Jonathan Wesley is queer in every way, highly effective, and an interdisciplinary pracdivist (Practitioner- Academic-Artist-Activist) who loves to transform lives one experience at a time to name a few of his characteristics. I was born in Newark, NJ where I resided until my mother, my two sisters and I relocated to Irvington, NJ. As a product of the inner-city that was heavily impoverished, I found my lifeline to be within the arts and faith spaces. Throughout my life, musical theater has been the art form that brings me the most joy and saved me from pressures of life as a queer person of color that came out early in my teens. Throughout my years, I have always been challenged with navigating difficult conversations while bringing people together per my vocational calling that I accepted as a teen. The intersecting identities and struggles of my life provoked me to pursue higher education upon completing high school. I hold a B.A. in Sociology, Master’s degrees in Education, Religion and Public Life, and Graduate Certificates in Pastoral Care/Counseling and Leadership. I am currently in the dissertation phase of my Ph.D. in Educational Policy Studies which focuses on the lived experiences of LGBQ faculty and administrators at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).
Aristotle suggests “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all”. I would suggest that I agree with Aristotle in his stance on education. As a culturally responsive and competent educator, it is my strong belief that learning through education should be transformative. We should not teach just because we have the credentials, but we should teach to transform the lives that we are privileged to encounter daily. Understanding that all humans do not learn the same way, it is our moral duty to teach in a way that all can understand and process. We should do this by ensuring that the content that we are teaching is being received in a conducive learning environment that is brave and bold enough to engage in conversations that are controversial and exploratory.
A conducive learning environment, in my opinion, is not regurgitating information, but it is more of a continual conversation where learning takes place from both “teachers” and “students”. For this to manifest, I believe that I (as well as my colleagues) should always be receptive to learning from those whom we are responsible for teaching, inside and outside of the traditional classroom. Once we can engage others, we are able to learn in a way that makes education more practical than theoretical. The climate of the organization/institution must be presented in a way that all ideas are heard, respected, and addressed from the intersections of culture and systems/structures. Once the precedent is set, the culture will be conducive to effective learning.
My approach to this work is transformative. It should first penetrate our spirit, which in turn penetrates our hearts and minds. Thus, engaging in culture, diversity, equity, and inclusion is not a checkbox. It is soul work. Once those areas are pierced, it will cause an inward transformation which will show outwardly. I teach not just to inform, but to transform. Not just for my classes, but for the life of those who I am honored to encounter regardless of their current stage in life. I live by the statement “If I can help somebody as I pass along, then my living will not be in vain”. Helping includes teaching others about different cultural experiences as well as learning from others in order to become more culturally competent and responsive on a daily basis.