Help Leah and Rena Get to Baltimore!
Organized by: Shelly Galvin
EVENT DATE Oct 10, 2015
Teaching from the heart requires help from you! Courage is a practice!
Community Leaders Leah and Rena Dunbar are raising $5,000 to travel to the Courageous Conversations Summit in Baltimore, October 10-14, 2015. Let's be a part of the courageous conversation and help them help our community and our youth.
Twin teachers Rena and Leah Dunbar (Eugene, OR) teach a course to high school students called ‘Courageous Conversations’. Many of you in our community have been part of this class, or know someone who has. This transformational course focuses on community-building and listening as an act of love and courage, to not just bear witness but also become participants in the work of undoing oppression, so that we can live authentically and allow others to also live in their truth. This course (going on its 8th year in 4j School District) is an adaptation for middle and high school inspired by the work of Glenn Singleton, whose book ‘Courageous Conversations About Race’ guides educational organizations and the professionals within them, in developing healthy and honest dialogue around race.
This practice of self-exploration while interrogating the notion of how ‘race’ operates in American institutions results in better academic outcomes for students. ALL students. All of us benefit from understanding the ways race and cultural identity impacts our lives. All of us benefit from understanding how our own cultural background intersects with the educational system, both as students and as instructors. Students of CC,
become more 'race and culture literate'; develop their awareness of how our stories interact with those of others; and explore the spaces, both positive and negative, of intersection and impact. It is heart-led and heart expanding work, and students are engaged both emotionally and intellectually as they journey together through the CC curriculum.
Rena and Leah need your help: they would like the opportunity to attend the Courageous Conversations Summit in Baltimore MD, so that they can continue to grow professionally and bring it back home to the Courageous students of Eugene.
Links to press about Leah and Rena and their projects and passions:
Leah Dunbar has been teaching high school for fifteen years, following twin Rena to Eugene, Oregon, after earning her MA in Women’s Writing from University of Essex (UK). She thought she’d just stay in Eugene a few weeks. Eighteen years and two strong-willed children later (Solstice and Jameson), Leah parents, reads, dances, runs, and has been facilitating Courageous Conversations since 2008. Aside from her children and ‘CC’, Leah credits ‘Weapon of Choice: Voice!’ (the spoken-word open mic she and a class of 10 brilliant ‘Alt-ed’ students began in response to 9/11) as the work she’s most proud of. Alongside twin Rena Joy and an incredible and lengthy list of Eugene, Oregon’s uniquely inspired youth, this open-mic ran for ten years in Eugene. Two mottos guide her Courageous work: ‘Encourage your hopes, not your fears’, and a line from Rumi: ‘The wound is where the light enters you’. Being situated as a bi-racial woman in America means one’s body serves as bridge between the American dream and the nightmares hidden in our histories, and Leah believes that examining both the ‘truths and myths’ within our personal and collective stories are crucial in finding our way to our authentic voice, and the recognition of our shared humanity.
Rena Dunbar is older than Leah by thirteen minutes. She considers activism “her rent for living on this planet”, as her favorite author – Alice Walker says. Being born bi-racial in a racialized society, seemed to make this motto an inevitability. Luckily, she shares this mission with her identical twin. Rena has been learning her entire 43 years, but has been getting paid for it for 18. Although certified as a teacher in Language Arts, Rena has used the classroom, writing, storytelling, and story-sharing to help facilitate a deeper understanding of how each student’s personal identity is connected to the collective one. After teaching Language Arts and Social Studies at South Eugene High School for nine years, Rena moved on to help create the Peace Village program at Network Charter School as well as the class, “Coming Of Age In The Age Of Apocalypse’ - a class that examines the power of story and ritual to create and shift cultural beliefs and values. She then moved into middle school and quickly came to realize the earlier students begin learning how to have Courageous Conversations, the better. Rena was awarded the Peace Educator of the Year Award in May, 2014, by the Nobel Peace Laureate Project. The grassroots organization, based in Eugene, Ore., promotes peace by honoring and inspiring peacemakers. Rena now teaches at ECCO High School, an alternative high school on Lane Community College’s campus created to empower marginalized students to see themselves as not only learners but people who are here to change the world in powerful and positive ways!
