In defense of Norfolk Public Schools: The truth is, they are fantastic

There’s something that I need to tell you that’s rather important. Something you may not expect and may initially scoff at, but just hang in there with me:

Norfolk has amazing public schools.

Phew. I’m so glad to get that off of my chest. I’ve been dying to tell you for weeks now. I know that you’re surprised; you’ve heard so many terrible things, so many rumors, from so many people. I’ve heard them all, too. And it wasn’t too long ago that I was nervous about sending my kids to NPS too, but here we are loving it. There has been quite a lot of noise and many heated conversations in our community this summer about Norfolk’s new school budget, most of which lack any type of data or understanding about funding and distribution of resources, but fear not. I’m here to set a few things straight for you and provide a little bit on context to show you just how great our schools are.

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First, let’s just get it out of the way. The budget increased this year by 3.6% from around $315 million to $326 million. But, that increase just doesn’t go very far in a district where there are so many varying needs. 10 teaching specialist positions had to be removed, leaving a few schools without any reading and math specialists all together, a few schools having to share, and the rest with either a full or part time specialists. If you’ve been paying attention to this discussion in our local newspaper, you’ve seen how hot people are about this reduction in teaching specialists. Mostly the complaints are coming from some of our most successful schools, which were pointed out in the Virginia Pilot this week as being some of our most “affluent.” What first needs to be analyzed is the use of the term affluent; it is a very subjective term that is not easily defined. While Ghent School is in a more affluent part of town, it is a lottery school and has a mix of students from middle class and lower income neighborhoods. However, it performs well. It shouldn’t be a surprise that when positions need to be shifted and redistributed that schools that are doing well don’t have as big of a need as schools that are struggling. And yet, people are still surprised.

Parents at Larchmont, Ghent, and Taylor wrote dozens of letters to school officials complaining about the injustice of their children losing reading and math specialists; that their children are doing well because those specialists are there. How dare they penalize the most successful and redistribute based on need? This is where we need a bit of context and understanding about these positions: how they are funding and how they are placed. Last year, Norfolk had 68 city wide teaching specialists. Once the new budget was approved they removed 10 of those positions leaving 58 city wide specialists. This was back in June and there was nary a peep from any parents in west Norfolk. After that decision was made in June, it was then time for officials in the division to place the specialists. Once it was discovered that Ghent, Taylor, Larchmont, Tarallton, Mary Calcott, Willoughby, Ocean View, and Sewells Elementary Schools would be now sharing specialists, the letters streamed downtown in droves mostly from parents with students in Ghent, Larchmont, and Taylor. Where were these letters when the school board was making their budgeting decisions in the Spring? And importantly, why did they assume that their schools would not be considered when reductions needed to be made?

Many parents are concerned that the decisions of placement were made based on affluence. However, it needs to be pointed out that only 3 of the aforementioned schools are not Title I schools. The other 5 are. So, affluence was not a factor. The decisions of placement were based on the number of students at each school, achievement (or accreditation), and need. Affluence may be a resulting factor in which schools had their specialists reduced or removed, but it was not a variable in deciding. What I would like to ask the parents complaining about this decision is if they would ever consider moving to a neighborhood that is zoned for the schools that receive full time teaching specialists or ask to have their child sent out of zone so that their children who are struggling in math and reading can receive that assistance. No? Why not? My sense is that they believe those schools are not good enough for their children, for whatever mythic reason, and choose to send their children to schools that are fully accredited and lacking teaching specialists.

The second piece in this discussion is how teaching specialists are funded. There is no state wide mandate for reading specialists at our public schools and Norfolk is the only school division in Hampton Roads that pays for city wide teaching specialists out of their own local operating budget; our school district actually pays $5 million for all 58 of our teaching specialists, both math and reading. While Virginia Beach provides reading specialists to all of its elementary schools, both full time and shared, they rely on state funding and do not provide math specialists to any school that is not Title I. While it is up for interpretation concerning statewide priorities in terms of how and which type of specialists are provided to each of our schools statewide, it is important for us to acknowledge that Norfolk has done a very good job of prioritizing both reading and math specialists for our students.

