An Interview with Matthew Reynolds

Matthew Reynolds ((they/he/we), does transformative work in the education equity space. They are a practitioner of equity and healing, an author, facilitator, educator, and brilliant human being. We met Matthew through our work with schools and districts in Southern Oregon. We are grateful they took the time to share their wisdom and journey with us since leaving the classroom to pursue equity and healing work.

How does having a background in education & Social-Emotional Learning inform your equity work?

MR: I’m a firm believer that the past is our education. So if I’m acknowledging being a life-long learner and having a growth mindset while recognizing the fixed mindsets I uphold in my life, and those I’m dismantling, my freedom work and anti-oppression work melds itself into equity.

When I look at equity, rolled into it is humanity-led, inclusion, and shining a light where dehumanization is occurring in my life.

When I look at education and SEL, those ideas to me are based on humanity. [They are based on] a human being feeding their brain just as we feed our belly to nourish our body. Our brains help us balance the trifecta: mind, body, and human spirit. Ancestors help guide us in what we do. Being able to move through that idea of our past is our education, I take skills I’ve nurtured to bring to any setting I’m facilitating now to help folks land in a place that is authentic to them so we can uproot some of those indoctrinations and start the healing process.

Some folks don’t see the hurt and harm that colonization and a world based in oppression and capitalism inflict upon us. [We live in a world] full of dehumanization and oppression of others to make us feel we are something, and some folks don’t see that. I’ve taken the skills I learned from my students in the classroom, the two Master’s degrees I’ve earned, the learnings from educators and conferences and books and folks I’ve engaged with, to continue to expand. It’s that expansion aspect, not leveling up, but expanding out and encompassing in. Because if I expand out, then I’m not above someone. And it helps me to not slip into that hierarchical or patriarchal ideology as well.

Why did you switch fully into equity work from education?

MR: I believe the universe was telling me for a while that I wasn’t supposed to stay in the classroom as long as I did. Towards the end of my time in the classroom, it got ugly. Trust was broken, there was a lot of hurt and frustration towards the bureaucracy of the system and the racism of the education system. For me, I could not be in my classroom and nurture the community there for all the periods and extra-curriculars I taught. I was working an average of 82 hours a week trying to uphold society’s ideas of me, in the sense of “I need to work this hard to prove I’m not the names you call me, not the implicit biases you hold toward my skin color or my sexuality.” I was hustling to try to win at supremacy culture without even naming it as such when I was in it.

After dealing with high stress, hospitalization, and reoccurring nightmares, I wrote my letter of resignation and opened myself up to the universe. I landed on my process called “Crafting Your Equity Lens,” which is a 3-day workshop. From that, other curriculums have blossomed. I wrote a book called “Biggest, Fullest, Brightest: Shifting the Consciousness of Humanity.”

I want to shift the culture. I think a lot of times people leave it in the head and they’re not balancing that trifecta of mind, body, and spirit. So, we’re trying to think our way out of something instead of going, “How do you really feel? You’re not just numbers on a page. You’re not just a paycheck that we give. You’re not just an hours in a seat. How do you really feel about diversity, equity, and inclusion? How do you feel about liberation, justice, and accessibility?”

What is authentic change? How do you know when it’s happening?

MR: So, for me, we need to tend to equity work differently. Change will take generations, and I need to assume we’re going to [be able to make change]. We really need to invite others into the conversation and practice those active listening skills and ideologies that we speak about. We need to have a tool that we can use that is specifically looking to see if we’re upholding supremacy culture and its ideologies. If we’re not using that, then we don’t know if we’re doing it or not. We can put as many pretty words on it as we want, but not until we really start to interrogate our practices can change come.

A lot of folks say, “oh, that DEI stuff. Yeah, I do that at work.” But we’re talking about shifting a whole culture, not just during work hours. If you just do it at work, then nothing is going to change because we’re going to keep voting for the same things, keep activating the same things, keep building the same things instead of crafting the new.

I am crafting a world that is now and forever expanding widely into a culture of the trifecta mind, body, and spirit, where our minds help guide towards each other’s healing. Our bodies are honored, nourished, and fed, a world in which everyone’s spirit is flourishing to be its biggest, fullest, and brightest. I am crafting a world sparkling with the very stardust we are all made from. For me, we are all made from it. [Equity work is] humanity led, honoring connection to the planet, because we are all of the planet.

We are all of the universe. We have all of this within us. So why do we ascribe to an ideology that doesn’t want to acknowledge our humanity? [Supremacy culture] has us stuck in this fixed mindset that is not growing at all, and doesn’t lend itself to change work.

Most don’t know how to connect to humanity anymore. We’ve never been taught to, and not until we start calling that will anything change. We’re stuck in that hierarchical dynamic, and we need to disrupt that system and say no. We no longer subscribe to that. It’s got to stop being power over and it’s got to start being power with – that’s the only way change is possible.

We are grateful to Matthew for their wisdom, and encourage you to read their suggestions for how educators can co-create equitable learning communities and to check out more of their inspiring work here.