Tuesday, March 4, 2014

My 2nd Atlanta Write Club Winning Story about the first week of GLOBE Academy

Write Club:  You get one topic and 7 minutes.  My topic:  War.

Here is the audio if you want to listen along with the read:

By Michael Otieno Molina

The first week, mierda.  It is still the first week.  Every morning I wake up to the dark and dream that it’s Labor Day or Thanksgiving or Christmas, sweet baby Jesus Christmas.  But it’s still only the first week.  Already the smell is swollen in my nostrils.  It is the smell of huffed taxidermy, stuffed geese and bears and pumas and foxes.  The fur.  The fur.  The sweat-mudded fur of kindergarteners in from recess after three days of rain.  The first week of a start-up charter school is war.

Day 1 - 1100 hours 
A teacher calmly walks into the office.  A boy is on the floor.  He is seizing.  He is epileptic and he is seizing.  “Call his mother,” I say as I power walk down the hallway to her door and see children sitting calmly.  The co-teacher is next to the boy, her hand floats under his head.  I relieve her.  Are you okay?  The boy is not responsive.  His eyes are rolling up into his forehead, his pants are wet with urine.  I pick him up and carry him to the nurse’s room.  We don’t yet have the funds for a school nurse so I sit him on the chair.  He slumps into his shoulder.  His mother arrives and apologizes for the scare.  Tears bubble up from her throat as she describes how it feels to see him like this.  He was only diagnosed a few months ago.  Poor mother.  Poor child. 

Day 2 – 0930 hours.
The playground is flooded.  A pipe has burst and the playground is flooded. This is a language immersion Kindergarten through 3rd grade elementary school.  This means that on every other day the children spend the entire day immersed in French, Mandarin, or Spanish.  This is our second immersion day and the children are frustrated with trying to understand their teachers, teachers frustrated with trying to comfort away their first days of school anxiety in Mandarin or French or Spanish.  This is our second immersion day and all the teachers want to do is step outside and breathe and cry a little and see that the sun still shines… all the little people want to do is go outside and run and scream and spin and fall and get up and laugh and dig for worms… all I want to do is see them on the playground that I and 50+ parents spent months weeding and cutting and weeding and cutting in preparation for this moment… All I want to do is see them play and the playground is flooded.  

Day 3 - 0900 hours
Reports of Pediculosis Capitis.  Head lice on day three.  A big snaggle-toothed boy has arrived at school a day after his mother discovered the little blood-suckers climbing through his hair.  His mother sent him back too soon.  We must check him and every child in the class for nits and lice.  We must do so without scaring them, without shaming the boy.  We must rid the room of the furniture parents had donated and moved in to the classroom only days ago.  He tells me his mother works at a hospital.  My mother works at a hospital.  But it doesn’t matter.  I found lice in his hair and he has to go home. 

Day 4 – 1200 hours 
30 shots fired at an elementary school in our district and we weren’t notified.  One mom, the wife of a man who has cut our grass and donated a projector and a P.A. system comes in the office frantic.  She has walked into the front door, which is propped open for a late delivery of computers the teachers needed three weeks ago.  She is anxious and furious that she just walked in the building.  “Did you hear?”  She asks tensely, trying to control her fear and anger as she walks past me to begin checking the other doors of the building herself.  “Do you know what’s going on?”  I didn’t.  There is an active school shooting at a school a mile from my house, the school my daughter is zoned for, where she would be if I hadn’t enrolled her in GLOBE.  Thirty shots fired.  This mom leads me through the building to check that every door is locked.  Two of them are not.  Her face is hot with fear.  “My son needs to be safe.”  At pick up she holds the entire line to suggest calling post, walkie talkies, to ask about the PA system, lockdown procedures.  She doesn’t care that people behind her are waiting.  Her son must be safe.  “There are people who hate what we are doing, Michael.  Did you see the story on CNN about the International Community School?  There were crazy people in the comments talking about race mixing and race war.  My son is half Black and he must be safe.” 