While many scoff at the $122,076 that the board will be spend on traveling for professional development workshops this year, which is quite a lot of dough, if not too much, there is more to see in this budgeting picture. While our district has one of the smaller school budgets in Hampton Roads, it spends more per student than any other, which includes its commitment to providing 58 city wide math and reading specialists.

Images from Norfolk.gov

While money spent is not a complete and accurate metric with which to measure how well a school division prioritizes its students, Norfolk does offer a budget that attempts to manage the various needs found across our district. While it is not perfect and there is a need for better fiscal and budgeting decisions from our board and administrators, the numbers tell a picture of how our city leaders actually to value and prioritize our students. We must work at looking at facts instead of reading sensational local news articles that disregard the actual numbers and instead rely on insidious rumors and myths about our schools. If you have never visited a Norfolk public school, let me invite you to do so. Go take a tour. Talk to the principals. You could even go to a school board meeting. Or even better, send your children to our public schools. It’s important for us to get a more realistic understanding of our schools and our neighborhoods when we enter into these debates and conversations. Because Norfolk is a great city that has great schools. We just have to make a conscious cognitive shift away from what we hear and what actually exists.

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Perceptions of Beauty: How Speaking About Anti-Racism Is Not Divisive

When I was a child my grandmother and I would watch QVC in the evenings while she got ready for bed. Sitting at her vanity, she’d slather on her cold cream with her hair up in pin curls while I laid across the bed next to her with my feet kicked up and picked at the loose threads on the knit blanket. Her favorite segments on QVC were the Fenton glass basket sales and the porcelain dolls. She kept the TV turned down low during the makeup demonstrations declaring that the women looked like a bunch of hussey clowns in all of that lipstick, but when the porcelain dolls came on she turned up the volume and watched with her full attention.

Straight and tall, the creamy white dolls stood on their stands with bright, glossy eyes and ringlets of yellow, red, and chestnut hair falling down their shoulders from under boater hats. Decorated in Victorian lace and bows, these angels of the house were so beautiful. After a long day of housework my grandmother gave them all of her attention. She dumped her burdens and absorbed them. The camera panned across the line of dolls and stopped at the end to zoom in on the one with smooth dark porcelain skin. Her deep black eyes stared out unmoving but knowing and they pushed my grandma back into her chair as she looked away and finished wiping the cold cream off of her face.

“Oh, grandma look at that one. She’s beautiful,” I said wispily.

Jerking around with pinched brows, my grandma looked at me and said, “Now, you know that doll is ugly as sin. Don’t go saying stuff like that.” She turned off the TV and finished her night time beauty routine. Twisting hair. Smearing cream.

*****

It’s quite amazing how years later old memories can apparate into our realities. I thought of that story of my grandma and the black porcelain doll this week after I packed up all three of my kids and went to the grocery store to pick up a few things for lunch. Waiting in the check out line, Ruby was sitting in the front of the shopping cart by me while the boys flipped through magazines. When we finally moved up a spot, we stood next to a young black lady in the line next to us with a little girl around the same age as Ruby in her cart. As I was in the middle of telling the boys, yet again, that they could not buy any candy, an older white man that was in line behind the black lady and her child walked over to Ruby, rubbed her hand and said, “Why hello blue eyes! Aren’t you a beauty!” I turned around to see him fawning over Ruby and I immediately felt my skin begin to glow as I noticed the young black man behind me give a knowing look to the other child’s mom. She looked at Ruby, then at the old man, pinched her mouth shut and turned around towards her baby. The old man continued on saying that Ruby would be a heart breaker one day and that she was just so sweet and pretty.

