A New Year, a New House, and a New Resolution

Happy New Year ladies and gentlemen! I hope you enjoyed ringing in the new year with your friends and families where you may be, and I hope you are looking forward to this new year as much as I am. I have always enjoyed celebrating the new year, and the older I get the more I seem to take joy in the fact that I am still living and breathing to see what is going on in the world today. Because let’s face it, some AMAZING things are happening.

We all know how terrible 2017 was so I won’t talk about that, but I was pleasantly surprised at how good the year 2018 was to me. Overall, it was one of the better years in the life of Wynne. I started out 2018 by ringing in 2018 in Nashville, Tennessee with my friends Audrey and Danny. It was the first time I had ever been to Nashville and I thoroughly enjoyed it (especially our NYE dinner. Holy Hell that was good).

Aside from that, the first part of the year was spent annoying my students from last year about how relevant, important, and cool the Olympics are. They were so tired of watching Olympics stuff that I could relate to the curriculum that they would groan when I started talking about it. But hey, let’s face it, the Olympics were big for Team USA. They accomplished lots of firsts and athletes like Adam Rippon, Gus Kenworthy, and Lindsey Vonn successfully used their platforms to further equality and acceptance for all.

If we’re being technical, they’re Canadian. But even Jesus approves of that lift at the end.

February brought fear and sadness to the American classroom once again. And the way things go here in America, I am sure that it won’t be the last time that we are afraid and sad. With the tragic shooting Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, I cried as I watched the events unfold. I am sick and tired of the bullshit excuses coming from the people we elect to lead who time and time again choose the NRA over the future of America’s children. Thankfully, however, it was a little bit different this time. The Parkland kids are different. They are fighting back and it was an amazing thing to see. And because of the Parkland kids, two things happened in 2018.

First, the Parkland kids are the first group of people to give me real hope that we will soon figure out how to fix the gun violence problem we have in America. I have read countless articles about how teenagers are sick and tired of waiting to die curled up on the floor of their classrooms so they have decided to fight back. They organized, and have spoken out, and raised their voices, and are still shaking their fists. But most importantly, they marched- and that is the second thing that happened in my year as a result of the Parkland kids. Learning about the civil rights movement in school was always one of my favorite time periods to learn about. There is honor, courage, and bravery in the people who said “This is not how America should be. And if you won’t fix it, we will!”

In high school, I added something to my bucket list. I decided then and there that I want to participate and be part of a protest or social movement at some point in my lifetime. That sounds superficial and like I am participating just to be able to cross it off my bucket list, but that is not the case. At the end of my life, I just want to be able to tell my grandchildren or my great grandchildren that I was part of something that mattered and that made our world a better place. So I waited. I waited for the right cause. I waited for a cause that directly affects me and my life. In short, I waited for the Parkland kids. The March 4 Our Lives march that took place in Greenville was a huge success. I ended up marching with my good good girlfriend Richard and it was an all-around amazing day.

It was fantastic to be a part of a movement that is bigger than myself. TO the Parkland kids: Thanks for starting this. To the rest of the US: let’s keep the movement rolling!

The summer months brought about time full of traveling to the beach or to educational leadership conferences, or just on the road to visit friends here and there. I enjoyed the much needed time to refresh my batteries and Humphrey enjoyed that I could throw the ball in the middle of the day or that we could sleep in late on some days (he takes after his Daddy in the fact that he is NOT a morning person). As I scrolled through my timeline looking for things I could add, one extraordinary thing happened. As I scrolled through my timeline and came to June I saw many posts referencing Pride and Pride Month (since for those of you unaware June is Pride Month). Thinking about all of these posts I realized something very important. 

It cannot be stated enough just how pivotal the progress that LGBTQ people and their allies made in 2018. From phenomenal movies like Call Me By Your Name and Love Simon to historic scenes and the most inclusive cast on shows like Pose, 2018 was a damn good year for positive recognition for shows about LGBTQ people and LGBTQ people who are working in the entertainment industry. Putting all that aside, though, perhaps the most remarkable progress has come in the area of society’s general attitudes about LGBTQ people and their rights. For example, Greenville had a Pride Rally on a Saturday afternoon in downtown Greenville.

Think movies like Love, Simon isn’t a big deal? Think again. Visibility and representation is important. It saves lives. I can relate to almost all of what these people say.

Think about that! Greenville had a pride rally (Read more of my thoughts from this past year on pride here and here.) On its most iconic and main thoroughfare. What still brings goosebumps to my skin and tears to my eyes is the number of young people and families that I saw in attendance that day. Parents were bringing their young children. Parents were bringing their LGBTQ-identifying teenaged children. Young people were living out and proud. This was inconceivable to me when I was in high school and it still fills me with hope for our future. As the Schuyler sisters sing in Hamilton:

Look around, Look around! Look at how lucky we are to be alive right now.

The Fall months brought about Clemson Football, back to school and a new season of events and shows at the Peace Center. This will go down as the greatest season of the Peace Center that they have created so far. Not only did I get to see Hamilton, but Dear Evan Hanson is coming later this summer. I am ecstatic. In addition, October has brought about one of the largest life changes I have experienced so far. That’s right ladies and gentlemen, Wynne Boliek is now a HOMEOWNER! It is a terrifying and scary thing, but I finally have a cute little townhouse that is just perfect for both Humphrey and myself.