The people of Japan have a long standing societal practice of honoring and cherishing what they call "Living National Treasures". Living National Treasures are people who provide high value, intangible and the most precious cultural properties important to the Japanese society. Artists, teachers, musicians, and other highly creative individuals have been deemed worthy of this honor. I want to extend the designation of Living National Treasure to you, Leah. You are truly a Living National Treasure who provides a high value and intangible service to our students... to our staff... and to our community. Your work to strengthen our community by providing a safe and nurturing environment for all who pass through your classroom doors is commendable. Yesterday, I had the privilege of participating on three panel discussions with your students. I observed a level of caring, acceptance and intellectual rigor that is rare in our schools. While your classes are large and very diverse, I felt you had each student's best interest in your heart and they had each others best interest in their hearts. You have created a learning environment which will...and has... led to a more open, accepting and trusting community. You truly are a Living National Treasure. Thank you for allowing me to visit your class.
Charles Smith, Principal
Kennedy Middle School
In your classroom, I was given access to wisdoms and truths that I did not understand the importance of at the time. I was given information about oppression, about politics, about race, class, gender, colonization, and capitalism from which I grew to understand my experience. I was given the access to practice being present with the truth in your classroom- something so essential to existing compassionately and with ferocity and something that is so often inaccessible.
I went to college where I worked with post-colonial philosophy and queer and feminist theory; formulating a new functional theory of queer separatism based in speaking truths and moving forward from vast and intense personal narratives of family and love (both of triumph and of trauma). Now, a year later, I’ve moved to Oakland where I’m going to gatherings, holding gatherings, and gathering the information I need to become a healer and a lover and a revolutionary on the ground. As we know, the increasingly little time we have left to gather in the face of the technologies of patriarchy and capitalism can be deadly, in and of itself. The healing I want be present with is one that benefits my family, chosen and biological; the amazing, nourishing women, children, queers, and POCs who have given me so much and who still continue the struggle.
I am so endlessly grateful for the information you gave me access to by being the teacher you are. Thank you for holding gatherings where I, and many others, have shared our narratives of joy and desire and fear and trauma. Those spaces you created in the classroom and one-on-one were safe, and were often the only truth-telling safety I encountered everyday. In all this time, you have always been the teacher who changed everything for me. The way you respected me, put time in, and listened to me were things that I had never experienced before I was in your class. The way you hold/held space for me and for others still reverberate as moments of transformational relationality and continue to educate me and inform my perspective.
You are one of my elders. So, so, so, so much love and gratitude,
Of the many courses I have taken in my academic career, Courageous Conversations with Leah Dunbar was the one that taught me how to be an invaluable adult and member of society. Being able to research and discuss topics not usually brought up to teenagers was refreshing. It showed great respect for our growing minds to be allowed to share our opinions.
Being able to study a topic from multiple angles until its' scope was fully understood was a great aspect within the class, but my favorite activity was by far the discussions that we ended each day with. I have found that youth often can't grasp that their opinion isn't the only one out there. Courageous Conversations aimed at and, more often not than not, succeeded in changing our views of the world and of others.
After taking this class and having gone to live in the adult world, I've come to fully appreciate its benefits. I find myself more willing to chime into discussions and debates, whether it be on the transgender community, marriage equality, war and politics, or any of the other topics in the forefront of the moment. I can effortlessly and confidently voice my opinion while still being sensitive to those around me, knowing they may not share all of my stances. I'm glad to see it is still going strong five years later, and hope others can benefit from its lessons for years to come.
One of the most memorable lessons that Leah taught me in school was about women rights and self respect as a women. She taught us just how big the media uses women's bodies to sell products. She has us make a collage of ads that included women in the cover that we saw as a sex symbol. As she pulled up images over the projector all the students took turns identifying the problem with the ad. Leah taught me to stand up for myself and to not sell myself short. Leah would start the class with having everyone sit in a circle and talk about how they were doing. Even though I, at the time, saw the point to it, I realized that she was helping us learn to communicate with our peers. We talked a lot about topics that were controversial, such as teen pregnancy, spanking children, race, media, culture, etc. All these topics made me self aware and showed me true values in the real world today. It was refreshing to know and feel that Leah was teaching us more than meets the eye. She was teaching us about life.
Thank you, Sonia Reyes (Churchill HS, Class of 2010)
To Whom It May Concern:
In support of Rena and Leah Dunbar’s intention to join the 2015 National Summit for Courageous Conversations in Baltimore, Maryland.
As a high school student, I struggled. A lot. I struggled to show up, struggled to stay engaged, struggled to get my work done, to socialize, to connect… I often felt isolated and detached, as many high-school students do. However, one of the few things that kept me showing up every day was the amazing group of teachers I was exposed to, both within and outside of the classrooms.
