Ken Macrorie's book, Uptaught, is one of my go-to reads. As a teacher, Macrorie was fearless. Macrorie chose a student essay by Tom Greenwald to illustrate fearless students' voices and, from the first time I read it, it was seared into my mind and my soul and comes back to me now in the wake of the murders in Charleston, the city of my birth. The essay was written the Friday after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. That same day, Macrorie described a scene from campus: "about 200 black students at my university sneaked in the huge Student Union and chained shut all the doors. They held the building for eight hours, eating in its cafeteria in orderly fashion, paying for their meals, cleaning the building before they finally left. Outside, hundreds of white students gathered, some complaining they were being denied the use of their building, separated from morning coffee in the Snack Bar." (p. 170). Beyond the paragraphs excerpted below, the student writer Greenwald goes on to look critically at his own whiteness. He also speaks to the overwhelming "impenetrable insensitivity" he saw in the responses of white people to the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.; yet, he hoped some would eventually see their blindness as Lear eventually saw his (p. 172).
I've read and re-read about Ferguson and young Mike Brown, the man gunned down, face down, with arms up, shot in the street.
I've read and re-read about Eric Garner, the father, standing stunned on another street states away, restrained, tackled, toppled, killed.
I've read and re-read about the last gasps of others, too. Trayvon, Jordan, and Tamir, to name a few.
Pierced, wrenched, taken. All. Kids.
I've read and re-read how the outrage extends out, around the world, pulling into bands of hands young people and parents, walking now in solidarity, in dust, and in sand, in the cold and in the rain, through conflict zones and city streets, barricades and riot police to take a stand for a single American life or way of life, lost, stolen, snuffed out.
There is no country, no child, no parent left in the wide world that has not felt or feared the brutality of America's military.
"I do not know if all cops are poets, but I do know all cops carry guns with triggers." - Ellison
I cannot pull up the media and read from it uncontested stories of the kids I teach or work among. I cannot find the reflections of my nieces and nephews in sources illustrating "them" as anything more than the exception to a time-honored, law-enforced rule.
"Can't a brother get a little peace? /There's war on the streets and war in the Middle East/Instead of a war on poverty/They got a war on drugs so the police can bother me." -Tupac
My students are caste in shadow by big money, by big government, and by big history. Despite it, I see them reaching for and grasping at the light, so they may gasp less; to all who walk the earth, the sun, that light is our birth-right, governed by no law, no court, no justice. (I think young people, or the ones I know, know what so many of us ignore, which is the truth that light and how we see it have a lot to do with reflection, prism bars, easily bent, walked through, and redirected, self-reflecting-self without end).
What more can I read. What more can I read. Can reading change any of this? I read aloud my whiteness and my privilege. I read aloud the safety I've taken for granted, the protection my father's whiteness and mother's fierceness gave me from birth-right-til-death. I read aloud the view I grew into, which whispered, always promising do whatever you dream, with or without money, with or without influence, with or without fear because no fear I had growing up compares to the egregious fear I feel now when I read the news, when I see the blue lights light up my students' campus, when I try, beg, plead to but cannot slow down the clock that relentlessly pushes my nephews towards teenagerhood. I can't breathe.
So will my page be colored that I write?
Being me, it will not be white.
But it will be
a part of you, instructor.
You are white---
yet a part of me, as I am a part of you.
That's American. - Langston Hughes
I teach English at a desperately underfunded HBCU in South Carolina. Despite the college's challenges, when my final exam says, "Use your creativity to drop a beat for #MikeBrown and #EricGarner", the whirring of keyboard keys rises like larks and arrests me; a generation branded as having nothing to say sings in key-strokes. As their writes are being read, I pray for one just year in which accountability will matter. Where enough is enough. Where writes and rights join in full rhyme, not slant rhyme, or half rhyme, or lazy rhyme, and sea-change spreads like the gathering crowds through Chicago, Oakland, New York, Ferguson, Atlanta, around the world, and then back to Columbia where my students sleep at night and build by day lives of deep abiding beauty, strength, and wisdom.
I stand in solidarity with black lives; black lives matter is not only about this growing movement in an ever-broadening human rights campaign. As the campaign grows, there is also a clear vision to keep in mind these decisive and impromptu actions are also about the importance of seeing and of reading every single solitary life as...a life that cannot just be stolen without consequence; without pain; without devastation; without utter shock, fear, and grief without end. And that it somehow, some way must be stopped.
I don't tell my students or my nieces and my nephews, "I'll be there for you." I open the door, each day I live, and say "I'm here."
Teacher, writer, activist, coffee enthusiast, hopeful. Pass it on.