Last weekend, I went to Los Angeles to attend the Critical Race Studies in Education conference. It was hosted on the campus at the University of Southern California (USC) by the Race and Equity Center. I went to learn from an incredible community of social justice advocates and to present a chapter from my latest book, Capoeira, Black Males, and Social Justice: A Gym Class Transformed.
My presentation coincided with the day my book appeared available for sale on Amazon- (that's divine alignment). The responses to my presentation were positive, and I had the opportunity to connect with some good people. My sister took some video that I will share as part of this week’s vlog.
In addition to informing others of my research and work with Capoeira, I learned from a solid community of educators and advocators working on behalf of social justice. On Thursday, Dr. Shaun Harper gave a dynamic talk about the importance of doing impactful work that disrupts white supremacy. He introduced a theory called until, that left me encouraged to strengthen my commitments to impacting underserved communities.
Another highlight of the conference included the blessing to connect with my advisor from grad school, Dr. David Stovall (pictured). Stovall or D. Stove as I have come to call him, took me under his wing when I was an undergraduate student at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He mentored me until I earned a Ph.D. in 2013 and continues to encourage me to develop as a writer, leader, thinker, and social justice advocate.
I attended two of his sessions during the conference. One of the things, I have always admired about Stovall is his unique pedagogical approach to the classroom. He presents every topic with enthusiasm, an informed perspective, and authenticity rare in academic settings.
In Stovall’s Friday afternoon paper presentation, he discussed his work with challenging gender oppression and disrupting heteronormative masculinity to create more inclusive fronts to fight white supremacy. He shared a story about how one of the participants he works with said to him, “Stovall, you come to these sessions like, hella dude!” Hearing someone reference him as “hella dude,” made him pause and think. The participant meant the comment as a compliment, but Stovall internalized the question to consider whether his personality, demeanor, and mannerisms made others uncomfortable.
To challenge gender oppression, Stovall works with organizers and young people in circles designed to encourage dialogue and other actions aligned with social justice activism. Participants must be vulnerable and honest about their experiences to receive the benefits of the program and to strengthen their skills at impacting injustices. When everyone does not feel empowered to bring their full selves to the circles, regardless of gender or sexual identities, the work that Stovall is engaging in is less effective.
The presentation caused me to think about my work with young men on campus. Through an initiative called, Men's Cave Mentoring, I work with other male professors on campus to mentor young men and to provide structured study spaces. I also teach Capoeira. I know that I have presented material to my students through heterosexual and masculine dominant lenses. Is this problematic for students who may identify as gender non-conforming? Stovall’s analysis of his work made me think about this question in my efforts to create a more inclusive environment on campus.
If you’re an organizer or educator, ask yourself, am I getting in the way of allowing someone to show up as their authentic self? I continue to wrestle with this question, which may be an indication that I need to grow in this area.
Buy my new book, Capoeira, Black Males, and Social Justice: A Gym Class Transformed, today that explores how I engaged young Black males in Capoeira to create positive self-awareness and to encourage activism.