Liberation Through Education – Part II: Self-Actualization

“You are your best thing.” – Toni Morrison

Liberation Through Education – Self-Actualization

As we set in motion the journey of discovery to Liberation Through Education, It is important to highlight the tenet, self-actualization. By definition, it is the realization or fulfillment of one’s talents and potentialities, especially considered as a drive or need present in everyone. Vice President Kamala Harris, Representative Stacy Abrams, Activist Tamika Mallory, and artists such as Beyonce and the late Chadwick Boseman – all courageous, confident, creative and exceptional in their craft. Each has/had their own vision of what it means to be excellent; they have advanced to the position of being self-aware, confident and enough. All – by example – are self-actualized individuals. 

It’s Practical

Most can identify someone whom we believe is living up to his or her own full potential, talents, and gifts. Fulfilling that excellence is a need present in everyone. This concept of self-actualization comes from the First Nations People and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Although debated whether the steps in Maslow’s pyramid are attainable for all, given disparities from one community to the next, the concept of being one’s best self is universal. Educator and Author, Dr. Chris Emdin speaks to self-actualization, as he walks down his experience from childhood to education, during his TED talk, Teaching & Being Rachetdemic. He also introduced the concept to the U Prep crew during a professional development session, where he facilitated, and left us with affirmations he titled, The Seven Rights of the Body

Some come to realize self-actualization in spite of rather than with the support of others, and sometimes those others are educators and/or school communities. To better illustrate, and because I am a lover of music, let’s revisit the lyrics from the late, Notorious B.I.G., “this album is dedicated to all the teachers that told me I would never amount to nothin”. Biggie’s discovery came in spite of the declaration that not only would he never reach his pinnacle, but the implication was that self-actualization in their eyes (his teachers) was not even attainable for him. As a community, U Prep Schools is committed to being the ones who support students in self-actualization.

Self-Actualization Through Education at U Prep

While in high school, it was a teacher who helped guide me toward my revelation of self-actualization. During my time as Principal at UPA High, we had an old saying, “one student at a time,” which illustrated a belief in the importance of every child who joined our community and how important each of them was. We understood that children were not blank slates; they were beings in and of themselves, shaped by their own self-values as well as the pressures of the world. This is who we have always been: a community that believes in every child realizing their own vision of excellence. 

As educators and ones whom families entrust to provide the very best to their child, it is our job to realize and remove barriers that keep our scholars from self-actualizing. U Prep Schools is taking a deep dive into and researching what/who those barriers might be and actively removing them. Arriving at self-actualization comes as a result of the residuals from relationships, relevance, and responsibility, according to Dr. Jeff Duncan-Andrade, Ethnic Studies Professor at San Francisco State University, Co-Founder Community Responsive Education (CRE) and Roses in Concrete Community School. This is why those three concepts are part of our Pillars of Culturally Responsive Education: Culture of High Expectations, Culturally Responsive Teaching, and Restorative Practices. 

Have you seen the movie, Soul? I watched it with my family over the holiday last year. The lead character, Joe Gardner voiced by Jamie Foxx, is a middle school band teacher in NYC public schools, who is not satisfied with his life until he gets a gig with a jazz artist who he greatly admires. While I’m not too fond of the fact that the movie paints teaching as an unrewarding and not-so-glamorous profession at first, it does illustrate what it means to be a self-actualized human. Without spoiling the movie for you, if you haven’t seen it, Joe Garner had an – albeit somewhat limited – idea or vision of who he wanted to be in life. Over the course of the movie we get to see his self-actualization unfold. 

Self-actualization is paramount. It illustrates a belief in self-love, which ultimately leads to a greater understanding of others – empathy, which strengthens communities, cultures, and society as a whole. While we lean into these pillars and to the belief in the importance of all of our children self-actualizing, I fully expect to add the names of our scholars to those I began with, as community leaders, organizers, and international influencers who change their world. This will be because of the U Prep community, not in spite of it.

Danielle Jackson, CEO of U Prep Schools/Detroit 90/90
Danielle Jackson, CEO of U Prep Schools/Detroit 90/90

Author: Danielle Jackson is the CEO of Detroit 90/90, and U Prep Schools. She is a veteran educator with over 20-years of experience in the classroom, as well as school and executive leadership. A proud graduate of Wayne State University, Mrs. Jackson received both her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from the exemplary institution. She has been a member of the U Prep community for 14-years, where she previously served in the roles of Principal and Chief Academic Officer before transitioning into the esteemed role as leader of the U Prep network.