November was a great month as well. On the 28th I turned the big 3-0. I had been thinking long and hard about how I might possibly feel when it came time to enter into my third decade on this Earth. As a whole, I am happy with most aspects of my life right now, but after an afternoon of walking Humphrey on a walk around the circle that I live on, I have decided to christen this decade as the Decade of Wynne. Seeing as how I am only on this Earth for a finite amount of time I plan on using that time to make sure I enjoy as much of it as I possibly can. How do I plan on doing that, you ask? Well, you will be pleased to know that I plan on doing that by allowing myself to do what I want to do without worrying about what other people’s opinions are.

Don’t really like the sound of that or don’t think that’s such a good idea? Well, I am sorry that you feel that way. To make you feel better, the gif below is for you. Enjoy.

Finally, now that I have let you know just what life was like for me in the year 2018, that brings me to my New Year’s Resolution. I have never really set a New Year’s resolution before this one. I am a rather cynical person by nature (although I prefer to think of it as being realistic than cynical), and since resolutions are so notoriously known as something that is quickly broken I never really saw the point in making something I would quickly break. But turning 30 and trying to break my own cynical nature I decided to set one this year. The resolution I have come up with will be good for all in involved, and here is why.

When thinking and reflecting on what my resolution should be I thought about areas that I could be better at something and one thought came to my mind. I love my friends and family members, but I do not always do a great job of demonstrating or showing that love to them or at least as well as they show it to me. Without this very important group of people in my life, I would not be where I am am today. They have seen me at my highs and lows, and they continue to love and support me. To let them know how much I appreciate this love and support, I have decided to write it to them. Not to toot my own horn (screw it… toot! Toot!), but I consider myself a halfway decent writer, which is why I decided to pull out my old manual Olivetti Typewriter and type it out the old-fashioned way. It will come typed by me, in purple ink… because what is life without a bit of whimsy, after all.

To those of you who receive a letter, please don’t feel the need to write back or anything like that. I just wanted to acknowledge to you, in a personal way just how blessed I am to have you as a big part of my life. That’s all. Also, please do not judge my typos. There is no autocorrect or delete button on a manual typewriter.

To those of you who don’t receive a letter right away, that does not mean you will not get one. it just means that I am writing them on a manual typewriter and it takes a long ass time to type out these letters. So be patient.

To everybody reading this, remember to take some time. Some time to let those you love in your life know you love them. Some time to make your communities happier, better, and safer. Some time to make the world more kind. And of course, some time to look around. Look around – how lucky we are to be alive right now!

Love You All!

-WB

The Intentional Harm from an Unintentional Governor

Those of you who live in South Carolina may not agree with my views of our current governor, but you would definitely agree with me on one point about Governor Henry McMaster: like him or not, he is a very polarizing figure. For the most part there is no middle ground with McMaster. Many people, including myself, find McMaster to be wrong on just about every issue. Personally, I feel the only reason he got to be governor is because he took a gamble on supporting President Predicament knowing that he would return the favor and select Nicki Haley for his cabinet allowing McMaster to get the job he had failed numerous times to get. Obviously, not everyone agrees with me. Many people think our Governor is doing a fine job – even if he does sound like Foghorn Leghorn.

In yesterday’s edition of The Greenville News an article was published addressing the new Budget that McMaster would either sign or veto for the state of South Carolina. Before I continue to discuss why I disagree with some of McMaster’s decisions, I have a challenge for you: I want you to watch all of the following clip. Don’t skip them, and make sure to watch the whole clip. There is a reason I want you to watch them the whole way through.

All of the above clips were brought to you by Kleenex – because if your face looks anything like mine after watching those clips then we look like Russel Crowe looked in the film Gladiator when he found out his wife and child were both murdered. There is a reason I wanted you to watch each of those clips. I think every single one of those clips is a work of art in some way. More importantly, however, every single one of those clips moved me to tears the first time I watched it. Whether it was the actor, the singer, or the dancer, something about each of those performances touched a part of me with its joy, or sadness, or just straight beauty.

In the first clip, Taraji P. Henson plays Katharine Johnson in the film Hidden Figures. The beauty in her performance when she mortifyingly has to explain why it takes her so long to go to the bathroom. The second clip is three dancers from the Alvin Ailey Dance Studio who represent the main character at three different stages in his life as they dance to the score from the Oscar winning film Moonlight. I would give my pinky fingers and pinky toes for my body to be able to move as beautifully as those dancers. When added with the music from a phenomenal movie movie it takes my breath away. The third clip is from the tv show Parenthood. When Max’s parents have to pick him up early on an overnight field trip after an incident with his classmates because of his Asperger’s, it breaks my heart. The look in Peter Krauss’ eyes and his face as he so desperately wants to take the hurt and the pain away from his child is something everyone can relate to – regardless of whether or not they have children. The last clip is from the musical film version of RENT. Rent is one of my favorite musicals and this scene finds Jesse L. Martin (most will remember him from Law & Order fame) as Tom Collins sing the reprise to the song “I’ll cover you.” Earlier in the film “I’ll cover you is song as a duet between Tom and Angel. Now Angel has died from AIDS complications leaving Jesse heartbroken. It is true love at its finest.

