Knowing People and Place: Strategic Planning for Communal Consciousness

Of all the American adages we have likely espoused at some point in our personal or professional lives, there are seven words that reverberate more than any other: "failing to plan is planning to fail." As school leaders, we understand the function of planning, though we often focus our efforts and energies on lesson-planning; and with the same depth of consequence that lesson-planning is indelibly a critical component of effective teaching and learning, crisis-planning, trauma-planning, and equity-planning are critical components of an abolitionist approach to developing and maintaining a communal consciousness. Planning inevitably exhausts more time and energy than we tend to have as school leaders, likely because we are reacting to intersecting difficulties that beleaguer our days, weeks, and months. It requires you to deliberately suspend the normalcy of your schedule in order to imagine what has not yet arrived. Planning requires imagination. Planning, like hope, as a practice of the imagination—the faculty of seeing (in our minds) what we yet to see (with our-eyes)—is not a passive act, but a dynamic act, particularly as a tool of anticipatory leaders. "Leadership is both new and old, a timeless concept that must simultaneously reflect the times yet stay ahead of them. To do so is no small feat, but it is most worth of pursuit in contemporary organizational life."1 Staying ahead of the times is a result of exercising the imagination as a future-planning tool; and abolitionist leaders who are committed to cultivating a communal consciousness are unafraid of, but discontented with, the lack of imagination because our duty is to see what is possible, including the possibility of crisis.

We are not the first generation to undergo an intersection of crises in a single cultural moment, with race and racism at the forefront and foreground. Thus, our ability to employ an abolitionist approach to anticipatory school leadership must be situated within, and understood as part of, the larger context of abolition, most notably the Underground Railroad. Though familiar through social, cultural, and political references, the Underground Railroad is latent with misconstructions, as noted by Dr. Francois in chapter 2, which have contributed to a reduced analysis of its function as a strategic, preemptive tactic. Without looking to the past, we could find ourselves shouldering unwarranted anxiety by assuming that we lack guidance in our planning. Enslaved Africans escaping the subjugation of slavery dates back to the 1500s when Black folx escaping south to what was known then as Spanish Florida was a common route and continued until the 1850s when enslaved Black folx—on southern plantations, distrustful of the involvement of self-proclaimed, altruistic white folx—would begin escaping north in pursuit of freedom. Yet the common thread from the 1500s to the 1850s was the systematically organized approach of most escapes—a communally conscious system of freedom organized and managed by Black folx—guided by an experienced knowledge of people and place. With the risks of being caught, beaten, tortured, and returned lingering as a shadow along the journey, escape demanded a high faculty of skill, knowledge, and strategy, which often took months, or even years of planning and reconnoitering.2 Moreover, abolitionists understood that the communal freedom of enslaved Black folx could only be attained through communal planning, strategizing, and plotting. When Frederick Douglass planned his escape from slavery to the north, it was a community of folx from his Sabbath school who co-created the plan with him.3 But here's what you must accept as an absolute: all planning has embedded risks, and will habitually fail us, just as planning failed abolitionists in our history. The issue of strategic planning in preparation for crises that will impose traumas on our communal consciousness is far too complex, puzzling, and mysterious for any of us to "get it right" every time. Hence, the abolitionist morality of planning is in the attempt, not the success.

Take April 15,1848, when more than seventy enslaved Black folx in the Georgetown area of Washington, DC, attempted to board a ship named Pearl, owned by a white abolitionist named Daniel Drayton.4 It took months of planning in partnership between Drayton and a group of newly escaped Black folx, not only as an effort to benefit others who were enslaved but to ignite a tremor in the nation's capital, shining a brighter light on the humane injustices of enslavement. More than skill, knowledge, and strategy, the Pearl Incident's planning required centering and upholding the human enterprise of escape, of freedom, of abolition. Abolitionists understood that more than escape routes, linguistic codes, mysterious subversions, and clandestine symbols, the strategic planning of abolition was a human task—fueled by humans, in partnership with humans.