Thursday, April 8, 2010

Real Talk

A student from my school was killed the other day. Walking down the street last Wednesday night, someone snuck up behind Jarren Lindsey and shot him.

I didn't know Jarren well. I had his cousins in a couple of my classes, but he was a tenth grader and I teach freshmen. I did take some pictures of him during an art project for another class. They were working on a project where they painted out a significant moment in their lives. It was amazing to look at the things the kids shared. The kids looked like "regular" teenagers, but they had these incredibly heavy stories behind them. Jarren's was no less heavy, but you could tell he was proud of the painting he had done. In one of the pictures he smiles at the camera, like he's telling a joke. In another, he's looks sober, older.

According to the newspaper, Jarren and his cousin had just walked some girls to the bus stop and were on their way home. That was the first week of spring break and the weather had just cleared up and was unseasonably warm. People were out and restless on the street. Out of the shadows, someone struck down Jarren and sent his cousin running for his life. Jarren was 16 years old. 
To be honest, I've tried not to mix the world of this blog with my teaching world. I'm a compartmentalizer and it's easier for me to deal with the demands of all my little worlds as long as I can keep them separate. I've tried not to write about personal stuff that's not directly tied to the topic at hand: funk, in all of its forms. Sticking to the script, so to speak, has been tough this year. The second year of teaching is no joke, and to go along with all of that, my school has been slated for closure because of test scores and budgetary reasons.

But something about this feels different. This is about Jarren, but it's also much bigger than Jarren. Two days before Jarren lost his life, I was heading out to play basketball at the rec center near my house. It was 9pm, which I consider early when it comes to playing ball, and my wife and I heard about six gun blasts near our house. We sat up and talked for a little while, but despite my wife's protestations, I grabbed my ball and got in the car. I was driving a block over when I noticed a bunch of guys standing in front of a house. They looked heated about something, but I didn't immediately connect it to the gunshots. When I saw unmarked police car waiting in the cut, I knew something was up.

And something was up. Soon after I left, the police stopped somebody on that corner and, according to the news, shot him after he drew a gun. Unfortunately another one of my students lives in a house right on the corner in front of where the shooting happened. I've chided her about being out late, but the whole thing happened right before her eyes. William Hardy, the young Black man who died, was 27 years old.
And just yesterday morning, a freshman at Douglass High named Danny Gilmore was on his way to school and was shot in front of a grocery store. He wasn't killed, but he is paralyzed. Police believe it might have just been a case of mistaken identity. The alleged shooter is 18. This all happened 8:15am, mind you.

As I get ready to teach my last quarter of freshman English, I've got all of this heavy stuff on my brains. I was planning on seeing my students again for the first time on Monday. I would have all my energetic, engaging lessons planned. I would lead us head-long into a journey of inquiry and discovery that would motivate them to give their best, even in the school's last moments.

But that's not exactly what's going to happen. Instead, I'll see many of my students at Jarren's funeral on Friday. Instead of having everything figured out and planned when I see them, I'll probably have just as many questions as they will.

Ironically, the feeling reminds me of how I felt when Obama was elected. I was caught up in all my reservations about the implications (political, social, economic,etc.) of having a Black president, but my students swept away all the reservations and allowed me to just feel that moment, even if the forces at work were too big for me to understand.

That's what makes this type of post so difficult, because the events of a life generally don't interest me as much as the causes or implications of those events. But lately it seems a little trite to talk about causes or implications. I could link to articles about the schools crisis. Or the gang crisis. Or the gun crisis. Or the drug crisis. Or the roots of poverty laid down by years of racial segregation in Chicago. But I guess this ain't the time for that.

Now's the time to mourn these young men who have had their lives shattered by violence, and pray that no one else falls victim. It's also time for me to continue to plan this last semester for my students. The goal won't be for me to explain all of the causes and implications of incomprehensible events, but instead help them develop the tools they can use to fashion new understandings of the world around them. Understandings that will change things. Understandings that might save lives.

But Friday comes first.


maynechik said...

You're all in my thoughts and in my heart, Abdel.

American_in_Cairo said...

No words for this. Thanks for this post.

Megan said...

Thinking of you, Abdel. Thank you for writing in the middle of all this.

Abdel Shakur said...

Thanks for the kind words, y'all.

Jackson Brown said...

Thanks for this post, Abdel, and I don't think it's off topic at all. Realness is funky in its own way—it's in-your-face and relevant.

Be safe up there, man.

Vanessa said...

I'm so sorry to hear about this, Abdel. My thoughts are with you.