Pain, physical or mental, has the purpose of focusing your attention. The rise, legitimization and official state empowerment, of recalcitrant and unrepentant racism and bigotry; could lead to a new era of educational self-reliance.
One of the reasons as a principal that I stood at the school door each morning to greet students, was to thank particular students for just coming to school…that day. You see, unbeknownst to those who may have been on the train, or bus with them that morning; these young people were making their way to school in spite of, and to often escape from, some terribly and difficult living situations. These are the students that bring tears to your eyes at graduation; because you know the magnitude and power of their four-year journey.
I have never been one to glorify poverty and suffering as an optional lifestyle choice; trust me there is nothing glorious about being poor. My dream is that all of the children in this nation, and the world, would no longer need school to be the only place where they can receive a good meal, heat and to be able spend a large part of the day in a safe, peaceful and predictable environment.
And even as I don’t cheer not having a lot of financial options; at the same time I have come to admire how brave, creative and self-depending humans can be when they don’t have a lot of “options”, and are forced to rely on themselves. I am thinking of all of those thousands of post-emancipation Africans (not yet Americans) who had to depend on each other to survive in the most hostile environment, and under an insincere and duplicitous national government. And how did we have thriving, self-sustaining communities like Weeksville, Black Wall Street, etc. in the middle of US racial apartheid meanness?
These great pre-civil rights era African-Americans represent the spiritual lineage of those students who succeed, in spite of the most discouraging and difficult conditions. There is something about having your back against the wall, where and when, it is fight or fail! Now some might wait over-patiently for an “exit door” to be built for them; not knowing where that door will lead; or wait to be thrown an assistance ladder, unaware as to where that ladder is taking them. And then what are the motives of those who are offering this “assistance” and “help”? Is it to help you to become free and independent; or is it a form of “psycho-social-political crack”, that forces you into a state of never-ending dependence on them? And does your pain become a commodity that fills their pockets with cash?
But another response is to turn to those next to you who also have their backs against the wall; since in reality they are the only people you can truly trust, because at the very least they are in the same desperate situation you find yourself in, and like you they want to escape from pain, suffering and death.
As a youngster ( and youth of course is all-knowing) I hated having to go with my mother to her “Susu” (people generated, owned and operated saving organizations) meetings; after all this was time taken away from reading, my science kit, or the building of my model airplanes. But she was trying to teach me a lesson about self-sufficiency and self-reliance. For those 1950’s “owning a house obsessed” Caribbean emigrants this was their way of saying we are not waiting for a white commercial bank/loan officers, the GOP or DNC to believe in, or help us; we will believe, help and rely on each other. And I could remember, even in my total disinterest, the celebration, when one of their members announced that they had saved enough money to put a down payment on a house; the full meaning of this effort made complete concrete sense to me only when we moved into our own new house!
Great and powerful are those who can turn disappointment into an appointment with their own ingenuity, internal resources and courage. What large numbers of Americans meant on Nov 8, 2016 as an act of angry dismissal and nullification, can be transformed into a powerful affirmation of self-dependence on the part of those “others” who they were seeking to erase from the American portrait.
Part 2: The art of tree planting, and growing life out of dead things… (Or, how we can make great generational progress educationally over the next four years…)