My Creative Heroes blog has been silent for several months. This past summer and fall my city has gone through trials and tribulations of biblical proportions. While I did not suffer a loved one’s murder or lose my home to a flood, I felt my community’s pain. I wanted to be part of solving the problems and healing the racial divide in Baton Rouge. I only realize in hindsight that I was given a gift to do just that, when I casually agreed to teach a Junior Achievement class. The students in that class are my Creative Heroes.
I was given the entrepreneur curriculum for a high school business class by Junior Achievement (JA). The high schoolers learn about starting a business, create a product, and actually pitch it—like Shark Tank—in a competition with other schools. I was given a school that is closest to my home and work.
I quickly learned my school had spotty internet service, no software in which to create their product, no equipment for the students to film the required commercial. There’s no communications lab, there’s no theater program, there’s no speech department. It has none of the resources the private and magnet schools have, which is who we’d be pitching against.
What my students had was me. A middle-age, white woman, who had to acknowledge to herself that my comfortable, privileged life, was as foreign to my brown and black students, as their life was to me. And since the summer shooting of Alton Sterling, the racial divide in our community was strong.
JA paired me with a great, caring, experienced teacher. Her most important piece of advice was what the students needed most was for someone to show up. Many of those students don’t have adults in their lives that show up for them. They were also starting a month late, due to the flood. Many of them were still displaced from their homes and their lives had no normalcy. School was the one steady thing and for some it was their only hot meal of the day.
To understand the class I was assigned, is to understand one of the students I wanted on the Pitch team. She had come to class a few weeks after we started and her attendance was as spotty as the school’s internet connection. But when she was there, she was fully engaged. She participated with enthusiasm and was always throwing out new creative ideas when few in the class would speak. I learned that she had a transportation problem. She didn’t live on the bus route and no one would bring her to school. I didn’t see her the last five classes I taught.
Trying to understand how to best teach my students, my personal goal was to show the student’s career possibilities that they might not even know were a possibility. I consider myself a creativity expert, so I wanted them to learn and understand the creative side of learning; to know that there were jobs in marketing, advertising, graphic design, writing, video and more. I’m like a dog with a bone when I get my teeth into a project, I don’t let go. Showing up was something I knew I could do. I also knew I could recruit professional friends to help, including friends who were more relatable to the students than me. Every one I asked, showed up for the class.
The class came up with a solid product, The Education Change Card. It would collect your change at check out and then you could go back to participating stores and get discounts on educational products (school supplies, uniforms, computers, etc.) when you were ready to cash it in. After the horrendous summer, all the students wanted to create something that helped our community.
The day of the Pitch came. Two of the six students on the Pitch team did not show up; one had been suspended the day before and the other one—the strongest presenter— was a no show. One brave, unprepared, young woman took their place and the team of six became a team of five. I frantically pulled them into a corner and practiced as much as could be crammed in the 20 minutes before it was show time.
I’d like to have a fairy tale ending to this story. What quickly became apparent was the schools with the most-haves were crushing the schools that were the have-nots. And the school with the most-haves, was the school that won. The winning team did a great job. They were poised, confident, and they had a pitch with all the bells and whistles. My team looked like a young JV team up against the seasoned pros.
My final class was a wrap-up after the pitch event. I wanted them to focus on all they had learned and accomplished. What I quickly realized was that I was more upset about the inequity of the teams than they were. None of these students had ever spoken before a crowd and no one passed out or threw up! Everyone on the Pitch team said they would get up and present again if given the opportunity. They were so proud of working through the fear of public speaking. They also said they’d return next year to mentor the next year’s class. These students had rarely, if ever, worked in a group before. They learned about the creative process, and brainstorming, and the give and take of reaching group consensus. The learned how to take an idea and turn it into something real.
They got a glimmer of a different way to view the world and they learned of job possibilities they did not know existed. They learned about resources in our community that are available to them. They learned that success takes hard work. We talked about the advantages the winning team had and they understood how hard that team had worked outside of class. One student said that the winning team seemed so much older. I explained that what they saw was confidence, and confidence came with hard work and practice, practice, practice.
They learned that there are adults who wanted them to succeed and who would show up for them.
And they learned the importance of showing up for themselves.
I was reminded that the best product doesn’t always succeed in the marketplace. The best candidate doesn’t always win. Great businesses and great people often fail. There are big lessons to learn when we fail. But we learn those lessons and we move forward and we continue to show up.
Special thanks to these pros for showing up:
Debra Wilkerson (the class teacher who taught me a lot)
Luke St. John McKnight
Jennifer Scripps and Junior Achievement
If you like My Creative Journey, I’d love for you to follow me. My posts will then arrive in your email and I promise no spam.