Now that I have explained the clips, back to my purpose for writing this post. I guess that Governor McMaster has not seen any of these films or TV shows. I can tell you for sure he never saw Moonlight or RENT and has never listened to Wrabel. Because god forbid a republican be anything but ass backwards when it come to gay people. Since they don’t exist in the eyes of most republicans. My guess is our illustrious insignificant governor doesn’t make time to see movies, tv or dance performances. He most certainly doesn’t go to the theater so he doesn’t associate with gay people. Otherwise our governor would not have vetoed $500,000 for the South Carolina Children’s Theater, $250,000 for the Charleston Public Library, or $100,000 for a statewide music education program. Out of the 26 billion dollar budget, the moron in charge of our state that it was a good idea to veto those items that count for 0.025% of the over all budget. The asinine excuse of “earmarks and pork” that the governor gave is just downright insulting as well. We all know good and well that if we went through the budget line by line we could find things that were far more worth of the “Earmarks and Pork” title than arts education programs.

"I see the art budget's been cut again."In an effort to keep this post short (especially since I had you watch those videos) I am not going to write about why arts education is vital to every student’s overall education. I am going to post several infographics below that explain why our governor is being shortsighted and is downright idiotic when it comes to these vetoes. Look over them and share them with your family and friends. And then write your state representatives and tell them to please override our governors shortsighted veto. They are easy to find. All you have to do is google “Who are my state representatives” and it will prompt you to type in your address and tell you exactly who they are. Finally, I will leave you with two important pieces of information.

First, As someone who has taught in schools for the past 7 years, one of the greatest things in the world, is to watch a student who most would label as lazy, disengaged, or not interested in school light up with passion on the stage or in the chorus room or at an art exhibition as they proudly discover what they love and were born to do. It is a miraculous moment to watch as a teacher and one I cherish every time it happens.

And Second, since Governor McMaster does not think art has a purpose in the lives of South Carolina’s students, I leave him with this quote from Pablo Picasso:

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Certainly from those two things alone, we can all agree that these intentional vetoes will harm our students and our accidental governor needs to figure that out quickly. $750,000 is a small price to pay if we want our students to succeed in a global world.

Have a great Monday everyone! Don’t forget to check out the infographics below!

-WB

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Two Years Later, Pulse Still Pains our Pride

This is the Second Post in a series of posts that will run throughout the month of June. June has been Pride Month for many years. To honor that history, I will be talking about different aspects of why I am proud during Pride Month.
To read the first post on pride in Chosen Families, click here.

As long as I live I will never forget waking up on June 12, 2016. School was out so Humphrey and I were sleeping in, but when I woke up I had tons of text messages and news alerts on my phone. In the early hours of the morning, a cowardly gunman* walked into Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida and opened fire with semi-automatic weapons and went on a killing spree. Before taking his own life after a hostage standoff that lasted for several hours, the gunman killed 49 people. A club that I have been to twice before, now held the bodies of 49 people. 49 people whose only crime was dancing with their fellow members of the LGBTQ community. 49 people who were the brother of someone. Or the daughter of someone. Or the mother of someone. 49 people would not go home that morning.

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Two years later, the pain has not diminished. The sorrow and the hurt have been moved to the back burner, but they are still present. To be completely transparent, I have not fully processed my own feelings about it. It hurt too much to work through them at the time; but in an effort to honor the 49 beautiful people who were robbed of their dance that night, I dedicate this post to their memory. I will continue to feel proud this month, because they can no longer feel proud for themselves. Tonight’s post, I take pride in the bars and clubs of my community. Tonights post is pride in OUR places.

The Complex.

The Armory.

The Abbey.

The Castle.

Haven.

Sanctuary.

The Factory.

Olympus.

The Fortress.

Pulse.

If you look at all those names of Gay Bars past and present, what do they all have in common? What do all of those names say or symbolize to you? Every single name on that list projects one of two things: Strength and Safety. The reason for this is simple. Even in 2018, The United States of America is not always a welcoming place to members of the LGBTQ community. We are harassed. We are discriminated against. We yelled at. Spit on. Beaten. Raped. Killed. All of these things are done on a regular basis and have been done for years. Sometimes society cares (mostly when it is a white LGBTQ person). Sometimes society does not care. In an effort to make life the best we can for ourselves, the LGBTQ community did what it has always done. We rallied around ourselves. We provided each other with bars, dance halls, and night clubs. Places were we could simply BE.

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If you are a heterosexual cisgendered person, you will never know what I mean by that. Especially if you are also white. I don’t say either of those things to be exclusionary or inflammatory; if I could somehow connect my consciousness to yours so you could feel what it feels like I would. But this is not Avatar and James Cameron did not write the story of our lives. I wish you could feel the feeling I am talking about. Maybe then my community would not have struggled so long. But take comfort in NOT having to feel it. It is better that way. There is less sadness. Less Shame. Less Loss. Less Worry. When I thought about feelings to try and describe that feeling, those are the 4 words I would combine to describe it.

