It’s 3:15 pm. I’m leaving work early for a doctor’s appointment and three teenage girls trudge in front of me, contemplating whether they should go to the store or head straight home.
One girl asks, “Which way are we taking?”
Another girl makes a suggestion.
The last girl says, “I’m not taking that road! That’s where James got shot. Let’s take your block down.”
The first girl says, “Oh, then WE might get shot!”
They all laugh momentarily and simultaneously we walk past a memorial. The corner is littered with discount store candles, withering flowers, and pictures of a someone that looks familiar. They stop walking and stand right in front a scene that is replicated on far too many streets.
One whispers, “How is his sister?”
The other two girls shrug and shake their heads as if they’re not ready to talk about it. Their silence is something I know well. It’s the quiet that looms in my classroom a day after a neighborhood child has lost their life. It’s the quiet that manifests in filtered pictures. It’s the quiet that is worn on Photoshopped t-shirts, where young Black boys have suddenly grown wings. It’s the quiet that we all grew up in, a shared solemn look, a nod that is a thousand hushed words.
-Walking out for Chicago: “I witness the cycle of lives taken by gun violence and I will not back down”-
‘We walk out everyday’
A few weeks ago, my students were talking about walking out. At the ages of 11 and 12, they are informed by their social media and CNN alerts that this movement is something they should be a part of. They understood they were witnessing history. Jalecia, a fiery 7th grader, exclaims, “We’re tired of it! I don’t care where I am that day! I’m walking out.”
Donovan realizes that next week is our spring break and brings disappointment to everyone’s face, “We’re going to be home. We can’t walk out.”
Another young man in my classroom interrupts him, “We walk out every day. We deal with this every day.”
His statement stuck with me, as did the empty seats in my prior school years, or the child who is suddenly withdrawn and says “somebody died,” or withdrawal that turns into outright anger or depression.
We. Walk. Out. Every. Day.
My Black and brown students, and my colleagues’ students share war stories. They’re almost never our own. We converse about intentional strategy and cultural competency. How do we calm our scholars after they’ve witnessed murder? How do we create an environment where they feel safe? Our solutions are never about carrying guns. Our solutions are never about making them forget. Our solutions are never quick and easy.
Instead, they are solutions that we wish someone would’ve sat down and created for us. They are filled with mental health counseling suggestions, activism as culminating projects, empathy and social justice in our curriculums.
Not Isolated Incidents
This fear we all have is ongoing, as we are products of the same schools and environments. We were in the 7th grade when Columbine happened. We were frightened when educators paused the class to give us the news. My colleagues also talk about being rattled as they made their way home that day and not because of what they’d just been told. They were afraid they might not make it home, as they had been from the first time they started walking home alone.
Today, during #NationalSchoolWalkout, let’s remember those we lost and the places where we lost them: Huffman, Central Michigan, Trayvon Martin, Marjory Stoneman Douglas, Freddie Gray, Marshall County, Philando Castile, Wake Forest, the names on the tongues of teens in AMarch4OurLives, Sandy Hook, the names worn on black and white #BlackLivesMatter shirts, Columbine and the list that shouldn’t go on.
I intertwine those names and places because none of them are isolated incidents. Gun violence is an epidemic that has a cure. It’s is a disease that is made more infectious by supremacy, hatred, and hurt.
Students are walking out today because they no longer want to be silent. They no longer want to be a silent filter, garb, or scroll-through. As we walk out, remember those that must walk home afterwards too. Let’s keep them in mind too. The pandemic follows them out of the classroom and to their front doors.
Erica is and educator and the founder of Langston League, a culturally responsive curriculum design firm, based in Brooklyn, New York. You can find her on Twitter.
Langston League: www.langstonleague.com