A knowing smile.
“You saw me,” the seemingly slight, young black man with the identifying dreads. “You saw me play?”
I teach in IPS – happily.
I teach at Tech High School – happily.
I love to come here to work – for a purely selfish reason.
It makes me happy.
Because I can make an impact on young people’s lives.
Regardless of the color of their skin, the poverty of their families and despite the petty politics that swirls around them.
I see them because I was one of them.
It doesn’t matter that it was 30-plus years ago. I walked where they walk: Down a 10th street where Teachers Treasures used to be Kroger’s where Haeffners Store beckoned with toys and candy, where Pogues Run Grocery was Lane’s Appliances, near a DQ at the corner of 10th and Oxford and the gas station my dad managed for years at 10th and Parker, that has changed names but not purposes. I took dance lessons in Brookside Park Community Center, played kickball in the “big alley” between Temple and Rural.
It is still home in a way no other place has been.
It’s different now.
White neighborhoods became black, but no one talks about it. Not even as economic revitalization changes both demographics and culture – again. Is it diverse or just segregated together?
People don’t see the young people – they see past them.
And while they may fit many of the stereotypes, they are not stupid.
They know what people in this city say about IPS – low test scores, waste, inefficiency, bureaucracy, a culture of disrespect, violence and acceptance. But it is a condition fostered by city and state officials who sacrificed inner city schools long ago in the name of so-called civil rights and now proceed to blame the victim.
Yet the students come into my classroom every day with hopes and dreams and plans.
They are innovative, loud, energetic, intelligent, defiant and just plain fun to be around.
They don’t want a handout, a hand up or a false promise.
Believe that they have the talent and intelligence to succeed.
Guide them with patience and without judgment.
They know you’re ready to flinch.
To get stuck on the surface and fail to see the promise, the joy and the hope that awaits.
If only you see.