Community, Community, Community is Going to be my new Mantra


I’ve been thinking a lot about the way we approach community, and each other. This generation feels isolated, disconnected.

Are we really alone in this struggle?

The enormity of the struggle seems real, even my rich friends with good jobs can’t afford rent.

We judge our friends who struggle and whose lives aren’t picture perfect on Facebook. We forget that Facebook is all just an elaborate series of lies.

In college, I tried to look out for everyone. Pass out on the couch? That’s what I keep an extra blanket for. Too drunk to consent, guess who is getting some snacks and a walk home. Need to be put to bed after a rough night? Only after a glass of water.

This is a deeply embedded part of my ethos. WE look after each other to survive, that’s what community is supposed to be and what worries me is that we’ve attempted to replace this with underpaid workers. Love isn’t replaceable. There is no price you can pay that replace the love of someone holding your hair back.

My generation is so starved for actual love, I’m tempted to go around the country taking care of the same people I’ve been taking care of the whole time.

That’s a joke, obviously, but the community I grew up in and built is full of misfits, orphans and some of the brightest and most beautiful minds you’ll ever meet.

And we are drowning.

Sometimes I feel like I’m slipping under water while rocks get thrown at me. Usually I’m trying to also carry others to the shore but lately I’ve just been threading water trying to survive. I wish I had the answers this time but I don’t.

But here’s how I’m coping: I’m trying to spread as much love as I can. And this is the small acts of kindness. It feels good to remind myself that I have the power to do for others but it’s also about building the communities we’ve destroyed. Those communities take work and they take more than one person to build but what comforts me as I talk to others is knowing that everyone else wants this too.

So how?

Just start talking.

Leave the house.

Help where and when you can.

Talk about everything but politics for a while. The trolls can have it out while the rest of us have snacks.

Literally all of us needs to sleep more and eat better. And we need to remember that food used to be a social occasion.

Do frontline service work, on a local level (this means you actually serve people).

Join a civic organization, preferably one with older people involved, so you get reminded that life is long and there are things much bigger than you in the world.

Our generation isn’t so much selfish and narcissistic as we are completely confused as to how to build communities. A bunch of latch-key kids obsessed with performance and success, each of us are running on a hamster wheel going nowhere.

We could get off the wheel, band together and figure out how to escape the cage.

But that means talking to each other and that also means we stop pretending everything is ok.

I tell lies on social media. So do you. And social media can’t replace real community.


How I’m Learning to Fall Back in Love with my Scars


I heard the click of the bic lighter, a sound I would later come to pretend to love and then I saw the flames.

It’s one of those cute stories I used to tell. That time I put a fire in a diaper out. At first I forgot about the lighter. I blamed it on a faulty furnace. I forgot where the burn scars came from, scars that only some of my more observant lovers would notice. They are actually all over my body and I remember now how I treated them myself. A cold shower flushed the plastic down the drain, but the scars remained.

I issued excuses, and then covered those up. It’s all a series of elaborate lies. I could lie so easily, my intelligence and respectability, my pale skin acting as a kind of alibi only I would ever have to live with.

Now it’s all of you who will need the alibis.

Only once did they ever ask questions, my body seems to know how to hide. My body knows how dangerous the truth can be, maybe that’s why I’d fall in love with the truth later as an adult. Maybe that’s why I went looking for it.

And so here I am today, thinking about how best to cover up defensive wounds on my wrist from that Christmas they tried to kill me. I remember how they got there now and I used to be grateful only those with the right background could see they weren’t self inflicted. Pretty clear defensive wounds, kids. I wasn’t kidding about some of my skill sets. I got them from the father in died in prison for selling the same drugs you are now all entrepreneurs for selling.

I lied because I had no choice and you can call that convenient but I know my brain is magic because the truth only came when it started to be safe. All right, I lied again. It came a little sooner than I would have liked but that’s the way my brain handles things. I’m not in control of it and that has turned out to be the greatest miracle of all.

Or so I thought.

Then I got reminded how much pain my scars could cause.

