I joined Loyola University Maryland’s Curriculum and Instruction for Social Justice (CISJ) master’s program after three decades of teaching because I knew there are many barriers yet to be broken and I wanted to be a stronger voice for justice within my own curriculum.
It was in my ED 618 - Instructional Theories and Practices class with Regina A. Young, Ph.D., an affiliate CISJ instructor, where I found what I had been missing in my classroom. Dr. Young provided a safe space for learning, asking questions, and reflecting on issues deriving from a framework of social justice education. She took a personal interest in all her students, and in her mentoring approach, wanted each of our voices to be heard and respected.
During one of her mentoring moments, Dr. Young put on her listening hat to personally invite students to raise questions about issues that matter to us. She challenged us to recognize the long fight that civil rights leader John Lewis had to contend with while engaging himself in "good trouble" and to create a safe space for our own students to become activists for social justice. Her final class project was aptly called the “Good Trouble” project.
From Dr. Young’s class, I felt inspired to forge ahead and expose my students to the dream of becoming advocates for social justice. Students must be able to differentiate between the good and the bad, and know that engaging in “good trouble” gives them a voice to speak up, speak out, and speak triumphantly for themselves. It was then that I determined my school’s annual oratorical contest should be based on the topic “how does ‘good trouble’ lead to self-advocacy?”
On February 23, 2022, my school, Surrattsville High School in Clinton, Maryland, hosted its annual Black History Month Celebration and Oratorical Contest, and with it came the emergence of 10 talented social activists. The competition was so stiff that their greatness was separated by only a few points. In the end sophomore Jordan Barahona claimed first place with his compelling speech relating the impact of “good trouble” throughout history, from activist and church deacon Jimmie Lee Jackson’s legacy inspiring the Selma marches to writer Miriam Michelson’s use of journalism to support the suffrage movement.
The oratorical contest was a showdown of talent, skills, and spirited motivation for Lewis’ vision that drove each student to a milestone of excellence. The students were nearly flawless, passionate, and serious in presenting their thoughts on anti-racism and the need for social justice action to prevail.
When the time comes for me to retire, this will be one of the cherished memories that I will carry with me always.
I am grateful for the CISJ program, and for Dr. Young’s personalized mentorship in particular, so I could better address equity and social justice issues with my students. Dr. Young remains invested in my success, and her remarkable guidance has helped me become the teacher I am truly called to be.
Byron Brown is an English teacher and Speech and Oratory Club advisor at Surrattsville High School in the Prince George’s County Public School System, and a graduate student in the Master of Arts in Curriculum and Instruction for Social Justice program. He anticipates graduating in the 2023 spring semester.