About me...as a person
I was born and raised in Kansas, and I graduated with a high school class of nearly 70 students. Coming from a small town, I had a small-town mentality. I did not think about "big ideas" or what existed beyond my lived experiences or the experiences of those in my tiny, religious, majority-White, and majority-middle class community. Fortunately, I made the decision to attend a community college an hour away from my home, and this began the expansion of my worldview.
During my time in community college, I began to find my own voice as a queer man. I learned that being different is okay, and we all have a voice that is worth being heard. As I gained confidence and comfort with who I was, I began to serve as an amplifier for those around me who didn't feel they had a voice. I served as an executive officer in multiple organizations (e.g., student government, gay-straight alliance) where I could share others' lived experiences with the administration and our community. During this time, I learned that not all voices want to be heard by mainstream society, and, sometimes, voices are actively suppressed. This began my journey as an advocate.
After earning my associate's degrees, I transferred to Wichita State University in Wichita, Kansas. It was here that my mind was blown regarding the advocacy work that needed to be done. One of the core courses required for a baccalaureate degree in criminal justice was "Dealing with Diversity." The name itself is striking. As someone in a program that was focused on serving the community, I only had to learn to "deal" with diversity. Throughout this class, I was shocked by the narrow view of diversity and the manner in which it was taught. I felt that this was a disservice to all underrepresented communities. This deepened my commitment to work with/for marginalized communities and any person who felt that their voice was stifled.
I moved to Sacramento in May 2014 in preparation for my criminal justice Master's program at Sacramento State. In January 2015, I was introduced to a local, community-based re-entry program that provided life-skills and (re-)habilitation classes to those who were being released from prison. This very quickly became a place that I felt I needed to be. I volunteered from that day until June 2015 when I was hired to serve as the volunteer coordinator and a mentor. Not too long after that, I was serving as the program's primary instructor. I was responsible for delivering instruction to these men and women that would help (re-)habilitate them and provide them the necessary life skills so that they could be successful post-incarceration. All lessons were based on cognitive behavioral therapy and had a strong emphasis on self-advocacy. My ultimate goal was for my students to learn how to navigate their new world and how to appropriately and successfully advocate for themselves. They have and always will face barriers, but I needed them to understand that their voice was/is valid and powerful. I continued to serve as the primary instructor at the re-entry program until December of 2018.
Through my work with this re-entry program, I was introduced to Highlands. My team and I were invited to tour Grand's campus to see how our program may work together with Highlands' classrooms. I fell in love with the school the moment I stepped into the classrooms. I saw that the school served many students from diverse backgrounds that have historically been disenfranchised and had their voices muted. The teachers that I observed provided outlets for these students to learn more about their world, how to interact with it, and how to advocate for themselves. I knew at that moment if an opportunity arose to work there, I would take it. Luckily enough, in April 2018, I signed my contract to teach an evening high school class.
Since July 2018, our evening high school program has blossomed. On my first night as a teacher at Highlands, I had only one student enrolled. Nearly two years later, we've had an enrollment as high as 80+ with a regular attendance rate between 30-40 students (at our busiest). Of course, providing a high school education is a core mission of our classroom, but my personal mission for my students has always been to build up their voices and their willingness to use them. Every chance I get, I make sure my students feel heard, valued, validated, and cheered on. They know that their voices matter, and someone will listen if they speak loud enough.