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The Racial Literacy Project at Teachers College (at Columbia University)

Updated: May 27

Event: Book talk in conversation with Dr. Bettina Love, The Racial Literacy Project, Teachers College at Columbia University, New York, NY

Date: Monday, March 25, 2024

Kicks of Choice: De La Soul Dunk High (OG brown)

Thoughts captured on April 6, 2024

 

What’s good party people,

So it’s taken me a little while to reflect on this moment and be able to capture it in words. And that’s really because of just how spectacular this thing was…

 

This moment really started once the book was out – Dr. Yolanda Sealy-Ruiz hit me up immediately. I’ve known Yolie for years through Carmen, as they attended grad school together and are sisters in every sense. So Yolie hit me up and was like “Brother Todd – it’s time, let’s do it!!!” What’s important to note is Yolie has been doing the Racial Literacy Project at Teachers College for FOURTEEN YEARS! Be clear: a lot of people talk about the community building they’re doing. Yolie doesn’t talk about it – she IS about it, and she’s just out here DOING the work that folks are talking about. She’s literally building community semester after semester, year after year, grad class after grad class. It’s amazing to witness, but it’s even more amazing to be welcomed into the legacy of that community. So we’ve been mapping this event out since November 2023.

 

As January rolled in, we both found ourselves trying to navigate the various ways in which life was lifing!!! And lemme tell you – life was kicking both of us in the behind, for real for real! But through that turbulence (and Yolie has seen me through some turbulent times, going alllll the way back to my grad school days at St. John’s), Yolie made sure we pulled this event off flawlessly!

 

Step One: Yolie immediately pulled in Dr. Bettina Love and Dr. Chris Emdin. I’ve known Bettina since 2012, and she has truly been an inspiration for how to do great work and remain the same person that you were before the accolades, awards, and multiple books. And she has always been there to support me any time I’ve called on her. I’ve known of Chris through his work – we’ve met a couple times and we have way too many mutual people in our orbit. So when Yolie told me I’d be in conversation with both Bettina and Chris, I was ecstatic! These are two scholars whose work I’ve consumed and admired from up close and afar, so this was shaping up to be a crazy moment!

 

And Yolie’s vision was incredible – she didn’t just want this to be the straight ahead book talk. She was like “nah Todd, I see you DJing first! Then I see you talking to the people, then talking with Chris and Bettina. What’chu think?” Yolie completely understands what I do as a DJ, and she was literally setting up a situation where all aspects of the literacy work I do could be on full display for the people in attendance and for graduate students to see how you could hold onto your entire self and figure out a way to make it through the academy. And the space she chose – the Smith Learning Theater – is such a creative tech-forward spot. Screens everywhere for the livestream, images and video feeds running what we were doing in the moment. It was a location where the act of doing Hip Hop Literacy, DJ Rhetoric and Literacy could be center stage, and shining in the best possible light.

 

After my opening DJ set, introductions and the book talk, Bettina started the convo with saying “thank you for your work. Thank you for bringing your ancestors into this space with us, and for sharing with us. And thank you for being a petty scholar – cuz there’s nothing better than a scholar whose smart and petty!!!” The ways in which she affirmed the work “K for the Way” is doing was really a dream come true. When you think about it, many times we write these books in isolation, deliberating over thoughts and ideas, trying with everything we have to get it right. And then when it’s time to release it into the world, it’s scary and mindboggling. But most important, you just hope you’re getting it right for the community you’re talking about and trying to represent in a new way and in a new space. So when Bettina shared that sentiment, it just let me know that the book is simply doing what I hoped it would do. You can’t ask for too much more…except for the fact that Breakbeat Lou was in attendance for this event. And again – it’s one thing when the academics are feeling the work. But when the DJs say the work is dope and it’s what it needs to be, then you have to embrace that fully. So when Breakbeat Lou said “Todd, I’m proud of you – you’re on point with this,” I know the work is in the pocket because that’s the best feedback I could receive. And Breakbeat Lou isn’t playing around – if it’s wack, he’ll definitely let you know! Unfortunately, Chris Emdin was caught up in travel, and wasn’t able to make it back in time for the event. But we gonna make something happen on the next-go-round, so it’s all Gucci!

 

I’ll close out this moment with the most important story of the night. My youngest daughter Julia was sick on the night of the book launch. She was distraught and crying when we had to leave for the event. But I told her, “Julia – this might be first event, but it won’t be the last. And I PROMISE you that there will be another event, and you’ll get to go to it. You’ll get to wear your fancy dress and it will be special.” So this Teachers College event was really a special moment for me because it would be the first time my youngest daughter would get to see me talk about the book. At the start of the event, I gave her a special shout out (something I did for my oldest daughter at the first book launch). I got a chance to see her smile and laugh and cry, and experience all the emotions that have come with how I describe the important people who contributed to the making of this book.

 

When we got home and I went to tuck her into bed, we did the usual hugs and kisses and I love yous. But then, right when I was about to leave her room, she said “Dad…”

When I said, “yes, Julia,” her response was “good job.” Then she rolled over and nestled her way right into sleep. I almost cried – there was a lot that I was thankful for, but the greatest compliment ever came right in that moment. I always talk about the importance of us seeing us do these great things. I’m so glad that it resonated with her in this way. And when your daughter tells you good job, what else matters?

 

As always, super-duper shout out to Yolie (aka Ms. Teachers College aka Dr. Everything aka Dr. Yolanda Sealy-Ruiz): thank you for allowing me to execute this vision in a way like no other! Shout out to one of the realest and the most authentic scholars in the game, Dr. Bettina Love: thank you for navigating me through one of the dopest conversations I’ve had about this book ever! Much love to all the grad students in the building (including my African American Rhetorics class from the CUNY Grad Center). Infinite thanks for the homie Breakbeat Lou for coming through and showing love. As well, infinite thanks to Anna and the whole Smith Learning Theater crew for making me look platinum-plus out this piece!!! You already know what time it is: here’s the pics as well as the article on the event from the good folks over at TC! I couldn’t have asked for a better 6-month moment with the book than this.

 

And you already know there’s more coming. But for now, we gonna bask in this glory right here and right now. Let’s GOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!




 

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