Educator believes words are wings to the chained spirit

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Author John Broussard shares a smile for the camera at his book signing at Pechanga Resort Casino. Valley News/Andrez Imaging photo

John Broussard, assistant vice principal and athletic director of Murrieta Mesa High School, wrote “Letters from an Educator: The Child You Didn’t See,” a book about empathy in education, to inspire adults who serve young people. His own desire to be a mentor to youth, whether they are on a sports field or in a classroom, stems from his atypical upbringing that was his normal, as he didn’t know anything else.

Born into a communal environment, he lived and attended school with a select group of children where athletics was an important part of their everyday life. His father, Eldridge J. Broussard Jr., was a former college basketball star who founded the Ecclesia Athletic Association in the Watts area of Los Angeles in 1975. It was described as an athletic training center for underprivileged inner-city youth, but some critics called it a cult.

The EAA relocated to Oregon in 1987 and the following year 7-year-old John Broussard witnessed the death of his sister, who was 8 at the time. Three individuals who worked at the center were charged with murder in her fatal beating. All the children, including John and his three remaining siblings, were placed into foster care or reform schools.

“In life, the mess always comes before the message and the storm before the triumphant story,” Broussard, 41, said in describing his personal journey. “I think for many of us, our greatest pain turns into our greatest passion if we let it. We either shut it out and ignore our experiences or we embrace it fully and try to find ways to make sure certain things never happen again. For me I did the latter.”

He said his upbringing has made him passionate about improving the lives of other people, especially those who find themselves down and out.

“Helping hurt people really speaks to my heart. I understand their pain and want to show them a way out,” he said. “Everyone who knows me feels the intense drive I have for young people, but I’ve always protected the full details as to why. My older brother has said for years that I have more to offer but it will never be realized unless I come to terms with my past. He was right. With this book and the conference, both my past and my future clashed.”

A lesson for educators

Broussard was a keynote speaker at the School Climate Conference in Temecula Wednesday, April 27, and although he admits to being nervous and anxious at first about being vulnerable while discussing his past, he found peace the day of the event and was pleased with the outcome.

“I wanted to speak for all those young people being impacted by childhood trauma. I found strength knowing for an hour I can be their voice and cry. They were heard. That makes me happy,” he said. “It (The feedback was) overwhelmingly positive. Many people were standing by the end of it and clapping. It brought tears to my eyes because at the end of the day I was talking to a room full of difference makers and knowing they are taking that message back to campus meant a lot. I was speechless to learn afterwards that schools bought the book for every teacher at their sites.”

The fifth annual School Climate Conference, hosted by Protect Connect Educate Solutions, attracted more than 500 K-12 educators from throughout the country. Murrieta resident John Vandenburgh, president of PCE Solutions, said the conference provides educators a forum to learn about the latest trends, strategies and research impacting a safe school climate.

“The goal is for the educators to go back to their schools with some insight on how to effectively create a positive school climate for all students,” Vandenburgh said. “I evaluate the effectiveness of a speaker by how the audience reacts to them when their session is complete. John Broussard received a standing ovation when he was done. That says a lot! He did outstanding, and the audience let him know.”

Vandenburgh said he chose Broussard as a guest speaker because he felt he had a great story that needed to be shared and heard by other educators. More than 150 attendees stood in line to get an autographed copy of the book and meet the author, likely due to the impact of his speech.

Education and empathy merge

Broussard, who has lived in Murrieta since 2009, has a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction and a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education. He began his teaching career in 2003 as a first-grade teacher and spent a few years at elementary schools and about six or seven years at middle schools. The last seven years have been at the high school level. He is a two-time nationally recognized top 10 Athletic Director Award recipient, author, poet and philanthropist and uses all these ways to champion his purpose in life, which is child activism. Had he not chosen the field of education, Broussard knows he would have worked with children in some capacity.

“Young people are my passion,” he said. “In life, the thing that breaks us and gives us our greatest pains usually ends up being our vocational purpose in hopes of giving someone else the experience we were robbed of. That’s our chance to rewrite chapters of our past, however futile for us, but life changing for others. Even now I work with many different nonprofits in the community serving young people and foster children.”

Broussard said his foster care experience helped him relate to what some of his current students are facing, everything from abuse to neglect. In the book he also talks about the struggles faced by having to move around a lot.

“My stint in foster care was about a year or so. I also spent a small amount of time in a group home before I was placed back with my mother. Not sure any good came from foster care for me. It was a few different homes in that span and abuse took place in one of them,” he said. “Our experiences are all different. I discuss in the book the deep emotions that foster children must just tuck away in order to survive.”

Broussard said athletics was always an outlet for him as he was growing up and it was the one space where he felt like he had control. He said he was always a hard worker and learned to persevere and control what he could control.

“Sports taught me a lot about life and how to handle tough situations. Good or bad, I thought the outcome would be decided by my choices and not others, so it was my safe haven,” he said. “I thought I would have coached longer but I moved over to Education Administration at the age of 30.”

He started writing poetry in college as a form of therapy but eventually became intrigued by the art form and the ability to paint pictures with words. His philanthropic endeavors involve youth and his nonprofit Hope Service, on Instagram @hopeservice3030, has partnered with other nonprofits to better the lives of people in the community.

“Our nonprofit hosts a monthly spoken word poetry night (at Topspin Pizza & Pong in Temecula) called ‘Poetry with Purpose’ because we give 100% of the proceeds to a different nonprofit each month,” Broussard said. “We recently had Temecula Mayor Pro Tem Zak Schwank and Council Member Stew Stewart read poems about the city. When I spoke at the conference, I read four poems. It’s a large part of what I do.”

Educator turns author

He said he wants readers of his book to see others as themselves by identifying and sharing similar emotions.

“Even if our journeys are different, our emotions never are,” Broussard said. “My book is about self-introspection and self-discovery for the reader and guides them down the road of becoming their most empathetic self.”

But it isn’t just colleagues that Broussard hopes will learn from his experiences. He tries to incorporate the same lessons into his role as a father.

“My son is 8. He is my world and every day with him is a chance at a relationship I never had,” he said. “I want him to know he’s strong and powerful and that his greatest strengths are designed to make others’ lives better.”

Broussard’s passion for mentoring young people helped him realize the importance of social and emotional learning and that component is shared in his book for others to learn from.

“The book was written for people who I call child humanitarians, but I use the guise of education,” he said. “If you are someone who looks to improve the life and living conditions of young people, then this book is for you. In addition, I worked with a team of curriculum developers from across the country and we created a course to hopefully help readers truly discover and rediscover their best, most empathetic self.”

He chose the title “Letters from an Educator: The Child You Didn’t See” for multiple reasons. First, it is a call to action for all educators, challenging them to see the whole child, even the layers behind their behavior.

“In order to connect emotionally with the child, the person has to find similar emotional spaces that would aid such a journey,” Broussard said. “The title also points to my journey as a passionate educator who serves as a beacon for child humanitarianism. Many have seen me cry but few really know the history behind the passion; the title points to that.”

Broussard said that if readers only get one takeaway from reading his book, he hopes it will be that “although we live in a society that asks us to hide and tuck away past experiences, especially the painful ones, I want to challenge us all to embrace all of who we are in hopes of providing aid to someone else in a way that brings peace and reprieve to their storms. Better is always possible.”

For more information and to order his book, visit http://www.johnbroussard3030.com.

Excerpt from “Lighthouse” by John Broussard

I feel like I’m a lighthouse

And everything around me is the dark sea

I’m trying to get the vessels down there

Up here

right next to me