New View EDU Episode 7: Schools for Diversity and Designing Inclusive Futures

Available September 21

Find New View EDU on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, Stitcher, and many other podcast apps.

The way we understand equity in our schools is constantly evolving. Students and staff in our communities reflect a broader and richer spectrum of identity, heritage, and self-discovery at this moment than at any other moment in American history. Yet educational practice is still catching up, and the students most likely to be heavily impacted by trauma, such as the spectrum of recent events, are students of color, students with disabilities, and learners from other marginalized communities. How can a deeper understanding of the struggle for true equity in education inform the way we design schools and learning opportunities in the future? And what opportunities would exist for our school communities if we learned how to design education to be truly inclusive of all voices and perspectives from the very beginning?

Lonny Brooks and Ahmed BestAs educators and school leaders hone their methods in response to a growing understanding of the importance of representation and culturally responsive practices in the classroom, New View EDU dives into the subject with a transformative conversation on the power of structured imagination in creating inclusive cultures. Guests Lonny Brooks and Ahmed Best are, together, the co-hosts of the Afrofuturist podcast and creators of the game Afro-Rithms From the Future. Lonny is also a futurist, scholar, professor of communications, and co-principal investigator for the Long Term and Futures Thinking in Education Project; Ahmed is an award-winning actor best known for his role as Jar Jar Binks in the Star Wars films, as well as a writer, director, producer, futurist, and science fiction devotee. They delve into how their shared understanding of the future-thinking orientation inherent in the Black American experience, and the lack of representation of the Black community in the science fiction and gaming worlds, led to their creation of a communal game experience devoted to “democratizing the future.” They also share what their work means for educators and schools everywhere.

“For every algorithm of oppression, we have to have an Afrorithm of liberation.” What are Afrorithms? What does the concept of an “algorithm of oppression” mean for the way we build systems and structures throughout our society? Lonny and Ahmed trace the importance of futurist thinking from the historical realities of the slave trade, through the Drinking Gourd and the Underground Railroad, to the present day. With a keen eye toward the voices that are invited to tell and shape stories, and the perspectives that are left out, they examine how marginalization of different communities has shaped a culture that doesn’t fully reflect its full diversity of heritage, ethnicity, experience, or thought. 

In this episode, hosts Tim Fish and Lisa Kay Solomon ask Lonny and Ahmed to share the inspiration and process behind the creation of their imaginative gameplay experience, and how they have consciously structured a virtual world that invites inclusive participation. Exploring how sensitivity to the importance of every individual’s perspective and intrinsic value develops student agency, Lonny and Ahmed reflect on the ways in which educational and social structures may stifle the emergence of vitally needed new voices and points of view. A rich and nuanced discussion sheds light on the growth of Afrofuturism and the potential the discipline holds for transforming the way we learn, share, communicate, and build our future worlds, In what ways do we need to interrogate our well-meaning current practices and beliefs to create meaningful long-term change? And what would education for the next generation look like if we radically shifted practices to bridge divides and intentionally design a more inclusive future?

Key Questions

Some of the key questions Tim and Lisa explore in this interview include:
  • How do we bring structured imagination into our classrooms and communities to reimagine more just, equitable, and abundant futures?
  • What role does the future—or futurism—play in helping us better understand the present?
  • In what ways can school leaders and communities intentionally bring more future-oriented practices into their planning and into their classrooms?
  • What is the value of being “seen,” and what does it take to become a “seer” of our students and community members?

Episode Highlights

  • “Afrofuturism is a combination of speculative fiction and science fiction and fantasy to envision alternative futures and memories about—about the future, leveraging our ancestral intelligence from the Black Diaspora, indigenous, people of color, but fundamentally based in the Black experience of the Middle Passage.” (2:12)
  • “I think African people and those of African descent have always had the futurist mindset, the futurist thinking, and you know what I, what I like to talk about when we play Afro-Rithms, our game, is how as enslaved Africans were brought throughout the Western world, we had no choice but to look forward to a time where enslavement wasn't a possibility. Even the idea of the Civil Rights movement, and even before that, when we're talking about, you know, the 14th, 15th, 16th amendments in the United States, you have to be a futurist in the thinking in order to convince a body, a governmental body of which you have no representation in, that you are worth being moved from commodity to an actual human being.” (4:48)
  • “A lot of times with futures thinking, people don't invest the amount of time that I think is necessary into futures thinking because they believe they can't afford it. Right. I think most people look at the past and try to learn from the past, and hedge the present on the past without looking forward to the future.” (10:03)
  • “The screen is a portal to the universe. And if you are not taking advantage of the portal to the universe, the students are going to find another way to do it.” (11:25)
  • “And I just think, you know, like with any language, the kids come to it more naturally. They are like the natural linguists in adopting that language and implementing it. So my students, you know, have access to putting in—implementing their voices, and especially their own cultural experiences into the game, that really expands and gets them excited about doing this work.” (22:00)
  • “What I am interested in is letting you know that you are the only you in this universe, and that is special. And I want to hear what you have to say, right? I don't want you to do algebra. I want you to do your algebra. What does that mean? I don't want you to learn history. I want you to be able to learn history your way, right?” (30:21)
  • “But I think what's tantamount, what's really important, is we have to, to stop thinking about the 20th century industrial age type of thinking where everybody's going to be on an assembly line and get a job. I think we have to move more toward the individual idea of the process of each person. Believe that each student is special in their own right. And give the student the ability to get a dream rather than get a job.” (34:12)

Resource List

Full Transcript

Key Takeaways

About Our Guests

Ahmed BestAhmed Best was a founding member of the acid jazz group The Jazzhole and starred in the Broadway musical Stomp. He then went on to be the first CGI lead character in a motion picture, starring as Jar Jar Binks in Star Wars: The Phantom MenaceAttack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith.

A graduate of the American Film Institute, Ahmed is an Ovation Award, LACC Award, Stage Raw Award, and Annie Award winner. He’s the executive producer of The DL Chronicles (GLAAD award winner for Best Anthology series); co-director of the web series Bandwagon; and the creator, writer, and director for the web series This Can't Be My Life and the sci-fi comedy The Nebula. Ahmed is addicted to culture and devoted to the future.

Lonny BrooksLonny J Avi Brooks is an associate professor in the communication department at California State University, East Bay, which is, in turn, part of the newly formed School of Arts Media. He teaches in the public, professional, and organizational concentration in communication, and he is the co-principal investigator for the Long Term and Futures Thinking in Education Project. He has piloted the integration of long term and futures thinking into his communication courses for the last four years.

His current manuscript is Working in the Future Tense@Futureland: Circulating Afrofuturetypes of Work, Culture and Racial Identity (in review). His latest articles include the forthcoming “Minority Reports from 2054: Building Collective and Critical Forecasting Imaginaries and Afrofuturetypes in Game Jamming” for the special 2018 issue of the Canadian journal TOPIA: Black Lives, Black Politics, Black Futures, and “Cruelty and Afrofuturism,” a special commentary section for the Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies journal. With Dr. Reynaldo Anderson, Lonny published “Student Visions of Multiple Urban Futures 2050” in Envisioning Futures for Environmental and Sustainability Education.