He didn’t notice a thing. Because what really just happened? Did anything happen? Did I read into the faces of the people around me? Impose my intuition on them? I don’t believe I did. Something very subtle and culturally big happened. And I thought of my grandma’s dolls. I remembered back to my grandmother telling me that the black doll was as ugly as sin and I felt ashamed. And angry. What happened in the grocery store with Ruby was so subtle that it was almost unnoticeable. Well, unnoticeable to the white man. The little black baby sat in his direct line of vision for minutes. There was no fawning. No talking. Almost as if the baby wasn’t there. And then we strolled ahead of him. He craned his neck and walked across the aisle towards Ruby to show his admiration for her beauty. I noticed. And so did the black adults around me. I was immediately uncomfortable for what he had done and I felt complicit. I was complicit. And, sadly, so was Ruby. My little girl has been born into a racial system that places her at the top of what is considered beautiful: blonde hair, blue eyes, creamy white skin. And there’s my grandmother again: “that doll is ugly as sin.”

There’s this myth out there among white people that if you bring up or talk about racism or oppression against people of color that you are in some way creating racial division. That uttering into words the everyday experiences of racism is what actually creates division and unrest, not racism itself. We think that if we keep silent about it, ignore it, only talk about chipper white-ass things, it will somehow magically not be there, if it was really there to begin with. I’m always perplexed by this cultural myth. It isn’t until something crosses or saddens us (white people), our own friends, our own family, or our own values that we feel compelled to share our grievances and concerns. In those moments we don’t consider bringing up how we’ve been wronged to be divisive. We consider it to be a part of the process of restoring justice. And it is. But this moment at the grocery store happened. That other mother’s beautiful little girl was ignored and vanished under the system of beauty that my child has privilege in. The people around me felt it and witnessed it. The division was there. It’s still there. Is my mentioning it and telling the story creating more division? Or, is it me warning us, white people, to open our eyes. To look around. To look at and see the faces of the people of color around us, these faces that have for centuries have been told are “ugly as sin.” It’s a lie. Look at them and remember that it’s always been a lie.

I think my daughter is so beautiful. Parents tend to always think that about their own children. And the other mother thinks the exact same about her daughter. If only our culture didn’t choose sides. As I was standing there watching the black adults around me groan at the display of centuries worth of racism, racism that they see every day, I didn’t know what to do. What could I have said or done to decenter this old white man’s perceptions of beauty? What could I have done to have made it right? I didn’t do anything. I just stood embarrassed and in disbelief. The old man went back to his place in line and silently waited for his turn to check out. I herded my kids back to our van and drove us all home. I played the scene over and over in my head for hours and couldn’t get the looks of the black man and woman out of my mind.They knew exactly what happened.  And I wish I could tell them that I’m sorry. You’re so, so beautiful.

I decided then that this story had to be told. There are those that believe that these stories are divisive, that they create racial tension. Well, I’m here to tell you that there is already a divide. It’s been there for centuries. It’s told to our children when the beauty of black baby’s is ignored because our grandparents told us that they’re ugly as sin and dangerous as hell. Well, no more. No more.

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The Silent Mile: The Privilege Of Choosing To Be Silent

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Am I too cynical? Disillusioned? Unbelieving? Hopeless?  That when I march with a crowd of hundreds for the shared belief and desire for peace I can’t but not roll my eyes? What is wrong with me?

I’m wondering if this is a safe space for me to process an event that I participated in yesterday in my city. How can I explore my own beliefs and experiences in a way that is both honest, healing, and works to dismantle the minds and beliefs of those like me who also marched?  Because the work that I am MOST interested in doing is confronting and dismantling systematic oppression, misogyny, and white privilege. And I’ll tell ya, that pisses a lot of people off. It means that those of us in positions of power and privilege have to take a good, long, difficult look at ourselves and our work and confront how we support and benefit from these systems. Even when we march. No, especially when we march. Solidarity, unity, allyship is more than a held sign, a shared Facebook post, an identity. It is a process of rejecting our privilege and giving it away without receiving approval, praise or acknowledgement for our work. It is the work of humility and confession, putting others before ourselves. We become lower so that others can become higher. Isn’t unity and equality supposed to put us all on the same level? I’ll go ahead and answer that question for you: No. No it’s not. We should be putting those who have been made less than in our system on top at the expense to ourselves. So, yeah. It pisses people off.

