This will be challenging. Each day will have its own hardships. I knew that when I accepted my job. I knew that they would need affirmation, direction, structure and support. I knew that their relationships with education and society would be at best a struggle, at worst – completely shattered. I knew there would be work to do. I knew that my students’ stories would be unknown, unheard, and their lives misunderstood.
I did not think, however, that in 2017 I would have to plan to spend so much time and energy convincing my students that their lives matter, and that they have dignity and worth that ought to be fought for & acknowledged by everyone. I did not think that I would have to start the school year 4 days after Neo-Nazis, White Supremacists and members of the KKK gathered by the thousands to protest the very presence of my students and their families in this country. Our country. I did not think that our American brothers and sisters would be labeling their fellow human beings “filth” and “parasitic vermon.” I did not think that there would be a voice so loudly demanding ethnic cleansing. I did not think that we lived in a country – or a century – where the chant “Nazis go home” was necessary. I did not think that in 2017, supremacists were so comfortable and validated in their feelings that they could go without masks or hoods, unafraid of consequences or punishment that could come with identification. I did not think that the response to such a horrific, despicable, heartbreaking gathering would be to build their platform further, garnering a sense of empowerment and righteousness. I did not think that the man in the Oval Office would find it so difficult to find the words to explicitly condemn these things.
I didn’t think this was [still] America.
I knew we weren’t perfect. I knew we had a ways to go. I just didn’t think we were this far behind.
Maybe that’s my privilege.
But this, this is my burden: tomorrow I have to face my kids.
I have to teach them stories and show them how to express themselves. I have to lead them into narratives that teach them humanity, make their worlds bigger, and feed their stifled imaginations. I have to help them believe that their own stories are worth sharing, their voices worth hearing, their words worth putting down on paper. I have to help them learn compassion, self-worth, and critical thinking in the age of Neo-Nazis and alternative facts. I have to invest in them so they invest in themselves, so they know they are worth investing in – despite everything the world is shouting at them.
“You’re a criminal.”
“You’re an animal”
“No one wants you here.”
They are children. They are every color, gender, ethnicity. They struggle with faith and identity, self-control and self-awareness, not unlike each of us. Their histories are plagued with struggle and their foundations give little to build on. No matter their crime, no matter their odds or the stats stacked against them, they deserve a better America. They deserve to have people like us fight for their future, a better future, one that cries “worthy” and “human” over the lies of supremacy.
I didn’t think. Now, I know.
I know what I have to do, what I get to do, and what I hope you’ll do, too – in whatever way you can.
Here’s to a new year. Let us commit ourselves to the glories of love.
Opportunities for furthering understanding:
https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2FVICEVideo%2Fvideos%2F852427754917176%2F&show_text=0&width=560” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>VICE News & HBO Special: Race and Terror