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Deven Black - Connection Lost - RIP

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Our entire team has been distraught all day by news of the death of Deven Black.

When I received the call this morning that Deven had been savagely murdered, I was overcome by a panoply of visceral reactions.  First came horror, paralyzing grief and anger. Then disbelief that something like this could happen.  How could a passionate educator, connected to so many of us, become homeless, desolate and a target for street crime?

Deven was a pioneering connected educator whose accomplishments and contributions are beautifully honored by Lisa Nielsen here.

I felt a special connection to Deven because he was the first librarian we ever recognized at the Bammy Awards. Researching the category opened our eyes to the transformative work being done by Deven and a new breed of school librarians.  It also introduced us to Deven, the soft-spoken, gentle giant. We soon discovered the exceptional ways in which he was pioneering what it means to be a connected educator. This is partially what makes losing Deven so heartbreaking, and difficult to handle. 

I was acutely aware that  Deven did not call me about the Bammy Awards last year.  Since receiving the award, he has called regularly to offer help with honoring the next wave of educators.  I thought it was odd that I didn’t hear from him, but dismissed it – “he’s probably just busy.”

I knew he had broken his neck, but the last time we spoke he was recovering well and seemed to be back on his feet.  I had no idea he was in turmoil and spiraling downward.

As I struggled to process the news today, I stumbled across a blog post by Debra Pierce. It's titled, “If Only We Take Time to Listen.”  I was drawn to read it immediately,  as if subconsciously knowing there was a timely message embedded--there was.

The blog was a story about lives cut short too soon and the guilt felt by the survivor (though he had nothing to do with the death).

Debra wrote: 

“I had built a pretty good rapport with these students. We spent the first fifteen minutes or so of every morning sitting together, just sharing. One day, this young man wanted to talk about the accident and shared that even though the other driver hit his car, he still thought he could have done something to avoid the accident. I made that mental note. Then, I called his school counselor again, asking if any of his teachers had been picking up on his behavior changes and disturbing comments. He called me back later that day to report that none of them had noticed anything in particular. What? Another mental note.”

The post was relevant on many levels, but her closing comment was the message I suspect I was supposed to take away.

“It is so important to just pay attention. Many times, the children who are good, conforming, hard-workers are the ones who are ignored. In reality, they may be the ones we need to pay attention to the most. They may not be loud and annoying and begging to be noticed with flamboyant behaviors, but may still be reaching out for help. It is our responsibility to take the time to see it.”

Coming to the end of her post I thought, this message applies to adults as well. Deven was connected to many of us.  I certainly missed the cues; I certainly missed opportunities to check in on Deven. I missed chances to offer help, or at least offer emotional support.   The thought of Deven being homeless and disconnected, though once prominently part of the connected educator community is hard to fathom.

As I try to come to grips with the tragic end of Deven’s life, I take solace in knowing that I was blessed to have been connected to Deven Black.  I was fortunate to have seen Deven at his best. But I also take heed.

I'm reminded that professional, online connections are more than weekly Twitter chats, an occasional Facebook poke or a LinkedIn shout out when prompted. Behind every social media profile is a real life, dealing with real life. In the withering stream of tweets, DMs, emails, pokes and pings, sometimes the message that most demands our attention is the message delivered through silence.

Connection lost, RIP Deven.



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I'm the executive producer of BAM Radio Network, which means I get to eat, sleep and drink education talk radio. Over the last 10 years, I've been a fly on the wall in over 4,500 discussions between some of the most thoughtful, passionate and fascinating educators in the nation. On these pages I share the most important lessons I've learned from them, along with an occasional rogue insight of my own. BACKGROUND: I am a 25-year veteran of the media. Over those two-and-a-half decades, I had the opportunity to author four books; write for The Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Times; and spent three years as a popular radio talk show host on KIEV in Los Angeles. I worked for seven years as an "on air" political commentator and co-hosted the Emmy Award-winning program Life and Times on PBS television. I eventually moved on to become a business reporter at KTLA in Hollywood. Owing to some great mentors, some good timing and perhaps a shortage of available talent, I managed to pick up five Emmy nominations and one Emmy Award along the way. Oh by the way, I went to Harvard. Well … actually, I was invited to speak there once, but I really learned a lot from the experience. :)

  • Jon Harper /  @Jonharper70bd
    Jon Harper / @Jonharper70bd Saturday, 30 January 2016

    Errol this post was powerful on so many levels. First, it connected me, if just for a moment, to a beautiful soul that I never knew. Second, it made me realize that I must read Debra's piece right away. Finally, your last two sentences were two of the most powerful I have read in some time.
    "Behind every social media profile is a real life, dealing with real life. In the withering stream of tweets, DMs, emails, pokes and pings, sometimes the message that most demands our attention is the message delivered through silence."
    Piercingly poignant!

  • Errol St.Clair Smith
    Errol St.Clair Smith Saturday, 30 January 2016

    Indeed, Jon. Deven was an extraordinarily gentle giant. Separately Debra 's post really captured the need for us to listen to the silence. A number of other people who knew Deven have also written very powerfully about him and the implications for the connected community. Recommend you read:
    http://mbteach.com/2016/01/29/farewell-to-an-inspiring-educator-and-friend/ AND

    Thanks, as always, for sharing your thoughts, Jon.

  • Jon Harper /  @Jonharper70bd
    Jon Harper / @Jonharper70bd Sunday, 31 January 2016

    Thank you Errol. I took your recommendations. What an amazing individual. I am going to be trying this week to look just a little bit harder for adults and student that I think may be suffering below the surface.

  • Errol St.Clair Smith
    Errol St.Clair Smith Sunday, 31 January 2016

    Something tells me you'll be returning soon with some riveting posts! I look forward to the stories and the insights you're about to share!

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