners can use lessons from Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s foundational text Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? to approach the next school year.

Andrea and Shauna also discuss how teacher diversity relates to Dr. King’s concept of “the world house,” the relationship between education and social action, and the pros and cons of teachers either waiting for a DEI program to implement or taking messy action towards equity without one.

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[00:00:02] ANNOUNCER: Welcome to the Grow Kinder Podcast, where thought leaders in education explore how social-emotional learning can help us navigate society's most pressing challenges and create a kinder, more compassionate world. Brought to you by Committee for Children.


[00:00:23] AL: Hi, Grow Kinder listeners. It’s Andrea. I'm excited to be back on the podcast and I'm here today with my new co-hosts, Shauna McBride. Welcome, Shauna. So great to have you as part of the team.

[00:00:34] SM: Thank you, Andrea. I'm so excited to be on this side of the podcast. I'm really looking forward to the conversations that are planned for this season. Especially, because so much has happened across the globe, as well as here in the US. Of course, within Committee for Children, since Grow Kinder went on break last August.

To help catch our listeners up, Andrea, you are now the CEO of Committee for Children. Congratulations, again. it's thrilling for everyone on staff and for our communities. Tell us a little about that, and tell us a little about what Committee for Children has been up to during the time away from the podcast?

[00:01:14] AL: Thanks for your thanks, and for your recognition. Because you have been such a support during this time. I don't know folks are aware that you're our VP here at Committee for Children, the Vice President, and we are so lucky to have you. So, again, I'm really happy you're on this side of the podcast too.

As I've taken on this role of CEO, I won't say that it was expected at that exact point in my life, it was probably an ambition that I had for some point. I'm very happy to be in the role because it allows me to do more for this mission, which is always a privilege in my book. So, I accepted that role in December of last year. But when you say, what have we been through since last last August, it's so much. It's hard to know where to begin. Of course, we've been focusing as an organization on weathering the effects of the pandemic, and still delivering on our mission with excellence. So, we've been trying to support – we reached so many educators and families and children. We really have been trying to serve them as best we can while they navigate these new learning environments and methods.

Of course, everyone is experiencing just incredible levels of trauma and anxiety throughout all of this. I think most importantly, during this last year, we've been renewing our commitments top, and taking significant actions toward advancing diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. That's both within the organization and externally. All that required a lot of deep strategic work, working with diverse communities we serve, learning with and from those we hope to serve, and the development of new curricular resources, just so many things.

Then, of course, personally, it's always to transition into a new world, and a role with so much responsibility. It's really been thinking about what direction I think is right for Committee for Children, especially given the many crises that the world and the US has experienced in the last year. I'm also trying to navigate that while helping my own family and friends and colleagues trying to care for themselves and each other. But I'm excited to be in a position that will allow me to do new, exciting and challenging work to further our mission.

[00:03:21] SM: So, as you shared, Committee for Children is very much focused on contributing to a more diverse, equitable, inclusive and just society. How have the events of the past year highlighted the importance of that commitment for you, with your work?

[00:03:37] AL: Well, our country and the world is experiencing a much-needed reckoning with systemic racism, and that's really catalyzed us to focus more intentionally and to really accelerate our own DI work. We were doing things that I think there's been such an incredible focus in the last year to ensure that we're actually making true progress on our journey, that will affect change, not only internally, but externally. To achieve our mission and our vision, we know that social and emotional learning and development has to be rooted in equity.

We have created a new equity statement, we've done a lot of work to support ourselves in the diversity, equity and inclusion journey. We recognize, condemn and seek to disrupt systemic racism. We know that this is so detrimental for all children, especially black, indigenous and children of color. So, we are seeking an equity mindset and all that we do. It has to be woven into the fabric of this organization. The ways we work internally, that culture we co-create, the curricula that we create, training, family materials, and of course, we do extensive policy work. There's such a huge lever there and really focusing on equity.

So, we're really committing ourselves to helping young people discover and grow competencies that are going to support their resilience and their ability to contribute to more equitable schools and communities. We want to really express how we value their unique identity, the unique identity of every child as we do this work.

[00:04:58] SM: Oh, my goodness. I love everything you just said. Love, love, love it. That's the perfect segue into today's discussion. Every January, typically, around the time of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Junior's birthday, I read, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community, his fourth book. Every year, it still feels so incredibly relevant, even though it was published over 50 years ago. You've also read the book, correct?

[00:05:27] AL: I did, and also, of course, found it very relevant to our current situation, which is disheartening in many ways, but not surprising. I think that calls for change. And the idea is to really bring about a more equitable society in the US, are ideas that racial equity and justice movements are still fighting for now. So, of course, I think progress has happened, but the pace is troubling, especially with the loss of so many black and brown lives caused by unjust systems and practices.

In reading it, I was thinking, why this particular work for you? Why do you choose to reread this every year?

