Typically when I’m on YouTube, I am either catching up on the latest episodes of The Breakfast Club or looking for a new Ted Talk. On this particular day, I stumbled across a Ted Talk with an interesting title, “Why Open a School? To Close a Prison.” The Ted Talk featured Nadia Lopez, a young New York principal who started a middle school in one of the most impoverished communities in our country. She built a school she hoped would push her students to college instead of prison. The Ted Talk led me to purchase and read her book The Bridge to Brilliance: How One Principal in a Tough Community is Inspiring the World. Coincidentally, I began reading the book right around the time I took over as principal at my school. I already knew my job was to raise test scores and improve learning, but that book taught me I also had an additional obligation. It was this obligation where my impact and my reach extended beyond the walls of the school and into the heart of the community.
There are those that have a belief that as a school principal your sole focus should be on the academic advancement of your students. That should be your focus for sure, but sole purpose…well, that is up for debate. I do not lead a school where the free and reduce lunch count is in the single digits; the number of students at my school who pay for lunch is in the single digits. I do not lead a school where my students come from two-parent households. I do not lead a school in a community where the majority of my students live in a house they own. I do not lead a community where my students are sheltered from violence. I lead a school that experiences the opposite. I have an obligation and a passion for doing more, for impacting more, for inspiring more.
I am a black man, leading a predominantly black student population in a mostly black neighborhood and community. I owe it to my people to stand up for more and to lead a school that does more. Yes, we do focus on the education of our students. We do push them to excel academically, so college is an obtainable option. Our mission is, “College Starts Here” and we mean it. We also want our students to go to college and accomplish great individual accomplishments, but come back to their neighborhood/community and give back. We want them to open up a dental office around the corner from their homes, or a healthy foods grocery store or a bank. I want them to understand that our school is about developing the next generation of community leaders who will fill the gaps in our community to make it whole. My passion for my school and school community does not end when the final school bell rings, I pull off the parking lot and drive 25 minutes west towards home. I continue to reach out to the community. We started a community initiative to be a part of the solution in a community, not the problem. We are partnering with other organizations in the community to ensure our school is not just at the table, but a part of the table.
The Wayfinder Campaign #ThisIsActivism is about standing up and speaking out. I am speaking out as a principal that I will not, and my school and students will not, be solely defined by test scores. You must also define us by the impact we make on our community. Being a principal for me is more than just being an instructional leader. It is more than just reading, math, and science. I strive to be the principal that my families see in the streets advocating and being activist for better opportunities. I strive to be a principal inspiring to change the conversations and the narrative about our community from one of crime and generational poverty, to a pathway of love and prosperity. My students need to know there is life outside of their community, but when they find that better life, they should give back to their community. I must teach, mentor, and guide them and the rest of the community and lead a school that is an institute of learning, but also an institute of hope.