This is a journal entry I found that was dated July 12, 2012. It was fairly close to when my school year in Newark had ended. I had managed to get through to some pretty tough kids and also made headways with some kids I really had to build trust with. At the time I wrote this, I had no idea I would not be going back to the school. You will see the impact the kids and their surroundings had on me.
Lights come up in the morning almost the same in every house. Young mothers walk into babies rooms to pick up little bundles with smiles and greetings. Shadows are cast across the wall in morning angles. Mothers with older children ease into rooms, turn on lights and gently break the bad news: “Time to wake up”. Regardless of where or how - it’s morning and children are beginning their day. The sun is barely up, the smell of coffee fills the home and dad is upstairs getting ready for work. Breakfast is prepared and the mindset of school begins to set itself.
Up the road ten miles it’s a different story. It’s still morning and children are still waking up but in this house it’s three to a bed. There may not be a mom but an Auntie or maybe a Grand-mom. There is no father. It is time to get ready for school but there will be no breakfast and perhaps no encouraging words. New clothes will not be laid out but rather the ones worn yesterday will be worn again or maybe the ones that were slept in. Some of them will go to school dirty and unclean although washed of inspiration and encouragement.
They are still children, and they are waking with innocence in their eyes. There is hope and even some dreams but there is also reality. That gets pushed to the back though and with any luck there will be something that looks like a smile - even if it’s forced. Tiny shoes are put on tiny feet, hands are held and the door opens to a new day. Opportunity looks different to some children and to others it’s not even opportunity but survival. Again, it’s only ten miles from you but you pretend it’s not there until you have to see it every day. You touch their lives and they touch yours. In many ways they make you feel guilty for your life. You want to save all of them and even take a few home but you know you can’t. They are children but you have to remember that they’re not your children and that - yes that - is the worst part.
At some point it becomes clear that it has everything to do with love. They don’t know love and you have to show them. In the process of doing that you begin to love some of them despite your best efforts. Even the worst ones: the thugs, the playas, the knuckle heads...it doesn’t matter. You see the light in all of them and they know this about you so they begin to show themselves to you and this only makes it hurt more. They let you in and you can’t believe what you see and hear. Some of the stories are too sad to be true others are too awful to even be a part of someone’s reality - but they are. These realities are now yours and you can’t help but think that this is not fair. This life that these children are forced to live. How could they be living these lives, here? Here in this country?
I drive ten miles from my house but it feels like ten-thousand. I leave a community that has safe streets, grass to play on and hope. My community gives its children a chance and I’m not quite sure why the children I teach can’t have those chances. The children I teach are not dumb. They are not stupid. In fact, they have hopes and dreams just like my children. The problem with the children I teach is that no one is there to tell them this. No one reminds them of the vastness of their potential and what it can bring. My children leave the house and will discover things they didn’t know. My students leave their homes and are simply reminded of what is coming.
Some of the children write poems and they make you cry when you read them. You cry because they are so honest but are coming from a place that no child should be coming from. The poems ask “Why?” and “How come?” Some of the poems simply want the violence to stop. It seems like such a simple request especially when it comes from a child but no one listens to the child nor the simplicty.
If you’re not careful you’ll get angry and then cynical and that’s not good. You want to make sure that the children never see cynicism. No one likes that, not even a child and these kids, well, they’ll see right through it.