Turning the Light Back on, Brightly, this New Year

Three months ago today, we all lost our inimitable Dirk Tillotson, the creator of this platform. He has been a resource and light to everyone he encountered in Oakland, here in New York, and abroad. 

As the co-pilot of our nonprofit Great School Choices, the past three months have been some of the worst days of my life.  There’s trauma that if left untreated, will reverberate and debilitate in moments of feeling unsafe. There’s grief that surfaces whenever it wants, often at the most inopportune of times. It often crashes like a wave and amplifies the other sad moments that life brings.

Then, there’s my solemn responsibility to ask and answer the questions about the work that his passing now leaves behind.  How can I replicate, or at the very least, continue the impact of Dirk?  

How do I  continue on, when this man played all of the instruments in the band, yet took little credit for any of its success?

“As co-pilot, can I pick up all the moving pieces of Dirk’s work?” 

 That answer is simple: “I can’t.” 

It’s no accident that traditions from all corners of the world reserve time to grieve, mourn, and reflect. To sit in the silence. To be with our community. To be present and listen to our voice, and maybe even hear the voices of those we’ve lost. Since Dirk’s passing, Great School Voices and our other platforms have done the same. We left our platforms dark. We huddled with our community.  We listened.  We talked. And we continued to mourn.  

However, in that silence and stillness, there was still movement. I met with a multitude of like-minded activists and funders dedicated to educational justice, and attended events and conferences highlighting the systemic challenges in district policies and schools. Many of you continued to access his writings and watch his broadcasts.  A good number of you never stopped fighting for our youth. Together, we came to know what Dirk saw in each of us, through the lenses of others in the room. We started to identify what the core of Dirk’s work really was. We chose to advance all of it. Our grief became our resolve.  

In that time and space, the honest appraisal of “Can I?” became “We will.”  That time begins now. The space for you to be witness and to participate is right here.

As I noted in my speech at his memorial, I find comfort in coincidences as it reminds us of our  connectedness.  And it’s no coincidence that three months to the day of our losing Dirk begins a new day, in a new year.  

This is 2022. While we may not hear Dirk’s direct voice live on our screens, at OUSD Board meetings, or at seemingly every education-focused event in Oakland, you will hear it in me, as we charge forward in our organization’s mission to build schools and movements accountable to the communities they serve.  You will hear it in Coron Brinson, who will curate and amplify student, family, and teacher voices here on this blog. You will hear it in Kennan Scott, who will lend his voice to completing the last mile in the digital inclusion space and our podcast series. You will hear it In Jumoke Hinton and the strong collective of the State of Black Education in Oakland.  You will see it in action in all of our community-based partners, like  FIA Oakland, Oakland REACHOakland Undivided and Energy Convertors.  Even more pointedly, from the Mayor’s Office, where they are pushing, hard, to make Oakland the beacon for the Internet For All campaign. 

This is the first year where we won’t get to physically or virtually be in the same room as our Dirk, and our hearts and grief will understandably continue to grapple with that.  This will however, be the beginnings of the best years ahead for everything he cared about and it will be because of you.  Not one person can replicate him, but together we will continue his movement  and ensure that every student is blessed with great school choices.

This is your call to action to join us in the education reform movement.  We’ll have opportunities ahead for you to lend your hand, raise your voice, and participate in the movement he created. 

As Dirk would say to me every other week, “I appreciate you.  More to come.”

What do you think?

More Comments