In late June the American Spirit team was invited to Cuba, we accepted and for two weeks traveled with a group known internationally as NAME, National Association for Multicultural Education. NAME is a non-profit organization with some pretty hefty goals:
To provide opportunities for learning in order to advance multicultural education, equity and social justice.
To proactively reframe public debate and impact current and emerging policies in ways that advance social, political, economic and educational equity through advocacy, position papers, policy statements and other strategies.
To provide the preeminent digital clearinghouse of resources about educational equity and social justice
Each day our group of 23 traveled by bus following a tightly packed schedule of historic and educational stops. From the Museum of the Revolution to meeting with Community Project Espiral, this was a learning adventure for us all.
With topics like sustainability, inclusion, literacy, and indigenous populations, our note taking and filming opportunities were immense although we did find time for a few simple pleasures. Perhaps most enjoyable were the vintage cars, we took a ride across Havana in a '56 Bel Air.
After enjoying a dinner of traditional Cuban shredded pork, beans and rice, we followed a trail of mojitos to a late-night jazz club where the drummer played a set that literally lasted six minutes and rattled every glass in the house. The applause and whistles of appreciation for this talent went on even longer than the music.
We bought boxes of what we thought were real Cohibas, turns out they were fake. But it didn't matter, we were in freaking Cuba. After a guided tour of the Bay of Pigs Museum we swam in the ocean, enjoyed Cuban music, and watched the sunset in this country so rich in culture.
In the sweltering heat of Trinidad Plaza, the architecture and cobblestone streets were so charming no one uttered a complaint regarding the muggy weather. The rolling green hills of countryside simply breathtaking. As we made our way through this historic region, we learned more than 100 restaurants were running successfully. The Caribbean cuisine was delicious and served in what used to be colonial mansions. Beans, rice, and slow-cooked pork or beef with a tomato sauce was served everywhere as it should be, ropa vieja is a Cuban classic.
As we stood on the massive staircase at the University of Havana the work of NAME became clear, this was no vacation but a trip to enhance humanity, respect all cultures, and move to a social justice community.
If we learned one thing on this trip it was that NAME really has the power to change the future in education. As a new member of NAME, I can attest to the fact that we all have a passion for social justice. Michigan NAME member Tasha Lebow told me " in Cuba and many other countries, the doors are open if you have an open heart for it."
The Trump announcement in June doesn't mean all of Obama's progress gets overturned, it may mean though "educational" visits could be more closely scrutinized.
Dr. H. Prentice Baptiste, NAME founder and tour guide Rita Pereira-Ramirez
We left our Cuban friends with hugs and a tearful promise to return soon, giving Espiral members our friendship, encouragement and most of all hope. That's the American Spirit.