Inspiring Interview: Kim Davalos of Rock The School Bells (Bay Area)

Inspiring Interview: Kim Davalos of Rock The School Bells (Bay Area)
Posted on 08/08/2018 . 10:00am

The Bay is just filled with creative people, don’t you agree? Most of the people we find are either through word of mouth or just happens from mindlessly scrolling through Instagram. Case in point, that is exactly how we came across Rock the School Bells which led us to educator Kim Davalos. A DM + e-mail later, and here we are.

First, we wanted to know more about Rock the School Bells – which we just missed out on at the time we contacted Kim. Second, we wanted to know about one of the forces behind the event who takes part in multiple projects, not just RTSB. We deep dived to find out more about who Kim is, about her upcoming book delilah’s daughter, and her community involvement.

TFCU: There are so many talented individuals in the Bay, including yourself. Say we’re in a reverse role situation, how would you introduce yourself to others who are learning about you for the first time?
Kim Davalos: Oh, boy. Great question! First and foremost, I always introduce myself as a radical feelist and a troublemaker. I’m a woman of color that loves coffee, Hip Hop, and all the ways education can create change through consciousness, awareness, and love. I am a third-generation Filipina-American/Pinay from Stockton, California who is using ancestral history to heal better for myself, my family, and my community. That sometimes I use words and narrative expressions to find the validity and truth within my voice, my identity that is constantly evolving. I miss home all the time and go back often. I also use my words to create new spaces and definitions of home.

On a formal note, I’m a college counselor and educator in the Bay Area at Skyline College. I am the head coordinator for Rock the School Bells (Bay Area) which is a annual Hip Hop Educational conference for youth and on the faculty team for the Skyline Promise Scholars program and CIPHER. I received my Master’s in Counseling from San Francisco State University in 2012 at the age of 24 years old and hope to one day pursue a doctorate with a feminist studies focus.

You’re involved with so many projects, how do you keep yourself balanced and make time for you versus time for your art?
Anytime for myself is time for my art. The mere act of producing is only a piece of creating. When a highly emotional experience happens, it is important for me to take it in, to reflect, TO REST, to reframe, and to reconcile – all of this is important for my process to occur before I can even “pick up a pen”. Keeping balance also means grounding myself in my priorities and choosing priorities that will only allow me to evolve into the best person I have the potential to be.

Poetry has had a great impact in your life. You even have a book coming out soon holding all your writing. Why or how did you decide now is the time for you to publish your poetry?
I turned 30 this year. That’s a significant age to a lot of us and is a significant age if you believe in the energy and impact of the stars and planets orbits – in particular, for the Return of Saturn which is a concept introduced in my book. I have always felt the power of the Return of Saturn pulling on me to complete a major project and I have always been pushed by my family, friends, and community to publish my writing that I share on social media and/or perform on stage. I also promised my mother I would publish a book of writing some day. So I thought, why not give myself that deadline and accountability. What a better way to enter into a new stage of my life but to reflect on what occured within the last 30 years? A snapshot of who I had become and a marker for where I can head to next!

What was the first poem you read and do you remember how it made you feel?
The first poem I can remember reading was Still I Rise by Maya Angelou. I felt a sense of grounding and knowing reading that poem. A calling to express myself in similar ways. To continue the stories of women, of women of color, through my own experiences and perspective. Maya Angelou introduced me, and many of us, to such a quiet storm.

You’re also very heavily involved with the community. When did you know your calling or so to immerse yourself with the community you’re surrounded by?
Honestly, it was the communities that called me and continue to choose me to do the work and provide platforms and spaces. I knew to immerse myself within community when I desperately needed community myself. That’s love, yeah? This interchanging beautiful dance of giving and receiving – what I needed at one time from my communities, I was (and am) moved to provide back, and then some. I am responsible to give to people, to community with the talents and resources I have been blessed with. That’s legacy.

Over the years, for those of us not working so closely within the community, what has been some of your biggest findings and realizations?
For starters – there will always be work to be done and that we have to be in a constant focus of healing and faith to sustain our community work. Secondly – I am so so so so proud to be FIlipina and from this community of immigrants, brown folks, and babaylans. This has been a pride that has taken 30 plus years to grow and it comes from the realization that we are an incredibly creative and resourceful people. I have realized doing community work in the Bay Area as a Fil-Am, as a pinay, that we can do absolutely anything we envision because we have one another to lean on for support, knowledge, and guidance.

Why is it that hip hop is used as a tool to connect to other generations especially in terms of CIPHER? For those of use who don’t know how that works, such as ourselves, tell us a bit about how you use hip hop as a tool to teach.
Hip Hop is the meeting of the minds, an intersection started at 1520 Sedgwick Ave that paves all the way to the Bay Area. An intersection that crosses all cultures, all races, all ages, all genders, all sexualities – all identities, all stories. It is a STAGE for storytelling that communities, particularly of color, have created for themselves. Hip Hop is the gathering of people around a common love that creates a circle of connection, community, and support. CIPHER uses the concept of a STAGE and community circles and brings this into both the classroom and counseling appointments. We use Hip Hop as a medium to relate to student’s stories and provide liberation of their narrative and healing process through expression.

This has also lead to an event Rock the School Bells (still bummed we JUST missed out on it) which has been going on for quite some time. How has the event evolved over the years since you’ve known it? At the end of the event, what do you hope the audience members takeaway from the day?
Rock the School Bells (RTSB) was started as youth conference held at Skyline College with about 50 students inspired by Blue Scholars and initiated by the student leaders of the Kababayan Learning Community. The mission of RTSB is to outreach to the community and youth (middle schoolers and high schoolers) to expose students to Hip Hop Educational practices that allow their stories to matter, especially within the higher educational system. In the 8th year of RTSB, CIPHER was born as a Learning Community and with that, so did the RTSB Educators Conference. Now in our 12th year, RTSB is seen as the standard and place of relevant pedagogical framework around Hip Hop education on the West Coast. No small feat, right? RTSB has now also spread to different cities and campuses. RTSB is held annually in Sacramento, San Jose, and Hawaii. Soon we are looking to go international as well!

As the new RTSB coordinator, what I ground myself in during the overwhelming and stressful moments is that I want participants of our annual conference to leave feeling a connection to a community, a validation of their story, and to understand the vital bridge that is Hip Hop/Culturally Relevant teaching. To take away that through Hip Hop Education we must constantly fight for the access between our communities and education to create true healing, social mobility, and progress.

With all of these projects you’re involved with, when or how did you find your calling? Do you think there’s more out there to go out and complete? If so, what?
If we’re keepin’ it real, TFCU, I never feel like I’ve found my complete calling and purpose… because my calling is constantly evolving. Up to today, how I have found my calling so far is through listening to my intuition, my heart, and what speaks to my passions. I remain asking the three main questions about new projects, endeavors, opportunities – Will this challenge me to grow and refine? Would I do this for free? Does this align to my heart and values?

There is hella out here to still go for and complete! For Rock the School Bells and CIPHER, we remain looking towards the sky as the limit to become a place of best practices and most innovative collaborations through Hip Hop Education in all levels of the educational systems and community organizing.  Personally, my next passion project will be to create a streetwear clothing brand that represents Filipinas/Pinays/Women of brown skin and color of all kinds. My goal is to have this launched by the beginning of 2019.

At the end of the day, what do you want your legacy to be?

Two poems in delilah’s daughter can say it best:

"i want to be brilliant before i am ever beautiful. and i will create a world around me where it is hard to tell the difference."

"we cannot be afraid of the brown in our love. "


CONNECT WITH KIM: Official Website | Instagram

Photo Credit: kd photography


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