Feeling to Drive our Alchemy

On Saturday, December 16th the CREAD Team hosted the 2nd Woke Cypha in collaboration with NYC Men Teach.



We explored the Woke Cypha Element of alchemy: Curiosity is fertile ground for the evolution and development of young people who can effect radical change. How do you speak, hold, and assess that curiosity?

How do you combine student curiosity with inquiry and engagement to cultivate independent and critically thinking learners?

In our session, we read part of the Kalief Browder story and discussed how so much of our practice as educators and as freedom fighters is about transforming pain to power. If you don’t know about the Kalief Browder story, check out the documentary on Netflix produced by our fave, Jay Z. In summary, Kalief was a young Black male who spent over 1,000 days on Rikers Island, 800 of those days in solitary confinement for a charge he maintained he did not commit.

During the session, Catherine and Khalilah pushed us to talk about the elements of the article that jumped out at us, and many of our participants discussed the following quote from Kalief:

“People tell me because I have this case against the city I’m all right. But I’m not alright. I’m messed up. I know that I might see some money from this case, but that’s not going to help me mentally. I’m mentally scared right now. That’s how I feel. Because there are certain things that changed about me and they might not go back.”

Many of us wanted to jump to our analysis of this quote and the article, making connections between Kalief’s story and those of the youth we have worked with. However, our facilitators pushed us to think about how we felt when we read the story. After the question of feeling was sidetracked a few times, Khalilah finally paused and asked the question

What was in your gut when you read that piece? How did you feel?

It is amazing how many of us continued to avoid the question of feeling. In our society, we are constantly trained to avoid that which is negative, that which does not make us feel good and happy and warm and fuzzy inside. However, how does our continual focus on maintaining that which is good and avoiding that which is unpleasant rob us of deeper understandings of other parts of human emotion such as sadness, anger, pain, distress?

At CREAD, we push ourselves to FEEL and to embrace the entire range of our human emotions. As discussed in The CREAD “we gon’ be alright” educator as activist stay woke plan for demolishing white supremacy, patriarchy, and institutional racism in the pursuit for freedom and liberation for Diasporic people, feeling is essential to the process of healing. It is also essential to accomplish transformation, to tap into our alchemy, our magic, to achieve self-knowledge, self-actualization, freedom, and liberation. As educators, we need to be very grounded in all that we are feeling as we navigate the forces of oppression in our educational systems so that we may show up every day for our students. We must also remember to enable our students to communicate and understand their feelings as well, so that they won’t be paralyzed by what they are experiencing.


It is essential to keep in mind that childhood and adolescence are incredibly tense times for students as they develop schemas for the world, navigate the complexity of life and relationships, and as their hormones wreak havoc on realities for them and everyone around them. A transformational text in my life as an educator is Yardsticks by Chip Wood, a book that lays out cognitive, social, developmental, and academic considerations in the classroom for students from ages 4 – 14.

Did you know that 11 year olds often experience extremes of emotion, can be moody/sensitive, oppositional, and grow by testing limits? Wood urges teachers to take the perspective that testing limits are developmental milestones for 11 year olds and should not be considered personal attacks. By the time students are 12 they can be more reasonable, and though sarcasm often emerges at this age, they are generally more cognitively motivated by events of history and civics when clear ties are made to their lives. By 13, students have developed more abstract reasoning though they often use loud language and may learn through challenging intellectual and social authority.

At any given time, our students are experiencing ranges of emotions and it is part of our role as educators to recognize that and to empower students with how to deal with all these feelings. Feelings and passion in students (and all people) are a good thing! The more we know about our own feelings and those of our students, the more we can use that knowledge for power and for transformation. We can teach our students how to navigate their emotions, we can set expectations that enable them to be reflective, we can encourage 13 year olds to think about how their challenging approaches can affect others around them.

Our society tends to police Black and Brown bodies, deeming us dangerous if we ever display feelings that are considered threatening to the White supremacist capitalist patriarchy. Our task is complicated – we must sort through our feelings while navigating these unjust systems. All too often, the result can be to deny or stifle feelings which (speaking from the I perspective) can result in an explosion which is not conducive to any advancement. So we must give ourselves time and space to feel, to process, to decide for ourselves what is true and what is a lie.

Our magic lies in our ability to feel. Feeling is essential to understand our magic, to use Alchemy to promote our curiosity and to enable transformation.

Our range of emotions are what make us human. Let’s continue to feel so we can be free.



One comment

  1. Hey,
    I watched the video and it looked like an amazing session. This post totally cleared up some of the questions that I had about the content that you guys were using. I do have a question about the element of Alchemy, though and how how it is used in the classroom in connection to conceptualizing lessons. My understanding of this element is that it is about bringing magic into the classroom? Or is it more in like with the old ideas of Alchemy and it’s scientific background of changing one thing into another. I think I saw that portion of the element at work when the facilitators and attendees were in the Cross the Line/Stand Up activity. That is, participants were transforming their thoughts into new golden nuggets, and in keeping sense with the alchemist they were finding the source of their love and pulling from home.

    So is it about changing something in the classroom, such as infusing magic into the classroom environment, or is it about embracing our feelings by examining the way we think about things. I can see a use of this in changing students’ perceptions and getting them to be the aware of how their is definite emotion that has a relevant spot in the cognitive process of development. In other words, to get woke they have to be aware of their connections- historical and emotional (Sankofa) and embrace the feelings of the times, and their own feelings.

    How would you define this element, and what are so other guiding learning activities that could go with it? Is it a socio-emotional learning piece, as well as a content piece? Or is it about the person embracing this element to define how they would use it?

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