[00:06:01] SM: History is really important to me. One thing my mother always said, which is, I think, a famous saying is that, “Those who do not understand history are doomed to repeat it.” What I love about this book is that it is equal parts, for me poignant, analytical, and most importantly, hopeful. For anyone that is a questioner, and incredibly inquisitive about the world, and the ways in which we can, “do something for others”, as Dr. King states, there's so much value in this book. One thing that has always stood out to me in all of Dr. King's work is the sentiment around the idea that all movements need hope. This past year, I mean, where to start, right? We need hope. But we also need real solutions and we need everyone doing the work. Work that, as you and I have discussed many times, it's hard, and it's messy, and it's never ending. There's just so much in this book that is really still relevant. It blows my mind every year.

But this year, especially, in the introduction, by Vincent Harding, there's a reference to how determined Dr. King was to be fully and creatively engaged with the living history of his time. When I read that, it is so relevant for everyone right now, especially those that are focused on social justice, anti-racism, any type of journey toward a more diverse, equitable, inclusive society.

I've heard so many people joking about being done living through history, and at times, I completely agree. The word exhausted, it isn't even deep enough at this point to describe how I and I'm sure so many people feel as we are living through history. So, for Dr. King to intentionally acknowledge the importance of being fully and creatively engaged with living history, it was really powerful for me this year.

Also, Dr. King, he posed questions in the first chapter of the book that I think about every year, and would love to chat about today. Those questions are, where are we? Where do we go from here? Chaos or community? Who are we? Who are we meant to be? Do we have the power to begin the world to again? It's a lot, right?

[00:08:42] AL: Yeah. There are so much to think about in the book. It's interesting how it stands both as a historical document, but also for its relevance right now. So, I think all of those questions are still valid questions, for better or worse. I'm also curious, I know we want to kind of get into what those questions mean for us now, but it sounds like somewhat rereading this kind of renews you. Is that how you feel about the text?

[00:09:11] SM: Yeah, it does. It really does. Because, I mean, life is hard. It's really, really hard and you have stops and starts and you have moments where you're 10 steps forward, and then you take 20 back. My dad grew up in such a different time than I am currently living in, and he has told me many stories about the era in which Dr. King was alive. Sometimes it's really hard to fathom. My husband is white, and that was illegal, not so long ago, and I am black. I need this book in many ways to be reminded of the struggle, and I have such an appreciation for Dr. King. I can't imagine the pressure, the desire, to really bring about change and he very much was focused on coalitions and community and knowing that we can't do it ourselves. It does renew me in many ways, because I want to see change in the world and he, in my opinion, is just so visionary when it comes to that.

[00:10:23] AL: That's lovely. I was raised by people who predominantly grew up in small, predominantly white rural areas. But I did that growing up in one of the most diverse areas that you could grow up in Kentucky. I would say, being in such a diverse environment, the lack of education around diversity was apparent, and that we were not expected to read things like this book. I think there were so many things that we were trying to navigate as children growing up in that environment and having different lived experiences, and experiencing different kinds of discrimination and oppression that we just couldn't – I don’t know, we didn't have the tools to have the conversations and to try to make things better as we grew.

So anyway, I've been thinking a lot about that, as I'm educating myself and reading texts like this one.

[00:11:22] SM: I’m so appreciated, my conversations with you, about diversity, equity and inclusion because you are incredibly thoughtful. I see you as someone who's a lifelong learner, and you really have vision for change, which I think is so important. There's a passage early on in the book where Dr. King says, “White America is uneasy with injustice. But whites, it must frankly be said are not putting in similar mass effort to reeducate themselves out of their racial ignorance.”

It's 50 years later, and after all that our society has been through over the past year in particular, some feel that we're finally making progress in diversity, equity, inclusion and anti-racism, and anti-bias efforts. There are others that aren't so optimistic. Andrea, as I'm sure you remember, we were actually supposed to record this episode the day that the Derek Chauvin verdict was announced. But we decided to take some time to process that historic moment and all of the different emotions that came with it before having this conversation.

I keep thinking back to the words of Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, that he said on that day. He said that, even though he thought the verdict was a step toward accountability, he wouldn't call it justice, because in his words, “Justice implies true restoration.” What are your thoughts? Have we moved forward at all? You touched on this a little, and in the words of Dr. King, where do we go from here?

[00:13:11] AL: Well, first of all, I would agree entirely with the Attorney General's the statement, and I am sure you join me in feeling frustrated that there is a relief and celebration about things that should be the bare minimum, like accountability for taking someone's life. I characterize my own feelings as cautiously optimistic. Have we moved forward? Yes. But any progress towards social change on a large scale, any progress in challenging oppressive systems and racist beliefs that historically is just tenuous. The backlash can be so brutal. So many white Americans do not sustain commitment to learning the true history of racism in this country. Understanding the power structures and privilege inherent in the systems. Fighting for change each day.