Sadness. Sadness in your gut when you see heterosexual couples sit on the same side of the booth at a diner or lay on a blanket at the park.

Shame. Shame in yourself for caring what other people think of your shorts and your tank top as you walk towards the club in November (Yes some of us do wear tank tops and short shorts in November. Deal. With. It.).

Loss. Loss of equality and protection when the word faggot is yelled at you from across the street or a passing car. Or God Forbid the loss of a friend who was simply killed for living while gay (For the record, my friend was Sean Kennedy and he was the first gay person my age I ever met who was confident in his own skin and nice to me. And he changed my life because of it).

Worry. Worry that creeps into every other thought that runs through your head because you are in public with your significant other and are terrified someone will see you and tell your family, your place of employment, or your friends.

In order to suppress those feelings – because for some people they never go away – we did the only thing we could and gave our bars and clubs names that project strength and safety. They became our churches when we didn’t have a Sanctuary to go to. They became our castles and retreats when the world would not protect us. They became the very beating hearts of the gay community. That is part of the reason Pulse was aptly named and part of the reason it devastated my community. The attack on Pulse was an attack on the heart of the gay community. For some queer people, gay bars are the only place they have ever truly felt safe. If we don’t have those spaces any more, what else do we have?

28167431_10160006809000048_3723469264959415588_nAsk any of your close family and friends who are part of the queer community about their first trip to the gay bar. I promise you that in addition to the name, they will remember their age, their outfit, their drink choice, and who they went with. I was barely 18 years old and my first bar was The Castle in Greenville, South Carolina. It was the most exhilarating feeling in the world- there was terror and excitement all at the same time. I must have had a terrified look on my face because a drag queen named Robin Redgrave came over to me, hugged me, and pushed me towards the bar so she could buy me a drink. I was half-way through the first sip when she saw the X on my hand and slapped the drink out of my hand (which she then finished herself). I had never felt so welcomed and at peace surrounded by so many gay people in my life; and all of it happened in a run down, leaky when the rain came building. The Castle wasn’t much, but it was mine. And that was all I needed.

Pulse affected me and still affects me more than I realized. I couldn’t watch the news without watching Anderson Cooper breakdown on live television as he read the names of my dead brothers and sisters. I couldn’t listen to the radio without hearing the first responders say their dreams will be haunted by the ringing of cellphones of the deceased as family members tried to check on their children. I couldn’t read the news online without seeing the story of a mother (Brenda McCool) who jumped in front of the gunman and used her body to shield her son from the bullets. To this day, I still cannot watch the video of Christopher Leinonen’s mother tearfully talking to the media as she waited for the news of her son.

To those around the world who rallied around us, you will never know how much that meant to us. In one of our darkest hours, you gave us the strength with your hugs, your love, your vigils, your memorials, and other messages of support. Because of you, we were able to grieve for our loss, but still remember that rainbow that comes tomorrow. To the celebrities who wrote songs in their memory, we thank you.

And to those of us who still wish harm to us, know that we found strength in our sorrow. And our love for each other will not be broken and if you doubt that, he a warning from every queer person’s fairy gaymother:

I did not go out for months following the Pulse shooting. A lot of us did not. We did not know if we should and we did not know if we could. Would it be disrespectful to those who were killed? Would we be safe? Would we be able to escape if something bad happened? We did not know how to answer those questions so many of us subconsciously chose not to go out. Further removed from our shut in status, this saddens me. Because it means for one brief moment we let that piece of shit who riddled our safe space win. Because not going out would have been a slap to the face of those who could no longer out. Because for one brief moment, we let the hate shine darker than the love. Time eased the pain, but we continue to worry about our safe spaces. Worry about our friends’ safety. Worry about our own safety.

To this day I do not go out as much as I used to. Partly because I am getting old and partly because gay clubs typically aren’t welcomed in city downtowns so they end up in building on the outskirts of town that only have one entrance/exit. But I make it a habit of going to safe place in our community at least once every couple of months. This month will be no different. This Saturday I will go and honor our PULSE with my people. Out in whatever outfit I want with my people. I will dance with my people. I will drink with my people. I will laugh with my people. I will feel safe with my people.

And with my people, I will remember why I go. I go to The Fortress because Edward, Stanley, Luis, and Juan cannot.

I go to Sanctuary because Eric, Peter, Kimberly, and Luis cannot.

I go to The Armory because Eddie, Darryl, Deonka, Alejandro, and Anthony cannot.

I go to Olympus because Jean, Franky, Amanda, Martin, and Daniel cannot.

I go to Haven because Mercedez, Xavier, Enrique, Ramon, and Simon cannot.

I go to the Factory because Oscar, Miguel, Javier, Jonathan, and Joel cannot.

I go to the Abbey because Jason, Cory, Juan, Luis, and Shane cannot.

I go to the Complex because Jerald, Leroy, Tevin, Jean, and Rodolfo cannot.

And I go to Pulse because Brenda, and Christopher, and Angel, and Frank, and Paul, and Antonio, and Joseph, and Akyra, and Geraldo cannot.

This post is for them. And when I do a shot and dance to Whitney, or Cyndi, or Beyonce, or Mariah, or Ariana, or Celine, or Adele – that will be for them to.

