09/24/2014 06:03 pm ET Updated Nov 24, 2014

What Can You Do For Brown?

We have tried peaceful protest. We have tried civil unrest and "riots." We have tried documentaries, lectures, sit-ins and speeches. We have tried feature films (see: Fruitvale Station). Yet it is still not enough. Our lives, Black lives, specifically Black male lives are not on par with those of soon to be minority white lives in this country.

The ongoing question is...Why?

In my last blog post, I wrote about trust in schools and the need for students, parents and teachers to work together to create positive academic and social outcomes. Trust can only be built in an environment in which our lives are valued. Trust and value are interrelated. The more we value someone, the greater the likelihood of us trusting them. By valuing each other, we can come together and begin to heal our communities.

There are many studies (e.g. the work of Gloria Ladson-Billings, Prudence Carter and Mica Pollock, to name a few) which indicate that in order to achieve positive academic and social gains, one needs to feel as if their voices are heard. For students in a K-12 setting, that means that rather than avoiding the tough issues, as many teachers, administrators and districts are prone to do (see: Edwardsville School District in Illinois), we need to purposefully have these tough discussions.

Over a month has passed and as the lights of the media blitz dim and the streets return to "normalcy," the question remains; what can we do for Michael Brown?

We can begin by engaging our friends, colleagues, neighbors, social media "friends," etc., in open and honest discussions about race, privilege, positionality, class, gender, LGBT issues (anything that is "divisive" or "controversial"), and do so in a way that does not stop the conversation, but opens it up. We need to admit our own areas of unawareness, and embrace the perspective of others. That does not mean we have to adopt the perspective of others, but rather simply that we have to listen, learn and begin to understand.

Without these tough discussions, growth will never occur.

For those inside the classrooms, especially in many urban cities, there is often diversity among teaching staff (where people grew up, how they grew up and what their comfort level is with diversity issues). But we do not spend enough time embracing the positive aspects of diverse perspectives. Even when there is an increasing difference between the majority of teachers who are white (mostly female) and their students of color, we need to focus more on the strengths that each person brings to the classroom. The student who knows how to read early out of necessity, because his parents speak a different language. The teacher who was raised on a farm and learned life skills that city students may never be exposed to otherwise. If we appreciate these differences, instead of calling them divides, we will all be smarter and stronger from the exposure. No longer can we didactically stand in front of the classroom (or society as a whole) as if we are the only teacher in the room. Marianne Williamson has a great saying that I used to have printed on my wall when I taught high school, and repeat now often as a College Instructor; "I am not the teacher in life, I am the student." Meaning, we all bring our experiences to the classroom, and we can all learn from each other. The ways in which we teach, listen and respect different perspectives is as important as the lessons themselves.

Simply put, what we can do for Michael Brown is to be open. Hear and seek out new perspectives. In order to truly make good on this country's promise that 'all (wo)men are created equal," we have to delve into the more challenging work of actively listening to the culture, circumstances, strengths and lived experiences of the multitude of individuals that help to bring our diverse nation together, instead of tearing it apart.