Noun: a feeling of great pleasure and happiness. “Tears of joy.”

Beloved Community,

Beloved. I promised I would talk about compassion this month. And then something from the depths of my soul said, “Collinus, you know what you need to write. It hasn’t been written yet. But you are the one to write it.” Therefore, I realized that I can’t really promise you anything, but the topic of compassion will come at the right time. 

Beloved. I love the work of Dr. Brené Brown. I love her writing and her approach to what makes us human. I just finished her book, Atlas of the Heart. In it, she maps out 87 human emotions and experiences. She defines their meanings and explores the psychology behind those feelings and how they make up our lives and change our behaviors. She also suggests that in order to build meaningful connections, we must learn how to deal with them. All 87 emotions. That’s a lot. It just is.

Beloved. What struck me the most about this book was that out of the 87 emotions, the most difficult one to experience, to feel, is joy. Really? Joy? I took a moment, and started thinking about whether I have actually experienced joy before. Joy. Joy. Joy? And then it dawned on me. I have experienced happiness. And happiness is a part of joy. But I can’t really tell if I have ever actually experienced or felt joy. Happiness, yes. But joy, I don’t think so.

Beloved. My brother was one of the deans shot at East High School in March. Out of that whole experience, one of the most profound moments occurred when he was cleared to go home. Mostly quiet, he said to me, “They stole my joy and they broke my heart, too.” And then I remembered Dr. Brown’s words about joy, and I understood right then what the lack of joy looks like. What it feels like. And now I know when it’s not there anymore. Joy. There just isn’t anything else to say about it either. It just is.

Beloved. During our last staff professional development session, it was to have been the first time I’d led a whole school session focused on calling, reconciling, and reconciliation.  Sometimes doing school culture work is hard and lonely. But I believe with my whole heart that if your school culture isn’t healthy, you can’t do DEIB (diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging) work. You just can’t. 

Beloved. I broke down. I did not intend to. I talked openly about my brother and the experience of those emotions. It was raw, and it was so vulnerable for me and made a lot of folks very uncomfortable. 

Beloved. When we talk about our beloved community and belonging, it means that we must stop taking away the experience of emotions from ourselves and our students. If you know that one of your students is experiencing heartbreak, find out why. Hold space for them. If you see that there isn’t very much joy in your classroom, stop what you are doing and ask yourself why? What am I doing that I can do better? And then ask the kids. You will learn so much. Start questioning your own emotions and know that by hiding them we model for ourselves and others that experiencing them is not okay. Belonging starts in the classroom. It teaches our kids to be okay with experiencing and working through 87 emotions. 

Beloved. One thing I have not yet introduced to us is “othering.” The Othering & Belonging Institute at the University of California, Berkeley works to advance groundbreaking research, policy, and ideas that examine and remediate the processes of exclusion, marginalization, and structural inequality—what we call “othering”—in order to build a world based on inclusion, fairness, justice, and equity—what we call “belonging.” They also go on to say that the concept of belonging describes more than a feeling of inclusion or welcome. Its full power is as a strategic framework for addressing ongoing structural and systemic othering, made visible, for example, in the wide disparities in outcomes found across a variety of sectors and identity groups. And belonging, as the Institute defines it, “means having a meaningful voice and the opportunity to participate in the design of political, social, and cultural structures that shape one’s life—the right to both contribute to and make demands upon society and political institutions.” At its core, structural belonging holds a radically inclusive vision because it requires mutual power, access, and opportunity among all groups and individuals within a shared container (such as CA). 

Beloved. And that takes us back to the 87 emotions Dr. Brown describes in her book. The work of belonging is hard. It’s vulnerable. It’s full of fear and doubt. It makes us feel uncomfortable and anxious. Belonging is heart work. It’s being able to address the systemic issues with belonging and to examine and remediate the processes of exclusion, marginalization, and structural inequality—othering. It’s beyond just feeling, “We can’t stay there.” But we can remember that when it gets hard, and it will, there are those 87 emotions. 

“There’s shame. There’s grief, let’s move through this together, and that’s where you can get transformative, not telling people, ‘You’re just so fragile, suck it up and put your armor on basically, and move through it.’ It’s, ‘Let’s explore this. What are we learning about ourselves? What are we learning about this?’” —Dr. Aiko Bethea