Kyle Ali, Manager of Pre-Service Operations in Greater Nashville and new dad, shares his reflections on Black History Month.
Over the past several months, our Greater Nashville family has been blessed with three new additions. Any day now, we will grow once again as we excitedly welcome twin girls into our extended family. Among this group of 2035 corps members is my daughter, Sadie Quinn. With her birth has come a return to teaching. This teaching job looks a little different than my two years teaching social studies on Baltimore’s west side. I have one student. There is no curriculum. I teach all subjects, from compassion to survival skills. I teach all day, every day. As a parent, I am my child’s first teacher. Though different from my time in the classroom in so many ways, some elements of my teaching remain the same. I approach every day seeing the limitless potential in my student. I often find that I learn far more than I teach. My teaching honors those whose courage and sacrifice earned the opportunities and privileges that I too often take for granted.
Before Sadie was born, I took a trip to Little Rock Central High school with a few corps members assigned to my school site in Memphis. After an inspiring few hours of walking in the footsteps of the Little Rock Nine, we stopped in the gift shop where a children’s book, Child of the Civil Rights Movement, caught my eye. On the front, a little black girl marches with a colorful flag flying the word equality over her shoulder. I bought the book and have attempted to bring My First Protest, Uncle Martin and other short stories to life almost nightly. Black History Month brings the places I’ve been and the stories I share with my daughter to the fore of our collective national consciousness. So many stories that are absent from our textbooks momentarily become part of our national narrative. This year I’m especially grateful for the countless legends, activists, artists, athletes, entertainers, inventors, lawyers, scientists and writers, among others, whose achievements receive their due recognition over the course of the month. It is because of them that my daughter can dream big. We’ll all pause just long enough to celebrate their accomplishments before hastily ushering in March and the false comfort of post-racial America. When the documentaries are no longer airing and the museum exhibits are boxed up for next February, each evening we’ll still be reading stories about the Civil Rights Family and Selma to Montgomery, just as we did every month preceding Black History Month. I do not expect my daughter or the children I taught to dream for a mere 28 days; I expect them to dream every day. I do not accept that the history of Black people in this country can be captured in a month because the history of Black people is the history of America and our history deserves to be celebrated every day.
My Teach For America experience has been a journey of self-discovery. Regretfully, it wasn’t until I became a staff member that I truly had a chance to fully explore my identity as a Black leader in this work. Teach For America has connected me with the people and places my parents read to me about when I was a child. I’ve sat in the pews at Ebeneezer Baptist Church in Atlanta and 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. I sang along with my sixth grade students as we learned freedom songs from Freedom Rider, Dr. Rip Patton. I’ve been extremely fortunate to travel to many places and take part in such meaningful experiences. Of all the places, of all the stories, the ones that continue to compel me most are the stories of this town. I am ever grateful that I have the privilege to live up to the legacy of leaders like Diane Nash and Jim Lawson through my work every day. I’m privileged to be tasked with the responsibility of introducing our new corps members to the stories of change agents past and present. I’m proud this is the place where my daughter and a new generation of young Black students will make history of her own.
I love the way our book ends. I consider it to be an oath for me and charge for her. The final page reads: And one day, when Mama and Daddy were too tired to march, to weary to carry us on their shoulders, too exhausted to fight another battle, the baton would pass to us and we would march on…An excellent education for every child in Nashville is my cause and I march in honor of those whose courage and sacrifice earned the opportunities and privileges that I too often take for granted. I don’t know if education will be her cause. Selfishly, I hope it is. I sincerely hope that when it is my time to pass on the baton, my life’s work and the work of those of my generation will have prepared my daughter and her generation to take up the march and proudly carry the flag of equality onward.