As I watched the video of the murder of Alton Sterling by police officers in Baton Rouge, LA and the video of the murder of Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, MN and then watched videos of protests and then social media posts of the shooting of police from a rooftop at a Dallas protest, I got the tugging feeling that the world, as we know it, is slowly falling apart. These murders follow the bombings of multiple cities around the Muslim world, and the attack at a night club in Orlando. This doesn’t even take into account the continuing Syrian civil war, the absolute horror going on in Fallujah, Iraq, the fact that the UK just voted to leave the EU out of what appears to be some level of fear of immigrants and the refugee crisis in Europe, or the fact that we have, potentially, two of the most unpopular presidential candidates in recent history running against each other here in the US.
Sometimes it feels like sitting in the path of a tornado, watching as it tears apart everything its path.
This past school year, I had a brief conversation with two of my students, one who grew up just blocks away from me in Philadelphia, about money, success, police, drugs and the neighborhood. The conversation stemmed from a comment he made about making lots of money (it was partially a quote from a song he was singing) to which I made a comment about money not buying happiness. He told me that he would like to live comfortably and have the freedom to do whatever he wanted to do. I told him that he could still do that without needing a lot of money. However, afterwards, I thought about the idea of money not buying happiness, but buying freedom. I also wish that I had asked him how he would define freedom. Wouldn’t I love to be free from student loans, or a mortgage? Wouldn’t I love to be able to go anywhere and do anything I wanted without worrying how much it would cost? Maybe that’s not happiness, but it’s something.
I think of these two ideals–freedom and happiness–and I want them desperately for my students. I want them desperately for my own son. I want my students to have the freedom to live as adults in a world that does not fear them because of their skin color or hate them because of the person they choose to love or the gender with which they identify. I want my students to be free to be successful and happy, no matter what their name is or what religion they practice. I want my female students to be able to achieve greatness in whatever career field they pursue and for them to be able to have and raise a family without being penalized for it by their employer. I want my young black male students to have the freedom to hang out at the bus stop without being perceived as a “gang,” and for their mothers and fathers to be able to send them happily out into the world without the fear that they will never come home.
I can imagine that the world is a pretty scary place for young people today no matter where in the world they live, and I am hopeful that they can face this storm head on and stick together, work together, weather it together and rebuild from the devastation as a community. I am hopeful that the adults in their lives can guide them on that path. As I watch adults name call, yell, and retreat to their own corners on every issue that rears its head, I worry about that guidance. I am emotionally exhausted from reading social media posts, from trying to wrap my head around what is going on here. There is so much anger, so much fear. It feels as though everyone is shouting past each other. There is so much “other” in the posts and conversations I read. People talking at each other rather than talking with each other (unless of course, you agree with someone). I hope that young people can open their minds and hearts enough to at least listen to the other side.
So I guess my thoughts are strewn about, but I sit here watching the storm and wish that I could make some call to action, that I could yell loudly and be angry. And while I am angry, I’m also hopeful and despondent all at the same time, which is kind of paralyzing.
We need all kinds of voices right now. We need angry voices, we need protests, we need people calling their senators and signing petitions and working toward change in their neighborhoods, towns and cities. We also need bridge builders. We need quiet champions of change. We need to figure out how we will pick up these pieces when the storm finally passes, and we can’t do that alone or hiding in our silos or by yelling each other down. Our children are watching us closely, and our children are adding their voices to the choir. It’s our children’s future that is at stake here and we have the responsibility to guide them there. It’s a heavy load to bear, and I’m still figuring out how to carry it.