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Educator Spotlight: C.J. Lee

Christopher Lee (CJ) was born in Oakland, CA to a multiracial family (his mother is white and his father is Black and Cherokee). CJ and his two brothers grew up in the bustling, urban streets of Oakland and attended public schools. They spent their summers in slower, rural towns in Kentucky and Alabama. CJ went to Kansas State University to play basketball and upon graduation he taught for a year on a military base in Kansas before returning to Oakland to continue his teaching career. 

Following are edited excerpts from an interview with Mr. Lee:

Why education?
Truly, I never wanted to enter education. I did not have strong relationships with teachers and didn’t feel like they really knew or understood me. However, from a young age I realized that I had a skill to connect and lead children. I started by taking care of my younger brother and his brother’s friends, getting praise for how engaged they were. Soon after, I started working at Sarah's Science (This Land is Your Land) Camp. Although not hired as a camp counselor, parents were soon signing their kids up to be in my camp group and Sarah (the namesake and camp founder) started referring to me as teacher. I decided that teaching would break the mold of what I knew.

What outcome are you looking for in your practice?
I am looking to create more social- racial- and sexuality-conscious students, who approach the world ready to fight for and defend their rights and the rights of others.

What are you proud of?
I am proud of the curriculum I have been able to create and build at St. Paul's with the help of Hugh Rodman, my former partner. I am proud of my work with Black boys and the way they feel the love, support, and safety in their work and time with me. I am proud of the work that we are doing on the DEI team as we work to make activism and antiracism work more of a staple at St. Paul's.

What compels you to activism?
My life is activism. Everyday as a college educated, forward moving Black father, coach and teacher I am actively setting an example for Black children, displaying a view of Black men that contradicts what white kids have heard and learned about. Pushing back against those stereotypes.

Where would we see social & antiracist justice in your practice?
My curriculum is centered around principals of the Black Panther Party and building community and connection, each one teach one, and communal learning. All of our social studies units focus on unrepresented voices. We study World War II through the lens of women riveters, Blacks soldiers, Mexican braceros, Navajo code talkers, and interned Japanese citizens.  We celebrate the cultures in the classroom and tease out their unique voices, experiences and views into the classroom culture. In my class, we never shy away from honest discussion about discrimination, bias, racism, sexism, ageism, etc.

I run a Black boy breakfast with Eighth graders as a part of a larger proposed program for Black boys. There I hold a space for connection, discussions around world events, emotions about school, and topic explorations about: police brutality, relationship with Black mothers, powerful books to read, racism, and tools for survival.

I also run a race conversation elective with Mr. Kasling.

- December 2020
St. Paul's Episcopal School
116 Montecito Avenue
Oakland, CA 94610