What I am going to do here is explore and examine my own experience at The Silent Mile NFK march that I participated in yesterday afternoon. These are my thoughts, my observations, my experiences, my confessions and they do not represent anyone else who attended. I don’t want to take away from the good work that was done yesterday and I do not want to disparage anyone that attended. But instead, what I do want to do is point out that the racially and class privileged people at the event were not confronted with their complicity in systematic racism and oppression; a message that is vital to dismantling it.


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I stood on the Hague walking bridge yesterday with hundreds of people waiting to walk single file down Brambleton Avenue, one of the busiest streets in Norfolk, during rush hour and block it for about 20 minutes while we crossed. Most of the people who stood around me appeared to be from Ghent and ODU; they’re not very difficult to recognize. I didn’t feel in the least out of place. I felt like I belonged, though slightly less tattooed than most. I felt safe, comfortable, almost good about myself for being there. Before we marched, each of us were given the name of a black person who has been fatally shot by police in the last year and we were instructed to Google them before the walk began. This is when I first started to feel uncomfortable. Let me digitally introduce you to Kevin Hicks, the man that was put on my shirt and who I was walking in silence for. I don’t know any more about him than what that link produces. What I do know is that he was shot and killed by a police officer after he assaulted his wife in their car while their kid was in the back seat. While he was assaulting her, she called 911 and approached police at a gas station for help. Video surveillance shows him assaulting the officer who initially attempted to use a taser to subdue him, but it escalated to the use of deadly force after the officer’s hand was broken and bitten by Kevin Hicks. I was marching in a funeral procession for him. I will have to be honest with you and say that it took everything inside of me to keep his name on my shirt. I wanted to throw it off. He was a misogynist. A wife beater. He physically assaulted and harmed the officer who was trying to protect his wife and child. I felt ill just looking at his name, let alone wear it. My experience at the event never recovered from that moment.

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In that moment I was immediately confronted with the complex layers and intersections of this very important issue and I was uncomfortable with continuing. As I was internally grappling with Kevin Hicks we began filing in and silently marching. I held up a sign that was provided to me by organizers that said “Break The Silence. #BlackLivesMatter,” as I walked past dozens and dozens of police officers that stood by and blocked off streets for us, directed traffic, and boiled in the sun. I couldn’t help but to feel deeply ashamed of myself, ashamed of Kevin Hicks, ashamed of this broken system, and ashamed for feeling ashamed. But still I marched. Each step troubled me and I longed to reach the end where organizers were waiting for us with a planned demonstration. I hoped for some consolation at the end, something, anything, to assuage my grief. But it never came. We packed and filed into rows on the empty lawn while organizers called out the 144 names of black people who have been fatally shot by police officers this year. There were some people who placed the piece of tape with their person’s name on it over their mouths. Silence. Reverence. A life lost. My piece of tape seared through my shirt, into my skin and boiled me into shame.
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There I was. Standing with a large group of people, most of whom were very similar to myself in both class, race, and privilege, and I was alone. When I look at racialized and classist police brutality from the outside I can’t understand it. I’ve never experienced it. I don’t fear it. I struggle to believe that it exists. If there weren’t videos of it and if my black friends didn’t keep reminding me of it’s pervasive existence and affect on their own psyches I would go about my days unaware and unchanged. Hell, I see and hear it in the news and online and I’m still barely changed. I’m still grappling with what it means to support someone who has made criminal decision, like Kevin Hicks, and then ended up dead at the hands of the police. These aren’t isolated incidents in people’s lives. These aren’t isolated “racist” cops gunning down minorities.This is a system of oppression. One in which we’re are all interwoven and complicit in. And this wasn’t addressed at the demonstration. The group of people who marched and demonstrated were not confronted with our place in this system of oppression, racism, misogyny, and police brutality. The organizers of the silent mile said that one of the things they want is accountability of police officers. Do you know what I want? I want accountability from our community and the people that marched yesterday. We all identify as allies. The good guys. The anti-racist people against other bigoted, racist people. And that is a false dichotomy. We all make choices in this system that benefit ourselves and harm others. We choose where to hang out, live, get coffee, send our children to school, who we vote for, if/when/where to volunteer, to be silent or to speak, and to protest or not, in a system that works for some and against others. And if we don’t locate ourselves on the spectrum of that system, if we don’t confront the choices that we make and the privileges that we have, then we are not allies. Because the truth is that we had a choice to be silent. If we don’t recognize that there are others who do not have that choice, that there are others who are silenced, then we are going nowhere. The Black Lives Matter activists are often silenced. The Silent Mile activists chose to be silent. There is a difference. A very important difference that needed to be recognized and confronted.

