By Angel Boose, Vice President, East Orange Education Association & member, NJEA Women in Education Committee

The pandemic of 2020 and the violence against Black and Brown people brought with it the need for the National Education Association’s (NEA) Center for Social Justice to create a space where educators could collaborate and a vision for education justice could emerge. It birthed the NEA’s Summer Justice Series: Building a Community of Love, Power & Liberation.

The free summer series allows participants to take part in a wide variety of experiences including community building, organizing strategies, and a showcase of artistic experiences centered around music, dance and poetry.

Part one of the series was a kick-off held on June 29, 2020. It included a special opening by comedian and actress Kim Whitley. It was followed by a discussion hosted by the teaching duo, TooDope Teachers featuring keynote speaker Dr. Bettina Love, award-winning author and associate professor. She discussed anti-blackness and how we can achieve educational freedom. Her message was empowering and included applicable ideas and strategies all educators can use in their classroom and when fighting to change education policy.

Part two of the series offered participants the opportunity to engage in a variety of live interactive workshops from July 13 – 16, 2020. I am a lover of art and engaged in the Summer Justice Series with an open mind, surprised at how much I enjoyed each experience. Below you will find a brief synopsis of my experience with the workshops: Music in Action, Organizing from the Inside Out, and What’s Going On? Storytelling for Change.

Music in Action was a workshop focused on the role of music in social justice. It was hosted by Rich Medina, platinum-selling record and renowned spoken word artist; Beverly Bonds, DJ, producer and founder of Black Girls Rock; and Ginny Suss, activist and manager of the Resistance Revival Chorus. The discussion was heavily based on the power of music and whether it has the ability to affect policy. For a long time, the music industry controlled what people listened to, but now there is room for artists to control the messages they want to convey. Music influences, and artists are creating music that change people’s minds. That music can empower them to ask questions and push to impact change.

Organizing from the Inside Out was a workshop led by Firas Nasr, founder of WERK for Peace, which brings the dance floor to the streets to protest egregious social injustices. Nasr spoke about dance and movement being healing and regenerative. He emphasized that the healing process becomes simultaneously a creative process – one that allows us to create the world we want to see while also healing the wounds of the past. He played music and invited participants to dance as a process of embodying liberation.

What’s Going on? Storytelling for Change was a workshop centered around spoken word. It was hosted by author, poet, and teacher Racquel “Ra” Brown and rapper, entrepreneur, and activist Talib Kweli. Twelve novice poets, were challenged to compose a poem in response to the theme “The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same.” They were coached by the cohosts and given feedback. There were powerful words shared by each poet. One emotionally spoke of the pain that comes with becoming bilingual and having to learn when and how to communicate in each tongue. Other poets spoke about the injustices and pain that come with being a person of color, how images and actions surrounding the current fight for racial and social justice are reminiscent of things we can look back on that occurred over 50 years ago, and yet things are still the same. Toward the end, the #4 ranked world-renowned spoken word artist, Meccamorphosis shared a piece inspiring us not to forget about the black girls. The entire workshop was an inspiration and showcase of raw talent.

It’s not too late to take part in this unique experience. Part three of the NEA Summer Justice Series will take place from August 3 – 6, 2020. Visit neaedjustice.org/summerjustice to register. You will receive an email with information regarding how to select and access the workshops you are interested in. I hope that you take part in this opportunity to learn and explore the various ways you can join in the fight for racial and social justice.

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