Was it the Boys Club of America or the Police Athletic League that had a photo of Denzel Washington when he was in 5th grade. He could have been any one of the fifth grade boys I taught in PS 21 (Crispus Attucks School) in Bedford Styvesant, New York. It was under the leadership of the principal Mrs. Adelaide Sanford and two other phenoms...Ms. Renee Hanson (who later became Dr. Renee Young) and Mrs. Alice Uzoaga that supported, encouraged and, enhanced my belief in the value and worth of each child in our class or even on the street. It was not for us to know what the future held for our students, it was for us to support and prepare them," mind, body and spirit", to be ready for the future they could create.
There is a current commercial with children of various ethnicities doing a variety of childlike things with the message that each of them has the potential to positively change the world. We need to carry the deep belief in all children with us at all times. We have to catch them doing the right things and help them to be their best selves. There is another commercial, that aired sometime ago, for a short period of time. It showed a little girl on a bicycle, a grandmother with a "church hat" on, and boys playing basketball...all behind bars. The message was that the whole family is incarcerated when one member is jailed. We are responsible to that child also. If our best efforts cannot yet keep our children out of the system...then we must make our best efforts to ensure that he comes out to a world of support.
So many of my poems echo that belief, but one of my favorites, Reach Out and Touch Somebody's Mind, makes an analogy to a phone call and the persistence we use under the belief that someone is home, and the relationship to our children in the classroom. Education at home, in the streets and in the classroom is our best hope at recreating a space for our children to grow and blossom.
Well, let me try to make this clear...
Compare the phone call to a classroom,
where a child sits w-a-y back in the rear.
He's wearing shabby clothes...
has uncombed hair.
He's so much slower than the rest...
scores so much lower on each test.
Yes, that's the child I mean.
There is only one way we can find
the potential of that child's mind
We have to believe...we have to know...
we have to try everything
as though it is urgent that we get through...
Act exactly the way we do
whe we're calling on the phone,
and we KNOW someone is home.
excerpted from For the Love of Life, Copyright 1998