Only 4,000 feet away from where the march ended yesterday is a public housing community, Young Terrace, where crime, violence, poverty, and fear exists in an incubator. Those of us on that were on that lawn barely know that it exists and are complicit in the system that put the people in that community and works to keep them there. It’s the work of our local laws, regulations, policies, policing systems, social systems, education systems, voting systems, business systems, on and on and on, that work to benefit a few and oppress others. The ones reaping from and collecting those benefits stood in solidarity on the lawn, a stones throw from the people to whom we stood in solidarity with.

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I will end with reinforcing that this was a very good and needed protest. It drew attention to a very important and deadly issue. I’m thankful to those who organized it and showed up. But there is so much more to do. We need to collectively confront our privilege and the systems to which we benefit from and work to shift the power. That means marching with and lifting up Black Lives Matter activists. It means demanding that our local officials and representatives focus their time, money, and resources on our most desperate neighbors and neighborhoods and not just the light rail lines, shopping malls, trendy grocery stores, art districts, coffee shops, and schools for our most privileged students. It means putting our time, energy, and money where our mouth is. You want to end systematic oppression and racism? Then we need to own our place in the system of racism and privilege and displace it. Spend time in these neighborhoods. Spend your money at black owned businesses. Demand that grocery stores are put in our food deserts. Grow a community garden in a dangerous community and then DON’T COMPLAIN when the people in that neighborhood reject you and trample on your plants. Keep working. Keep loving. Keep dismantling. Form relationships. And keep marching.

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Longing For Home

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If you drive the long stretch of route 58 west from the low marshes of Virginia, the ground begins to plump and swell towards the the old and bushy Appalachian mountains and the water slowly shifts and drains down into the Mississippi River basin as a spout into the gulf. When the briars become more tangled and lichen spatters across bark and rocks as wrinkled age spots, you have come to the imagined Virginia/Tennessee line. There are no valleys here, only hollows and slanted front porches that overlook gardens grown in brown clay and cows that meander through crooked wooded trails.

We arrived there in our mini-van and always stick out as the city folk among Jason’s extended family. Every year we visit and ever year we become more and more removed from life that is there’s. It’s a natural generational shift when a family moves away from their land and marries outsiders. We come back as observers. Visitors. We wander around the fields. Sit on the porches. Hug and chat and are amazed out how much the children have grown and the elders have weakened. But we aren’t there when the fields need to be plowed and medicine needs to be administered. We aren’t there during the daily moments of meals and bills, seeds and watering. So we soak in as much of each other as we can in sweltering air and cool breezes and we try to make up for lost time by talking for long hours, throw water balloons, build fires, make new memories, help to clean dishes and trim bushes. The compressed time does fill the empty spaces of a separated family, at least for a moment.

We make this journey every year to visit Jason’s aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents, but this trip, for me, was long and difficult. The hotel room was dark and lonely. And you can only eat so many continental breakfasts before you begin to stare at your bagel wondering when the Lord is going to return. My spirit longed to be home. The people who I’m with daily, who see my children slowly creep up through their jeans, they were all home hurting. Being away from home and from my people isolated me to the point of extreme grief. All I wanted to do was talk about it, to pray and grieve with human bodies and hearts. Suppressing my trouble and grief over the deaths of the innocent made me feel less human. Our screens have created a sort of dual reality; what we read and type into digital space is not what we communicate in our physical space. But it’s always right under the surface. We’re all thinking about what the person next to us said or shared on Facebook but we don’t mention it to them while we’re sitting in the grass watching our children fly paper airplanes. We’re too busy filling our empty spaces with each other to talk about grief and pain and murder. That eats at my mind. It makes my spirit weary. And I wanted to go home.

