Open Letter To White People About Racial Violence

What motivates irrational acts of violence?

The violence in Ferguson and Baltimore hurts my heart. It makes no sense to us. Burning down your neighborhood sounds crazy. What purpose does that solve? Why would people be motivated to tear down some of the best that surrounds them?

racial violence
Image via The Daily Caller.

I learned a lot when I took off 2 1/2 years to teach in a major metro area’s inner-city high schools.?My students were the same age as the kids starting fires, looting stores, and throwing rocks, and I would like to share what I learned with other white people.

I chose ninth-grade high school students because I loved their enthusiasm. I knew it was my best opportunity to shape their education experience. Ironically, I ended up learning more than I taught.

My kids had no hope

Most of the boys believed they would die before they were 30 years old. That belief robbed them of hope. With racial violence so constant within the inner city, the chances of them dying were very real.

Many of them would go to jail, and with a record, finding a job would become exponentially more difficult.

One of my students, a sweet kid with a gentle humor, came up to me and said that over the break he tried to kill himself. He was in emotional pain and saw no other viable escape.

Every week the school lost a student often one of the brightest and most popular kids. The lesson was: No one is immune to hopelessness.

Nearly all of my kids were in grief

One boy walked up to me and said, ?My sister’s boyfriend killed her last night.? Yet, he was in school the very next day.

Another boy who was usually calm and one of the five percent white kids was acting out. After we stepped outside of the classroom, I asked him what was going on. He said nothing, but I didn’t let him off of the hook.

Finally, he told me that the day before he was sitting around with two of his best friends when one of the boys picked up a gun and killed the other boy. Wow.

When my sister died unexpectedly, I found that I just could not study. I had planned on going to law school ? but I simply could not concentrate. How could I expect my students to study when I could not?

Life is not fair

I saw a male teacher standing toe-to-toe with a brilliant boy, one of my students. He was literally in the kid’s face intentionally antagonizing him. The young man said nothing, until he couldn’t stand it.

When he retorted, the teacher wrote him up and kicked him out of school. He came to my room to get his assignments for the week he would be out before he left.

He ended up earning a well-deserved ?A? in my class, and I could prove it. Which was good, because I was called to the principal’s office to defend it. Six other teachers gave him an ?F.? Those teachers should have been in the office explaining why they failed such an intelligent kid.

Many police are just like that teacher – only they carry guns and Tasers. Kids shouldn’t be fodder for the prison factory business. But the police are just not fair when it comes to children of color. That is completely unacceptable, and it must change ? now.

Violence strikes like lightning

A situation can go from playful to deadly in a flash. We called this, ?going limbic? meaning that one phrase or one small act could tap into another person’s anger and spark a violent, physical response.

We must diffuse anger before it reaches the violent stage.

Anger must dissipate to prevent violence

Why wouldn’t my kids have a lot of anger? Their parents may have deserted them for jail or for drugs. The police often treated them poorly. They were poor with little hope of escaping their bone-crushing poverty – poverty that hurts as much as a physical pain ? maybe more so.

That anger has to go somewhere. When I saw a kid close to the overflow stage, I sent him to the gym teacher to run laps or join whatever that class was doing. That teacher and I had an agreement.

I firmly believe that each classroom needs a punching bag.

Weariness wins on some days

Given what my kids? lives were like, some days were too difficult to face studying. So, I had a check-out desk located in a back corner of the room. Kids could check it out once a month, no questions asked.

One of the girls worked at a hotel cleaning rooms ? not for spending money but to help support her immediate family. Her after-school shift ended at midnight.

Then she had to take the bus home meaning bedtime was about 1:00 a.m. Then she was on the bus at 6:30 a.m. headed toward school. She was tired.

Others were emotionally exhausted.

Solutions to violence ? for demonstrators and police

I had only three rules in my classroom. They were:

1.???? Respect each other.

That means do not touch one another or their things. This rule works to short-circuit to violence.

2.???? Keep your voice appropriate

We learned about decibel levels with this rule. Even enthusiasm can go too far. I also talked to my kids about the power of words. Words can hurt. One example was calling each other ?ho.? As a result of this rule, not one kid used that derogatory term in my room.

3.???? Don’t be ugly

?Being ugly,? is difficult to define, but you know it when you see it.

The first week of school a kid threw up in class. He was drunk. It was 9:00 a.m. The kids laughed ? that laughter was my first example of “being ugly.”

Schools could be a violence-free community center

Over the last decades communities have been dismantled by poor education system decisions, poverty, and disregard or disrespect for other humans.

I believe that people of all ages need to be receptive in order to learn. That is an open, vulnerable state ? a safe state. Therefore, we need to find a safe place for kids to learn.

I would like for us to turn the older school buildings into a safe, new form of community center. Most schools were built to hold far more students than now attend. So why not transform our buildings for round-the-clock use housing?

That would include:

  • Build daycare centers for the students? babies and toddlers. Build and separate centers for the local elderly with dementia.
  • Change classes from test-based to real life-based tools. Student should understand not only what they are studying but why.
  • Create small business incubators within schools where students learn how to earn money and manage an operation. They could take over the food service, the grounds, the maintenance, the gardens, and even the orchards with appropriate supervision.
  • Design recreation centers for after-school activities.
  • The buildings are large enough to hold a number of mini-apartments for older people who are willing to be ?grandparents? and mentors to students.
  • ?Schools have been eliminating vital multi-level learning activities to save money. Music has high value in a number of ways. Imagine a building filled with soothing music.?All of the arts are important to represent and hold a culture. Throwing out cursive writing and grammar is plain ignorant.

Baltimore is taking back its communities. Let’s hope we learn well from them.