Dr. Samuel Betances. Look him up. If you want to be inspired, follow him, watch videos of him speaking, think about his words. He was our final speaker of the Art of Leadership 2016.
First, he has cred. He told us he’s buried six brothers, citing drugs and violence as part of the environment he knew. He grew up in poverty, English wasn’t his first language, and he dropped out of high school. He was working at a hospital when a direct, kind woman started holding him accountable for his future. He speaks of her in this video:
My notes from his presentation are full of these clips of wisdom that should be on posters all over my office. And your office. And the world.
“You can't teach anybody until they give you permission to teach them; you can school them, but they may not give you permission to educate them”
“Never assume malice. Even when harmful things are done.”
“We have to stop failing students for not knowing what they haven’t been taught.”
“We don’t have students at risk. We have students with untapped potential.”
“Learn to reject rejection. The best revenge is success.”
“Words are noises that at pregnant with meaning.”
“You can’t be mad at parents for not giving what they don’t have.”
“To go from poverty to the professions, you must first cross a bridge called books."
“Every kid needs an adult that he doesn't want to disappoint with school failure.”
“Not all students in schools are middle class, but all assessment tools are.”
“If you think you're a leader and you look back and no one is following, then maybe you're just taking a walk.”
Seriously. I’m having a hard time even summarizing all that I was inspired to think and to do after his talk. He talks about diversity and equity in a way that leaves no excuses for not educating every child in every school to the fullest.
He talks about words. I think I already wrote this in another post from another speaker, but kids need words! Think of all of the academic vocabulary we use. It can be like another language for some kids. It’s easy to say that parents need to talk to their kids more and have deeper conversations, but “You can’t be mad at parents for not giving what they don’t have.” Is it possible that the first step in breaking cycles of poverty is giving people words? Is it that simple?
I’m going to order this book, 30 Million Words: Building a Child’s Brain, on his recommendation. And I’m going to read more memoirs so I can learn from them and recommend them to others who can learn from them. And I’m going to ask kids to “authorize me to get into their business.” He advocates giving reading options as an alternative for disciplinary actions. I might even try that. I am inspired.
By far the most poignant thing he stated, and so incredibly appropriate in weeks full of racial conflicts and inequity and police murders, is this: “We have decided that some people are flags and some people are handkerchiefs. When really we are all made of cloth.”
He’s a diversity training consultant. He’s worked with Oprah. He’s a big deal, as he should be. I’m a little fangirl about the fact that he gave us all his email address. I wish that every educator I know could hear Dr. Betances speak, so I’m going to link a couple of the shorter videos here. You should totally watch them. I’ve watched many of them more than once. There are also keynote speeches on YouTube that are longer. Some of them are 80s and 90s, but it doesn’t matter.