I remember being in church as a young person and seeing an old pastor whose face was etched with time, hands stained with age, and voice doddering a tune bygone. He made full use of both arm rests on his cushioned pulpit chair as he gripped them to support legs whose knees you would’ve heard cracking had it been quiet enough. Sauntering his way to the mic, he’d mask the back pain with a smile and an encouraging refrain that everyone knew, “Let the church say amen?”
“Amen,” we’d recite without pause or thought.
“Let the church say amen again?”
Even then, in my preadolescent naivety, I used to look around at all of the able bodied young men – ministers and deacons, licensed or in training – and think to myself, ‘why aren’t any of these people leading so that this old man can go sit down?’ I felt like old people were holding on too long when they could have been mentors, trainers, guides, and teachers to the younger generation of leaders.
Fast forward to current time and you would have found me experiencing a professional early life crisis. I was at an impasse in my career as a classroom teacher, and the burden of indecision saturate my mind all the time. It was a recurring theme in my conversation with my closest friends as I tried to both seek advice and vent at the same time. You see, I am a career changer. I began my professional journey as a transitional housing case manager for homeless families, helping them to reach their goal of self-sufficient plus living. Yet when I decided to go back to school to teach, the passion to help people remained constant, and albeit I was helping high school students acquire the knowledge and skills that they needed to be successful in college or a career, I felt that there was something more…something else that needed to be done. I kept creating ways to make my classroom feel more like an applied practice environment. The Project Based Learner/Academy model advocate in me scoffed at the traditional model of education. I kept reimaging high school by finding ways to make my class more like the real world. Along the way, I heard contrasting opinions about my efforts.
You’re doing too much.
Keep doing what you’re doing because it’s obviously your passion.
Aside from what I heard and the way that I felt, I was unfulfilled.
How can my passion feel so empty?
Why am I grown and still feel like I’m trying to find myself professionally?
Why is my friend, who is the same age as I am, talking about turning her fire down and settling into a groove while I have this restless, youth wielding energy to change the world at the front line?
Because of these questions, I continued to look for a role in education that would give me the opportunity to help students. This search led to my summer fellowship application where I could make an impact in the educational sector, but outside the classroom. My role would be as a community engagement fellow for a local charter school in Memphis. After interviewing with the director of the school, I was both excited and apprehensive, ready and hesitant, hopeful and practical, brave and cautious. He assigned me several projects that were purposely skeletal, allowing me the creative license to frame, shape, and fill them as I could conceptualize, and I was eager for the opportunity to unleash my feral energy into work that would have positive outcomes on student development. I was, for the first time in a long time, working behind the scenes, and I loved it! Yet it wasn’t until I joined my cohort for our first group training that I felt like the old pastor I used to criticize when I was younger. I looked around the room and had multiple conversations with bright eyed, passionate, young people just starting their careers in education and looking to make a difference in the lives of young people through various educational initiatives. They were staticians, policy students, former teachers with mini stints in the classroom, analysts, after school workers, data technicians, and former military personnel. They were all there to tackle the variables that served as obstacles to disadvantaged students receiving an equal and equitable quality education. It was in that room that I realized that while I’m not as old as that pastor from my youth, I am at a place where I can serve those burgeoning difference makers. For the first time in years of wresting with wonder, I had finally understood that my sphere of influence hadn’t gotten lost, but evolved!