October 28, 2015 14:07 Age: 2 yrs

Why I Rally: Fighting for What's Possible

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Monique Johnson is the music teacher at AF Brownsville Elementary in Brooklyn. Last week, she spoke to a crowd of 3,000 fellow educators at the Teacher Rally for School Equality. She shared her story and why she believes it's so important for teachers to stand together and demand equal educational opportunities for all students. 

I have the best job in the world. Every day, I get to help kids open their minds to the world of music. I get to guide them through everything from Beethoven to Beyonce. And I get to watch as music transforms their lives, just like it did for me.

My family moved here from Jamaica when I was ten. I was lucky – I got into public schools that supported and challenged me. As a kid, all I wanted to do was study music and the arts. My mom put me in dance classes, piano lessons, and vocal training. Music was everything to me.

After high school, I attended Howard University, where - of course - I studied music. When I left Howard, I decided that I needed to do more than just make music. I needed to help more kids discover the world of music – to help them learn about, experience and find happiness in music, like I had.

I feel blessed to have the chance to teach kids from Brownsville, Brooklyn, some of whom have had the deck stacked against them. But it’s amazing to see the transformation that occurs when a child encounters the power of music, both sympathy and song. 

We all know that feeling when our song comes on, our feet begin to move, and the music just takes over! Well, that happens in my classroom every day; alongside rigorous learning as well.

In my classroom, kids engage with great works of art, explore new worlds of melody and encounter lyrics that speak to their souls. Kids lose themselves in music and some find themselves for the first time. They experience joy and happiness and come alive. My job gives me the chance to share my love of music and spread that joy and knowledge – and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

But, sadly, many kids don’t get that same experience. When I think about the fact that 478,000 kids in New York are forced into separate and unequal schools – it breaks my heart.

These are kids with limitless potential. They’re kids who could be the next Alicia Keys, Yo-Yo Ma, or Jay-Z. But when we stick them in failing schools, we steal possibility away from them. That isn’t right. It isn’t fair. It’s not worthy of us as a city. And as teachers, we have a responsibility to raise our voices and say enough is enough.

I became a teacher because I believe all children have a right to be valued. They have a right to an education that challenges them to explore their passions, find their calling and pursue their dreams – whether that means law school, medical school or the Broadway stage.

That’s the New York City that I want to raise my children in. And until that vision is a reality, we are going to fight to make it real.

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