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thank you

academic work is never truly done, merely surrendered. but this morning, I uploaded the final version of my dissertation. which means, at long last, I've made it to the end of graduate school. it still hasn't fully sunk in; I'm processing a lot of feelings. but chief among them is gratitude. so at the risk of being self-indulgent, I'm sharing my dissertation acknowledgements, and my most heartfelt thanks to all who have supported, challenged, encouraged, and followed me along this journey.


As organizer and prison abolitionist Mariame Kaba has said, “Everything worthwhile is done with other people.” This dissertation has been the most worthwhile of my academic endeavors, and although my name alone is on the cover sheet, it has most certainly been accomplished in large part due to the support, encouragement, and guidance of a large community. Indeed, as I worked on the dissertation, even writing these acknowledgements became a source of inspiration. I began writing this on a day when I was feeling unmotivated to write, and I drew motivation from thinking about all the people who have believed in me over these last several years. On subsequent days, I returned to these acknowledgements and wrote an additional sentence or name when I needed a boost. And so I am grateful to all named below for all the ways — both known and unknown — that they have heartened and fortified me along this journey.

First, I would like to thank the Kirkwood High community — the administrators, teachers, parents, and most especially the students, who so generously allowed a thirty-something graduate student to take up space at their lunch tables, and who opened up their lives to me. I wish I could thank you by name, but please know this project would have been literally impossible without you, and I am forever grateful. I imagine you might not agree with all of my analysis, but I hope you nonetheless feel I have done your stories some justice.

Second, I want to thank my esteemed committee, who have been a limitless source of wisdom and generosity over the last several years. Your careful, patient mentorship and engagement with my ideas has always made my commitment stronger, my goals more ambitious, and my work better. As I worked on the dissertation, I had moments in which I saw echoes of each of your work manifest in my own — Natasha’s interest in youth culture and schools, Mario’s in social networks and poverty, and L’Heureux’s in race and suburbs. I hope you also see those resonances, and know what a profound influence each of you has had on the scholar I have become. Natasha, thank you for always pushing my thinking but never making me feel like you would give up on me; I feel so fortunate to have been able to count on your guidance and encouragement these last six years. Mario, thank you for always asking tough questions, and giving me the scaffolding to get my thinking from point A to point Z. And L’Heureux, thank you for making me ever more critical and radical and sharper, and doing so in the kindest ways possible; your g-chat check-ins and twitter DM pep talks have kept me afloat. I am so grateful to have been able to learn from all of your work, and all of you, on this PhD journey.

There are several other academics — both at Harvard, and elsewhere, whom I would like to thank. Tony, from our first meeting at Petsi Pies, to teaching together, to you writing me letters for fellowships, I am so thankful to have been able to count on your support during graduate school. Thanks to all the faculty for whom I served as a teaching fellow, from whom I learned much about the kind of teacher I aspire to be. In addition, I have also been fortunate to be supported by faculty beyond Harvard’s gates. For the kindnesses they have shown me over the years in the form of feedback on drafts, opportunities to write for a public audience, and encouragement and affirmation, Drs. Chloe S. Angyal, Carson Byrd, Jessica Calarco, Jeff Guhin, Dan Hirschman, David M. Perry, OiYan Poon, and Derron Wallace all merit thanks — as does the certified genius Dr. Tressie McMillan Cottom, from whom I have learned so much about navigating the academy, the twitterverse, Black womanhood, and life with authenticity.