What was it about Alton Sterling’s, Philando Castile’s, and the five police officer’s deaths last week that shattered our collective hearts? What is different this time? Have you noticed the air shift? The ground tilt? When we drove back home into our driveway yesterday evening we rushed inside and ate a quick dinner, changed our clothes, combed our hair, piled back into our van, and drove to church for a special service of lament, confession, and worship. When I sat in the pew, immediately the broken chasm between the digital, the physical and the spiritual broke wide open and I wept with my people. We prayed, we sang, and we cried out to the Lord in our grief and our fear. We individually stood up and confessed our racism, our indifference, our pride, our arrogance, and our retreat from humility and grace. Our pastor, through his own tears and anguish, offered the filled sanctuary words of our Lord’s grace. And our hearts lifted in joy and hope through our grief and sorrow. It’s what my heart needed. I needed to be home with my people, my church, my community, and I needed to grieve with them. I needed to go to the Lord with them. I needed my heart to be healed with them.

While I love my husband’s extended family, their homes, and their land, I’m just so glad to be home. I belong here. The people know me. I know them. We grieve, look towards hope, and march together towards justice. All to the glory of our Lord.

The Blood of Our People

Deaf and blind, we cannot see or hear the breeze

from the dead who run past and collapse as

a spattered breath on the ground.

When I close my eyes I see blood and bullets.

But it’s not my blood. And they are my bullets.

Black skin and kinky hair lay on pavement

and over leather car seats with nothing left to give

but raised hands, clenched teeth, and the sways

and hums of chained ancestors from hidden burial mounds.

Our ears are ringing from the pounding bullets leaving

chambers and ripping through skin and bones that we

can’t hear the moaning and the crying from the grave,

families left to release their relatives’ spirits to be with the

generations of ancestors entombed in the ground of our

forefathers who separated and divided the liberties of men.

So, we listen with our blood. Lift our spirits to the sky.

Gather at the city’s farthest edge. Remember history

that began before the beginning of every moment

and reclaim what is ours, the blood of our people.


This morning I wanted to write about The Camp. But how can I? All I can think about are the children that I played with and hugged and cared for and that 1 out of 3 of them will end up in prison. How many more of them will be shot or will shoot? All I can see are the videos of men shot and killed by police.

We must rethink how we see ourselves, our people, our history. We must see our people as precious, beloved, full of dignity. We must see our history as working to deprive our people from what is theirs, their divine images. Their beautiful bodies. Their eternal spirits.

A Day At Home In Norfolk

In the morning I will sit here
in my dinning room
next to my lukewarm cup of coffee
reading news of more shootings
and violence in my city gone mad with
gun lust and apartheid.
I am at home.
In the labor of my garden that will last
longer than the lives of our youth,
I will go on a harvest plucking
fruit from the vine to ripen in
the poisoned air. We will feast
while the rest starve.
Needing entertainment, I will pack up
my children and drive them through
the city’s labyrinth of our self-esteem
passing coffee and biscuit shops, sold out
for a higher economy of redevelopment,
while avoiding those streets where poverty
is laid to rest. God rest their souls.
In the evening, the Lafayette will be calm and wide
with bridges stretching their arms as friends
in a close embrace, hiding crabbers on her banks.
They will laugh and tell stories with fish guts under
their nails next to no fishing, crabbing, or loitering signs
as I pass over them on my way home to
tuck in my children and kiss them good night
before more gunshots ring out putting us
to sleep safe in our beds, bodies in the street.
I am at home.

http://wavy.com/2016/06/25/norfolk-police-investigating-deadly-shooting/

An Uncontrollable Life

Walking to the bus stop yesterday morning with all three of my children we talked about bugs and the blooming hibiscus that Myles described as looking like purple plums with tongues. He has a burgeoning love for poetry and I just love looking at and describing the world in creative and beautiful ways with him. It’s the last week of school and we’re all anxious for it to be over, so we walked slow to the bus stop through the thick humid air. None of the children have their book bags with them anymore. They’re just going to school to watch Disney movies for a few hours, run around on the playground equipment while their teachers fan themselves in the shade, and spend their last days joking around with their friends.

