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What Do Schools Look Like in Wakanda?

The prepared remarks of the student-selected faculty speaker, Senior Lecturer Karen Mapp.

Welcome students, families, friends, and colleagues to this afternoon’s convocation. I’d like to take this moment to express my deepest gratitude to the students for electing me this year’s faculty speaker: I am truly honored by this recognition.

It was brought to my attention by one of our doctoral students, Al Moore, that I was selected to be the convocation speaker in 2014, Jim Ryan’s first year as dean, and now, here I am again as faculty speaker, in his last year as dean. I’m not quite sure what to make of this bookend dynamic, but I do know one thing for sure – that Dean Ryan’s leadership has been an inspiration to me and to many of you. I wish him all the best as he and his family begin their new journey at the University of Virginia.

Last month, I attended the annual American Educational Research Conference AERA for short — and this year it was held New York City. I went to a superb presidential session entitled “Building a New Educational Justice Movement.”  The session was coordinated by my colleague and friend Professor Mark Warren, and Mark assembled a wonderful panel of parents, community activists, and scholars of community organizing. 

One of the panelist was Natasha Capers, one of my “she-roes.” Natasha is a parent activist with the Coalition for Educational Justice in New York City.  Natasha began her presentation by talking about the movie Black Panther, how many of you have seen the movie? For those of you who haven’t, (why haven’t you?) one of the stars of the movie is actually a place, it is the fictional African nation of Wakanda, Black Panther’s home. Wakanda is a technologically advanced and thriving nation, where all young people, regardless of their gender and station, are empowered to be their best selves.  

Natasha told us that while she was watching Black Panther for the second time, she found herself wondering, "What do the schools in Wakanda look like?" — schools that could produce these talented citizens who are technologically sophisticated and culturally astute and aware?

Long after the session, I found myself thinking about Natasha’s question. I wondered about the schools, the teachers, and the overall culture of educational institutions there. And then I thought, “Wait a minute — I’m at an Ed School, this is a perfect place to ask that question!”

So, with the support of Matt Weber and the filming and editing expertise of Iman Rastegari (thank you, Iman), I went out on Appian Way and asked members of our HGSE community about Wakandan schools and we created a video of their responses.

As you watch the video, I’d like you to not only to listen to what people say, but how they say it.

Roll video.

I’d like you to think for a moment: “What struck you about what you just heard, what you just saw in these responses? Now, if we had time, my students know that we’d now engage in something we call a “turn and talk” (right, students?!), where we would have a chance to share our responses with one another. But since we don’t have time to do that here, I’m going to share with you what struck me about these responses.

They were:

Exuberant, passionate, joyous, electric, spontaneous, wondrous, confident, creative, loving, and unapologetic. And they were filled with what Angela Glover Blackwell, who was here last week, described as “radical imagination” — that kind of imagination that’s glorious, improvisational, and courageous, that doesn’t take no for an answer, that doesn’t let anything stand in its way.

This has been a tough year, on so many levels, for so many of us. But I have to say, I am hopeful, more hopeful than I’ve been in a while. And that hope comes primarily from this radical imagination, this radical courage, this radical leadership, that I’ve seen in our students.

I’ve watched them push back hard on those individuals, institutions, and organizations that show in their actions and their words, that they only support Wakandan-like schools and opportunities for some kids, not all kids.

I’ve seen our students interrogate their own assumptions, biases and ways of seeing the world, and I’ve seen them create space in their minds and in their hearts for new ways of thinking and feeling about themselves and others.

I’ve seen them form collaborations and teams that work together to disrupt the very systems and structures that stand in the way of creating these vibrant and equitable educational opportunities for all children.

But our students cannot do this work alone.  They need all of us, every person in this room, to be READY to support this work, in whatever way you can.

So, in closing, I’d like us to do a little call and response, to let all of those within ear shot our special HGSE community to hear just how ready we are to do the work to create Wakanda-like schools and opportunities for ALL of our children. When I ask you “Are you ready?” I want to hear you shout out, Yes, we’re ready!

So here we go — Are you ready? Are you ready? Are you ready?

Then, everyone, with this kind of energy and solidarity, no one can stand in our way.

Thank you, and congratulations to the HGSE Class of 2018.

Video: Iman Rategari