Day 5 – 1800 hours. 
The end of our first day without major incident.  My wife calls but the cell phone signals are no match for the old sixties cinder block we are wrapped in.  She calls back immediately.  I hear her voice and my daughter screaming in the background.  The call fails.  Something is wrong.  I run out of the building and call back.  “Maya broke her arm.”   The call drops under the weight of my heart.  I tell Ms. Murray the building is hers in jump into my car.  I call back and hear my daughter whimpering.  We are on our way to Dekalb Medical, come now.  Call fails.  I race to the emergency room to find my daughter’s wrist contorted.  She is screaming.  I hold her face to mine and say quietly that the pain is the beginning of the healing.  12 hours and two hospitals later, we are home with a child who has never had Tylenol now doped up on one dose of morphine, two doses of kedamine, and the fatigue of two attempts at resetting her wrist.

Community meeting with angry neighbors, all three of them.  They have sent a list of complaints to every school board member, the state-wide coordinator of charter schools, and the GLOBE Academy governing board chair.  The letter is dated August 14th 2013 – our first day of school.  The letter bemoans traffic and parking inconveniences that may happen in the year 2018, when we grow to use more of our 9.79 acre campus for Kindergarten through 8th grade.  The letter demands the potential problems be rectified before they occur.  I ask the three angry neighbors,
“please describe the specific impacts our school has had on your family or lifestyle in the seven days since we have been opened.” 
One has had to change his morning jogging route. 
One has to leave for work 10 minutes early. 
I take the side of my hand and carve an imaginary line across the table.  “Here is the line,” I say.  “You do not have a seat at the table in the decision of whether or not we will expand.  That decision is made.  We need and want you at the table to help us figure out how to expand with the least possible impacts on OUR neighborhood.”  I was tired from the first week of a start-up charter school and I had no energy for politics.  I felt like George Bush after September 11th.  You are either with GLOBE or against GLOBE.

The first human technology was language.  In language, humans converted the energy of grunts and moans into words the way computers convert ones and zeros into information.  Language was the Internet before electricity, it is where we searched for meaning, for joy, for truth, for understanding.  Language bore the stories that taught fire and taught medicine and taught philosophy.  Language is the driver of human evolution, the all spark, the engine of human understanding and the catalyst of human potential.  Language is the mortar of civilization and war is what happens when language fails.   

My name is Michael Otieno Molina and I helped launch the GLOBE Academy, DeKalb County’s first and only free, public dual-language immersion charter school.  I work for the future of the world.  I poured blood, sweat, and tears into empowering generations of children with multi-lingual, mutli-cultural fluency so they can access multiple repositories of human knowledge.  I am Mike Molina and I did a tour in the war to end all wars.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Eisenhower's Anthem

Eisenhower’s Anthem
By Francis Scott Key, Dwight D. Eisenhower, James Weldon Johnson and Michael Otieno Molina
Performed By Mike Molina for The Real State of the Union
Atlanta, Georgia Women’s Action for New Directions
February 16th 2014

Key:  Oh say can you see by the dawn’s early light
Eisenhower:  “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.”

Key:  What so proudly we hail at the twilights last gleaming
Eisenhower:  This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.

Key:  And the rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air
Eisenhower:  This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron.

Key:  Gave proof through the night, that our flag was still there
Eisenhower:  In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex.

Key:  Oh say does that star spangled banner yet wave for the land of the free
Eisenhower:  Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

War is not a place in time
War is a state of mind
In which politicians proclaim peace
while young dreams die in the streets
In which post-modern plutocrats pontificate on prosperity
while refugees of poverty sleep in prison fatigues
In which media break the tedium by procuring tragedy
To make rage wage war against its own grief

War is a state of mind
Toxic and yellow
caked between the lines of anthems
Where the red glare of pride
Plants its fangs in migrant lives
Where blues bruised hearts
Embalmed and cold
Turn purple bold
and suit up to shoot up schools
And rock out like cocky jocks out on the farm
Penning girls down
White hot to do harm

War is a state of mind
In which children dine on ground up chicks
While they snipe at frenemies with mouse clicks
In which bots fish like voyeur drones
Prospecting porn on their smart phones
In which black boys are worthless thugs
and white women are devils
And every color is an other
Covered in the veneer of fear
In which women threaten the rule of men
By claiming their own bodies
In which powerful men reference big tents
To create some imagined US against some pretend THEM

You can’t touch it, can’t cuff it, can’t place it under arrest
You can’t shoot it, can’t nuke it, can’t stop it with a protest
You can’t torture it out of terrorists
Can’t beat it out of children
You can’t deter it under penalty of death
And it won’t fall with a building