I would also like to thank the people within and adjacent to the university without whom my work would have been impossible — the library workers who showed up in the middle of a pandemic to facilitate book pickups and drop-offs and scan-and-deliver requests; the transcriptionists, whose labor saved me from having to listen to my own voice and spend hours painstakingly producing written accounts of my interviews; the HGSE doctoral programs office, which generously funded a good chunk of my transcription costs; and my two favorite Harvard Recreation Zumba instructors, Alexa and Laura, whose excellent song choices and high-energy classes were always a high point during hard weeks. In graduate school, there are research assistantships and fellowships, but the best ships, by far, are friendships. Earning a PhD can be a lonely odyssey, but it has not been for me; along my journey through Harvard, I was fortunate to have been joined by an inspiringly brilliant, thoughtful, and merry band of fellow travelers, who are too numerous to name. I am thankful for the many times they have listened to me rant and cry and worry about all the peculiar challenges of this path we’ve chosen, and I’m even more grateful for the raucous birthday parties and quiet dinners in, the game nights and beach days, the ski trips and wedding weekends, the brainstorming sessions and happy hours (long live prosem reading group!). Most heartfelt thanks go to my stats partner for life — Monn, you have been there every step of the way; choosing to partner with you in S-040 was the best and most consequential of my early choices at HGSE, and I am so grateful we’ve had each other for everything that’s come since. Given the challenges of dissertating through a global pandemic, a nationwide uprising in protest of racism and state-sanctioned police brutality, and a period of unprecedented governmental failure and political unrest, this dissertation also most assuredly would not have gotten written if not for the structure and loving accountability of my writing group. Jeraul, you know you my day 1; thank you for convening the group and inviting me to share space with you, David, and Field. Seeing your faces every morning has been one of my favorite routines, and I look forward to many more years of being in this academic game together. Leah, thank you for always being down to lend me an ear or a new book to read, and often both. To my thought partner, Emily, who has read more of my dissertation than any other person not on my committee — thank you so much for holding space for brainstorming and venting, whichever we needed at the moment. To those brave and committed editors who served on the Harvard Educational Review between 2016-2018 — Thursday nights around the board table and days spent casting manuscripts taught me so much about the kind of scholar I want to be: critical and insightful and full of enthusiasm and imagination for what’s possible. Long after my tenure has ended, I carry with me the lessons I learned in Read House and HEPG. A special shoutout to Drs. Krista Goldstine-Cole and Eve L. Ewing, whose sage advice and generous encouragement buoyed me at critical moments. And finally, I want to thank the HGSE doctoral students of color, especially the more advanced ones who were an invaluable source of inspiration to me as a baby grad student. Drs. Amy Cheung, Janine de Novais, Eve L. Ewing, Jessica T. Fei, Jonathan Hampton, Daphne M. Penn, and Clint Smith III: y’all were and continue to be the blueprint. Beyond Harvard, I am lucky to be part of a network of mostly non-academic connections who have grounded me and kept me going even when things got really, really hard. First, I want to thank my therapist, without whom I cannot imagine having survived the last three years. I want to thank my friends, who are too many to name, but who have sent encouraging texts (no one does this better than KMC and Shamayne) and joined me for zoom yoga dates (JHK, here’s looking at you) to fend off the isolation and anxiety of dissertating during a pandemic. Especially over the last year, I have gained a renewed appreciation for the power of virtual connections, so to the thousands of people who inexplicably follow me on twitter, thank you for helping me rediscover and regain confidence in my voice at a time when I desperately needed that, and thank you for listening and being kind and encouraging me and making me laugh. Special shoutout to the mutuals, especially the long-term ones whom I feel like I have really grown alongside, and now consider friends (Micah, hi, homie!). And no group of people better encapsulates my gratitude to both my friends and the twitterverse than the groupchat we call “never tweet.” I am endlessly grateful to the three of you for being a space where race and capitalism and queerness and liberation get discussed right alongside joke tweets and memes. You are the future of the academy, and you have given me so much hope and love and encouragement. Thank you. To close, I want to thank my family. I hope my ancestors, especially my maternal grandparents, would have been proud, had they lived to see this day. I know my paternal grandparents are, and I am grateful. To Uncle Maurice, Aunt Sandy, and my Foley cousins, who are all making their way in the world and doing incredibly dope things — you make me proud to bear our last name, and you make me want to be a credit to it as well. Mama, none of this would have been possible were it not for the way you raised me and the sacrifices you made. Thank you for believing in me and loving me unconditionally from day one, even — and perhaps especially — when I screw up. Sissy, my favorite human, you inspire me to be the freest, most radical, most beautiful version of myself, and I am endlessly grateful that, in you, the universe saw fit to give me not just a sister, but a best friend. And finally, I would like to thank the person who gets the MVP award. Lou, I genuinely believe you were heaven-sent, and I thank God, the Loa, and the ancestors every day for their beneficence in bringing us together. I could never have survived graduate school, or the last decade, without all the love and support — emotional, physical, domestic, logistical, financial — you have provided me. Thank you for sharing your world with me, for journeying around the globe and to the furthest reaches of my imagination, and for always doing so with patience and good cheer. And since it is customary in academe to thank your funders, thanks also for the invaluable financial contributions you made to my work, most notably keeping a roof over my head, food in the fridge, and gas in the car while I was conducting fieldwork. You have put so much time, energy, and money into making my dream a reality, and I am endlessly grateful. This moment is a testament to the truth of the adage that if you want to go fast, go alone; but if you want to go far, you should go together. Thank you for being by my side every step of the way. And thank you — all of you — for going the distance with me.