Tuesday, March 1, 2016

They Are The Future...

I've been working with a student who I'll refer to as Steve since he was 6 years old. He's now 10. I see him every week. One week we'll do self defense and the next week I'll give him a drum lesson. Steve, like myself is black.

Last week when he showed up for drums he was dragging his feet; literally not figuratively as he followed a few steps behind me. Steve is one of the most happy, upbeat kids you'd ever meet. So when I heard the foot scrapes it was clear that he wanted me to hear them. I should point out that I've been teaching since the year 2000 so I'm not too shabby at reading cues and this kid's cues said, 'I'm bummed out and I want to talk.'

I didn't waste any time. I opened up the studio and put the question to him.

"Steve, you're dragging your feet today and you're not a foot dragger. What's going on? Not enough

Defend yourself

"No, I slept fine," he said.

"Problems with the girlfriend?" (Two weeks prior he confided that he had a new girlfriend…and not his first…)

His head remained down, which for Steve is pretty much unheard of. I got serious.

"Everything cool at school? You're not hurt are you?" I asked.

He sat down behind my drum set and slumped the way only kids know how; with a ton of drama.

"It's my teacher," he said. "I think she has ebola or something."

Fighting back a laugh I asked, "What makes you think she's got that?" (I thought that sounded like something a therapist would say)

"Well, everybody in class was laughing and I mean everybody and only me and this kid Bob (fake name) got sent to the Principal's office."

"Really? That blows. Why do you think you guys were singled out?"

"Because we're black," he said.

And there it was. Not only was it time for me to get super serious but a ton of my own boyhood memories came back. Actually not so much memories but that specific feeling in the stomach. I believe the stomach can have many feelings but this one is a knot of: dread meets despair with a sprinkle of pissed off.

Steve went to pick up his drum sticks but I told him to put them down 'for a sec'. At that point I went on to compare my days of coming-up with his current experience. My plan was to form a camaraderie because I'm here to tell you that a brother-in-arms was what I was looking for back in my day. Once I'd convinced him that I fully understood his struggle I got down to the 'hang in there' portion of my speech. (Although I did my best to not sound speech-y or preach-y.) Here's a slice of it:

"Steve you know when you get blamed for something you didn't do or singled out for something that everybody is in on? It sucks. It's not fair is it?"


"Well, the bad news is that life is like that. When you get out of school and start working you're going to find more of the same…but not all the time and not everywhere." I waited so he could digest my words.

"The good news is that…wait have you heard that expression 'what doesn't kill you makes you stronger?'

He told me 'yes' with a screwy look on his face that said, 'duh.'

"Ok, let me back up. When your parents were told of this incident did they believe your version or the Teacher's version of how it went down."

"My parents believed me. They know what's up."

Put in the work!
"That's great! It really blows when your parents aren't in your corner. Ok, so if you get in trouble, wrongfully accused of course, but you get through it and it happens say, a few more times, that will actually make you stronger and help you figure out how the game is played. Because I promise you when you get to high school or college and something bad happens to those kids that always 'got away with it' they are going to unravel.

They're going to cry. They're going to freak out; they might even ask their parents to sue the Dean on their behalf. Why? Because they haven't been through the struggle that Steve has been through. They haven't had any hurdles put in front of them. Is this making sense?"

He nodded that it was. "For example if some kid walked up to you and pushed you to the ground before you learned any self defense you might have freaked out or tattle tailed or cried--whatever. But now because you know what you know and you've been through what you've been through you're ready for obstacles like that. The kid that tries to push you won't get the chance."( I threw a punch in the air and made a Bruce Lee type battle cry…because I'm mature like that)

The big smile that I see week to week returned. All I had to do was put the cap on it.

"That's why you've got to put in the work, be polite and keep your head on a swivel. Also, remember that if you are honest with yourself and you know that you're innocent and your family knows your innocent then that's all a cat needs."

Cat's pajamas
"Why do you always say 'cat' like it's the 1970's?" (I swear he said that. I couldn't stop laughing) I was tempted to lecture him on how cool it was coming up in the 70's when my afro was blown out (although a tad nappy), my dashiki was cool and my platform shoes were badass but he picked up the drum sticks and grinned…which reminded me of what he'd actually showed up for.

The kids are the future. I say...let's guide them. (Insert Bruce Lee battle cry here!)