Bria is a student in my homeroom class. She is tough. She’s going to grow up tough. She’s the kind of girl that has a hard face, threatening posture, and a tendency to lash out when provoked. Sixth grade is an amazing year for kids like her (speaking as a teacher), because they’re tough but not impenetrable. They are still transparent; paper thin while they’re being bullied, the aggression in their movements a clear front for the heart-breaking pain in their eyes. Bria is like this.
I am sitting at my tiny IKEA desk in my classroom, reading A Million Miles in a Thousand Years to prepare for book club this Thursday. I should be doing plenty of other things, but sometimes the best choice after school is to quietly sit with a realistic book about spirituality and consider things.
As I was reading I was jolted, absolutely, with a thought. My classes have been given the opportunity to help me pay for flowers to send for our recently passed Detroit pen pal. I told the classes last week, and I’ve received a total of less than ten dollars (these are sixth graders, and I didn’t make a show of reminding them) and a pile of cards and letters.
Yesterday morning, Bria raised her hand during silent reading and patiently waited for me to come to her. I approached and she spoke low, “My mom wants to know if you can wait to collect the money by Friday. She gets her check on Friday, and she said I can give ten or twenty dollars if you wait.”
I want to jump up and down and scream. Absolutely scream with the word I’m getting more and more irritated with each time I say it: potential. POTENTIAL. I just read an article from GOOD about how four percent of black males graduate from college in our country, based on a study from UPenn that just came out. How is it so easy to forget that all of these kids are human, that all of their parents are human, that prisoners are human, that “wrong” is always the product of a choice not to do right? The potential to do right is always there, and it’s our responsibility to show that to our students. Our students are not yet these insane statistics that TFA and our country show us. My kids are not at the potential of that 4% yet; by the time they are, maybe it will be 16% or 25% or 50% or nearer to their white counterparts, which are something above 70?!
I can’t describe how electric I feel, thinking of Bria and her mom, how they have to wait for the paycheck and want to donate such a chunk of it compared to anyone else. The fact that Bria is leaving my class and telling her mom what is going on, telling her mom about a student in Detroit Bria has never met and will never meet, and they are both impassioned to give. I don’t want to cry, I want to scream at humanity and live my life pushing. Pushing recognition, pushing morality, pushing for doing right to be instinctive as much as possible, for doing right to be instinctive even when impossible, pushing students to defy these idiotic statistics because they are too capable, they are too incredible, they are too human not to.