The Cypher Calls Us to Reflect and Shift

Updated: Sep 1

by Rudy Bankston and Vera Naputi


What are we as educators willing to notice in ourselves as we begin to plan for another unique school year? For us, we have been in a perpetual cypher - in Hip Hop, a cypher is a gathering space where we circle up to freestyle, to listen, to share feelings and thoughts, to hold each other up and challenge each other to break down what we need in order to be free. It’s like we have unknowingly been in a helluva long cypher moving in and out of this infinite circle of energy that has fostered all kinds of experiments. As educators who have stepped in and out of the cypher, we know both formally and informally we have a particular and critical role in creating a vibe of care and hope and perpetual new beginnings - not just for the youth, but quite honestly, for each other too. So together as colleagues, we jumped into a cypher and in a few words with 5-7-5 syllables in the form of a Haiku, we offer a supportive and affirming way to future dream while living our present realities.


The moment calls us

Reflect on being human

Shift the paradigm


The moment calls us. What the moment calls educators to consider is how we move and adapt in a way that centers collective care. Perhaps this is the moment to re-examine our relationship with vulnerability and consider author Adrienne Maree Brown’s timeless question: How do I weave together what my needs are with what y’all have the capacity to offer, and help shape this over time? We are simultaneously naming what communities - particularly schools - are missing and need right now. This can be the moment our vulnerability unleashes non-normative ideas and actions that lie dormant, and realize that as long as we allow ourselves to be the same as we were yesterday, we will not be free. The moment of what it takes to be vulnerable comes to life in JayZ’s lyric, “I’d rather die enormous than live dormant” which is to say if this is all that we have, let us relinquish the barriers that insulate us, and risk developing new norms and structures that match the moment..In our cypher, the moment calls us to actively do this in a community where we collectively care for each other. We must choose to do this explicitly and strategically, with the utmost self-awareness.


Reflect on being human. When we reflect on being human we see the uniqueness in everyone. We don’t want everyone to be the same. We want variety in belief systems and continual evolution in a society that values interdependence. We can reflect by imagining and wondering what it would mean to be fully human in another world. Janelle Monae’s lyric, “I’m not America’s nightmare, I’m the American Dream” from her song titled, Crazy, Classic Life, is a powerful inference that advises us to steer away from stereotypes, biases, prejudices and racism that bind and blind us. We believe that the key to freedom dreaming is to create the conditions where we actually practice dreaming, where we construct our dreams, and say them out loud together. For us, the combined actions of reflecting and dreaming in community is culturally affirming and casts out the fears and inhibitions that hinder how we see each other’s humanity. Being the “American Dream” as Monae says, infers an exercise in vulnerability -- it is where we expand and imagine, create and heal. The cypher propels us to collectively flourish and dream about our future.


Shift the paradigm. In this time of multiple pandemics, with much uncertainty, we must shift our paradigm. As much as educators are trying not to go back to normal or to what was, the systems are impenetrable and seem to lead us back there. Resist this. In Sa-Roc’s song Deliverance, she says, “I’m turning over a new leaf, same life with a new lease, game time, different frame of mind.” Imagine educators in the cypher freestyling a response to Sa-Roc’s ever-so-relevant theme of new and different. Freestyling - essentially, going off-script from institutional norms and ideological views, and into new attitudes and perspectives can undoubtedly cause fear. The fear of change, rejection, ridicule, and loss. The fear of feeling unsafe is real, and in a time of uncertainty, educators are looking for safety. However, we must not conflate safety with certainty, because when we conflate those things, we end up going back to what was. Our paradigm must shift towards being unafraid of new and different, and embracing the purposes this will eventually serve.


Our cypher asks: What are we as educators willing to notice in ourselves as we begin to plan for another unique school year? In this moment of beginning again with youth and colleagues in a community of growth and development, let’s all commit to reflecting on our shared humanity. Let’s shift away from fear and freestyle our way into an ongoing cypher where we are free to dream for the sake and the benefit of our youth.




Works Cited

Brown, Adrienne M., and Adrienne Maree. Brown. Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds. AK Press, 2021.

JayZ Lyrics to Can I Live, Genius, 1996, https://genius.com/Jay-z-can-i-live-lyrics.

Monae, Janelle, Americans, 2018, https://genius.com/Janelle-monae-americans-lyrics

Sa Roc, Deliverance, 2020, https://genius.com/Sa-roc-deliverance-lyrics


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