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From Ednium: Find something worth existing for

Editor’s note: his is the latest installment of monthly contributions to Boardhawk from Ednium: The Alumni Collective. Listen to the Ednium podcast featuring author Tashan Montgomery here.

I always felt centered by community. Even as I weighed what I wanted to do after high school, community always felt like home.

I’m a Denver Public Schools graduate. I went to Lowry Elementary, Place Bridge Academy and George Washington High School, but I had friends all over, from Thomas Jefferson to Montbello and everywhere in between.

I was really involved in my high school and participated in AVID, Black Student Alliance, and the student board of education; I was looking for opportunities to advocate for myself and my community even before leaving high school. I saw institutional failures going on and wanted to do something about that.

My friends and I worked together to find different avenues to solve problems.

I attended the University of Denver on a full ride through the Daniels Fund Scholarship. I majored in international business and political science while working at the cultural center. I thought that as a business major, I could create something to give back to my community, but business was not as community-rooted as I wanted it to be.

I wanted to be on the ground, impacting and lifting up those around me. I was passionate about advocating and finding resources for people and I felt called to do it because many universities are not prepared to provide for Black students.

After graduating, I got a job with YAASPA (Young Aspiring Americans for Social & Political Activism). I knew of them from their programming at George when I was a student, and it made perfect sense for me to be there after my university experience.

I started teaching Social Justice at Empower Community High School, emphasizing community building and art or how a social issue impacts the Black experience. Students at the school advocated for a Black educator to teach Black history, so I also started teaching Black Studies.

As part of their final project, students held a Black Liberation Festival which was an opportunity for them to put together their own understanding of what they learned. It included projects about social justice as it relates to Blackness, posters about specific movements in history or people who made an impact, and talent show performances.

It was open to the community, and we invited Black businesses and organizations. I wanted to show my students that both knowledge and community exist outside of the classroom.

Today I teach a social justice class at Hinkley High School in Aurora Public Schools. Last year I saw the nomination call for The Game Giver Award from Ednium – a community nominated award to highlight an educator who provides resources and knowledge, especially in schools and for young people.

And to actually win it means the community sees my work as valuable. I’m so appreciative because this work is valuable to my heart, but to be recognized by community — which has its own wants and needs — brings me so much joy.

Joy to feel seen in this work. The community knows what the community needs, and I’m just grateful to be a part of it.

YAASPA helps me learn how to be in community and use the resources I have access to and share them. We are intentional about being youth-led and I try, as an educator, to implement that idea in other aspects, to encourage projects based on youth passions, and not mine. We work to prioritize youth knowledge, experience and wisdom.

Students have a say in their future and their present, something I always try to stress in my classroom.

My hope for my students is they are able to pursue their passions and endeavors in an unrestricted way and know they have the power to change the world and seize their own futures. We tend to discount youth, but they have a voice and power in that.

I’ve heard from my students that the world is doomed and doesn’t give them a reason to feel motivated for the future. But my role is to give them something to look forward to; it’s not for me to decide what, all I can do is show them the tools to find that out for themselves.

To find something worth existing for.

Structural injustices and inequalities still exist today and that keeps me motivated to stay active in the community and connect with others. Be it in Colorado, Sudan, Congo, or Palestine – it only affirms the importance of staying engaged.

We may fight for policy solutions, but there are also grassroots, community level initiatives we must do for each other outside of policy. Ways to educate and give life skills to make changes that lead to big impacts.

Shout out to organizations like Ednium and YAASPA who effectively let people know that their communities are valuable and the youth in our community is valuable. This is important work and work I am proud to say I’m a part of.