“This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will take a shoot from the very top of a cedar and plant it; I will break off a tender sprig from its topmost shoots and plant it on a high and lofty mountain. On the mountain heights of Israel I will plant it; it will produce branches and bear fruit and become a splendid cedar. Birds of every kind will nest in it; they will find shelter in the shade of its branches.” -Ezekiel 17: 22-23
Writing is a form of therapy for me; a way for me to make sense of what often appears to be a cruel and heartless world. And so after watching these “Knock-Out” phenomena for a while my natural inclination would be to come to terms with it through writing. Some people go to parties, some shop…I come to peace with a difficult situation by writing about it. Initially, I could not write about it, because I was so angry. An important skill I would urge all young people to master is to “regret” before you commit the act for which you will regret. I was very angry, and probably would say the wrong thing. I also knew I was too angry because my art form won’t let me in when I am angry; I will sit and stew in my anger and no creative words will come. It is only when I pray, calm down and seek my calling which is to educate and not mindlessly excite, will the words flow. And now, as I again watch the video of the teacher who got “knocked-out”; I realize that there is a very different feeling when you can personally identify with a victim. Now, I don’t claim to know this teacher; I don’t know if he was good, great or average. All that I know is that he had chosen a field (my field) that has a dedicated mission to inspire young people in such a way that “knocking out” random people is not even on their minds; because what we are supposed to do as educators is to occupy their minds with ideas of being smart, knowledgeable, skilled, and the ethical core spirit to put those attributes into service on behalf of the world. I am not saying I would feel less concern if the victim was a sanitation worker, a store clerk, or maybe even unemployed; but the irony (learned thanks to my high school English teachers) of the story is unmistakable. Something else happen that caused me to reflect and feel a deep sense of connected sorrow with the victim in the video. The teacher appears to be comfortable walking toward the young men; perhaps like most of us educators we feel a little more comfortable in the presence of the innocent horse-play, the awkward and un-adult like movements of teenagers. “They are moving like teenagers”; I always think to myself when walking pass them in the streets or at the mall; “they are just looking, moving and sounding like teenagers; nothing dangerous about that”. And so it makes sense that an educator would not “profile” them, would not be afraid of them, not be on guard. I say this because perhaps many people who watched the video may have said why was he not on better guard in that situation? Well, maybe not, because like me he may have felt comfortable and not threatened by the presence of teenagers. Further, I don’t know the teacher but I also suspect that like me he may have concerns about the reach of: “stop and frisk”, as our definition of: “looking like a criminal” would be more fine-tuned then the average person, and perhaps also the average police officer. This would be another irony of this story, as it will give the proponents of “Stop and Frisk” a good source of ammunition; for there is no better motivator then fear to drive normally thoughtful citizens into a place where they are willing to sacrifice their rights, and/or the rights of their fellow citizens, for something that feels like “safe”. Those young men who are engaging in these acts have no idea of how they are creating an environment for possible preemptive deadly violence for themselves, and for those teenagers who are innocent, but may look, and move, like them.
And so, as I write I can feel the anger give way to compassion and thoughtfulness; I can now write……I believe every person should discover their “art interest- inclination-gift”; and then pursue it with a passion. You need not get rich from doing it; and perhaps no one will ever see or hear you do it; but do it you should for it is a critical part of what makes us human (I will come back to this what it means to be human in relationship to your fellow humans later). There will always be the professional dancing Dana Marie Ingraham’s of the world, the painting artist Romare Bearden’s among us; those people who are extremely gifted in an art form, such that they present on a full-time professional level for us, the less gifted at that art form, to admire their work. But that admiration does not mean you can’t push your living room furniture back, put on some music, and in the peace of your own home, practice your Pat Dye or Alvin Ailey moves. There is nothing that says we can’t go to the local art supply store (they are looking at the amount of money you have, not the amount of talent!) and purchase art supplies and paint your vision of a new world on a canvas! I am by interest and training a Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics (STEM) person. But I always felt that the creative and performance arts were the other part of the equation for making a young person, fully human. And herein we find the missing component with these misguided and misdirected young men. What is it that diminishes the capacity of a human being to see the humanity in another human being? I read a post from a former student Ana Argudo-Lord; and it made me think about the “Argudo children” (I worked with all three:-). As teenagers they always expressed a deep concern and compassion for the suffering of others. They drove me crazy because, they were always doing food drives, collecting money for some group of people who fell victim to some tragedy caused by either man or nature, and this feeling it seems has carried over into their adult life’s work. One-half of the solution, I am convinced is parents; after 30 years of watching a lot of parents and their children; I think it is safe to say that young people who have parents who themselves express compassion and concern for other people, who have a strong spiritual foundation; have a very strong chance of being compassionate, spiritual and caring people themselves.
The second half of the equation is education. I am always inspired by the prophets of the old testament who continuously and perhaps annoyingly cry out for Israel to change her ways, and return to God. They cry out so very often with such consistence, persistence and power that they make people angry enough to want to kill them (“Give us a break with this calling us back to God talk!”). But these prophets are incapable, as Dr. King referenced in his letter from a Birmingham jail cell, of keeping quiet. And so I am going to keep saying that: If we don’t translate our blessing of rich resources, both human and financial in this country; into a will and conviction mission about really giving young people a chance to realize their full human worthiness, their talents, their art interest, the ability to read and appreciate great works of literature, to be inspired by creative artist, to utilize STEM skills to heal and protect the planet, to engage in exercises that teach moral and ethical behavior; then these young people will contrast their living in a nation full with great material resources; and feeling themselves disconnected from all that is wonderful about the U.S.; they will become beings of intense anger. These young people who find themselves in a skilled economy, without marketable skills. They have come to the reality that they don’t have an education; at least have one that will translate into a job and career. They will be lacking in a sense of meaning and hope in the future. This group living on the edge of wealth and power, and looking in, will create their version of power by indiscriminately visiting pain and suffering upon their fellow citizens. They are oddly, with these brutal acts, seeking to create a community of sufferers, who like them, see the world as a very dangerous and painful place. We have wasted their time for 12 years; except for those who realize their time is being wasted and leave early. Those that remain often leave with a counterfeit educational experience, they emerge (now really angry), with their useless diploma in hand. They now go into the streets to “even the score”, seeking revenge on the entire world that betrayed them. People may be content to designate them as “wild criminals”; and they certainly are breaking the law and should be punished; but if we are to be true as a nation; what we are actually watching is a march of the hopeless, who aren’t even remotely marching in the direction of hope.
Law enforcement may have its role; but we may find that we can’t incarcerate them fast enough, or keep them incarcerated long enough so that they will not be able to inflict harm on themselves and others. We need to put forth our best resourced efforts early, when they are 6, 7 and 8; not huge incarceration expenditures when they reach 16, 17 and 18. If we don’t commit to creating quality schools where children from every type of home and community can come to appreciate, and fall in love through learning, with their humanity and the humanity of others, then we are committed to creating monsters; who will roam our streets seeking to knock-out all of humanity, in a wasted and tragic search for their own humanity. And this, I will continue to cry out, no matter who is upset by my words.