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screen-shot-2016-09-21-at-7-01-17-pm I'm proud to say that Korea is my new home! The photo above was taken a few weeks ago in Jeonju, a traditional/historical district in Korea. While I did participate in the lion dance, the picture is not of me but of two friends instead. I guess I wasn't good enough to have my picture taken! My move to Korea has been the culmination of a two-year long process involving much prayer, research, preparation, and counsel from others. If you've been in my life over the past two years, you may have been a part of this process! While it is difficult to summarize all of my reasons for moving overseas, I can at the very least try to give you an idea.

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“Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause."

- Isaiah 1:16-17

Today marks the eve of the worst act of domestic terrorism in American history. The Tulsa Race Riots nearly wiped out the entire African American community in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Angry, white mobs invaded the wealthy community of Greenwood, killed unknown numbers of people, bombed it from the sky, looted its stores, and burned down over 35 city blocks of buildings and homes. For decades after the violence, white women could be seen walking down the streets of Tulsa wearing the jewelry, coats, and clothing of the Black women whose homes were looted and destroyed. Ninety-five years later, the massacre is still disregarded by many as just a bunch of “riots” over race, instead of the terrible act of terror that it actually was, duplicated on a smaller scale in cities across the country.

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“Behold, I am making all things new.”

Revelation 21:5

I’ve only been a teacher in a low-income school for four years, but sometimes it can feel like too long, I’ve started the school year with no supplies, no curriculum, and no principal. I’ve walked into my classroom to discover it had been trashed by “construction crews” the night before. I’ve sent thirsty children to get water, only to discover that the fountains don’t work and the water from the classroom sink runs yellow. I’ve taught over 30 students by myself at one time, watched children with learning disabilities sit in classrooms for years without receiving help, given paperwork for parents to sign that makes them believe their child is getting extra support when no such thing is happening, and seen countless children pushed onto the next grade when they don’t even know how to write their name. I’ve spent nights weeping after laboring to the point of insanity to do everything in my capacity that I could possibly do, and it still wasn’t enough. It never is enough. And then I read the words of Jesus in Revelation, “Behold I am making all things new,” and it hurts. It hurts because it is easier for me to believe in the brokenness of our systems than it is for me to believe in the power of God to protect our children from the evil at work in this world. It is easier for me to believe that the world is corrupt than to believe it is being renewed. It is easier for me to see the tears of a six-year-old child because they cannot pass a standardized test, than it is for me to see the fullness of who they are, a fullness that even the worst systems in the world could never take away.

[caption id="attachment_880" align="alignnone" width="639"]homework-1481153-639x424 Stock photo[/caption] We held a “testing rally” on Friday that was quite possibly the most depressing experience of my year. The purpose of the rally was to get kids “pumped up” and “excited” for testing. In preparation, my students and I created a giant poster saying, “Don’t forget the power of yet!” The poster was a reference to Janelle Monae’s Sesame Street song. We crammed all 320+ students into our gymnasium while they listened to a small speech informing them that, “This test will decide what opportunities you have in life, and even what colleges you will go to.” A speaker came up and told the children to chant, “I am smart. I will pass!” And younger students stood to perform cheers for the older grades. As the spectacle unfolded, a queasiness settled into the pit of my stomach. The chanting and cheering was supposed to generate excitement, but it created something of an ominous contradiction to the actual spirit of the school. A spirit of defeat.

[caption id="attachment_808" align="alignnone" width="787"]octaviuscatto Accessed through the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries[/caption] The cat is out of the bag, so to speak, when it comes to criminal justice in America. While police still rank among the most trusted institutions in American society, public confidence in the police has nevertheless hit a 20-year low. Outcries surrounding the deaths of people like Michael Brown and Eric Garner only scratch the surface of a much larger barrage of viral videos, personal accounts, and troubling statistics that have gripped the public imagination in recent years. The effects of such sweeping indictments against the criminal justice system are impossible to fully predict. But it’s safe to say they aren’t going away. In the midst of this public controversy, I find myself torn between two opposing factions — factions that don’t really exist but can seem quite real in the midst of heated rhetoric. On one side are the marginalized and oppressed. On the other side are police. In reality, neither of these factions exist. If you were to ask the average American whether they belong to one of these sides, they would say something like, “I don’t, but those people do.” They are factions that allow us to demonize the other side while pretending to be neutral ourselves. And they are tearing us apart.

[caption id="attachment_771" align="aligncenter" width="458"]Screen Shot 2016-02-16 at 1.45.08 PM Teaching a lesson on skin color with my students[/caption] It hits me mid-lesson. Two weeks into the school year. I’ve spent the entire month of August setting up my classroom, preparing unit plans, rehearsing lessons, structuring my schedule so that everything goes just right, drilling procedures into my students day after day from the moment they arrive to the daily goodbye, and tirelessly calling parents to establish student-family connections, and then it hits me. The predictable existential crisis. I pause in the middle of a lesson and look around at the snotty-nosed, fidgety mess of little bodies playing with their shoelaces in front of me, and I think to myself, “What the heck am I doing with my life?” Some teachers naturally love the children in their classroom. I am not one of those teachers. Each year, as I meet the new army of youngsters that I’ve been tasked with educating, I secretly stifle a feeling of dismay as I realize that I’m inexorably stuck with this brood of germs for the next ten months of my life. The summer feels eternally distant. And then something else happens. A different crisis.

Note: This is the third installment in a series discussing Michelle Alexander's book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. For other posts in this series see: the new jim crow In Chapter 2, Alexander shifts her attention away from race to focus on the overall impact of the Drug War and its implications. She pinpoints the Drug War as the single greatest reason for the unprecedented rise in America’s incarceration rate and charges America’s “tough on crime” posture with unraveling our constitutional rights. Here are some of the major talking points from Chapter 2: