Kwame Adams: "This is the first picture I took on the HGSE campus. It was the first day of orientation and I can remember being excited, but very anxious about the upcoming year."
Photo courtesy of Kwame Adams
The Intellectual Contribution Award recognizes 13 Ed.M. students (one from each Ed.M. program) whose dedication to scholarship enhanced HGSE’s academic community and positively affected fellow students. Kwame Adams will be honored with the Intellectual Contribution Award for Education Policy and Management (EPM) at HGSE's Virtual Commencement on May 28.
Senior Lecturer Karen Mapp, faculty director of EPM, comments on Adams' selection: “We are lucky that Kwame has chosen to be part of our HGSE and EPM community. A leader by example, he is serious about leveraging the skills and resources acquired during this year to serve his community. As one of his classmates put it: '... his commitment is admirable and pushed me to consider how I can make a greater impact.' His authentic and warm energy on campus is unmistakable. Another student said, 'Kwame is a source of light and joy in the classroom.' Kwame has been a wonderful influence on his HGSE classmates, faculty and staff. This is a well-deserved honor!”
We spoke to Adams about his time at HGSE, his future plans, and what the new normal in education might look like:
What does the above photo mean to you?
Kwame Adams: This is the first picture I took on the HGSE campus. It was the first day of Orientation and I can remember being excited, but very anxious about the upcoming year. Though I was a teacher, it had been a while since I was a student and I had not written an academic paper in years. I wondered about my adjustment to the academics and I also wondered about the social adjustment. Being from Boston, I had a few preconceived notions about this space. I wondered if the professors would be arrogant or not as interested in genuine human interactions. I wondered if my peers would have this competitive edge to them that made it difficult to openly engage in honest and vulnerable dialogue outside of the classroom. I love how the apprehension I had, when I took this picture, was quickly eradicated as I recognized the deep humility, sense of self-awareness, and urgency to create change that was present in the people I engaged with.
What are your post-HGSE plans?
KA: I am still in the process of looking for work, but I plan to return to Boston Public Schools after graduation. I have taught in the same district I graduated from for the past five years, and I plan to continue to work in and with my community to ensure that students are getting a quality education. It is important for me to return to my community to continue to fight for the humanization of black and brown bodies, as well as be a voice that reminds students and their families not only of the wealth of knowledge they possess, but that their potential is far greater than they perceive. I plan to continue to combat white supremacy as it invalidates the culture of my people and the hard work of the ancestors that sacrificed so much of themselves for the opportunities we have today.
"It is important for me to return to my community to continue to fight for the humanization of black and brown bodies, as well as be a voice that reminds students and their families not only of the wealth of knowledge they possess, but that their potential is far greater than they perceive." – Kwame Adams
What is something that you learned at HGSE that you will take with you throughout your career in education?
KA: HGSE reminded me of the importance of speaking out. Being in a space that is so diverse, it is easy to assume that if you do not speak up, someone else would carry the baton and present an idea or perspective that is counter to what the professor or a peer had shared. In classes where there was a controversial statement made, I often told myself, “let someone else respond,” and I often saw how no one would challenge the idea.
I recognized in order to give myself the best academic experience, I had to fully harness my identity and make sure that I was humanizing myself as well as the people/places that were being discussed. Many times, I wondered if as a black man I would be labeled angry or deemed a contrarian because of the way I advocated for my race, culture, and the bodies that possess it. I learned that as a black academic, the idea of being in a “safe space” is not a reality considering some of the elitist and racist ideologies we encounter in our studies. HGSE provided me the space to step my feet even deeper in the dirt and remember how important it is for me to challenge the system and openly challenge professors without the fear of retribution. Just because someone has taught a class for a number of years does not mean they have the right to invalidate my experience.
This will impact my work as I reenter the field and strive to create inclusive, equitable spaces where students learn to take pride in themselves, their communities, and their culture so that they can always persevere and recognize that there is no such thing as “the right time.” The right time is always when you choose to stand up for what you believe in, and make sure that you do not invalidate people in the quest to dignify your people.
Is there any professor or class that significantly shaped your experience at the Ed School?
KA: Karen Mapp, Christina Villareal, Jim Honan, Joseph McIntyre, Mary Grassa O’Neill, and Irvin Scott are some of the people that have significantly shaped my experience at the Ed School. Their support of my work and their investment in my development is something I do not take for granted. They are the reason some of my classmates have unofficially given me the superlative, “Most Likely to be in Office Hours.” The time that I have spent with them has been rewarding in more ways than one and I am extremely fortunate to have shared space with them.
Karen Mapp has worn many hats, as my professor, my adviser, program director, life coach, therapist, and cheerleader. Her dedication to seeing the next generation of leaders flourish and stay true to themselves, while not caving under the grips of white supremacy, is admirable. She has been an inspiration and I honestly cannot imagine this experience without her authenticity in addition to her genuine love and care.
How has the pandemic shifted your views of education?
KA: As someone who is known to kick the elephant in the room, I love how the pandemic is making the disparities in this nation more obvious. Inequities have been amplified during this pandemic, and the way that our country is responding to them versus how other countries are is deplorable. The pandemic has helped me realize how some people still care more about curriculum than the lives of our students and their families. Conversations around MCAS scores and learning loss, is taking priority over the social and emotional well-being of our families. In a pandemic, families are struggling to pay rent, bills, and secure a meal, which would greatly impact their investment in instruction. It is my hope that all districts take a more holistic approach to education and we work to exterminate the disparities that hinder the progress of so many families.
It has been painful to watch the numbers of infected persons and deaths increase each day. It has also been a gross reminder of the racist society we live in when you see white Americans protesting at state capital buildings with confederate flags, armed with AR15s and AK47s. We have all witnessed non-violent protests by indigenous peoples, Latinx folk, and black folk, all of whom are met with violence and brute police force, but these armed white men are safe. The pandemic shows how we need to also raise the social intelligence of our society so that there is some hope for equitable policy that will benefit all members of this society.