José Luis Vilson: Educator, Activist and Author

Born: In New York City
MBTI: INFP, if I’m not mistaken
Educational Background: PS 140, Nativity Mission School, Xavier High School, Syracuse University, City College of New York
Current Computer/Mobile Device: Apple MacBook Pro 15” and an iPhone 7 Plus. I wasn’t all that keen on the phone, but I already had a MacBook and a couple of iPads, so I made the jump. So far; so great.

What do you do for a living?

I teach students math as a public school teacher in New York City.

What was your childhood dream?

I wanted to be a video game maker.

Other than money, what else have you gained from your job?

Understanding and patience. I already had patience, but this tested my limits as a human being.

When you make sacrifices for your work, do you tell people or keep it to yourself?

I generally keep it to myself. If people find out, I try to dissuade them from focusing on myself.

What are your favorite apps/tools that help you do what you do?

Twitter helps me reflect. So does my site (on WordPress self-hosted). Google Drive is clutch for collaborative work, though I haven’t transitioned my writing to that space yet. Slack is good for collaborating with my EduColor colleagues.

How do you keep track of what you’ve done?

I don’t, at least not really. Every so often, I update my resume via LinkedIn or my site, but I have a hard time keeping up with what needs to be on my site and what doesn’t.

What is your most significant accomplishment? Is there anything you hope to do even greater?

Having my son, Alejandro. Yes, I have a few awards here and there. But Luz (my wife) and I are blessed to have him.

How did you meet your wife?

At my school. Yes, she’s not there anymore!

How has fatherhood affected you?

It’s the greatest thing I’ve done. One of the things I give Alejandro credit for is making me braver. I feel like I had to be more confrontational because of him. It’s good.

For what are you most grateful?

Being alive and present. I know that sounds twee, but I find myself thankful that I’m awake and aware every morning, and that I have another chance to set my best foot forward daily.

What inspires you?

I’m inspired by a lot of different elements, mostly the people around me. Every day, I see kids who have little to no reason to show up to institutions that may or may not love them back, but because they want a better life for themselves and their families, they come through. They’re successful in spite and because of their circumstance.

What is one thing most people don’t know about you?

I’m an introverted extrovert. Being around people is something I know is necessary because of the work, but if I’m around people too much, I start shutting down and need a lot of alone / family time.

What scares you most?

That all the work I’ve put in means nothing.

What has been your biggest disappointment in life, and how did you handle it?

My insecurities about what I’ve contributed to the world. I get too caught up in nonsense, and I like to make small worries large in my mind.

What do you feel your impact is on those around you? What would you like it to be?

I’d like to think that I influenced letting folks live out their dreams and aspirations and that I was helpful in getting folks to be better for the people around them. This is especially true of my teacher colleagues who I hope are more human with their students and their families.

Who is the most influential person in your life?

Alejandro. He’s changed my whole life.

Who is your favorite person to follow on social media?

Right now, Nikole Hannah-Jones and Lin-Manuel Miranda on Twitter (RIP Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Twitter) and Valencia Clay on Instagram.

What piece of literature has influenced you the most?

I’d say the Bible, but that’s kinda cheesy. I’ve been influenced by Things Fall Apart, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Other People’s Children, Notes of a Native Son and Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times.

What are you currently reading or is the last book you read?

Mona Eltahawy’s Headscarves and Hymens. Yes, I’m about that life.

What is the most exciting thing you’ve read online recently?

Believe it or not, this joint about intuition still has my mind swimming.

What is a song, album or playlist that everyone should hear?

Beyoncé’s eponymous album. I haven’t heard a joint like that since Janet’s eponymous album. We know the core audience, but it’s also a good listen for just about everyone.

Do you have a favorite track from Beyoncé?

Partition” and “XO” are pretty flawless. “Flawless,” too!

What do you do to recharge yourself?

Mainly, I listen to music or do some meditation. I’m an “audiophile,” if there is such a thing. Headspace has been a good app for me, and I plan to keep using it on a regular basis.

If you could do just one thing to improve the planet right now, what would it be?

Redistribute the wealth.

Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a while? If so, what is it and why haven’t you?

I’ve dreamed of learning to play the piano or flying across the ocean. And really, it’s because, as with everything, I need the money. It seems like everything is tied down to my financial security right now.

When is the last time you cried and why?

A few weeks ago when my brother got married in the Dominican Republic. Seeing him get emotional like that brought something out in me.

What is happiness to you?

It’s that I’ve positively contributed to a space and that I can always return to it.

Where is your favorite place?

NYC, always and forever.

If you could take a one-month trip anywhere in the world, all expenses paid, where would you go and what would you do?

I’d want to go to somewhere on the continent of Africa. If not South Africa or Ghana, definitely Egypt. I know people feel weird about that, but it’s real for me.

Do you have a favorite restaurant? If so, what is it?

Right now, it’s between El Nuevo Caridad (Dominican), Szechuan Garden (Chinese), and Flor de Mayo (Chinese / Latin).

What is your favorite comfort food?

These days, I enjoy a good blueberry green tea, some Oreos or strawberry ice cream.

What is your favorite food to prepare?

I’ve recently learned how to make a good breakfast: bacon, eggs and pancakes. Alejandro made me step up my breakfast skills, as well.

In conversation do you tend to talk or listen more?

Listen more. Lots more. This whole interview thing is really uncomfortable.

What are you looking for when you have a conversation with someone? What topics do you want to discuss?

I’m generally looking for a balance between talking and listening. When folks gab too much without being interesting, I generally tune out. Or when people keep cutting me off not to add but just to reply. That’s wack.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned?

Patience and impatience are both virtues. Sometimes, we can’t wait to make things happen. Other times, we do best to wait. Balance.

What advice would you give your younger self?

It’s gonna be fine. You got this.

Do you have a mantra or quote that guides your life?

“How could you falter when you’re the Rock of Gibraltar? I had to get off the boat so I could walk on water!” — Jay-Z

How would you like to be remembered?

As someone who kept moving us forward.

Who would you like to answer these questions?

Cardi B.

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