when i was younger, writing was always my form of expression. elementary school all the way through high school (until senior year) i wrote endlessly. notebooks upon notebooks. i actually have a wordpress from some of that time period that i actually maintained for about three/four years and updated REGULARLY. i don’t know what makes commitment to writing so hard now. i really need to think about that and deconstruct my feelings.
but anyway, not really the purpose of this post. i just haven’t sat down to write about this or anything (and i have SO MUCH on my mind!!!) in such. a. long. time. all i’ve been writing are these damn cover letters and i’m losing myself in the process. but i digress (story of my life).
anyway, the purpose of this post is to share the story about how i got fired from my first job ever. on top of that it was my first job after graduating college. it was a full time seasonal job (so that made it not so bad – it was just like, 8 weeks? something like that.).
i’m not going to name the organization or anything. we’ll just call them Org, okay? i worked for the Org. it was a six week “summer camp” for low-income, under-served youth in the area i lived in. the idea was that low-income youth lose a lot of “summer learning” that their counterparts (wealthier – usually white – kids) had the opportunity of receiving because their parents weren’t working multiple jobs to support the family and they weren’t living in impoverished conditions or in multiple-family homes or in “bad neighborhoods”, etc… you get the idea, right?
this program functioned at numerous “sites”, or schools. at each site, there was a coordinator, an assistant, and then all the program leaders (or, essentially, the teachers). each teacher had their own group. our groups are often taken on field trips. these field trips are usually booked by the Org and sometimes, we (the leaders) got to book our own, too. i had a group of 12 amazing, beautiful, resilient brown boys and girls. including one that was strictly spanish speaking (this alone taught me so much about my future as an educator – i’m currently trying to become fluent in spanish! slowly but surely, holla if you have resources).
i actually had the oldest set of kids. incoming 8th/9th graders. we had to do a community service project that had to be completed in the six week program. so, i did what i would usually do in such a situation: had them toss out ideas and we voted. i already had potential community service projects up my sleeve in case they struggled: writing letters to local organizations/companies that use a lot of water about water conservation, a campaign raising awareness of the drought & water conservation, a campaign against bullying in schools, etc. but, they’re smart ass kids!!! they came up with so many different ideas, i didn’t even need the back-ups. and then one of my girls raises her hand and says,
my mind was blown. this girl did not just “racism”. the black studies major in me did a mental victory lap around the classroom. did one of my students really just say she wants to do a project addressing RACISM in the local community!?
*drops mic* i was done.
and ok not gonna lie, i can’t hide my emotions so i’m sure i looked a bit excited but i also knew this was a LOT for the class to take on. so, i was not expecting it to win.
but then they voted.
and it somehow won.
and thus began my lessons on race, ethnicity, & culture.
to be completely honest, the lessons went really, really well. i made them incredibly basic and really just asked them questions. showed them videos, asked them questions. wrote a word on a board, asked them what they thought it meant. had them discuss it. had them share examples of when they thought someone was being racist towards them. when that was too hard, i had them share stereotypes.
honestly, i heard some amazing things come out of these twelve/thirteen-year-olds’ mouths. they shared stories, thoughts about donald trump and big race-related local issues, they quickly grasped the difference between race and ethnicity…
then, one day, i checked my agenda and i had to take my students to this teen center that was paid for and ran by the local police department. this teen center was created – from my understanding (and i talked to one of the managers of the teen center) – to provide a space for at-risk youth to come, hang out, use the resources. the teen center, itself, is nice. there are computers to use, foosball tables, xboxes and nintendos, desks, etc etc. cool. it’s a cool way to provide resources for students (and lol “keep kids off the streets” and “out of gangs”, right?) but then you gotta think about the purpose behind it and the funding. what’s the real motivation here?
even before going, i was already starting to feel uneasy. all my kids are brown. specifically, latin@s. i wasn’t sure of documentation statuses? past run-ins with the police? maybe older siblings? what if someone knew a family member or friend that had been on the local gang injunction list? god, so many possibilities. but okay, i went anyway because i didn’t want to make any judgements right?
so it was just the two oldest groups on our campus that were invited to this field trip and from what i gathered, this was about to be a series of trips. we get to the teen center and the kids are immediately excited (i mean, of course, hella TVs, game consoles, etc)… but then we sit down for the presentation and it’s this cop… oh sorry i mean, pig. he explains that he is going to do a presentation on “citizenship”.
however, he then proceeds to explain the differences between consensual contact, detainment, arrest, etc. these are good things to know, yes – but i don’t understand the connection between that and “being a good citizen”. sounded like he was trying to scare the kids. further, he went on to claim that if a police officer stops you and asks to speak to you, it’s automatically suspicious to say you don’t want to talk to them or answer their questions… lol. what. NO. you do NOT have to say “yes”. saying yes means you are agreeing to consensual contact. and it is perfectly okay and NOT SUSPICIOUS to say “no”. pigs abuse this power and manipulate innocent folx. further, he had the kids perform in skits where they wore belts carrying toy guns and had to force “hobos” away from storefronts because it is against the law and detracts from businesses — he literally said this (yay let’s enforce capitalism n a lack of humxnity, dope).
afterward i spoke to my boss and had a conversation about with my students about their thoughts. we also watched some videos on police brutality – i couldn’t help myself. a few of them voiced their discomfort and disinterest in the presentation. they passed this information on to my boss’s boss (aka the manager of the entire program). he gives me a call a week later, telling me they appreciate my feedback, that this is a new partner and they’ve never witnessed these presentations (good work, y’all), and to ask questions at the next trip.
then comes our second trip. oh laaawd.
they had the kids gather around a SWAT vehicle and proceeded to show them weapons.
i proceeded to ask tactless questions but critical questions all the same. i don’t even think this part is important to tell, really. all that matters is that in the eyes of this nonprofit, i questioned authority. i questioned one of their partners (aka a source of money). i questioned these police officers.
it’s to be noted that i was not fired by my boss. or my boss’s boss. rather, i was fired at a later time by the upper management, aka the board of directors… aka a group of white men (and one man of color) that had never once witnessed my work with the students.
though i had reason to be angry, i wasn’t. i was upset with myself for losing it when i should have been more strategic, should have chosen my battles carefully, and stuck through with my students till the end. i ultimately did a disservice to my students and that is my biggest regret. they were my number 1 motivation, they got me through the long days and lack of resources (i didn’t even have a classroom for the majority of time i was with the Org)… and they were so incredible. they were teaching me so much.
however, i also feel that to a degree, the fact that i was fired taught them so much about race and critical thinking. i really hope they look back to this moment years down the line and realize what had happened.
if anything, i hope i taught my students the power of questions and critical thought.