-WB

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Teaching in Terror: The Lives Lost to Gun Violence in Schools Since I Started Teaching

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The picture above was one of the happiest days of my life. In the picture along with me are 16 other people, many of whom I consider my friends to this day, were just about to receive our diplomas from Clemson University with a degree in secondary education. We were all so excited. Not all are teaching currently, but at that point we were thrilled with what the future held. We graduated in 2011 and it was not a great time to graduate with a teaching degree. That didn’t matter. We were just excited. This was one of the most emotionally draining articles I have written.

I grew up in a family full of educators that placed huge value on education. Educational success was seen as key that could open most doorways. Upon taking teacher cadets in high school, it quickly became the only career I considered as something I would do long term. I became a teacher to change lives. There is something indescribable about being able to show a 14 year old that they can accomplish something they previously thought was not possible. I have experienced more joy from some of the successes of my students than I have about my own successes. Likewise, I have cried more tears about some of the things my students face than I do about my own life’s hardships.

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I went into the educational field to spend my days that should be spent teaching about cultural diffusion, market economies, and the difference between a megalopolis and a megacity. I did not go into education to spend my days worrying weather or not my students would go home to their parents and if I would go home to my boston terrier. I did not go into education to attend the funerals of my students or my colleagues. But at the rate we are going I have a greater chance of attending the funerals of my students  (or my students attending my funeral) than of living long enough to see Greenville become a Megacity – even with its explosive growth.

America is a great nation. The perks of living her far outweigh the downsides. If you are one of those people who thinks we do not have flaws or that says “America is the greatest nation on earth.” or “America is better than any other nation to have ever existed.” you may want to stop reading now because this will just piss you off. America is not the greatest nation on earth. The greatest nation on Earth does not offer up thoughts and prayers after a classroom full of 6 and 7 years is riddled with bullets during show and tell. The greatest nation on earth does not vilify students who after walking over the bodies of their dead classmates decide that they should advocate for sensible gun control. If you do not agree with those past two statements then you are delusion as as the politicians that have been bought by the gun lobby.

I started my educational career as the replacement for a teacher in March. I have added up the days I have spent teaching since my first day as a teacher that March all the way up until today (Wednesday May 23, 2018). As of today I have been a teacher for 619 days. The pictures below are the are the victims of gun violence in the classroom since I have started my career in education. There are 120 pictures. One day out of every week since I have become a teacher, a student, teacher, or parents was gunned down on school grounds. What day should students play hooky? What day should teachers take a sick day to ensure this never happens again?

As I tried to find the pictures of the fatalities I had to take breaks. This post took days to finish because I couldn’t take that much sadness at once. So many of these kids would have been the best leaders of tomorrow. So many of these courageous teachers were found shielding the bodies of their students. So many parents have had their lives shattered. For at least a dozen of  these fatalities, a parent was dead within the next several years – some from suicide, others from drugs they became addicted to as they tried to survive their pain. I will continue to update this list as these tragedies continue to happen. I pray to God this list doesn’t get to long, but I know it will. The day we decided you needed a bullet proof vest for show and tell is the day we lost our nation’s soul. God have mercy on us all.

The Fool-Proof Way to Improve Your Life and Our Country

Most of the readers of this blog are living in the United States. The majority of the people who read this are going to be American citizens. While I freely admit that America is not perfect – she has her flaws just like anybody else; however, up to this point in my life, there really is no other country that I care to live except here. Americans get a bad wrap with how we feel about our country. We are considered arrogant and self-righteous by many and disliked by others because we seem to mess in the affairs of other sovereign countries. The picture that comes to mind is often something like this: american-flag-overlode

For the record, The American above are obnoxious, sure, but I still love their spirt. There is something charmingly American in their obnoxious dedication and devotion to our home. If there is one thing that unites all Americans more than anything else, it is their desire for America to succeed. Americans know that when the United States succeeds, they will reap the benefits of her success. So listen up, because here is the number 1, fool-proof way for Americans to help improve our country:

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Voting for major offices and elections typically takes on a Tuesday in November. The primaries to decide who is able to run in those general elections are held sometime before that.  In South Carolina, our primaries are usually early in June. This year they fall on June 18, 2018. In order to be eligible to vote in those elections, you must have registered to vote by May 11, 2018. For those reading this when it was originally posted. That is this Friday.

Local elections have a bigger impact on your daily life than national elections do. In order to make this post short, sweet, and to the point, I created this infographic that explains the top reasons you should vote in local elections! Enjoy!

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The Top 10 Easy Ways You Can Appreciate Teachers

This week is Teacher Appreciation Week here in the United States. As a teacher, I probably do have a little bit of bias when it comes to what I am getting ready to say, but I know I am right when I say that teachers are the most overworked and underpaid and underappreciated profession around. Education is the only career field I can think of that has to deal everyone – even those without education degrees – throwing their two cents in about how we can fix our flawed educational system. Let me remind you: opinions are like assholes. Everybody has one, but we do not always need to see yours. In addition to dealing with people’s “magic fixes” for our educational system we also get to deal with statements like “you only work nine months out of the year anyway. How could you possibly expect a higher salary?” I could do 10 whole blog posts where I discuss how much rage that brings me. And yes, I have actually had someone say that to me.

