a black jesus

by taylordoe

Sometimes, on a really great day, I find myself inspired by my kids. I’m not one of those idealist TFA-ers who thinks my kids are all incredible, insightful and mature young adults who constantly come up with this amazing views on life and the world. A lot of days, my kids are just kids. They sneeze without covering their mouths. They don’t do their homework. They start fights in the cafeteria. They disappoint me.

But today was different.

About two weeks ago, I got a new student, S. He just returned to our school after living in Arkansas for the past year. His parents both went to my school, as did all his aunts and uncles. Pretty crazy to think about with such a transient student population. S is a little person, the only one in our school, which I imagine creates its own set of issues for him. Kids in my school can be incredibly vicious and cruel to one another and I would hate to imagine what they say to him in the hallways.

About three days ago, I got another new student in my class, A, who was moved into my room after continually causing problems in his LA class. His regular teachers is out on maternity leave, so her classes have had a revolving door of subs. I could tell stories of what I have seen and heard happen in that classroom under the supervision of various subs, but it is almost time to go to sleep and I don’t want to get myself agitated before I try to fall asleep. But, I will say this. I have seen those kids be all but abandoned in that room and the education they are receiving in the absence of their teacher can only be described as horrific. More on this another day.

Anyways, A is in my class in attempt to get him under control and out of the hair of administration, who has to deal with him on an almost daily basis due to his disruptive behavior. Today, on his third day in my class, one of my other students, R, was telling me about how he had seen a movie over the weekend. “Yeah, it even had a black Jesus!” he said. R was simply retelling a part of the story to me when A stands up and says, “That’s racist!”

Now, nothing that R was saying was racist whatsoever. But, being a 13 year old boy, it was clear that he was embarrassed for being called out. Moments like these are obviously opportunities to engage my kids in some important conversations about the world we live in and I was certainly not going to let this moment pass without addressing what A had said.

Before I could even ask A why he had said what he did, S spoke up and said, “That’s not racist. And when you say things like that, it makes you sound ignorant. Don’t make such a fool of yourself.”

I didn’t know what to say. I was silent. And it wasn’t just me. Every other student in my class stopped talking, turning their attention to S. After seeing that what he said had elicited a reaction, he shrugged and said, “I don’t appreciate when people use terms like that when they aren’t right. R isn’t being racist, he’s just talking about a movie. A clearly just doesn’t know what that word means.”

After a few seconds, my kids all turned back to their work and quickly forgot what S had said. But I was still processing what S had just said. First, it was shows an incredibly mature thought process on his part to come to that conclusion. And how courageous of S to put himself out there and say what he thinks. I don’t think any of my other students could have articulated themselves in such a mature way and think so little of it.

It is hard to put into words now that deep sense of pride I had in S for saying what he did, but I truly believe it was one of the most meaningful moments of my teaching career thus far. I don’t think all my kids are prophets or poets, but I do believe, on a really great day, that they have the power to change people. I believe that because I know that today, S made a lasting impression on me, one that I will carry with me for many years to come.