The day my friend passed away, twenty-two of the school’s best students filled the room, watched by me, one of the school’s graduates. It was one of many days of national exams. The young people took part in an academic assessment along with thousands of others in different schools across the country and even the world.
My students were similar to me: people of color from diverse working class and poor neighborhoods, nurtured by a community of caring faculty and staff, shaped by our lives in this urban suburb of the East Bay. I watched them work that morning. Their eyes were fixed on the test booklet pages as pencils scratched answers. They would occasionally smile as the day got disrupted by announcements, phone calls, and finally, a loud violent fight in the hallway outside the testing room.
So many times I have stated that I stated my school. As an angry, depressed teenager, I vowed to never set foot here again, this place where young sharks attacked one another with bloodthirsty glee. But I looked at these young people and I remembered. I found the fortitude to step out into the turmoil outdoors, shouted for the crowds to part, and returned to my nest of safety and hope. It is a journey I take everyday.
Today is cold and gray. My anxiety has returned, prompted by a bizarre nightmare of insanity and death. I am helping to organize my late friend’s memorial service. But I have other work. Two boys, allied with opposing gangs, stand off after an accidental bumping. I could pretend I don’t know what happened, like my colleague does(a routine for him), but instead I meet with both of them. We talk. We make agreements. In those moments, I feel safe, hopeful. I help bring peace.