MY EXPERIENCE WITH ISIS

Soon after I opened Blooming Life, I received a phone call at the studio. The gentleman on the other line used a name of mine that I haven't heard in years. He then stated a name of a former student of mine and I involuntarily collapsed to my knees. 

Yes, I knew that boy. Yes, he was a student of mine when I taught in Washington, D.C. Yes, to this day he has a special place in my heart. And I learned this brilliant child, now a young man, who stood out from the hundreds of children that I taught, was arrested on charges of association with ISIS.

Why are you calling me?

Because he said you are the most influential person in his life and we would like to know why.

So I spoke. I was a teacher who went to my kids homes. I shared dinners and knew too much drama. In my classroom, it was vital for me to give my students relevant articles and books regarding hot social issues. We explored historical fiction and non-fiction texts. I would read to them and I would openly cry and laugh to show how the written word influences emotion, and I would encourage them to do the same. And they did. I would teach poetry and encourage my kids to speak then write about how much they hated or loved the multitudes of topics that built their life experiences.  We moved emotion into action and formally wrote presidents and senators and CEOs of companies to express opinions and to give suggestions to promote a better way of doing things.

And dammit, though I watched my language (and failed at times) I never treated my students like children. I showed them respect and I received it in return, tenfold. I showed my struggles and my internal dialog to them because they needed to know how to navigate the workings of their minds. They needed to know that vulnerability is courageous, and they deserved authenticity so they may live it.

My beautiful boy - our beautiful boy - stood out from so many. He saw me fight for him because he was beyond brilliant and needed advanced placement in gifted programs. Yet the school system was full of bigotry and it ultimately failed him. Because of him, I very loudly quit my job because I couldn't be effective in my role with such apathetic quasi-leaders who failed my boy - our boy - and others in so many ways.

Years later, those with the FBI filled me in on details, and let me say that so many pillar institutions failed my child - our child. There was a moment when I was horrified at the thought of me contributing to his arrest. I was reassured with wisdom. "You did your best to empower your students. What they do with that empowerment is up to them."

As Martin Luther King Day approaches, I consider those who are my greatest sources of inspiration. I, too, have intimately felt the urge to throw the rock. But I haven't. It takes more strength to walk in belief for something than it does to be against something. And that makes all the difference. That is the Practice. Together, you and I must stand for peace, tolerance, and action, action, ACTION. No one else will do it and the world can not wait.

The world is exquisitely beautiful because of diversity. We must remember that everyone has a story to share and that we are all interconnected. To call our species Humankind, we need to be both human and kind

Lily Kessler