One day I stepped into a classroom and overheard a student tell a teacher that he was going to kick her a**. The teacher, fed up with the misconduct that had been going on, stated, “Then do it. I dare you.”
There are moments in one’s life that define a situation, and this was a moment that made me ask myself how do we arrive at that point when enough is enough? Yes, the teacher’s response is in need of being addressed, but also the response/behavior of the student and some of the peers of this student who appeared unmotivated in today’s society of wanting to hear an adult’s teachings of past, real-life experiences.
These past traumatic experiences have recently played out vicariously with marches occurring in various cities from Ferguson, Missouri and on. History tells us that Ferguson was not the first attempt where individuals have fought for justice. In the face of adversity the culmination of past and current injustices appear to leave America weakened by human behavior while bleeding at the seams for mercy, as many Americans took to the streets marching and praying for answers that have led to unindicted cases.
Over the King Holiday weekend I sat eagerly watching the Oprah Winfrey specials as she utilized OWN, her television network, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the marches (from Selma, Alabama, to the state capital in Montgomery). OWN aired three television shows that sustained my passionate level of gratitude for the freedoms I have today: Oprah’s Master Class: Civil Rights Special, Oprah Prime: Dr. King and the Selma Marches, and Legends Who Paved the Way.
To the student whom I encountered that choose to act out in class, I wanted to take a teachable moment and embrace his mind and educate him on how blessed he is to be in a classroom where he is being taught to think and challenge his academic thoughts. The classroom is a place where he is able to be creative and innovative. I wanted to dare him to be bigger and better than his current self.
The parent in me had an emotional response of wanting to go “ole school” and reprimand him for not sitting and listening to his teacher without spite. I wanted to reprimand him for not putting his energies of defiance into skills that would allow him to leap him forward and not pull him backwards.
My inner voice challenged me to be still as words leaped from within. “My dear child, do you know how many people have fought, shed blood and died giving you the right to even stand in a classroom? How many people have made sacrifices so that someday you would have the right to vote, to learn, to live a better life that is full of hope while seeking a life of liberty and the pursuit of happiness?”
I wondered if this student, being a senior in high school, had ever reflected on how many generations before him have made accomplishments (inventions) that he now reaps the benefits of. How many before him did he now stand on the shoulders of, receiving their contributions that are moving him forward?
My faith has me knowing that people do better when they know better. I pray that this individual sees his blessings and the many doors that have been opened for him and understands all the past struggles, trauma, oppression, and self-doubt of generations past.
It is often said that each one teaches one. In the spirit of the statement I knew it was up to me to show compassion, be present, and teach this young individual, whom I had never met before, that he is the dream and the hope of the slave. He has the power to move forward and do better.
Ellis lives in Minneapolis.