That's Abu and Lossine slang for every time "someone says something brilliant, smart, clever, witty, or thought-provoking." I've heard them drop these words here and there since they arrived from Syracuse this summer for our collaborative work with the CWP-Fairfield teacher institute and young adult literacy labs. Whenever they've said "Bars. That's bars," I've paid attention. It is, as they explained, terminology used when musicians cleverly put language together in wonderful, rhythmic ways.
"Bars. All bars," is what they said when Dr. Yohuru Williams left the Invitational Leadership Institute yesterday after addressing our 15 teachers in a conversation about writing politically. His message: be a part of history and have the strength to voice one's stories, whether it is popular to mass media or not. As a public school advocate and a tremendous believer in the power of education, my colleague Dr. Yohuru Williams came to the CWP-Fairfield Institute to drop bars. He taught and teaching is what he does best.
Before Yohuru arrived, I kidded with this summer's educators that I always find myself taking my notebook out of my bag whenever I'm lucky enough for the two of us pull into Canisius parking lot at the same time. As a colleague, he fascinates me with his use of language to make sense of our world in brilliant, one-of-a-kind ways. I love when I'm fortunate enough to have him bounce ideas off of me and as the twins say, "It's bars. All bars." Yohuru Williams may be the most eloquent, articulate and charismatic speakers I've ever had the honor of working with, and I feel blessed (and we all felt blessed yesterday) that he shared his expertise with us during our 4th week, where we are exploring how teachers can and should write for social change: with sources, upon occasions, for an audience, with a purpose. Repeat: sources, occasion, audience, and purpose.
Within 90 minutes offered, Dr. Yohuru Williams covered everything from writing for the Huffington Post to writing teacher texts about history. He walked us through the current core history values for elementary education and the juice/vibrancy/robustness/complexity/and centrality that comes this list: right to life, pursuit of happiness, liberty, justice, popular sovereignty, truth, common good, equality, diversity, patriotism, surplus, equipment - language at the core of our historical democracy in the United States. What can't be captured with this blog, however, is the magical ways Dr. Williams presents to an audience. It is captivating. He fluidly weaves dates, historical moments, popular culture, teacher input, current events, and historical debates together as if all these words are a symphony that been composed in his head for decades. Freddie Gray. X-Files, Black Lives Matter, Andrew Jackson, Family Dynasties, Silencing of Women, Classism, Constitution. The importance of teachers everywhere.
A 90-minute Williams presentation is like NPR meets PBS meets nightly news meets Twitter meets the Library of Congress meets Kennedy Center Presents meets church. It is brilliantly wise and wonderfully melodic.
His conversation yesterday highlighted how not to erase forgotten people (which is easy), how tapping standardization and common cores are not necessarily a negative strategy, but useful tools for framing history and understanding literature (especially in a time of paranoid politics... American tragedies are always born out of indifference and we e need to pay attention to our nation's "there goes my everything" moments).
The teachers loved hearing Dr. Yohuru Williams speak and there may even have been a marriage that resulted with a 21st century Brady Bunch on the horizon (if combined with My Three Sons, Yohuru quipped, we might even be able to afford a house in Fairfield County).
Bars. All bars.
I am forever grateful that Dr. Yohuru Williams stopped by CWP summer work twice this week, first when he spoke to high school students and again when he addressed our teachers in a National Writing Summer Institute. If only such expertise could be shared with all sites across the United States. Hmmm, that may be a project I need to work on.
Exhale. History was made for all of us in the room. We are better people for hearing Dr. Yohuru Williams' wisdom.