Sunday, July 9, 2017

My Time With Jonathan Kozol by Brittany Alexander


When we received the official word that Dr. Jonathan Kozol had agreed to speak at our Badass Teachers Caucus, I was awestruck and more than a little giddy. Shortly thereafter, Chair Becca Ritchie informed both Vice Co-Chairs that our “other duties as assigned” would involve helping Jonathan get to and from the Convention Center. I kept telling myself that it couldn’t be really happening. This had to be a dream. But, then came the first full day of the NEA Representative Assembly, aka Jonathan Kozol Becomes My In-Real-Life Friend Day.

I floated dream-like through the first part of the day: OEA Caucus, the start of the RA, and into our lunch/BAT Caucus. That’s when it really hit me like a ton of bricks. I could hear Wayne and Garth’s, “We’re not worthy!” on a constant loop in my brain as the cab driver took us to this legend’s home some 20 minutes away. As we turned onto the street, I felt waves of nausea. We stopped in front of his house and I walked shakily to the door with Tina. And. Then. It. Opened.

I cannot say whether my outward demeanor reflected the sheer thrill I felt at shaking Jonathan’s hand and our introduction. I can say I felt like my heart would burst from my chest and I tried my best to at least appear somewhat calm. His humble and unassuming manner did not surprise me in the least, and it helped to put me at ease. A little. But let’s face it, meeting one’s heroes doesn’t happen every day.

We encouraged Jonathan to bring some books to sell. He was very resistant to this idea, and I remain convinced that he never really wanted to do so. But we did our best to assure him that people would really want to buy them. We followed him up the stairs to carry the books and he turned to ask how my arms were. I then saw a small box with less than 20 books and told him I was strong enough for that. (Both Tina and I knew full well that we could have every one of those sold just on the ride back if we wanted to.) Once we had everything gathered, we loaded back into the cab and were off to the Convention Center.

This was when I finally felt at ease. Like any gifted leader, Jonathan quickly got to the issues and had us thinking and talking. He was full of questions, but generous in listening. We covered most of the topics he would later share with delegates from around the country. Jonathan’s speech was captured in three parts, which can be found here.

Walking into the Convention Center, we were stopped a number of times by educators who wanted to say hello and thank you to Dr. Kozol. We stopped first at the BATs Caucus table, where Marla and he talked for a bit. We then had the honor of enjoying salad and sandwiches with Jonathan as other BATs joined us at a table in the dining area for attendees. From there, we escorted him to the room where his lovingly percolated coffee awaited him prior to speaking.

Still nothing could have prepared me for the beginning part of Jonathan’s speech on the day we officially met:

“I think of you as my allies because you’re the troops, you’re the front-line soldiers in the struggle that we’re facing against these formidable forces. Not simply the right wing think-tanks like Heritage Foundation and so forth, right wing financiers like the Walton family, but also a huge portion of the neoliberal establishment, Gates Foundation for example, and so much of the national media. So, we have a real struggle on our hands. And, to me, you’re the heroes. You’re the warriors. I always say great teachers are not simply technicians of testable proficiencies. At their best, they are also warriors for justice. That’s how I see Becca, that’s how I see Brittany, (turns to look at me!!!!) and Tina Andres, my old pal from SOS, Shannon Ergun, Kathleen Jeskey, PJ Zive, and of course Marla who reached me a couple of months ago and made all this possible. And my new friend, Erin Rafferty.”

From the depth of my teacher heart and soul, I feel honored to have served as one who literally brought Jonathan Kozol, my new friend, to BATs one week ago today. I am grateful to Becca and the other NEA BAT Caucus officers for nominating me to serve as East Coast Co-Chair for the past year, and allowing me this opportunity. I am so appreciative of Marla and all her work to get every detail just right for Jonathan and our audience. BATs helped me touch another dream. I love us so much!

Brittany Alexander, Ohio BAT

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