We arrived to the bus stop at the same moment as Xavier and his mom. Xavier is a little kindergartener, the same as my Owen, who lives 2 blocks away from us and he ran in circles and smiled with the other kids, oblivious to his mom’s crying. I asked her if she was okay and she said “No. I’m really down this morning. My little nephew was killed last night in a shooting.” My first response was oh my god. i’m so sorry. This isn’t news that I hear in my circle of neighbors and friends very often. The last time I received this kind of news was two years ago when a woman in my church shot and killed her 7 year old daughter and then herself at their home while her husband was at work and her older daughter was at summer camp. It rattled our community to the core.

But the gun violence that found its way into my neighbor’s life is something very, very different. When I asked her how old he was his life flooded out from inside of her:

He was 17 but he lived an uncontrollable life. He wouldn’t listen to us and there was nothing we could do. He was just out of control and we’re all just so sad. We saw this happening but I just still can’t believe it.

When the bus pulled up all of the little kids lined up and piled up the steps. Xavier was full of smiles and waved back to his mom and she just stood there staring at him. Her eyebrows furrowed and new tears filled her eyes and she watched him. On the bus, the kids poked their heads out of the windows and waved their goodbyes and there she stood. Eyes staring. Tears streaming. Watching her 5 year old drive away from her.

Her watchful, crying eyes haunt me this morning. I keep picturing her happy, smiling son waving at her. And she stands there. Tall. Strong. Staring. Crying. There was so much worry, fear and sadness locked on her face. There is a knowing in the creases of her eyes that I don’t have. Her understanding of our city, our people, and our communities are etched much more sharply and deeply into her body than mine, and so she looks at her son in a way that I will never be able to or have to look at my own. When she sees her son, does she see the statistics? Does she see the images of her nephew holding guns? Does she see handcuffs, crime tape, and police cars?  Does she see the bullet holes in cars and hats laying in the street? What does she see? Because I see a smiling, waving child. When I look at my sons I see them making silly, innocent poems and chasing fireflies. And then I feel almost foolish. The lens and view that I have of my city is so small and so naive. I read the posts on NextDoor by my neighbors about black boys on bikes that might be casing the neighborhood, car break-ins, burglaries, muggings, and people feeding raccoons and they are just like me. They see our city from a vantage point that doesn’t see their sons and daughters as a statistic. Our special little children write poems and go to swim lessons and we never worry that one day they might have a gun in their pocket and end up as a hat in the street. We worry that those are the kids that will harm us and ours.

And I cry. Because I’m so naive. Because my city is not how I know it and see it. Because there are mothers who can’t wave back at their children. Because how do we control uncontrollable lives? I’m sitting here in my whiteness, the skin that I was born in, the skin that protects me and my children from statistics and crime tape, and I want to help, I want to say and do anything to help Xavier’s mom wave at him. To keep him innocent and smiling. To keep the guns out of his pocket. To keep him writing poetry about the blooming hibiscus. And still I cry because I can’t. I can only hug his mom. I can only cry with her and walk next to her. Invite them over for dinner. Be their neighbor. What else can I do?  This city is not mine. It is ours. And our city needs us to not be afraid of our black children and their parents and their schools. It needs to us sit with them and eat with them and learn with them and not be afraid of the guns. It needs us to love each other and talk to each other. And so, I’ll write. I’m writing to you. How will you love our city and the people in it?

These are images of my kids, Don Demetrius Jr., the 17 year old shot and killed on Sunday night, children at the PB Young school garden, and our city where we all live. So many images of hopes, dreams, and violence that shape our communities in so many different ways. How do we confront them in meaningful and purposeful ways? How do we live together in love and not in fear? They’re all our children.