July 2, 2018
I used to teach children. Well, not really. Do you consider almost 17 year olds to be children? Were they adults? If you judged by their exteriors, then…I guess some were. But now that my senior year of high school seems ages ago, I think that 17 year olds are kids.
I’ve been thinking about these children. Maybe because of what’s been happening in the national news. Maybe it’s because two weeks ago, I welcomed 15 brand new teachers into the program that began my career in education, 10 years after I was in their same position.
I’ve been thinking a lot about these children. They came from all over Philadelphia. Some lived in my South Philly neighborhood. If I sat on my stoop long enough, I’d see them saunter by with a group of friends or we’d bump into each other at the corner “Papi” store. We’d catch the 17 bus together at 4th and Market, leaving our urban public charter school (named after the son of a billionaire media mogul) for home. We’d ride it on Market, then through Rittenhouse Square, past the million-dollar high rise condos, and high end shopping. Then it was southward, past Washington, where the streets got a bit less tidy, homes were a bit older, and the hipsters had just begun to venture with their craft beer bars and cool off-brand coffee houses.
I’ve been thinking a lot about these children. Some are wildly “successful”, at least by the standard to which we, and most of the world, held for them. I think about Bar-rae Jr. He was an 8th grader in the first class I ever taught. Little did I know, he was also my principals stepson (until I read his name on the roll and put two and two together). He just graduated from Lincoln University, joined Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Incorporated., owns a successful DJ company, and only has more to accomplish as he sets forward on his life’s journey. I’ll be attending his college graduation party this weekend.
I’ve had a lot of bright students. Black and brown students. I’ve been thinking about them.
I’ve been thinking about Luis. One day he was in my AP English class; the next day he wasn’t. And then the next day he wasn’t. This continued for a few days or so and I found out he left. Gathered up his stuff out of his locker and withdrew. He returned a year or so later to visit, like most graduates do. But he didn’t graduate. Because, Ms. Coker (my name at the time), “What was the point?”. He was working nights, cleaning office buildings with a relative. Getting paid under the table, far less than his worth. He wanted to go to college, but he didn’t have papers. He was brought to this country as a child. So he chose the shadows instead of the light.
I’ve been thinking about Dwayne. I think I lost Dwayne the same year I lost Luis. Same AP English class. Smart. But…lazy? Charming? Misguided? Distracted? All words I heard used to describe him. He’d made it through 11th grade with Mrs. D…could he hold on through senior year? Nope. He transferred to a district school in North Philly. Dobbins? Strawberry Mansion? The last time I saw him was on a cold Saturday morning outside a church in South Philly. He was dressed in all black for a funeral I assumed. I honked, waved, and we acknowledged one another. Last year, Shinaya told me he was in jail. And as she finished up my twists, I kept thinking about him. That night, when I got home, I looked up his name. And sure enough, he’s serving time in a state penitentiary.
I’ve been thinking about Isaiah. My God, have I been thinking about Isaiah and the commercial real estate investor who was so touched by his short life, that he stood up and spoke at his funeral.
I’ve been thinking about these children. Because…as a teacher, for those 9 months out of the year when they’re in your classroom…they become your children. These were my children before I had any naturally born. And now they’re adults. Fully grown with responsibilities and liabilities. But I remember when they were my children, and I could see their natural ability. And perhaps, if I (or we as teachers) did my (our) jobs well, these children could imagine the possibilities. But this world is hard, especially so on black and brown boys and girls who ride the 17 bus south of Washington.
P.S. The photos are of educators whose lives were touched touched by some of the children I mentioned, Dwayne, Luis, and Isaiah to be exact. Sometimes I get nostalgic and drop by Old City to see what they’re up to. (I shouldn’t gotten one of you Tann).