With all that said, I do not want this to be negative. I want this to be a celebratory post because teachers are so important to our society (not to toot my own horn, but – toot toot!). So without further ado and in no particular order, I present to you the top 10 ways you can thank and appreciate your teacher this week:

  1. Write your teacher, your child’s teacher, or your former teachers a letter explaining how much you enjoyed them or you enjoyed their class.

While yes it would be nice for a higher salary and all that jazz, at the end of the day, every single teacher I know wants to feel like they made an impact in a student’s life. We definitely don’t get told enough when we do so take the time this week and let us know.

2. Support us in the Classroom.

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I am sure everyone has seen the cartoon above at least once before so you know it is definitely true. Every single year of my teaching career I have parents try to talk me out of assigning the grade their child earned and instead give them a grade they did not deserve. Support us when it comes to the grades your child earned because I will not compromise my integrity and forge a grade and we could really use your support to get your children to see they need to do better. Once you make them see that, we can all three sit down together and figure out how we can help them do better. We could also use your support in regards to behavior and discipline. For the record. Little Timmy is telling you lies. He WAS talking. I DID warn him. Now back us up with the punishment that comes with it.

3. Support Us Outside the Classroom

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Just because we aren’t always in the classroom doesn’t mean you can’t still support us. When you hear people make negative comments about school teachers call them out on it. When we go on strike (I know it is frustrating to you, but we are trying to live and support families – strikes are sometimes necessary), join us on the strikes. Most importantly, however, is VOTE. Vote for politicians who are pro-public education.

4.  Communicate with us more than just when your child is not doing well/in trouble.

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Most high school teachers like myself have over 100 students that we are responsible for imparting knowledge to. It is not always feasible or timely for me to call home when an issue arises, and it is just downright difficult for me to return every single email or call at the end of the quarter over grades. Sometimes I don’t know something that I should no in regards to your child. It would be nice to know that upfront and after the fact, It also shows us they have a parent at home who cares and we love seeing that. If we communicate with each other early and often it will do nothing, but double your child’s chances of success.

5.  Volunteer to donate supplies or to take some Task off Our Hands.

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For supply money, Greenville County School District gives me $250 dollars for materials each year. That’s it. I have spent at least double that amount and thankfully I have nice parents who are willing to help me out with supplies as well. Most of us work multiple jobs and we still barely make ends meet. We will never turn down supplies. If we can’t use it, we know someone who will. For tasks, we have a lot on our plate. Offering to run copies or coordinate emails to the class, or chaperoning a field trips seem like small tasks, but they are huge weights off our shoulders.

6.   We’ll Take More Coffee/Coffee Gift Cards, But for the Love of God No Mugs!

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Most teachers I know run on caffeine. We could us IV drips. Until that happens, a nice Starbucks gift card goes a long way. Seriously though, no mugs! We have a million. Every variation of World’s Best Teacher you can find, and I have a weird last name so you won’t find one that says, Mr. Boliek. So just save the time and give us a nice Hallmark card with a Starbucks card thrown in and we will feel super appreciated!

7.  We are going to make mistakes. We are humans too – forgive us.

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With over 100 students to look after and with many other responsibilities, sometimes we are stretched to thin and something doesn’t go the way you or I wanted it to. Give us the opportunity to own up to it and apologize. Then forgive us and help us move on. Trust us – when we screw up, it bothers us more than it bothers you.

8. Be Involved and Engaged With Your Kid Regurlarly

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Nothing plays a bigger role in your child’s success (other than their own effort of course) than your involvement in their educational career. I could be the best teacher in the world and if you don’t show engagement and interest in your children’s educational accomplishments then eventually they will stop caring and trying. All it takes is a few questions here and a few “good jobs!” there. Help them with their homework even. It will show that you think education is important and you get to spend quality time with them. It’s a win-win. Or a win-win-win because the teachers usually get better behaved students and better quality work when parents are involved.

9. Get Informed – Know About Current Edu. Events & Policy Issues.

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This one you really should do anyways, but if you aren’t up to date already get up to speed quick. The sanity of your children’s teachers depends on it. And with someone like Betsy Devos running the Department of Education, we need knowledgable parents to help us get back on the right track.

10.  BUY. THE. FREAKING. PENCILS.

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When you see the school supply list at the beginning of the year, and it says pencils and notebook paper, please go buy the notebook paper and pencils. If you take the attitude of “I am not going to buy it because they will end up giving it to them anyways.” then you, my friend, are a terrible person. 99% of the time, teachers end up having to buy materials for their students whose parents refused to buy them the supplies. Most teachers salaries are well below what they should be. Don’t make them pay for items that you can afford for your children. To drive the final point home, let a Target Mom explain why you should buy the pencils.

To all the teachers out their, take a moment and enjoy this week. You earned it. You deserve a lot more than you are going to get. You are awesome!