I think that means, in personal interactions at work in the community, and also in being an active contributor in public life, to being an active citizen, and understanding what the policies and the folks that you're voting for actually mean for people who aren't just you and look like you. I think that's incredibly important. Dr. King spoke of needing that commitment from White America, and I believe there is more commitment now, certainly, 50 years later. But so much still really feels like words, not actions that truly move the needle, and we do have to move that. We have to move toward being a more equitable society.

So, where do we go? The only place to go is forward. The march of progress, even in the face of backlash continues movements based on the dignity and inherent value of each human being. They must prevail. What choice is there? That is so intrinsic to our own work. So, I keep the faith, while nonviolent action is ordered in the day in King’s philosophy, that's not a passive philosophy by any means. That is a theory of change, it’s active. I think right now, we all must act on our commitments to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Those empty words have to be a thing in the past.

[00:15:11] SM: Yes, yes and yes. Let’s talk about education.

[00:15:16] AL: Our favorite subject. One of our favorite subjects.

[00:15:19] SM: Very important subject. More than 80% of our nation’s teachers are white. According to a Washington Post article titled, Our Schools Are More Diverse Than Ever, But Our Teachers Are Still Mostly White. In nearly all US school districts, students of color outpace teachers of color. What do you think educators and other adults that serve children can learn from Dr. King’s book? What lessons from the book can they use in the next school year to really lead diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts in their schools and in their communities?

[00:15:57] AL: Yeah. Well, there’s so much. But to start, let’s include in that context of not just educators, not just teachers but education business, providers of content. I mean, predominantly, those who are serving education are white. They do not mirror the student population in many ways, not only racially. But the quote that really stands out to me, that I thought a lot about and thinking about education in school communities when I was reading this book is the one about the world house. We’ve inherited a large house, a great world house in which we have to live together, that we are a family, and barely separated by ideas, culture and interest but we can never leave apart again I think is what he says, so we have to live with each other.

Our education systems, our schools and classrooms, they’re many world houses. With educators and staff, they have to have educators and staff who reflect the lived experiences of students. Those world houses have to also include education, professionals and staff that are reflective of the communities they’re serving. They also have to be committed to pealing back the untruths that perpetuate white wash version of history and prop up these systems of oppression. Came teachers of the interdependence of human beings in the US and the necessity of teaching each person and treating each person with dignity, ensuring equality as central to each person’s own well-being. That’s something that can be taught to words and actions in the classroom.

He spoke of educators not knowing what to teach or how to teach at that time. I believe educators do hold the safety and wellbeing of students as paramount, and that they’re answering this call to learn and to unlearn for the sake of the communities that they serve. But they need help doing that and they need inclusive curricula, they need high-quality professional learning, they need culturally relevant materials, and family engagement methods, and holistic approaches to supporting social and emotional growth of their students. All of those things are really critical in addition to diversifying the teacher work force to recognizing and supporting this world house that we have to live in together and the microcosm that is the school communities, these classrooms.

[00:18:09] SM: Yes, love that section on the world house. After reading the book, how are you thinking about the relationship between, you’ve touched on this a little, relationship between education and social action.

[00:18:22] AL: What’s interesting is, I feel like this is a little divisive to talk about education. I think there are some who don’t like the idea of education as a tool towards social action. That’s indoctrination. But actually, so much of education is indoctrination right now. The quote that I love so much from Dr. King is, “Education without social action is a one-sided value because it has no true power potential. Deed uninformed by educated thought can take false directions.” I mean, it’s just inherent to education this idea of agency and action. We speak a lot of student agency, of value-based decision making, student-directed learning. The value of education in self-advocacy and community activism. That’s clear and that’s why so many schools and school time organizations focus on service learning, project-based learning, things that bring value to the community in broader society.

The critical thinking that has to go into looking at complex societal issues, we have a responsibility to support students’ growth as engaged citizens, active citizens, global citizens that participate in and drive the development of a more just society. We miss out on that potential and ignore that responsibility really to our own detriment.

[00:19:36] SM: As a perspective on the intersection, connection between diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging, and to racism and social-emotional learning in schools, has that change? If so, how? And if not, why?

[00:19:53] AL: I think social-emotional learning is such a turnkey. It can affect so many different things in a school environment and in the individual development of a child. So, educators rightly turn to social-emotional learning as a key component of many strategies that they are using to increase student wellbeing, to work toward a more inclusive climate in their school. I think King in this book calls out a few core difficulties in achieving the promise of equality, which you know, I would characterize now as really folks on racial equity.

