3 Days of Elevating the Genius at Education Anew: Shifting Justice 2018

More than one week has passed since we were all gathered together in Puerto Rico for Education Anew: Shifting Justice. It was an event rich with healing, collaborative learning and truth. Truth about the systemic racism that makes our schools unsafe for black and brown youth. Truth about the financial interests that weaken our public schools. Truth about Puerto Rico’s colonial status, and the inequalities that system of oppression manifests. Through three days of plenaries, workshops, tours and experiences, we were able to unpack those truths and elevate the genius of those closest to the solutions.

Day 1: Learning About and Experiencing Puerto Rico

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Education Anew: Shifting Justice officially opened with a traditional Afro-Puerto Rican ceremony that called upon the spirits of our ancestors, followed by a performance by Bombarrilé.


With the mood set and our minds open, Monique W. Morris proceeded to moderate our first plenary: An Intersectional Vision for Education and Youth Justice. Participants explored the concept of safety in schools and the ways in which we can liberate children of color. The audience joined the panelists in exploring tools for liberation, which include peace-building, love and the right to twerk.  

(From left) Xavier McElrath-Bey, Marcy Mistrett, Erika Almiron, Monique Morris, Wakumi Douglas, Gloria Gonzalez

That afternoon, we shifted our focus to Puerto Rico and, specifically, the devastating effects of colonialism in our Puerto Rico, Colonialism and Resistance plenary.


Dr. Hector Cordero-Guzman taught us about the true costs of colonialism: an economy that does not value its citizens, resulting in decades of mass outmigration and loss of revenue which leads to poverty rates higher than the continental U.S. Panelists Tania Rosario-Mendez and Ariadna Godreau expressed their frustrations with disaster capitalism and hurricane recovery through a feminist lens. Nelson Colón, President & CEO of the Puerto Rico Community Foundation, called upon funders to engage in more inclusive, community-centered investments. And, Professor Pablo Luis Rivera explained the importance of preserving culture in order fight back against oppression. Before we departed on our community learning tours, Ariadna Godreau reminded us that Puerto Ricans are “present and strong.”

(From left) Leticia Peguero, Tania Rosario-Mendez, Ariadna Godreau, Nelson Colon, Pablo Luis Rivera, Dr. Hector Cordero-Guzman

Attendees spent the afternoon in the communities of Loíza, Santurce and Río Piedras experiencing Puerto Rican history, culture and natural beauty through music, art and dialogue with local community leaders.

Community tour at the art studio of Samuel Lind.
Hip Hop community tour.
Community tour at Taller Salud.

Day 2: Reclaiming Safety and Speaking Truth to Power


Day 2 opened with healing rituals that helped us take a moment to clear our minds before a full day of multiple workshops and powerful plenaries.


Our morning plenary wasted no time digging into an issue that feeds the school-to-prison pipeline: police in schools. The Case for Police-free Schools plenary included testimony by organizations on the front lines of the movement, including the Black Organizing Project in Oakland, Philadelphia Student Union, Make the Road New York, Alliance for Educational Justice and LAEN in Toronto. All panelists agreed that we cannot reform our way out of the problem, police must be removed from schools completely in order for children, and specifically children of color, to feel safe.

(From left) Jonathan Stith, Jackie Byers, Adilka Pimentel, Thena Robinson Mock, Saudia Durrant, Andrea Vasquez Jimenez

Andrea Vásquez Jiménez of LAEN explained how her organization organized to completely remove police from Toronto, Canada’s public schools which led the panel to envision what could be possible with police-free schools. To close, plenary moderator Thena Robinson Mock pondered the hypothetical outcomes if Harriet Tubman would have wanted to reform slavery, rather than abolish it. Indeed, dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline starts with abolishing the irrational sentiment that police in schools makes our children safer.

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Our final plenary of the day focused on the tail end of the school-to-prison pipeline. A powerful video by Youth First Initiative set the stage for the discussions that would ensue. Panelists agreed that incarceration and surveillance begins at schools and absolutely intersects with racial justice and other social justice movements such as housing justice and LGBTQ justice. Hernan Carvente cautioned us to avoid narratives such as “violent vs. non-violent offenders” in the decarceration movement and be mindful of prison closures so that those resources are reinvested into the communities affected by mass incarceration. Youth incarceration is a system that must be dismantled, not reformed.

