I got my own demons what I’m supposed to do with yours
Times like this I gotta remind myself what I do It for
Part of my not-giving up strategy is that I set up activities that I tell myself I need to finish before I allow myself to leave – whether at the end of my 27 month commitment or earlier. I’ve realized that the most important aspect of success here is being able to tolerate multiple failures while starting over and over and over again. A few weeks ago I hit a point where I didn’t think I had it in me to keep trying with the energy needed for success. However, I had reached an agreement with a new school that I would start a few Deportes para la Vida groups (a HIV/AIDS course that utilizes games and participatory discussions to develop healthy decision making skills) with 7th and 8th grade students. I kept being upset that I agreed to do this, because it meant I couldn’t leave with a clear conscience since I had not had the opportunity to fail a million times in this school as I have failed with my organization.
I went in and gave 53 students the pre-tests (cause you know, we gotta measure change). Then we hit an obstacle. Here we go. The week I was supposed to start, school was only going to be open for 2 out of 5 days. And students weren’t being expected to show up the other two days, because that’s just how these things go.
I went on a short vacation with my swear-in group to Bahía de las Águilas and came back mas o menos ready to face the second phase of my service. Mas o menos. Mas menos que mas.
Witness it the building of a legacy
So let us just pray cause the journey thats ahead of us
Got us facing a task that just might get the best of us
Thats why we gotta clash with the Titans like Pegasus
I showed up and started the course. My 8th grade students were excellently behaved, but 7th grade was a mess and a half. And a HALF. So the school director calls the best and worst students for a small meeting. He lectures them for a bit, and then asks me to speak about why I’m there.
Excellent question, I think. My Spanish has been awfully crappy lately, but in this moment it somehow all came back to me.
I started talking about the things that made a difference in my life, and how the only reason I would sacrifice two years away from my friends and family would be because I truly believed in the work we were doing together. That I wanted for them the opportunities that were provided to me. Mainly, the opportunity to follow all of their dreams. And that although I understood the obstacles and struggles they faced – that their communities faced – we were here to help them develop the skills and knowledge to face these obstacles. Because I believed that it was their right to have the world.
Next thing I know I am getting really carried away in my We are the World moment, but these kids are hanging on to my every word.
And then someone cried. Just right there, in the middle of everything. Cried.
I tell em change is god you gotta let it be
Suddenly it struck me. The importance of what I was saying. Not because I was saying it, but because the idea that no matter where we are from we deserve the best education possible is an absolute universal truth and has been the guiding principle in all the work I engage in.
The reason I started working with children and adolescents was not exactly because I loved kids. I didn’t. But I remember being young and attending a large high school (5,000+ kiddos) and I remember the realities of tracking. And being on the losing end of this practice. Of being placed in classes where the teachers believed our futures held selling drugs, working minimum wage jobs, and popping out babies. How they would show up and not even bother teaching. Sometimes putting the minimal effort of writing some page numbers on the board, and then sitting behind their computer and doing anything to avoid speaking to us. When we dared speak up and demand that they do something, they would just send us out. I remember spending oh so many days standing around in our “suspension” room because I was restless and tired of spending class period after class period not doing a thing. I remember never seeing a guidance counselor, while students tracked into the “good” classes were on a first name basis with them.
Then when I was entering 11th grade, I heard a teacher speak in an all school assembly and I remember how passionate she seemed about teaching. I needed to sign up for her class – A.P. European History. I remember being advised against it, but since I spent the last two years following absolutely zero rules, I didn’t heed this advice either. I signed up for it, and was suddenly challenged to think, to learn, and to dream of a world filled with possibility. This was the first adult I wanted to be like. And this moment was probably the defining moment in my youth. The one that made all the difference. The one that allowed me to go to college and then to graduate school. I owe this one woman everything.
So, here I was making this Dominican girl I had only just met cry, because she believed in the words I was saying. All the sudden I realized I couldn’t give up no matter how many times I previously failed. Because these kids matter. They matter oh so much, and they deserve for me to give them my very best.
So, onward we go.
(Lyrics from Talib Kweli’s So Low, which has been on repeat this week)