Those issues that he calls out are a lack of empathy, and ability to take other’s perspective, a lack of understating of our own interdependence as a human being, the need to build inclusive, well-resourced schools that really foster educators who are committed to quality, relevant, true education as far as value-based action and decision making. He also talks about building students and parent’s agency. I wouldn’t say that it’s completely altered my view of SEL, but a holistic approach to SEL supports equity and social justice when one is seeking to set a foundation for addressing these kinds of issues. SEL can create a more positive, inclusive school climate when it’s approached through a lens of cultural relevance and affirmation. I would say the book really supported my growing understanding of high-quality social-emotional learning as part of a broader strategy to address equity in student and community wellness.

[00:21:19] SM: There’s a section of the book where Dr. King writes about the dangers of procrastination in equity and waiting for “a program” to be given to us. It’s probably fair to say that some educators are anxious to take action toward diversity, equity, inclusion or anti-racism efforts in their school community without a program in place. That makes sense, but what do you think are the risks and rewards of waiting for a program developed by experts in DEI and what about the rewards and risks of stumbling forward without a program and taking messy action toward equity? Is there any middle ground for educators?

[00:22:05] AL: Yeah. This is always a tough thing in education. I think when there are emerging needs, and educators are truly looking for best practices. It’s sometimes hard to find those things, especially — I would say, equity has been a focus of education for a long time, but there’s still so much work to do there. I really believe a first step for educators is to address their own individual development in the are of DEI. There are high-quality programs, training options. Many of those are free and districts are seeking those for their educators now and they’ll provide education and tools to develop their own self-awareness, removes their implicit bias or at least increase their awareness of their implicit bias and reduce their bias. And develop skills that can create a more equitable, inclusive environment of belonging in their classroom

But next, they really should be advocating for the adoption of broader educator development and evidence-based approaches that are relevant to their own school community. I think really, listening to, understanding and being involved in the community that you’re serving is essential to this work. Now is the time for action and action at its best is keeping children from opportunity, especially those children most systematically marginalized. At worst, continue an action as feeding into and perpetuating cycles of oppression. That’s resulting in trauma and loss of life for black, indigenous and other people of color at alarming rates. There’s a responsibility to take on this work however messy.

I think educators, if they’re doing the work internally, the early individual development, really seeking to understand the needs of their individual students and of the communities that they’re serving and advocating within their schools and districts for high-quality programs to help them and tools to help them and development to help them. That’s what they should be doing right now in my opinion.

[00:24:02] SM: I love that and I love how you zeroed in on the important of self-reflection. It reminds me that one of Dr. King’s central element of his practice was self-understanding, self-examination and deep reflection. Honestly, I think that is another reason that this book always is important to me. Because day in, day out, year in, year out, we all need to do that work, to reflect, and examine, and think how do I go further, how do I move this work forward and what is my role.

One of the questions that was asked in the book was, do we have the power to begin the world over again? That’s a real big question, I know. What are your thoughts on that?

[00:24:54] AL: In reading the book, as Dr. King is, it was so inspirationally written. But if you think out of context, it could sound a bit like a do over, which was not the premise of the book. First, I would say, there is not erasure. We can’t start over as if what has been can be erased and it’s already so difficult for White America to recognize and rectify the past. Forgetting is not an option, should not be an option. Restoration, recreation and setting a new course is possible. I think a lot about our responsibility to children, because what are children if not architects of tomorrow?

I’m no saying we leave everything to the children. We need to begin to build a better world this minute. We should be doing that work every day. As exhausting as it may feel as mirky, ambiguous, as it may feel as many mistakes as we may make as human beings, we have to do that. Because then, the work of our children is clearer, we’ve modeled it. It’s more sustainable. They’ll recognize their place in that world house that we talked about and they’ll be able to co-create it. Co-create this culture of belonging and really move toward a safer, more just world where each of them can thrive together. That’s my hope. I believe it was King’s hope and many of us I think still are moved by his messages. I felt that way after reading this book.

[00:26:26] SM: Having conversation with you about this is always so meaningful. I thank you for today’s conversation. You walk the talk and it means a lot to the work that we do at this organization and the work that is ahead. I appreciate you. I appreciate this discussion and be well.

[00:26:46] AL: I feel the same. You are always so generous in these discussions. I appreciate that we are able to have these conversations in a way that moves our work forward. We’re both very dedicated to what are the actions this organization can take that actually delivers on this mission in a way that’s rooted in equity. Your deep commitment to that and expertise is so incredibly valuable and I’m thankful for it every day. Thank you.

[00:27:16] SM: Thank you, Andrea. Action, action, action, onward.

[00:27:20] AL: Right. No other course, but onward, right?

[00:27:23] SM: That’s right.


[00:27:25] ANNOUNCER: Thanks for listening. We hope you enjoyed the show. For more episodes and information, visit growkinderpodcast.org. While you're there, we'd love to hear more about you and what you think of the Grow Kinder Podcast. Until next time, be sure to rate and follow us on Apple Podcasts or Stitcher.