And to Mrs. Robinson, Mrs. Callaghan, Mrs. Goetz, Mrs. Cothran, Mrs. Norris, Mrs. Van Dyke, Mrs. Henderson, Mrs. Edwards, Mrs. Davis, Mrs. Wharton, Mrs. Butler, Mrs. Carden, Mrs. Henderson, Mrs. Anderson, Mrs. Freeman, Mrs. McKamy, Dr. Wolfe, Mrs. Brown, Mr. Lee, Dr. Ground, Mr. Smith, Coach Cook, Mrs. Barber, Mrs. Bartlett, Mr. Linn, Señora Larrain, Dr. Lochridge, and Mr. Duncan – Each of your played a role in making me the person I am today. In case I never told you then, which I probably didn’t, thank you for what you did. Some of you will never know how much you truly impacted my life and I don’t mean just when it comes to academics. Some of you got me through some very hard personal matters as well. And for that you will not only hold the title of kick ass teacher, you now hold the title of kick ass friend!

 

 

 

Opened Eyes: Checking My Privilege to Experience Poverty

Before I begin I want to acknowledge the privilege that I was blessed/lucky enough to have been born into. If we are talking about winning the family lottery I came pretty close to winning the PowerBall. Being born male in an upper middle class stable family where I was raised by both my parents in an ultra-loving home has afforded me many experiences that were not afford to other people. When you add in the extra privilege that comes with being born white, I truly have lived a life that has given me significantly more than I deserve and significantly more than it has given to most people. I feel no need to apologize for this and I feel no shame at this either – I cannot help the family that I was born into. I feel no guilt in this either. I am active in my community and I have made it a point in my life to strive to always fight for social justice in my community when I see and read about things that aren’t socially just. So I am fully aware at how lucky and privileged I am; it is because of that privilege I want to write this – everyone should be able to be as lucky as I have been.

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If you do not understand the concept of privilege, the above quote should help. If you still do not understand privilege, please click here or here for further explanation.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) has made it a cornerstone of its church message to be a message of Radical Inclusion and Radical Hospitality. As a lifelong member of Trinity Lutheran Church here in Greenville, I am filled with pride that my church has boldly taken on this message of inclusion and hospitality as something we stand behind and embrace wholeheartedly. As part of that radical inclusion, my church makes it clear that we are a church for all peoples. At the beginning of our church bulletin it states the following:

“We celebrate people of all races, cultures, genders, ages, sexual orientations, gender identities, physical or mental abilities, socioeconomic statuses, appearances, family status, and citizenship as equally loved and valued in the eyes of God and in this place. All are invited to join this community as we worship God, grow in faith, and strive to love and serve one another.”

The amount of pride I feel romans-8-39in my church family for including these words in the welcome we extend to others cannot be stated enough. As a member of a community that is routinely cast out from churches, told they are not welcome, and that they are less than worthy of God’s love it has done so much for my relationship with God, but it has done a lot for other’s relationships as well. I have told many of my LGBTQ brothers and sisters that they should join me at church because the God I love created us all and that my church is great enough to recognize that by welcoming all into the fold. God is a shepherd of all sheep, even the rainbow sheep I joke! Because nothing, especially the way we are born can separate us from the unconditional love that is our God’s love.

As part of the radical hospitality aspect of the ELCA teaching and practices, this evening my church participated in a poverty and homelessness simulation that was facilitated by Beth Templeton with the organization Our Eyes Were Opened. I can tell you as one of the about 100 members of my church who participated that the organization truly lives up to its name. My eyes were opened. I know there is poverty all around me in this great city I call home. I know about the unseen Greenville. I teach at a school were 85% of my students would be considered as living below the poverty line. With that said I have never experienced it firsthand for myself. I have never felt the fear and helplessness that come with poverty. This simulation is as close as I have come to feeling those feelings first hand; and if the feelings I experienced this evening are anything close to the real feelings that my students or neighbors experience on a regular basis I will pray to God this evening and all my future evenings on this Earth I never have to experience that in real life. I will pray to God that my students and neighbors are lifted up and out of poverty. And I will pray to God that he show me a way to be more hospitable, less quick to rush to judgement, and help me find a way to help my students and neighbors in Christ out of poverty as well.

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One out of every 4 children in the United States lives in a food insecure household. Food insecurity is the state of being without a reliable source of affordable food on a regular basis.

In the scenario we were divided up into different “families” or “households” as we worked our way through a month of time in the scenario. Each week during the month last about 15-20 minutes. During the scenario I was with two fellow church members. Our back story was I was a 21-year-old community college student. My other group members were 13-year-old twin sisters. We had a teddy bear who played our 3-year-old younger brother. Our father was incarcerated so I was the technical head of the household. We were given some money (not nearly enough) and a list of expenses for each week before the scenario started. In order to not give away too much of the scenario – because I cannot stress enough how much you should all look into taking it – I will leave a lot of the details of the scenario under wraps. I am going to tell you how it felt.

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18.4% of Greenville residents with income live below the poverty level. 64.8% of those same households have children under the age of 18.

Once we read through our scenario, I felt relieved, but still slightly nervous. Because all three of my siblings were in child care, I knew they would have a safe spot (school) to go during the week. I was also thankful that our rent had already been paid for the month. If we had to pay our rent I know we would have ended up homeless because it would not have been possible. I had a spirit of determination to make it through this simulation. That spirit of determination all but dissipated by the end of week 1. In the first week in order for us to eat I pawned both our television and stereo system. I had some money left over, but it was not enough to pay any of the variety of monthly bills we had to pay. I did not attend community college at all during the first week because I thought it was more important to please my inner fat girl than my inner college professor.