After a full day of plenaries and workshops, attendees were able to let loose, embrace Puerto Rican bomba and speak their truth during our Cultural Night Party and Open Mic. Attendees were treated to a performance by Yubá Iré, whose vibrant energy motivated attendees to get on their feet and move to the beat of the drums. Later in the evening, attendees used our open mic to sing, rap and speak their truth to power in English and Español.


Day 3: Youth & Elders Show Us How to Elevate the Genius

After an evening of dancing and celebration, priests/priestesses of the Puerto Rican Diaspora welcomed us with an early morning mbongi. Their perspectives were inspiring and provided a much-needed wake-up call. Through the lens of their faith, they challenged us to resist those who oppress the sacredness of our being.

Rafa Maya and Dr. Marta Morena Vega

With our hearts and minds centered, we began our final morning plenary on Privatization & Disaster Capitalism. Mercedes Martinez of Federación de Maestros Puerto Rico unpacked the issue of school privatization on the island and how education advocates have resisted the change. Ronsha Dickerson and Antonio Travis echoed Mercedes’ sentiments as similar movements have been mobilized in cities such as New Orleans and Chicago. Despite the challenges, Mercedes Martinez says that “you have to have faith in people, organize people, because they have the power.”

(From left) Karen Marshall, Ronsha Dickerson, Marilisa Jimenez, Merdedes Martinez, Antonio Travis

During lunch, we got political with our Building Electoral Power plenary. Speakers from across the country spoke about the organizing strategies their organizations are mobilizing to push policies that are equitable for communities of color. Rachel Gilmer of Dream Defenders spoke about holding politicians accountable and their push to restore voting rights for formerly incarcerated Floridians. Neva Walker of Coleman Advocates pushed women of color to make themselves a seat at the table—even if it isn’t offered—invoking the audacity of Shirley Chisholm.


To close Education Anew: Shifting Justice 2018, youth elevated their genius on stage. Young people from California to Texas to New York shared original poetry, songs and wisdom beyond their years. In the words of one of our brilliant youth attendees: “Like the ocean, I will never stop fighting.” Neither will we. #ElevateTheGenius


Learning Puerto Rico

Today, our first day of Education Anew: Shifting Justice 2018, we have the opportunity to go into the communities of Puerto Rico and hear their stories. We are honored and humbled by the experience. Many of the women leaders you’ll meet today, shared their stories with us about justice and the work they do to elevate the genius of Puerto Rico. #elevatethegenius #easj2018 #educationanew

#ElevateTheGenius at Education Anew: Shifting Justice 2018

Today, we officially convene for the second Education Anew: Shifting Justice. We are excited about the possibilities this year holds and know that the solutions to many of the issues we face are found within the genius of our attendees—organizers, advocates and youth of color—who know there is another way to shift justice. We also know that change doesn’t happen in silos. This is why we convene. To share our knowledge and lived experiences that #ElevateTheGenius. To create a safe space where resistance is celebrated. To dream of a world that is equitable and allows young people of color to live a life with dignity. To learn from “la lucha” of our Puerto Rican brothers and sisters for the liberation of all.

Holding EASJ2018 in Puerto Rico is not only significant because of the devastation of Hurricane Maria, but also because of the economic and cultural devastation before Maria. Before Maria, Puerto Rico had a poverty rate that was almost double that of the poorest state in the continental U.S. This gross inequity is the collateral damage caused by the island’s colonial status, which strips away its political power in the interest of foreign capital. Despite the atrocities the Puerto Rican people have experienced, we know there is genius on this sacred land, and we are humbled by the opportunity to soak it all up.

This year, EASJ will facilitate more ways to collaborate and learn from folks on the ground through community learning tours that explore Puerto Rican culture and history, more than 20 workshops that dig into subjects such as Interconnected Movements and Narrative Change, mbongis rooted in Afro-Puerto Rican healing practices and a video booth where you have the opportunity to share your genius.