I could lie but the truth should be obvious now. I can play CSI on myself. I change the subject and pretend to be normal. Do the scars or the Stanford degrees come first?

No one seems able to process both.

So from now on you’ll have to listen to those stories about each scar because each and every single one of them is proof that I belonged at Stanford in the first place.

You did extracurriculars. I survived murder attempts and rape.

I’m not going to apologize for that. I won’t be backing down or lying anymore. I’m here because my own brilliance saved me from multuple attempts on my life.

My ability to get back up and laugh after rapes can be called madness all you like but it’s also why I’m an unstoppable force. I refuse to apologize for that either.

I’m going to stop apologizing for my pain. I’m going to start falling back in love with my scars. I know who I am and I’m not going to be told what to hide anymore. Choose to deal with it or don’t. I can’t help you there.

But if you want to know how to survive, how to thrive even, when everyone around you is mad enough to light babies on fire, I’m your girl.

The answer to the question of how I’ve survived seems to be jokes, music and love. Little acts of kindness made by people who didn’t have the power, fallen soldiers in a war we lost before I was even born. I got conscripted before I even had a choice, like my ancestors before never, going further back than I even know. We come by our stubbornness honestly, because what other choice is there? They said give me liberty or give me death, and too many people weren’t given the choice at all. I’ve always been more of a lover but that’s a weapon too when the whole world wants war and the struggle is against anger, pain and hate. They called me stubborn, and I call that still being alive. That stubbornness was all passed down from ancestors who survived long enough to keep me alive.

My body is all the more beautiful because it has been marked by monsters that fell long before they could take me with them and I’m going to fall back in love with it even when no one else can handle it.

It’s not my concern anymore whether or not it hurts you because maybe you need to know discomfort. There is beauty in this kind of madness. I wonder sometimes how much beauty the rest miss out on because they are so afraid of being anything other than normal.

But I can’t make you see what is patently obvious to me.

This is centuries of the human condition. I wasn’t the first fire. I won’t be the last one sold. This isn’t an unfamiliar story, it’s just one that never gets told.

I’m almost bored by it these days. It makes you forget your social graces.

“Oh shit, was it just inappropriate to mention the murders I witnessed. My bad.”

That’s my mundane.

And I’m not sorry about it.

And the reason I’m not sorry is because despite this, I’m still standing, and laughing my ass off at this whole charade.

That’s a choice.

It’s always a choice you have.

So make that choice like your life and the lives of everyone depends on it.

Those scars, they aren’t going anywhere but if they remind you to love they are beautiful, and you should demand love for them.

Don’t Tell Lies, Kids are Smarter than You Think


I am notorious for many things, one of them is keepin’ it real. I am a pretty big fan of keepin’ it real. Keepin’ it real means being really honest about the world as it exists. I strive for honest and kind, sometimes, because I am human, I fail. Most people who have been through the kind of trauma I have lie about it. People pretend to not be poor. People pretend they aren’t struggling. People suggest to me that I should lie to the children, as if children are blind and can’t figure it out. I want to tell you as a trained professional that they can and have already figured it out. Children are beautiful, and brilliant, and amazing and have no filter and that is why I work with kids and not adults. Kids are still raw, they are still honest and because of that they have the power to grow and change, and ultimately to change the world. You cannot grow if you can’t take risks and you can’t take risks if you lie to yourself.

I’m honest because when we aren’t honest we end up in a world where white children grow up being lied to about their privilege. We grow up in a world where black children learn to blame themselves or become angry without knowing the cause of their suffering. We grow up in a world where bills can be named ridiculous things that have no basis in reality, like No Child Left Behind. We grow up in a world where we have a feminist movement defined by blaming women for not working hard enough. This is a world in which nothing structural and systematic gets fixed. I get it; people think that if we are honest, people will lose hope and give up. I have to respectfully disagree. There are people who survived the Holocaust, Slavery and Genocide. There are people that resisted those things. People are so much more resilient than we can possibly give them credit for. This is especially true about children, who have the amazing ability to adapt to anything and to strive and learn even when they are told not to.
The other argument is that people will find out and stop having personal responsibility. This is a rather shallow and foolish view of humanity. People have accomplished things under conditions that are absurd. Malcolm X knew he was going to be shot, he spoke anyway. My mom told me how messed up the world was, and then she told me that was no excuse for failure, and despite being a severely abused poor kid I made it to Stanford. I know how hard it is to overcome things, I also know how incredibly strong and beautiful humanity is in the face of adversity. This is why I trust my kids to handle the truth.