But songs
Songs have defeated its torrents
and its dogs
have shamed its demons

Words have shaken us from its nightmare
Poems turned anthems have freed men

James Weldon Johnson:  
Sing a song 
full of the faith that the dark past has taught us
Sing a song 
full of the hope that the present has brought us
Facing the rising sun 
of our new day begun
Let us march on till victory is won

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Daily Prayer

In the infinite now
I live
from the power in the atoms of my mass
through the genius in the cells of my body
from the energy in the electricity of my thoughts
through rhythm in the vibration of my voice

In the infinite now
I live
To be an instrument of God's intention
To be a reflection of God's perfection
To be a conduit of God's consciousness

In the infinite now
I live
in gratitude
for being
a co-creator with the all-present
all-aware, all-powerful, all-good
universal spirit

In the infinite now
And So It Is

Monday, February 10, 2014

Farewell GLOBE

I have moved on from one of the most impactful adventures of my life, the GLOBE Academy.  I am proud of my contributions and will miss the little people most of all, but life calls me forward to a new adventure.  Farewell GLOBE...

To the Teachers, Staff, Families, and Governing Board of the GLOBE Academy,

I am deeply honored to have served as Director of Policy and External Affairs in the six months prior to the opening of school, helping to raise GLOBE from an idea to reality; from 15 students to a lottery and waiting list; from an empty, shuttered building to a beautiful and warm home for learning; from the chaos of the first few months to a foundation for years to come. 

I am also proud of my effort as Interim Head of School, to step in at a time of crisis and step up to the challenge of leading a new school in a new building with a new staff, parent and student body.  I worked hard to create a sense of teamwork and shared commitment among teachers; to encourage and empower parents to self-organize their invaluable contributions to the many needs of a fledgling school; to warmly welcome and engage students with compassion, joy, and meaningful experiences.  My effort was more than matched by the countless sacrifices of my immensely strong, encouraging, and supportive wife Jessy, and my two patient and loving children.     

I would like to acknowledge the efforts of Reshma Kakkar and Karen Gravel, Cindy Thigpen and Maria Ceballos, Patricia Holiday and Davina Marraccini, all former board members who poured their talent, treasure, and time into this school.  Some of the founders and former board members of GLOBE are parents among you who helped create the charter, helped develop the vision, helped open the building, attract families and hire teachers.  And many of the parents and teachers who put blood, sweat, and tears into making GLOBE what it is today remain present and accounted for.  To the teachers, staff, and supporters who built GLOBE, thank you for the great honor of working with you. 

I would like to thank DeKalb County Director of Charter Schools Dr. Jose Boza for his constant encouragement and support during my time as Interim Head of School.  I’d also like to express gratitude to Director of Planning Dan Drake, Assistant Legal Officer Marcee Cambell, Technology Specialist Marcus Browning and the many people at DeKalb County School District who were helpful throughout the first semester of GLOBE.  I am certain that they will continue to be great resources as GLOBE grows on.     

Most of all, I would like to thank the families of GLOBE for entrusting your sweet, beautiful, brilliant children with me for a time.  I will miss their laughter, compassion, insights on life, the sincerity of their hugs, and the joy of their voices calling my name.  What a blessing it has been to experience them.  I hope that somewhere, deep in their memories, they will recall the love I felt for each and every one of them.  I hope that I had a positive impact on their lives and I pray for their continued health and well-being as they grow.  I know that our effort to build GLOBE for your children will not be in vain.

GLOBE will succeed because of the many hands that built it.  I urge each of you to always remember the collective effort that took this school from concept to classroom.  Keep an engaged, committed, and passionate parent body and this school will never fail.  Continue to support and honor excellent educators and they will make GLOBE a world-class school.  Stay rooted in love and compassion for all your children’s schoolmates and the positivity of GLOBE will never be overshadowed by the grass-top politics of the day.  Keep making GLOBE magic and the difficulties of this founding year will be the storm that fed the field.

I can assure you of this.  You can feel the promise of GLOBE in its skin.  It is wrapped around your hands.  It is echoed in the voices of your children.  It is moving through GLOBE’s halls in small, silent intentions that come true through commitment and necessity-bred invention.  Be encouraged.  I believe in you, GLOBE.  Thank you for the experience of a lifetime.


Michael Otieno Molina, Esq.