Awakening the Ase’ of Students of Color

Updated: Feb 8, 2020

by: Brian Harris

Third grader, Donavan meandered into my classroom one morning, with his head hanging low, and stomping his feet on the way to his desk. I noticed something was wrong and quickly walked over to him and said cheerfully, “Good Morning Donovan!” He slowly lifted up his head and muttered, “Good morning.” Amid the other students filing into the classroom, needing my attention as well, I was committed to making sure Donovan’s day would not continue the way it started. I moved closer to him, knelt down and whispered, “Donovan, I know something is bothering you son, would you like to share with me what’s wrong?” He told me that he missed his dad, who had been killed a few years before and that he was scared that he too was going to die. He continued to tell me that he felt lonely because his dad was his best friend and now no longer with him. He then, turned his body toward me, almost collapsing in my arms and began to cry.

I witnessed Donovan receive what appeared to be a release, or sense of freedom, as he felt comfortable expressing his feelings and fear in a safe, loving and non-judgmental space. Throughout the remainder of the school year, Donovan became a member of my all-boys dance company, Sons of Freedom, and became more comfortable sharing his feelings and offering his unique experiences to discussions and conversations. What I saw inside of Donovan was more than a boy who was experiencing grief, but rather a young man needing to be freed. This moment and many others like it have shaped my work with boys of color, as dance/movement becomes a platform for them to discuss their thoughts and express their feelings.

Statistics suggest one out of every four school-age children have been exposed to a traumatic event that can affect their learning and/or behavior. Consequently, trauma impairs learning and chronic exposure affects memory, creates anxiety, builds frustration and interferes with problem-solving skills. Trauma has a physical impact as well, building excessive amounts of cortisol in the body and having damaging effects. Negative childhood experiences can set children’s brain to constantly feel danger and fear. Repeated traumatizing experiences have a neurodevelopmental, emotional, social and behavioral impact. When children do not have opportunities to process, give meaning, or learn to cope, they live a “survival” existence. When we as classroom teachers incorporate movement in our daily lessons, we not only give students an opportunity to release energy but more importantly, we give our scholars a safe and artistic environment to explore what they deal within their families and communities.

Perhaps, you have a student much like Donovan, who needs an opportunity to express his thoughts and feelings. Perhaps, you are wondering “how can I incorporate movement into my academic day and give my students an opportunity to “release” or express themselves? Here are 3 quick and easy ways to incorporate movement in your classroom and help your students to release the tension that builds up as a result of negative experiences.

A Minute of Mindfulness: This activity can be done at the beginning of the day, in the end, or in between transitions. This minute, gives students an opportunity to focus on what they are thinking and feeling at that moment, while also inviting them to release any tension or frustration and focus on positive things around them.

Students can remain at their seats, with their hands placed on their knees, backs tall and eyes closed. Teachers can invite students to take a few deep breaths in and out, lift their hands to the sky while breathing, and make circle motions with their heads.

B-Boy Break: This activity is most effective when transitioning from one academic block to the next, or after sitting for a long period of time. This activity (5-10 min.), gives students an opportunity to move freely, with or without music, express how they are feeling in that moment and make a decision to release any feelings of negativity. Movement breaks are meant to be fun activities that shift students’ mindsets and allows them the freedom to connect to what they are feeling in an effort to release it.

Akwaaba (welcome) Circle: This activity invites students to write down and share an issue they are having, and/or negative feeling they are experiencing at school or home. It challenges them to first demonstrate a movement that articulates that feeling, as each student in the circle performs his or her movement (with or without explanation). Students then demonstrate a movement that is the opposite of the previous movement shared and talk about how they felt after doing both movements. This circle creates community, helps students identify the issues and/or negative thoughts and feelings and then encourages students to change those thoughts and feelings with a counter-movement.

These activities are great ways to help our scholars identify their emotions, while also helping them to physically release the negative stress in their bodies. We can all take part in helping to heal our children and restore them to a place of happiness and wholeness through movement. Although we are often bogged down by standardized testing requirements, district regulations and other limitations, we can become agents of change and transformation one movement at a time. Peace and Light to each of you!

Peace Kings and Queens! I am Brian K. Harris II, Director of Outplacement and Graduate Support at Bishop Walker School for Boys. I am also the Founder and Artistic Director of Sons of Freedom Dance Institute and Cultivating Young Kings Annual Educators Workshop. I have taught 1st -5th grade throughout my educational tenure, with a special focus on improving the quality of education for boys of color.

I am a graduate of Hampton University, with a B.A. in Print Journalism and a 2006 graduate of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology with a Masters in Divinity, specializing in Christian Education. I have been in education for 15 years and currently pursuing a Doctorate in Public Engagement from Wesley Theological Seminary.

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