What's in the box?
Yesterday, I received a box in the mail. It was from the U.S. Postal service and labeled "priority". Fitting title. More on that in a moment.
Three years ago, after founding a program called Gateway2change, I met a young sophomore in High School named Shawn who attends McCluer High School in Ferguson-Florissant. Yes, the same "Ferguson" that was (past tense) plastered across the news around the globe for violence. Divisisiveness. Pain. Destruction. Hopelessness.
From the onset, even as a sophomore, Shawn was reflective. Profoundly insightful. Kind. Authentic. At the time, he was attending a Gateway2change student summit on race with his peers to learn ways to make a positive impact in his community. The same community where hopes and dreams are vibrant and alive even when not captured on the national news.
Shortly thereafter, Shawn, a senior this year, began to transform from relatively quiet to quite the vocal leader. In fact, in the second year of Gateway2change, a program which brings student leaders together to discuss difficult topics like race and create positive change agent action projects together, Shawn became one of the leaders on stage, orchestrating the summits with hundreds of students. Thanks to student visionary pioneers like Khaila Jones of the Parkway School District and Webster University and Jaylen Bledsoe, an already accomplished orator and heart driven business leader, who met weekly to plan summits for the region, the movement became student led. Supported by top youth motional speaker, Koran Bolden, these students were off and running.
In October of 2015, I proudly accompanied Shawn, Jaylen, Ellie, Desiree, Cole and Shahd to Washington D.C. as they spoke at the National Coalition on School Diversity at the kind invitation of Gina Chirichigno, national leader in integration and diversity and David Glaser, head of the highly successful VICC program in St. Louis. These talented student leaders' trip was made possible by a community collaboration led by districts including Rockwood School District, Ritenour School District, Ferguson Florissant School District and the Hazelwood School District. Students oozed passion and a commitment to equity as they traveled to Washington DC. Shawn and his peers spoke at Howard University Law School, rich with history related to civil rights, in front of hundreds of educational leaders including the U.S. Secretary of Education. To many in the audience, Shawn was the first real "face" they'd seen from Ferguson. No assumptions. No news clips. Just a strong young man with a depth of knowledge and passion that could fill an ocean. Intelligent beyond measure. Not only "poised to change the world" in some future sense- he was doing it through dialogue and action.
After Shawn and the other student leaders spoke so passionately, a number of national education leaders rushed towards the stage to speak with them including Jeff Crane, superintendent from West Irondequiot School District in Rochester, NY. Following Jeff's kind invitation to come to Rochester, Jim Walters and I accompanied Shawn, Jaylen and others in January 2016 as they coordinated a Rochester, NY student summit on race with dozens of schools and hundreds of schools participating. Thanks to Jeff and other leaders in Rochester, the movement continues today with hundreds more students from around the Rochester NY region just having completed their 4th summit. We are talking jam packed auditoriums of young people talking, planning and taking positive action.
The movement also continues to expand as other cities begin similar long-term summit plans to work on Courageous Conversations like the ones Dr. Charles Pearson, Superitendent of Normandy School District, leads throughout the St. Louis community. Here is a clip of Dr. Pearson's exceptional work teaching Courageous Conversations where the local St. Louis efforts are now organized by Education Plus and local school districts.
Yesterday, as you may recall, I received a box in the mail. A small box marked priority. An unassuming, run of the mill box. It was from Shawn. Opening the box, I found a hat. Written just above the bill was "Stanford University". You see, Shawn will be attending Stanford University in the Fall and studying topics like engineering and social justice. Something tells me that Shawn will have something to teach his Stanford peers and professors about engineering a community driven, positive movement.
In this life of easy access, negative "news", lets take a moment to celebrate the "heroes and sheroes", many of them teachers and students, orchestrating heart-driven work. There are young people across the globe whose appetite for negativity wained years ago. They are hungry for something more substantive. Conversation and the opportunity to lead action that nourishes the soul with connectedness and impact.
Congratulations to Shawn on his acceptance to Stanford. The "real" gift that Shawn and his peers are giving me is not in a box but in the knowledge that their passion is pure. Their conviction unwavering. Their time has come. You may also be happy to know that the Ferguson-Florissant School district from which Shawn will soon graduate is on the rise with visionary leadership. Hard work. Hope. Tenacity of spirit.
Too often we don't open the box. We make assumptions. Too often forces impel us to label people and put them in a box. "Oh, he or she is from that neighborhood". "He or she is too young or old or rich or poor or dark or light or this or that to make a difference". That thinking limits us. We deserve more. We can box people in with labels or we can see the possibility within ourselves and others and nurture accordingly.
The interactions we have with people show our priorities. We end up receiving priority deliveries in the future based on the interactions we have today. Perhaps we can take a moment, then, instead of putting people in boxes, to open up boxes of possibility by lifting one another up. In the end, that is the kind of box we all deserve to open.
So here is my simple ask related to a "priority" delivery like the one Shawn so kindly sent to me:
Today, deliver a message to someone that says what good or possibility you see in them.
Simple. Clear. Hopeful.
Who knows, you too may receive a box in the mail one day in the future and open it to find a gift that keeps on giving.