Triple Threat: Enloe's Jordan King Is an Actor, a Dancer and a Champion for Change
June 10, 2019
Student: Jordan King
School: Enloe Magnet High School
College: Southeastern University
Jordan King wasn’t the headliner, but as far as Jose Espinal was concerned, she was the evening’s brightest star. In April, Enloe Magnet High School hosted a performance of The Talk, an acclaimed one-man show by Sonny Kelly in which an African-American father must have a difficult conversation with his son about how to protect himself in a racialized America.
Jordan, a senior at Enloe, represented the school’s Equity Team on a discussion panel following the performance that also included community members, a parent and a police officer.
“She brought it home that she has conversations with a friend of hers, a tall African-American male, and she has had to say be careful, don’t drive at night alone, things like that,” says Espinal, an assistant principal at Enloe and the lead administrator on the Equity Team. “She really was just able to kind of drop the mic. She expressed herself in a way that touched the audience, that drove home the point that [police profiling] really happens. It was supposed to be that the presenter steals the show. But in my opinion it was the community conversation, particularly what Jordan had to say. She allowed people to hear her vulnerability, her strength and her experience in a way that really connected with people.”
We The People
That’s a gift that Jordan has put to good use - as a leader on the Enloe Equity Team, as an actor and dancer, and at her church, World Overcomers Christian Church in Durham. When speaking with her, the first word that comes to mind is “confidence.”
“She’s been confident since she was younger, but that’s something my husband and I have stressed with all three of our daughters,” says Jordan’s mom, Metrogenia. “She’s always been confident, always been a leader, always been self-assured.”
Those traits stood out during a 2016 production of We The People, a student-written performance that tackled issues such as racial discrimination and sexuality.
Enloe Principal Will Chavis was moved by the performance and asked the student actors, including Jordan, to present a few scenes addressing racial biases and stereotypes to teachers. There was a discussion between students and faculty after the play, part of Enloe’s concerted effort to promote equity in the classroom and beyond. Jordan’s strong performance, both in the play and the discussion that followed, got her an invitation to join the Enloe Equity Team, which at the time was just being formed.
Espinal points out that Enloe is a huge school of more than 2,500 students from very diverse backgrounds. He says equity is going to look a little different at each school, so the team, comprised of students from all walks of life and viewpoints, was formed “to figure out exactly what equity means at our school.”
From the earliest discussions, Jordan stood out. “Jordan has always been a very intelligent young lady and listens really well and expresses her truth really well,” Espinal says. “We definitely had to have some courageous conversations about some difficult topics. But she was able to take anything we were unpacking and process it and express how it impacted her life.”
The Enloe 5
A major effort by the Equity Team was prioritizing five strategies they wanted teachers to implement to ensure equity. Here is what is known as The Enloe 5:
- Addressing race – Teachers are encouraged to acknowledge that race is part of everyone’s identity. Jordan explains it doesn’t mean that race always has to be the primary focus, but teachers are urged to let it be known that race and issues surrounding race, such as racial profiling, can be talked about in class. She adds, “It’s not just addressing race, but just connecting with people in that way. These are issues we are facing, so it would be ignorant of us to ignore them and act like they’re not there.”
- Checking for understanding – Making sure all students are understanding and retaining curriculum, and taking steps if someone is falling behind to catch them up.
- Visibility – Making sure students feel heard and seen and cared for, no matter their background. This is an area where teachers may have to overcome some subconscious biases that cause them to gravitate to a group of students that is more like them.
- Proximity – Teachers are urged not to sit at their desk at a remove from students, but instead to move around and interact in a personal way with all students.
- Connecting with students’ lives and their future selves – “Teachers are preparing us for life after high school,” Jordan says. “So we felt it was important for teachers to care about us not only as students but also as people and as soon-to-be-adults.” An important way teachers can do that is to attend student sporting events, dance recitals, chorus concerts and the like.
Espinal says the most difficult topic of the five is addressing race. And Jordan has proved the most adept at leading productive conversations about that, to the point that he called her “an expert” on the topic. She’s presented to students, teachers, board members, to new incoming principals, even a group of local Realtors. “She’s always been able to describe her experience as a black female, the good things and some of the bad stuff she has noticed and how she has been able to tackle those.”
Jordan acknowledges that “addressing race” is the toughest strategy for most people to embrace, and the conversation will have to continue after she graduates. But she’s gratified to see the work she and her fellow students have done in the past three years has led to improvements. “We do see a lot of change in connecting with students’ lives, proximity and visibility,” she says. “A ton of my friends have seen their teachers start to change the way they teach.”
Jordan, with other members of the Enloe Equity Team, were invited to discuss equity at a Wake County Public School System school board meeting.
‘Not just a hobby’
When asked about other high school activities she’s passionate about, Jordan immediately mentions the dance team. That’s where she’s made some of her closest friends, for one. And it’s also gotten her out of her comfort zone.
When she made the jump to the dance team as a senior, she recognized there would be a learning curve. “I had to challenge myself and balance my schedule, but it’s been a great learning experience, and it allowed me to be a leader in other aspects and just to stretch myself more than I thought I could,” Jordan says.
Enloe dance teacher Courtney Greer says Jordan is a natural leader. Greer says choreography is developed collaboratively between her and her students. Recently, Greer put Jordan in charge of finalizing a section for their spring concert. “She came in with a plan, which I didn’t expect her to do, had it written down,” Greer recalls. “I really needed them to be proactive to get that section done. I didn’t want to have to babysit them, and she just took it over. So I could kind of exhale. It ends up switching the energy and dynamic in the room when a student takes that kind of initiative.”
Jordan particularly enjoyed the opportunities to travel to middle schools to promote the dance program. For her, dance is another platform she now has to reach people in a meaningful way. “It’s not just a hobby, she says, “but a tool I can use to share everyone’s unique story.”
Jordan (seated) performs with the Enloe Dance Team.
Leadership. Eloquence. Confidence.
One other major factor that makes Jordan who she is, perhaps the overriding one, is her strong Christian faith. She’s an active member of her church, and she will attend Southeastern University, a Christian school in Lakeland, Fla., in the fall. “I love to serve people and do everything I can to help and serve others,” she says.
She’ll double major in Biblical studies and a subject to be named later. She wants to do a little exploring before deciding. She’s also not sure what she’ll pursue after college, though going into the ministry is a possibility. She definitely wants to have a life full of travel, which is one reason she opted to attend college in Florida. “If I get too comfortable, I won’t reach my full my potential,” she says. “I don’t want fear of being away from home to get in the way of what I’m supposed to do.”
‘So much power’
Asked about her most rewarding moment in high school, she also mentioned speaking at the panel after The Talk. “I think that was really the highlight of equity for me,” she says. “It was a vulnerable place, but there was so much power we held in that moment. I think people can learn from being vulnerable, because there’s a lot of truth and power in those moments.”
She’s going to take all of it with her to Southeastern – including plans to start an equity team and get involved with student government to change her new school in many of the same ways she’s helped change Enloe.
While her mother, Metrogenia, confesses to being “a little nervous” about Jordan moving so far from home, she’s certain that she will continue to be an influential leader in college and beyond. “Like I said, we’ve always encouraged our daughters to be confident,” Metrogenia King says. “We’ve lived our lives, and we can’t live theirs. People gravitate to Jordan – they always have. And she believes in herself. She knows what she wants to do, and she does it.”