Rena and Leah were two such teachers and, due to their passion for their entire community and the engagement and empowerment of youth, they were and continue to be sources of support and inspiration to me. They changed my life for the better, despite the fact that I was never actually a student in either of their classrooms. I met them both through other teachers and students whose lives they had touched and through their work in the community, creating youth poetry open-mike nights at a local restaurant, their involvement in programs like Peace Village and Peace Jam, and their participation in community organizing and dialogue. Like all great educators, Rena and Leah recognize that in order to teach students well, teachers need to, first and foremost, truly know and respect the individual experiences of their students and honor the unique backgrounds that they bring to their classrooms. I have never seen two teachers who are more dedicated to being a positive force for change within their community, truly connecting with their students and their families so that every individual feels cared about.
The inspiring role that these two teachers played in my life continued after I left high school. Even though high school was nothing but a struggle for me, they never gave up on my potential and were shoulders for me to lean on as I struggled through my undergraduate degree, encouraging me to push myself and voicing the idea that I, myself, should become a teacher. They both wrote my letters of recommendation that got me into graduate school and, all throughout my student teaching, mentored me through some serious struggles. They taught me how to make my classroom a safe and empowering space for all students, how to incorporate social justice into my curriculum and make sure I named my privilege and was honest and open with my students about the power dynamics at play in our world and gave them space to deal with those ideas. They gave me their materials, activities, and curriculum ideas freely, showing as much care and passion for my students as they do for their own. Without Leah and Rena, I would have had no idea how to implement social justice and courageous conversations in such an effective way and the results were incredible and humbling.
Rena and Leah aren’t just great teachers, they make great teachers. They inspire people to make positive changes and then give them the tools and the hope with which to do so, sharing information freely because, for them, it’s not about ego; it’s about making the world a better place for everyone. Their unyielding, unwavering support, as well as the inspiration of the work that they do, gave me the strength and encouragement I needed to become a teacher. I am just one story, just one kid who didn’t graduate from high school; Leah and Rena refused to allow me to become a statistic. I wasn’t even on of their students, but they changed my life and continue to do so. This summit would give these two amazing teachers even more tools to continue the vital work that they do and a network in which to allow their inspiration to spread. Please support them in their efforts, for this world is in dire need of the hope that they bring.
Courageous Conversations is a class that gets diverse groups of students to open up and socialize in ways that many students likely wouldn't have the opportunity to experience. Leah Dunbar is a wonderful woman who is just right for the job in an almost "match made in heaven way," and in this class, she is able to bring so many things to the table.
I remember Leah made us all create a circle of chairs so we all faced inward, and we would take turns telling how our day had been going. Sometimes people would talk for thirty seconds and sometimes they wouldn't want to talk at all, but Leah always encouraged us to say more then three words, "I am fine" wasn't allowed, but if someone really couldn't talk about it then it was acceptable to say "I'm having a really bad day and I don't want to talk about it.” At first the circle we made was barely a circle at all and the talks about our days were short, sweet, and to the point; but as the class continued, the circle became more symmetrical and students moved tables without being asked, and if someone came in late multiple people in different spots would jump up to make a seat for them. Everyone even started trying to comfort those who didn't want to talk because we started realizing how much better we felt by doing so. Everyone grew more understanding and compassionate through just the opening of class alone.
Leah focused on various aspects of different cultures and how these cultures affected the world around them- from art to music or poetry, and even slavery or holocausts that happened in different parts of the world. She showed us how different events were discussed and expressed through various art forms, and how something so horrific like slavery could be sung about so beautifully or written about in a poem that it just makes time stop when you read it. Some of the topics we covered were an emotional roller coaster and some things we focused on were fun and had everyone very intrigued.
One lesson I remember very well was about a question: "does your positionality bias your epistemology?" This class taught me many aspects of my positionality and also how to question where my positionality was. I had begun to see why I felt the way I did about various subjects and even started to understand why I reacted the way I did in certain circumstances. Having a class that is designed to make a person open up from the get-go, and learning subjects about expression of feelings during even the most tragic of times is by far one of the most beneficial classes anyone could ask for. I still meet adults to this day that have as much trouble opening up and really questioning themselves as I did when I was twelve years old. We all grow at our own rate and our environment directly affects our rate of growth. Courageous Conversations is an environment that can inspire leaps and bounds of growth -and in high school that could quite possibly save a life.
I am quite positive I owe Leah a thank you that words cannot describe. The lessons I've learned from that class I truly have applied to my everyday life and I can say it has made me a much better human, a more compassionate man, and a wiser philosopher on the whole.
Overall with the right attitude and amount of patience, this class could be a life changer for many students and teachers. I truly believe every high school should have at least one teacher who directs this class. With the focus being on expression, compassion, and the history of how people help one another regardless of the differences that society says they have.
Thanks to Leah Dunbar, whom I will always admire for her love and care she has shown many students, me being a lucky one.