February 16, 2019
A doe-eyed boy looks down at me, tears streaming down his face. He is slumping in a “teacher chair” in the library. We have migrated there from our classroom where it all began. I am bowed before him on my knees the way Black church mothers supplicate at the altar.
I gaze up at him, my hands clenching the armrests. “What is happening to you, love?” I ask. “Just go away! I hate you! You’re the worst teacher ever. I wish you would move away. Just go to another school!” he replies. And he says it over and over again. I say something like, “I love you. I will never go away. That is non-negotiable.” But mostly . . . I wait.
I wait for him to take a breath deep enough to inhale my unconditional love for him. I wait for his tears to land on my own Black skin, so I can soak up his pain. I am the teacher. He is the student. He, amidst this emotional meltdown, has hit and kicked me. Yet there I am before him, offering up prayers to this Black sun because I know, deep in my heart, that I am the student. And, he, he’s MY teacher.
December 8, 2019
Dear sweet boy,
Your loving, exhausted momma tells me it’s all happening again despite the hard work she did finding a school that was a good fit for you. She’s getting emails and phone calls. You’re “taking a couple of days off” and going into work with her. You’re five years old, yet you’re being pathologized, ostracized, and minimized by people who should instead recognize all that you are, the fullness of your humanity.
I know of a boy who seems a lot like you from what his family shares on social media. He’s a handful and his parents, just like your momma, do everything they can to make sure he receives all the services he needs to navigate the complexities of early childhood and transitioning to “big kid” school. But from where I sit, which is admittedly a great distance, it seems like his teachers help him and his parents out. His teachers seem . . . compassionate.
Rather than being managed, he is co-regulated. Rather than being sent home, he sets goals. Rather than receiving the hard bigotry of high expectations, he is permitted to take tiny steps toward independence.
I wish I didn’t know why this is true. I wish I had to research this disparity and could find an answer that is not your carob brown skin. I cannot. You are a Black sun. And while this means that so many of us will love you unconditionally, there is a throng behind us that will join hands with supremacy and systematically work to dim your light.
I struggle to keep going after writing that sentence. It knocked the breath out of me. I want to tell you that they won’t win, that your light will always pierce through the darkness. I cannot. I’m an optimist, but I’m not a liar.
Your Black body will always be cause for suspicion and the reason you’ll never get the benefit of doubt. While your peers get a “boys will be boys” pass, even for the most egregious behaviors, you’ll be punished for acting your age. Teachers will ostracize you to teach you a lesson without knowing that the learning outcome is, “The student will know and articulate that he is less human than his peers with 100% accuracy.” But, at five years-old, you already know this.
Even if you manage to skirt physical isolation, they will still come for your Black soul. Well-meaning teachers will offer you a hefty serving of empathy and standard English grammar when you need justice and to tell them in AAVE that they ain’t gone call you outside yo name. They’ll offer you Keats, Dickinson, Thoreau, and Shakespeare on a silver platter. And DuBois, Hughes, Morrison, and Baldwin will come on a paper plate, if they’re served at all.
I wish for you to have the greatest teachers. I really do. I want you to be with people whose hearts will burst at the sound of your intoxicating giggle and melt in the presence of your smiling eyes. I want you to have a teacher who knows at least ten things about you within the first few days of school. They should know that you have a cat named after a terrible singer, a huge collection of books with main characters who look like you, and a momma who loves you so much she’s covered a whole section of a wall in your house with heart-shaped affirmations of your worth.
I want you to have someone who will humble themselves, bow beneath you, soak up your tears, and allow themselves to learn from you like another Black boy who was expelled from a number of schools before he came to my class taught me to. But what are the chances of that? Oh, no. We can’t wait on that.
What I’m saying, dear boy, is that school isn’t going to be enough to keep beautiful, Black you intact. You will probably, eventually, have a few good teachers. And though I hope they’ll love you until it sticks, there are no guarantees. That’s why I need for you to pay close attention to what I write next. . .
Your worth does not come from a school. It does not come from teachers. It does not come from your peers. It doesn’t even come from your momma, though she will always be your biggest fan. Your worth does not come from having “perfect” days at school or at home. It comes from your divine presence in this world.
You are worthy of all the good this world has to offer simply because you are. And I don’t mean to get all cheesy on you, but learning to love yourself, just as you are, is going to be the greatest love you experience. It is the love that will bring the love of others to you and sustain you your entire life.
We’re all here for you, to show you how to fall in love with the boy who already has our hearts, not in spite of school not containing you, but because your spirit is so big it cannot.
I love you because you are. You are love.
You are loved,