Week 2 I found some religious organizations that were able to help out my family some and I was able to pay a few bills. I was starting to think we might make it to the end of the month. When I arrived home at the end of the week, one of my siblings was arrested and sent to juvenile hall and I had an unexpected bill waiting on us. At this point I cried for the first time during the simulation. I thought I was doing pretty good because I had managed to buy food once again. There was so much happening and I had no clue where to turn for help or what I should do first. I like being in control of my own choices and at this point I was not in control of just about anything. Just like week 1,I did not attend community college in week 2.

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48% of Greenville County School District Students are eligible for free or reduced lunches.

Week 3 of the simulation was interesting because it was a school holiday all week. I had to figure out what to do with my teenaged twin sisters and 3-year-old brother. I chose to take my brother with me and leave my sisters alone at home. This was the first week I figured out the nightmare of going through the process of applying for government assistance. It took forever to go through the line, fill out the paperwork, and wait my turn. Luckily I was approved for an EBT card (food stamps). I stopped sweating for a minute to buy food for the week and pay one more bill. At the end of the week I returned home and sat down to rest for a few brief moments before horror set in. I had left my younger brother at the Social Services office. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen news stories like these on the news and I have been quick to rush and pass judgement on these people. I was filled with a sense of shame. I was capable of forgetting something so important that I would never do in real life – I was no different from those parents on the news. And since I am sure you were wondering: I didn’t go to community college this week either.

As week 4 got under way I was determined to get everything done. I paid one bill and I used our EBT card to by more food. Since this was the last week of the month and I saw we had money left on our EBT card I started to think: I should trade what is left on our card for money so I can use that to pay bills. Something that is technically against the law because it is fraud came to mind as the perfect solution. I did not even think twice about whether or not to do it. I just tried to find someone to buy my card. If it came between me and my family losing our electricity and potentially our home then dammit I am selling that piece of plastic. I couldn’t find anyone to buy the card so the last week of the month I guess we would have lost our electricity. I guess at the end of the day we didn’t really need the electricity because I don’t need to see my community college textbooks since I did not go to class this week either.

As I look back over this activity and reflect on my own thoughts and feelings a few things stick out to me  For the sake of brevity I am simply going to list them below:

  1. If you leave near, at, or below the poverty line you need to be real good at planning. If you are not one of those people who has the skills it takes to sit down and plan out what you are going to pay each week of the month at the beginning of the month you are going to find living super difficult.
  2. Don’t rush to pass judgement on government workers. During the simulation the people in the roles of government workers did not look me in the eye once. Their tone was harsh and cold. Their answers were not helpful in directing me where to go next. However, during the discussion the facilitator raised an excellent point. These workers see the same heartbreaking stories over and over and over again. Day in and day out. At some point you have to close off that piece of caring you have for the survival of your soul. If I worked in a job were I had to look teenaged mothers in the face and tell them there was nothing I can do to help them every day I would have to do the same thing those government workers do.
  3. Acknowledge your privilege. Most of “us” do not see poverty because most of you reading this will be living lives well above the poverty line. I had no idea the poverty line among our students and children was so high until I started working at Southside and did my own research. Most of also don’t see poverty because people surround themselves with people who look, act, think, work, and live like themselves. 90% of the people reading this will be white (my estimation – not scientific), but the people living below the poverty are disproportionately people of minority communities, people who are disabled, and people who are victims of violence, abuse, or sexual assault. People who are different from you. Open yourselves to these people and help them – because you will also help yourself.
  4. We need usury laws in South Carolina. In the State of South Carolina, when you go to get a cash advance or cash a check any of those lending places you go to can charge whatever percent they want. There is no limit. The fact that some of these shady cash advances places take advantage of those among us who need the most help is both disgusting and needs to change. Now.
  5. Stop the “They need to get jobs!” Narrative. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard people exclaim that those on government assistance need to get off their asses and find work. Politicians in this very state have likened people receiving welfare to feeding stray animals.
  6. We can make our society better by loving our neighbors – all of them.  During the simulation small little things stuck out to me. Even as my family was struggling to make ends meet I still found myself listening in to other people’s conversations with workers and organizations who were supposed to help lift people out of poverty and offering them my own advice when they got no answers to their questions. Twice during the simulation different people gave me money for bus transportation. And during the last week of the simulation I made eye contact with the pawn shop lady. I am pretty sure she offered my a second amount that was higher than what she originally offered me because she knew I was about to burst into tears.

If we loved our neighbors like we loved ourselves, our city would be a much better place.

Our state would be a much better place.

Our Nation would be a much better place.

Our world would be a much better place.

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It would be a place where there would be no judgement of our neighbors perceived laziness and inability to work.

A place where there would be no hatred of social workers who have one of the toughest jobs around.

It would be a place where children wouldn’t have to skip school or community college to put food on the table for their siblings.

It would be a place full of love and devoid of poverty – and that is the kind of place I want to live. Hopefully, you do as well.

-WB