“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…Trayvon Martin. We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal… Tamir Rice. We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal…Jordan Davis. …Michael Brown. …Sandra Bland. …LaQuan McDonald…
Trayvon, Tamir, Jordan, Mike, Sandra and LaQuan were not Rocketeers – but they could have been. Each day in our schools, we engage in deep, passionate work as educators to advance the life trajectories of students of color who live in zip codes that are still not deemed “equal” in the eyes of society. We absorb heartbreaking stories of life trials that our families face each day and yet continue to strive toward greatness for our Rocketeers and their families. So, how do we do it? How do we enter schools and office buildings each day with the stain of Trayvon, Tamir, Jordan, and so many more imprinted on our hearts? We follow the legacy and leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. – that’s how.
Growing up in Georgia and attending Spelman College, the sister school of Dr. Martin Luther King’s undergraduate institution (Morehouse College), I have always known and understood his impact on society. Every year, my parents would wake my brother and me up early on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Observance Day and drive us 40 minutes away to Savannah, Georgia to attend a day-long event of parades and convocation church services held in honor of Dr. King. Each year, I would look forward to seeing the huge gathering of people come out to celebrate his life through floats in parades, oratorical speeches made by local youth and impassioned sermons led by pastors at the Savannah Civic Center. Even as a little girl, I recognized the imprint his life had made on our society. As a student at Spelman, walking the same paths Dr. King walked as an undergraduate and where I attended many events and church services held in the Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel (known as King Chapel to Spelman Women and Morehouse Men), I knew that he had truly been a drum major of justice for us all.
However, it was not until I became an educator that I truly understood, appreciated and valued Dr. King’s impact on my life in such a deep and personal way.
I can recall the moment that it hit me: the realization that I was fighting for a day that I know so deep in my spirit will come, yet is still not here.
It hit me the moment when I had to face a class of 30 seventh graders in my Chicago middle school classroom and discuss with them the tragic death of Trayvon Martin. It seemed the more I explained, the more questions they had and the more wary they felt about buying into this day that I so fervently wanted them to believe is in our future. Our school was located about a hundred feet across the street from the Martin Luther King, Jr. Apartments (named for Dr. King in honor of the time he lived in Chicago during the height of race wars and riots there), in one of the most dangerous gang war zones, ironically dubbed “Holy City”. During my open class discussion with my seventh graders, I recognized that this was what Dr. King felt when injustice was running rampant around him. He knew that he had to be steadfast and immovable in the fight toward the day that he knew deep in his soul would, could and should come to fruition – the day when our society can be free of injustice and inequality.
As educators, there are so many tenets of leadership that we can draw from the example that Dr. King gave us during his time here on Earth. He led with a clear vision. He led with a heart for all people. He led with a spirit of relentlessness. He led with a fervor toward a just society despite the injustices he confronted every day.
This year, our school’s vision centers around our staff being “Freedom Riders” for our students, their families and our communities. Like the Freedom Riders of the Civil Rights Movement, we seek to align our actions in goal-oriented and intentional ways, intervening whenever necessary and making an impact as an authentic team. Recently, our team at Rocketship Nashville Northeast Elementary took a day trip to Memphis, Tennessee and held our first meetings of the second semester in the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. The power of teachers and staff engaging in data analysis from MAP, discussing areas of celebration and focus for our students based on our first semester while thought-partnering as one team was awe-inspiring. The fact that we were engaging in this work where Dr. King was murdered – during the peak of his leadership- was soul-stirring. Being taken back in history to the many sacrifices that so many others have made before us truly grounded our spirits and renewed our fervor to ensure that our Rocketeers, their families and our greater Nashville community is able to one day stand and proclaim that they have witnessed a just and equal society.
At times, I become disillusioned and frustrated at a society that continues to show injustice. Then, I stop and recognize that in my calling and charge as an educator, no one proclaimed that this journey toward equality would be easy. However, Dr. King’s life shows me that as a leader in this movement – one who answers the call to impact the life of another – I have to continue to hold steadfast to my vision of success and justice, despite what society may show at times. As a leader in this movement, I am charged with invoking renewed joy and faith in the lives of those I impact so a new generation of change agents can arise just as Dr. King did. As a leader in this movement, it is my calling and responsibility to ensure that I work relentlessly toward a day when injustice will be no more and total equality will be the new normal. As a leader in this movement, I am encouraged by the work of others who are fighting the same fight – others like my phenomenal staff at Rocketship Nashville Northeast, the amazing staff at Rocketship United Academy, all of our fellow Rocketship campuses, our network staff and every other school in America who is passionately changing the life trajectories of our nation’s most precious gems – our children.
In the words of musicians John Legend and Common, we’ll all continue to fight until that day when our societal victory of justice and equality comes – then, like Dr. King, we’ll be able to proclaim “…our eyes have seen the glory…”
One day when the glory comes,
It will be ours, it will be ours
Oh one day when the war is won
We will be sure, we will be sure
Now the war is not over, victory isn’t won
And we’ll fight on to the finish, then when it’s all done
We’ll cry glory, oh glory.
How are you remembering Dr. King’s legacy? Share with us ➟ @RocketshipEd
Christa joined Rocketship in 2014 after working in inner city Chicago as a Manager, Teacher Leadership Development with Teach For America-Chicago and a middle school Humanities teacher at KIPP Ascend Middle School. Prior to her time in Chicago, she was a Teach For America corps member in Jacksonville, Florida where she taught 4th grade. Christa is an alumna of Spelman College. She is passionate about education serving as the heartbeat of communities and the ray of hope for the families we partner alongside on our path toward educational equity.