Guestblogger Dena Robinson is an ELL public school teacher and community organizer at the Intersection in Baltimore, Maryland. She is also a member of Leadership for Educational Equity (LEE).
When the Bronx community I lived in became too violent and my elementary school began to fail, my parents decided enough was enough. We had to move so I could go to a better school to get a better education — one that opened the doors of opportunity rather than shutting me out.
It didn’t come easy, but with a lot of work and a lot of sacrifice, my parents were able to move my family out of the Bronx to Orange County, New York. And there, my parents enrolled me in what I thought was an amazing school, something that simply didn’t exist where I once lived.
At my new school, I discovered opportunities I had never imagined. I was one of the only students of color enrolled in the Honors/AP program. I was the only student of color on the rowing team. But it was there that I discovered something else – the power of my voice.
Reaching back to my mother’s love of organizing and my father’s love of social justice, I used my voice to tackle problems that existed within the walls of my school – problems like our school’s lunch policy that discriminated against students enrolled in free- and reduced-lunch programs.
And through these experiences, I learned about true power and how it can be cultivated for good – a lesson I continue to draw on today, as a teacher and community organizer in Baltimore.
In my classroom, I work to empower English Language Learners by helping them find their voice. Some of my students have gone from shy and barely vocal to confident and unafraid to speak up.
Outside the classroom, I work at a non-profit called the Intersection, which empowers young students to find and use their voice to tackle big problems like gun violence.
Whether it’s been as a classroom teacher or an organizer at the Intersection, I have seen the power that community organizing has brought to the students, parents, and residents of Baltimore City. I have come to understand that organizing does not happen for communities but with communities. And I’ve seen what’s possible when people find their voice, come together and advocate for change.
And I am not alone.
At Leadership for Educational Equity’s National Organizing Workshop in Chicago, I met other teachers and educators who found organizing and power to be equally as important for students to learn as subjects like math, science, and language arts.
That experience inspired me to think even more deeply about how to incorporate organizing principles into my classroom so that my students have the tools and skills they need to become effective organizers and advocates for themselves and their communities.
I teach because education can be a radical way to empower young people and give them a sense of hope and the endless possibilities that come from finding power within. And I organize because I remember seeing citizens in my community who were disillusioned by what was going on around them but felt powerless to make a change.
I do this work because I want others to enjoy the same opportunities my parents fought so hard to give to me. And I will keep on doing this work with the hope that our system of public schools will become the radical forces for change and empowerment that they should be – so that all children can thrive, grow, and make the world a better place.