We look forward to sharing this experience with you, whether you are joining us in person or following us on social media. Throughout EASJ2018, we will be live streaming videos on Facebook, live Tweeting, sharing Instagram stories, and recapping events here on our blog. You can also view interviews with guests such as author Mayra Santos-Febres and bomba musician Marien Torres-Lopes on YouTube. Please share your experiences by tagging us on social media and using #EASJ2016 and #ElevateTheGenius. Pa’ lante!

Building Connections for Lasting Change: Day 3 of Education Anew

After two whirlwind days of assaulting the systemic injustice issues we’re seeking to dismantle, attendees reconvened thirsty for more. CJSF’s Allison Brown welcomed us back with a story about her great grandfather, whose strength speaks to her today.

Looking to our ancestors to unlock the possibilities of tomorrow was a common theme. The day’s plenary focused on the need for intergenerational, intercultural and interracial collaboration in order to overcome oppressive social structures. AFF’s Leticia Peguero was joined by Umi Selah of Dream Defenders and Hector Sanchez-Flores of National Compadres Network.


Hector’s wise words resonated with the audience as he dropped “gotitas de bendicion.” While they were all great (check out our Twitter feed to see more), the one that resonated the most was, “La cultura cura.” Culture cures all. He urged everyone to look back in order to move forward and search within their own cultural traditions to endure “la lucha.” He also stressed the importance of historically oppressed peoples finding common ground in order to heal together. Only when ALL children are regarded as sacred, can they thrive.


Meanwhile, Umi championed the power of music to bring people together—especially young people. He harkened back to his own upbringing and credits music as a motivating factor to excel in school. He took us to church (it was Sunday, after all) and encouraged us to invite more musical opportunities into the room. “Music has the power to move people,” he said.

Following the plenary, attendees broke into several learning circles. They served as an intimate way for folks discuss the issues we’ve been dissecting all weekend. This also provided space for alliances to be forged.

2016-11-08After lunch, we were joined by youth as young as 11 years old as they presented their ideas and applications for youth justice. The innovative solutions these young people created were impressive. The grand prize-winning team went to Uplift and their website that gives LGBTQ youth a safe space online.


Closing the convening on an emotional high, attendees shared their reactions and the empowerment they were taking home. Then, we were surprised with Blackbird, a poem from a youth attendee from Chicago. Her words spoke the truth of our collective struggle. Finally, we reaffirmed our solidarity with our brothers and sisters at Standing Rock. “I am a revolutionary,” reverberated from the walls and will reverberate in our hearts and minds well after we close Education Anew 2016.

Money, Power and Justice: Day 2 at Education Anew

After a full day of plenaries and an evening of music and poetry, how could we top Day 1 of Education Anew? Allison Brown and Leticia Peguero welcomed everyone back with a poem and the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Love was once again welcomed into this space as Leticia encouraged us to truly love one another—even those we disagree with.


Today’s panel took a deep dive into the cost of mass incarceration and investment/divestment strategies for communities of color. Representatives from Communities United, Make the Road NY and Padres y Jovenes Unidos unpacked “The $3.4 Trillion Mistake.” Yes, trillion. They explored what would happen if we divested state and federal funding away from the current criminal justice complex and instead funnelled that money back into the communities that need it most. Digest their findings for yourself.

img_0876The panelists made it clear that, contrary to what politicians say, there is money. It’s just not being invested in low-income communities of color. Armed with this knowledge, we were called upon to dismantle the mechanisms of controls—which include the public education and criminal justice systems.


img_0912In the hours leading up to lunch (which was delicious by the way), attendees participated in the workshops of their choice. Topics ranged from sharing stories for youth affected by the school-to-prison pipeline to the science behind what happens to a child’s brain when stymied by toxic stress.

