The first time I heard about Grace Lee Boggs, I was already long out of college. Like many, I wasn’t given a significant education of AAPI activists, and I stumbled upon a quote of hers in a Public Radio Writer’s Almanac:
The quote hit me at a strange place in my life: I had just moved to Hawai’i, and completely lost my concept of home. I had never been challenged to think how “small,” or “local” change would be effective-- it was always about moving up in a system to change it. In fact, when I left teaching, it was because I was convinced that “teachers in classrooms would not be the source of change” (something that as I write, I cringe). I looked up her story and filed it away with things to research “later.”
When I heard about her passing, I reflected on what I had learned from reading her work later in my life. Now, in my fourth year of teaching, Boggs’s words and activism have been a guidepost for how I structure my work now. It was not until I returned to the classroom (and eventually understood it as “home”) that I realized that it will not necessarily be the teachers in classrooms who make change, but rather the students and communities who spend time there that create movements, with teachers hopefully supporting them.
#GraceLeeTaughtMe that it was only in both recognizing myself as a part of society that I had to “take responsibility for,” but also had to "[confront] the values that they have internalized and consciously adopted different values.” (1998)
It was Grace Lee Boggs who helped me understand that many forms of activism are valid, and to find and nurture my own. When I wondered if perhaps I was not loud or radical enough in language, it was her reminder and reassurance to stop “clapping...do some more thinking!” (2012) that made me feel comfortable sitting in the pauses.
It was not until #GraceLeeTaughtMe that the “we are the leaders we have been looking for” (2007) that I understood who needed to be at the forefront of the movement (answer: the community, usually not me). Grace Lee Boggs framed the kind of classroom and space I want to help my students exist in:
There's something about people beginning to seek solutions by doing things for themselves, by deciding they are going to create new concepts of economy, new concepts of governance, new concepts of education, and that they have the capacity within themselves to do that, that we have that capacity to create the world anew. (2013)
Finally, #GraceLeeTaughtMe that the work, the relentless battle for change, was ultimately rooted in a deep connection with America: “We are struggling to change this country because we love it.” (2014)
Now, when I hear stories of student activism, or see how a mother’s words can bring about changes and discussions in the larger system, it is the mindset of Grace Lee Boggs who reminds me to measure my own frustrations (“This is one book in decades of the miseducation of students.”) with an overwhelming hope and joy that no “local action” is small:
Ultimately, #GraceLeeTaughtMe that we have everything we need already, within us. The communities we serve have all the brilliance they need. We merely need to rake away decades of oppression and release the tethers of systemic injustice to watch as they “create the world anew.”
(Read more great quotes here, via Colorlines)
The opinions expressed in The Intersection: Culture and Race in Schools are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.