by Nick Truxal
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“Social Emotional Learning,” “Trauma Informed Schools,” and “Mental Health Initiatives” are phrases we’ve heard a lot this year. Not surprising, considering the pandemic, the politics, and the persistence of this year have made these focus areas more important than ever.
Whenever I ask an expert on where to begin, the answer is always the same—authentic care and respect:
Pre-pandemic, I had the pleasure to attend a concert at my local arts center where Dessa was headlining. I have been to, and performed in, hundreds upon hundred of concerts. I have seen acts that lean into the fun, the disinterest, the mystery, the volume, the skill, the passion, and a great deal more. Yet, I had never seen a performer who leaned into being human—at least not in the ways that matter for social and emotional growth, mental health, or trauma informed education.
Dessa, however, did.
To be perfectly honest, long before Dessa even appeared on stage, it was clear that the community she has built thrives on mutual support, respect, and a genuine love for each other and for Dessa herself. However, once she took the stage, Dessa was acutely aware of her audience in a way that I had never seen before. Aware in the way that as a teacher, I strive to be—aware in the way that as a musician, I’ve avoided. Why adopt in one environment and reject in another? I honestly have no idea, and I’ve sought to change.
She came to the front of the audience at one point, speaking to a young man who was both crying and singing along: Dessa gave him a long and knowing embrace. She saw a young girl who was unable to fully engage due to her abbreviated height: Dessa motioned to the audience to part, walked through the center of their Red Sea, and pulled the young girl closer to the stage for a better view.
Humanity should be in all our lives—in everything we do. We should be seeing the needs of the youth in our classrooms and adjusting practices to make sure they have a clear view. We should be, if not hugging, extending empathy and compassion. Of course, as Dessa radiates this goodness, and as she has built a community that does as well, her work is particularly apt for bridging conversations and content that benefit our students.
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