The kids are never uncomfortable with the truth. It is the adults who are. This is why when I said I wanted to teach about the Black Panthers I had Stanford kids tell me they weren’t comfortable with having high schoolers learn about that. My response was that they already knew; I grew up in the shadow of the Militancy of Civil Rights and so do all of my students. We aren’t supposed to talk about violence and I have seen more stabbings than I can count, I have had students who have watched people be murdered; they were twelve. They used the experience to connect with other human beings. They were incredible, conscious, sensitive, chatty, and adorable 12 year old boys. I hope that whoever has the fine pleasure and honor of teaching them now sees how beautiful they are and helps them develop their voice. Do you have any idea how powerful it is to watch 12 year poor children find their voices and enter debates about Civil Rights when they know what is going on? It does not weaken them. Kids are better than that. You cannot stamp out their drive, humans have an innate desire to contribute, to provide, to be part of this grand and mysterious world. I sincerely have never met a lazy child. I have met kids who didn’t do what they were being asked, but I have never met a kid who when given a task that is both accessible and rigorous and of interest to them, who didn’t do the task. Not one. Ever. In any context.

My friends from high school are really good examples of this. None of us were great students (we have who was worst contests, the jury is still out). One of them, a boy with a keen mathematical mind and test scores that are ridiculous, failed most of his classes but asked to take community college classes he was interested in. He’s been working since we were 13. He can run his own business. His pool game is absurd. Another is a profoundly talented artist, she almost failed school because they put in her the lower classes because she lived in the projects, so she stopped showing up. She is now a professional artist, she graduated from Berkeley, with honors. Another one only excelled in the classes he was engaged in, he had what rich people call business skills and what we hustling that would have rivaled anyone I know in business currently. He teaches kids to read. He lived in a shed in college so he could get out. And me? Well I was defiant, I rarely did the assignments I was supposed to, sometimes just for fun I would do other assignments in protest, I was known for getting the whole class to turn on a teacher. I ditched most of 8th grade science. I went home during lunch and made pasta only to never return. I got into fights. I only behaved when I was differentiated to. Now I am a teacher with two degrees from Stanford. All of us had profound struggles. Poverty, racism, sexism, familial challenges, a neighborhood that was unsafe, abuse, neglect, everything you imagine about urban kids is represented in just three examples. We were set up to fail. But we got out. We got out because we wanted to contribute. Those are the most brilliant among us, but to this day I don’t have any friends or family members that I know that aren’t trying to contribute, aren’t trying to love the people they love in their lives, aren’t trying to care. They don’t always do it successfully, but they try. I have seen sociopaths, and the faces of evil, they are rare and not reflective of humanity but of deficiencies in their ability to be human and they aren’t lazy.

My mom is a radical lady. I was raised in a house where race, class and gender were discussed openly. But this was the norm. There isn’t a black kid in America that hasn’t gotten a lecture on race, that hasn’t woken up and realized that they are oppressed. There isn’t a poor kid I know for whom that isn’t true either. How could you not know? We all knew. We just had different understandings of the root causes, and those understandings were ultimately what defined us. I was empowered by how clear the system was to me and was made to me by my mom and the number of good teachers I had. I wish my friends could have had that too, maybe more of them would have gotten out. That is why I teach history. Be honest because the kids already see what is happening, but if you don’t explain why how will they ever know the right way to get around it. How will they know the rules well enough to break them? Because that is ultimately what is required. And while you are at it, if you are serious about making it so that they don’t have to break rules just to survive and provide for their families, do some work on addressing the structural inequalities. If you want to be super helpful, the next time you are at dinner with someone who doesn’t know how the world works, especially if they have power, keep it real.