2018 Social Justice Activist Nominee Profile

A writer, local NEA leader and human rights advocate, Angie Powers is an educator who has literally walked the walk to fight for strong public schools in Kansas and across the nation. Angie has laced up her sneakers to walk 66 miles to Topeka in support of public education funding and marched in the streets of D.C. to advocate for equality in education.

Angie defines her success as an educator by the creation of welcoming schools that prepare each student to navigate a complex world with compassionate empathy. To that end, Angie sponsors the Olathe Northwest High School Gender Sexuality Alliance and, drawing on her training from the NEA, GLSEN and the Human Rights Campaign, she mentors students in the areas of civic engagement, social justice and advocacy.  As co-chair of the KNEA Social Justice Taskforce, as well as the Olathe NEA Social Justice Cadre, Angie leads Kansas NEA’s social justice efforts.  As the 2018 Region 3 Kansas Teacher of the Year Finalist, she has spoken to pre-service teachers in every college in Kansas about the challenges LGBTQ+ students face and how they can create welcoming schools for their future students. Angie also serves on THRIVE, an organization in the Kansas City area that makes LGBTQ+-specific policy recommendations to local districts.

We caught up with Angie to get her thoughts on educator activism, students and the challenges in public education today.

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What spurred you to become an educator activist?

One thing transformed me from an educator passionate about social justice to an educator activist: motherhood. I see students as somebody’s son, niece or grandchild. Every single one of these children deserve equitable access to a quality public school. Every single one of these children deserve compassionate teachers. Every single one deserves the benefit of inclusive curriculum. Every single one, regardless of zip code.

 

Why should social justice activism matter to educators?

Education and equity are inseparable: one cannot exist without the other. When inequity plagues the educational system, it fails to serve the needs of each child. It is our most important work to battle inequity in each classroom across the nation, as well as our educational institutions as a whole. Our children are worth this fight.

 

What role do students play in movement building, especially in light of the new political environment?

Our nation has a long history of young people leading movements. In 1960, four black students sat at the “whites only” lunch counter in a local Woolworth’s and refused to leave when requested. For six months, these students returned, each time bringing more young people with them until the lunch counter desegregated. The activism that we are seeing in our youth today is just as powerful. They have the fire, the courage, and the persistence to change our country. They, like those students in 1960, will be remembered as key activists during a tumultuous time.

 

What is the role personal stories play in SJ activism?

Personal stories place the focus of social justice where it belongs: our humanity. We live in a landscape of divisiveness that obscures our shared humanity with polarizing issues. When these issues obstruct our ability to listen to each other, stories build bridges that open our ears and soften our hearts.

 

What is the biggest issue facing public education today?

The biggest challenge facing public education today is the strength of the anti-public education movement. In short, we have people who are making critical decisions about schools who have absolutely no experience in public education and who seek to advance the cause of diverting public funds to private schools. These leaders, like Betsy DeVos, have scaled back civil rights investigations and have reversed protections for our most vulnerable students. What happens in DC and state capitals across the nation affects students in our classrooms, so we must fight until those leaders are as concerned about students as they are about corporate interests and winning elections.

 

What song gets you fired up to do this work?

John Lennon’s “Imagine” is a classic song that I remember listening to on vinyl as a child. It spoke to me then because of its hope. It speaks to me even more today as an activist in Kansas where the social justice movement is gaining momentum. When I feel frustrated about the pace of this momentum, I hear Lennon singing, “I hope someday you’ll join us and the world will be as one.”

 

What message would you most want to tell educator activists just starting out?

As actress Ruth Gordon said, “Courage is like a muscle. We strengthen it with use.” For some educators, this work feels risky. But doing what’s right for kids again and again and again builds our courage muscle.

 

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