IMG_1159.jpgAfter lunch attendees were treated to a frank discussion about money with the brilliant and funny Dr. Julianne Malveaux—renowned economist, author and economic justice powerhouse. She didn’t shy away from talking about politics and the power structures that fuel economic inequality. She didn’t say money was the root of all evil, rather, the love of it. She urged all of us to become financially literate. In her own words: “Economic ignorance is not cute.”


Educate, Agitate and Organize: A Recap of Education Anew Day 1


We began our day with a warm welcome from our sponsors—Allison R. Brown, Executive Director, Communities for Just Schools Fund, and Leticia Peguero, Executive Director, Andrus Family Fund and Andrus Family Philanthropy Program.

Allison and Leticia reminded us of the importance of our collective work and why convening is so important for collaboration and learning. Bringing together juvenile justice and education efforts to learn from each other.

img_0117Terri Freeman, President of National Civil Rights Museum, formally welcomed us to Memphis and instilled a sense of urgency regarding education justice. She noted rising high school graduation rates among children of color juxtaposed with a decline in their college readiness. She called on attendees to address this disparity with, “Our students are depending on you.”

img_0329In the first session, we heard presentations from Arnold Chandler and Tia Martinez of Forward Change Consulting. Arnold shed a light on implicit bias and how it plays out in our schools and our criminal justice system. 

img_0262Tia shared how her upbringing led her to do the work she does today. She did not shy away from the pain she experienced watching her parents struggle with addiction and the subsequent suicide of her baby sister. She stressed the importance of family support to overcome toxic stress and shed light on the criminalization of normal developmental behaviors in children.

IMG_0363.jpgJames Bell, Founder of W. Haywood Burns Institute, and Soffiyah Elijah, Executive Director of The Alliance of Families for Justice, took us on a journey to explore our country’s history of racial injustice and structures of white supremacy in our second plenary of the day. They challenged us to question a status quo that has historically disregarded the humanity of people of color. James painted a very vivid picture showing what our justice system is today and what it could be—two conflicting ideologies that cannot coexist. The first: our current system of custody, control and suppression. The other: intervention, services and a restorative asset-based approach. As we all know, the former does not work.


Our next panel was a rallying cry for education justice. Led by former Andrus Family Fund Program Officer, Katrina Mitchell, the panelists explored the points of intersection juvenile justice and our schools. When panelist Kim McGill of Youth Justice Coalition took the mic, it energized the room in a way we hadn’t seen before. She called for more investment in direct action organizing, changing our language to be more inclusive and abolishing our current youth justice system rather than reforming it.

img_0372Next, we were shown the power of technology when it comes to defending the rights of youth. Najma and Jenny from Youth on Board shared their organization’s Know Your Rights! App. The app helps Boston students understand their rights pertaining to suspension and expulsion policies, stay connected to other students in the district and report violations.

img_0684Our next plenary focused on what it means to feel safe for communities of color. Andrus Family Fund’s Manuela Arciniegas engaged attorneys Marbre Stahly-Butts, Center for Popular Democracy, and Jennifer Kim, Ella Baker Center, to share their truths about what led them to become policy advocates. Marbre reflected on a childhood in which multiple family members struggled with addiction and witnessing her father in court. Jennifer reflected on how the Rodney King riots resulted in the subsequent assault of her father. Marbe dropped stat after stat, proving that living wages are at the core of real criminal justice reform. All agreed that education, employment and infrastructure investment makes us safer—not an enhanced police presence in communities of color. A passionate discussion ensued, which explored varying points of view. Some attendees defended their program models for reconciliation with local law enforcement. Some, such as representatives from B.O.P., stressed that police have no place in schools and that there is too much trauma and distrust in many communities. Jennifer echoed those sentiments, stating that Oakland is not ready to engage with police because the community needs time to heal.


The subject matter of the last plenary of the day focused on something that is on everyone’s minds: The election. Attendees were encouraged to collaborate on issues, such as holding their candidates accountable to further their youth justice missions.

img_0800After a long day of amazing dialogue, attendees gathered atop the Peabody for an open mic night that was refreshing, healing and charged with emotion and empowerment. To close an already amazing evening, we were treated to the lyrical stylings of Memphis-based Marco Pavé. ASHAY.