There are few sayings that make most people shake their heads (often in disgust), like the phrase “find your passion.” For many, pursuing passion means sacrificing your livelihood. For instructors though, we are part of the few who can proudly say, I have found my passion. Whether we are teaching English, Women’s Studies, or Accounting. We love what we do, and we love sharing our expertise with others.
The definition of passion is “strong and barely controllable emotion” or “a state or outburst of strong emotion” or “a thing arousing excitement.” In all cases, passion speaks to our emotions or a feeling we are experiencing at a certain point in time.
As an African American 45-year-old man, I find myself exhausted and frustrated with another murder of someone who looks like me or looks like my son at the hands of law enforcement. I am even more exhausted and frustrated by the outpouring of “support” that is plastered everywhere. I walk down the streets and see storefronts with strategically placed signs saying “Black Lives Matter.” These signs are right next to the sign that reads “We are still open for takeout.” It makes my cynical mind wonder: Are these signs really code for “please don’t break my window --I’m just trying to run a business here.”
I have seen this level of support before. In 2014, I saw the same outrage and outpouring of support when police officers murdered Michael Brown. Then, nothing. In 2016, police officers murdered Philando Castile with his girlfriend’s 4-year-old daughter in the backseat. This was followed by outrage and outpouring of support. Then, nothing. In 2018, Botham Jean, an accounting student who parlayed his education into a position with one of the four largest accounting firms in the world, was murdered in his own home at the hands of a police officer. Again, outrage and outpouring of support. Then, nothing.
I cannot change the world, I cannot change the country, and maybe not even my community. But, I can change myself. I can change the environment that I choose to work within (an environment that I proudly share is my “passion”). It is imperative that all California community college instructors take a long hard look at themselves. We each should take a personal inventory of our biases and what experiences have led us to those biases. Then, we need to take the next important, and painful step, of aligning how our biases have contributed to the systemic racism and disenfranchisement of African Americans in education. According to EdSource, “Blacks comprise about 6 percent of California’s population between ages 18 and 24. Compared to that, black students are underrepresented at UC (2 percent) and CSU (4 percent) while close to representation at community colleges (7 percent) and private non-profit colleges (6 percent)” (Gordon, 2019). This tells me that most African American students pursuing a college education are in the California community college system, and we have a direct line to provide support above and beyond hanging a door sign or throwing up our fist at a protest.
But alas, I am not holding my breath for my non-African American colleagues to take on this challenge in a meaningful and sustainable way. Why, because we are still teaching out of “passion.”
Passion is an emotion, and we all know emotions change directions the wind. We need more instructors in the classroom because of purpose. Teachers everywhere had to pivot on a dime in March 2020 to transition learning to an online format. I had a hard time accepting this transition and spent the first two weeks thinking about whether we would be back on campus in 4 or 6 weeks. I was very passionate about teaching accounting, but I realized that my passion (or emotions) were stoked when I saw a student’s eyes light up when she connected the concept, or a student raise his hand with excitement to share a current event that relates to the accounting topic being discussed. If I was going to finish the Spring 2020 semester strong, I needed to dig deeper.
And I did. I looked past my passion and called on my purpose. I have been given a responsibility to encourage students to pursue careers in accounting. If students choose not to pursue this career, then my responsibility is to make them knowledgeable about the language of business to help them be successful, regardless of the career they pursue. Equally important, my purpose is to stand in front of the classroom as a 45-year-old African American man and speak my truth. Reminding students that success is not a singular path but requires many twists and turns and dead-ends and “woulda-coulda-shoulda’s.”
My call to action for all my colleagues is to shift from passion to purpose. Let’s understand the position we have been given and the significant opportunity we can provide to so many African American college students. When we start living this truth, we will not need to hang door signs that say “Black Lives Matter.” Our actions will demonstrate our purpose—and the message will be clear, consistent, and credible.
Gordon, Larry. (2019, February 20). California’s black students lag in college completion despite some gains. Edsource. Retrieved from https://edsource.org/2019/californias-black-students-lag-in-college-com….