Vision-Driven Justice


Wakanda world do we imagine beyond the social injustices that plague our classrooms and communities?

In our quest to fight for social justice are we as clear about what we are fighting for as what we are fighting against? To be driven by a palpable vision of the world we want to see is an entirely different energy than being perpetually driven by the world that we do not want to see. I work with teachers, scholars, and leaders all over the country and when the question above is posed there are usually…*crickets*… a deafening silence. Most of the time when we talk of social justice, we limit the conversation to our enmeshment with social injustice.

But oppression is being trapped in someone else’s narrative with no power of authorship.

Once we clarify vision, we then have the capacity to inscribe our own narratives of how we will get there. You see, once we decide what socially just classrooms must look like, we then hold our curriculum, pedagogies, and the everyday experiences of students against the aims of that vision. Vision gives power of authorship. Not just politically or pedagogically, but I embrace vision-driven justice as a deep personal practice by beginning with the question, "what will it look like when I am doing my best work in the world?" For me, this has been transforming and liberating. My health journey, for example, has radically shifted because it is now driven by my vision for a healthy lifestyle instead of my desire to lose X amount of weight.

Vision-driven justice on the political and pedagogical level is not a call for us to stop naming and resisting the oppressions that threaten our very existence. This is a call to ensure that our motivations are rooted in our own reimagining, our own authorship, our own palpable hope.

In 2014, just days after the murder of Mike Brown by officer Darren Wilson, I traveled down to Ferguson with many other Black folks to build and protest with the community. Driven by the unrelenting disposability of Black life in this country, I found myself in protest after protest, organizing on the ground, creating sacred space for Black youth to process the ongoing traumas. I was deep in the work...Simultaneously however, I gained a considerable amount of weight and my mental health was declining with the ongoing prevalence of Black death all around me. It hit me hard one day:

I had been telling the world that Black lives matter, and I was not cherishing my own Black life.

Mama Morrison warned us about existing inside of the “white gaze.” In her refusal to position her work within the white gaze she says, “What is the world like if he’s not there? And the freedom, the open world that appears is stunning. ... There was this free space opened up by refusing to respond every minute to … somebody else’s gaze. So that flavored a great deal of what I was writing. It still does.”

So, I ask again, Wakanda world do we imagine outside of the intersecting oppressions that saturate our reality?! Without vision that is forged collaboratively and equitably, we have watched many policies, legislative efforts, actions, etc. make artificial changes in the name of social justice, while actually re-centering and upholding white supremacist practices. As a professor of Social Justice Education, ALL of my students are assigned what I have called a Visualization Autobiography. This assignment is rooted in what I have termed a “Vision-driven Justice” lens. It is not an invitation to articulate some wispy intangible future. Instead, it calls all people committed to social justice to the action of collaboratively naming the kind of world that we are fighting for at the same time as we work to dismantle the injustices we are fighting against. Both must happen concurrently. The immediate threat to our very lives and human rights must be attended to as we do this work.

What's at stake?

Our failure to be vision-driven in our quest for justice leaves us open to fall prey to…

  • Ego-driven justice...without collaborative vision rooted in deep "answerability," it becomes easier and easier to place self at the center of social justice efforts, erasing others in the process

  • Rage-driven justice…without vision, rooted in a deep sense of hope and joy, it becomes easier and easier to become trapped in a cycle of rage (which has its place), consumed by what we are fighting against at the expense of what we are fighting for

  • Guilt-driven justice…without vision, rooted in deep intersectionality, it becomes easier and easier for privileged groups to be driven by a deep toxic sense of paternalism



I would like to lovingly acknowledge the feedback and insights provided to me by my colleagues and friends, Tim San Pedro and Brooke Harris Garad. Respectively they continue to add to my scholarship and practice invaluably.

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