Mar 20, 2017

We Gon' Be Alright

Relay's Jabali Sawicki offers a call to action for all current and future teachers.
Jabali Sawicki Smiling at camera

With a few months of 2017 under my belt, it’s a good time to pause and reflect on all that has happened, all that my community and country have been through, and all that we’ve been forced to reckon with. There’s one thing I know for sure…

We gon' be alright.
Do you hear me? Do you feel me? We gon' be alright.

Man standing on top of light post
Photo Courtesy of Kendrick Lamar


Although Kendrick’s “To Pimp a Butterfly” officially dropped in 2015, for me and I’m sure countless others, “Alright” featured heavy in my rotation this past year. It was my unofficial anthem. It stayed on repeat throughout all of the year’s ups and downs, because far too often I desperately needed its galvanizing reassurance and because the more I listened to it and thought about all the good brothers and sisters committed to doing the important and critical work, the more I began to deeply believe its optimistic prophecy.

Throughout all the trying times of the past year, those doing the most important and critical work of educating our children—our current and future teachers—have served as a consistent source of inspiration and hope. Because of their courageous and heroic work in our schools and classrooms across the country, my spirit has been buoyed and again I’m reminded that…

We gon' be alright.
Do you hear me? Do you feel me? We gon' be alright.

For it is our teachers who—even at a time when our country appears more divided than ever, when the value of Black lives is publically debated, the status of immigrants questioned, the rights of the LGBT community challenged, and as the chasm between the rich and the poor grows every day—show up every day to teach, guide, support, and lead. It is our teachers who, in their own personal attempts to process emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually the events of the past year that have rattled many of us to the core, have an opportunity to inspire significant change in the communities in which they serve. Change that will define what kind of nation we become. Change that will define our values and morals. Change that will provide ingenious solutions to our current problems. Change that will produce leadership that will heal and transform.

When you walk into the classrooms across the country, when you enter our sacred spaces of teaching and learning and witness the powerful work of our committed teachers, this is what change can and must look like going forward. It begins with all of us seizing this wonderful opportunity to take control of our destiny and to impact our communities. It means that in addition to our lesson planning, parent calling, assignment grading, field-trip planning, peer-observing, holiday celebrating, tutoring, and bulletin board decorating, we must commit to modeling and teaching our students to:

  • Practice empathy and compassion;
  • Respect and appreciate different perspectives;
  • Value the experiences and histories of others;
  • Celebrate our differences;
  • Protect each other, especially our most vulnerable;
  • Think critically, question all ideas, seek truth, and admit when they are wrong; and
  • Dream big and replace fear and anger with peace and justice.

This is the work that urgently needs to be done to guide our path forward. This is the crucial work being done by over 3 million public school teachers across the United States every day. Because with over 50 million students in our public school system, from Camden to Houston, and from Baton Rouge to Chicago, all with more media access than ever before in our history, our students are hungry for tools that will help them navigate their changing world, and play an instrumental role in contributing to the direction in which it moves.

The relationship between our teachers, our children, and our future is now more relevant than ever. If our future is to be defined by our children, and our children are in the hands of our teachers, then we need our teachers to continue to work towards creating and engineering a world our children deserve. It is with deep gratitude and admiration that I thank our teachers for understanding the vital role they play by carrying forth our noblest virtues…Because of them, I’m confident that…

We gon' be alright.
Do you hear me? Do you feel me? We gon' be alright.

We must continue to teach, lead, and inspire because our work on behalf of our children is just beginning. Our students will need fresh voices to champion their worth. We will need new perspectives to identify new solutions.

Just as I am optimistic because of the work of our current teachers, I am even more encouraged by the next generation of teachers. A generation raised on advocacy and social justice, with a fire in its belly and a commitment to action. This past year has forced all of us to confront our beliefs and values. We’ve all had to respond. We’ve all had to process what we know, what we think, and how we feel. We’ve all had to draw some liberating conclusions about the type of community, society, and world in which we want to live. And now, it is time to act. It’s time to move towards purposeful and intentional engagement, and meaningful work to engineer the changes we desire.

As a lifelong educator and teacher, as someone who interacts with hundreds of teachers every year, as someone who works intimately with college students across the country, as someone who is a tireless advocate for all children, as someone who openly struggled with maintaining my optimism through all of the the trials and tribulations of the past year, as someone who stands in solidarity with the 3 million teachers across the country, and as someone who eagerly awaits the awakening in consciousness that our next generation of teachers will undoubtedly bring; as I reflect on the future, you’ll find me smiling ear to ear, reflecting on the great work that lies ahead for all us, encouraged by our prospects, bumping Kendrick as loud as I can and singing along…

We gon' be alright.
Do you hear me? Do you feel me? We gon' be alright.

We gon' be alright.
Do you hear me? Do you feel me? We gon' be alright.

Students in a classroom
Photo by Relay

Jabali Sawicki is Sr. Director of Inspire for Relay Teacher Pathways. He is an avid street photographer, retired break-dancer, husband, father, and philosopher. Sawicki was formerly founding principal of Excellence Boys Charter School in Brooklyn, NY, and a middle school science teacher at Roxbury Preparatory Charter School in Boston, MA.

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