Note: All names have been changed to protect privacy.
I teach high school on the Southwest Side of Chicago, in a classroom with five windows that overlook one of the largest parks in the city. My clock and windows are juxtaposed, one on the east wall, and the others on the west wall, respectively.
Time passes in two ways in my classroom: First, by way of the daily revolution of the red second-hand. Second, by the way that the park presents back to us: dusty light filtering through dead, warm-hued leaves in autumn; stark, harsh white light through the naked and spindly tree branches in winter; and drifting in on the back of a hesitantly balmy spring breeze that can’t decide if it’s time to tap summer’s shoulder, or to retreat back into chilled hibernation.
Darren leaned towards my half-open window that exposed the expanse of white blossoms bursting forth across concrete. The portrait of spring is punctuated by the carpet of green that stretches across a sight line vast enough to last a couple hundred feet, until it disappears into cracked tennis courts and distant side parking lots.
He turned his head over his shoulder towards me:
“You already see that tree?”
Which one? There are dozens.
“That one.” Finger pointed.
It’s the tree closest to our window, a relatively small sapling topped with a dome of thousands of white blossoms. Some have fallen to the ground around it. I answer. Yep, I see it.
“Isn’t it beautiful?”
In my education, the closest I ever got to talking about black boys and flowers in the same breath was in the poem “The Rose That Grew from Concrete” by Tupac Shakur, a product of one of the few narrowly defined lanes of success–hip hop–that we have deemed appropriate for black men.
Our country does not teach its children that black boys also think flowers are beautiful. It teaches its children, rather, that the roses that grow from concrete stand starkly against the vast expanse of concrete that surrounds them: they are anomalies. These roses do not grow in fields together, for there are not many of them. We are taught that they are exceptions: thorny, resilient. There is hardly mention that they, too, are delicate.
On Friday, Taj asked to speak with me outside.
“I think I need anger management classes.”
Why would you say that?
“It’s my friend. Whenever she has something heavy on her heart, I’ll talk to her about it until she’s better. And she doesn’t have the time of day for me to talk about what’s important to me. I’ve told her things I’ve never told anyone else.”
That’s frustrating. But why would feeling this way mean you need anger management?
“Because it’s like, I’m just really feeling upset.” He wiped his eyes with an already damp sleeve.
He stood, bathing in the internalized messaging that any hint of emotion was a cancer–a problem to be managed–rather than the most significant asset that qualifies us all as human.
Why are we not taught that black boys cry?
From the second floor of our school, the dandelions in the park look less like weeds, choking off the supply of what is around them, and more like tiny explosions of the earth’s joy that warmth has returned.
Precious boys, I cannot promise you a changed world. But I can promise you this: The stories I tell about you will always start with your opinions on springtime and flowers. Though it might embarrass you, the stories I tell about you will not omit your tears. They will tell of an ability to recognize and heal the heavy hearts of those you surround yourselves with.
Lastly, I promise that I will always ask you what you think the dandelions look like from above, instead of just telling you that they are weeds.
Image courtesy of haikus*, Flickr Creative Commons