This letter is dedicated to the first generation students I taught this summer at a transition program to start college. Teaching at a predominantly white institution, in general, can be tiring and overwhelming—especially amid racial injustice in our society. But having students of color who care and are learning lessons about our cruel world for the first time reminds me to be compassionate, and that my purpose is to guide them through this journey.
Dear woke student,
You are my light.
You have lived, loved and learned in my classroom space, transforming it from an empty room housed in a building founded by a white man to a haven embracing blackness. You’ve protested in solidarity, even if so, in silence. You’ve taught yourself to fight and to survive in climates meant for your intellectual demise where your spirit is forced to die. You’ve fostered dialogue and action that recognizes the humanity of the marginalized, heard the subliminal voices and began to love through hate.
And that love runs deep…
Your adoration propels me forward during times of perpetual exhaustion. When racial injustice leaves me limp, your energy brings me back to life. You’ve managed to be so conscious in the era of oblivion. You’ve made connections I’ve only dreamed of while planning my lectures.
Dear woke student with your bright eyes and your burning questions, you walked into this room unsure and sleeping innocently. You have now woken up to the sounds of sirens and to the sight of blood on the leaves. Your eyes are bloodshot from the tears and the dripping sweat from anger. You demand answers as your meek voice rises up in octaves.
Together. Sometimes alone in the room but never in spirit. Sometimes the ebony dot in the sea of an ivory tower, determined to muddy the waters. They thought your voice would drown but they didn’t know you learned how to swim while they were too busy dismissing my lessons.
In a hopeless world, you give me hope. I teach for you and because of you.
Your Woke Professor
Cynthia Estremera is currently a PhD. Candidate in English at Lehigh University, focusing her dissertation research on Black and Latina narratives of citizenship and redefining a politics of New World Blackness. Her scholarship includes hip hop studies and the intersectionality of identities through race, gender and feminism. Cynthia has co-authored a chapter in The Hip Hop & Obama Reader (2015) and teaches English at Lehigh. She is a Dominican-Puerto Rican Philly native, a mother of two boys of color, a poet, and a scholar-activist.