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Thoughts on the Death of a Student

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Many of you know that I taught in the inner city in a previous life– or at least, in my life before the Navy. Being away from my students and from the kind of purpose I found there has been a learning experience, and one that I’ve been learning how to work through this year. And I thought I was doing a great job– I am getting used to feeling successful in other ways that aren’t teaching-specific. It feels good– I love what I’m doing now, too. I love the change of pace and the ability to tackle new, different challenges. While there will always be a very special part of my heart dedicated to those experiences, my school’s neighborhood, my students and my coworkers, I was doing a great job of moving on.
And then one of my former students was brutally murdered last week.
Because he grew up in the city and was a young, African American man, he fits a stereotype that we see in the news all the time. I fear that when people hear about his death, they’ll wonder about his involvement in the shooting. They’ll see his picture or hear a sound bite and wonder if he was at fault. We don’t want to believe that something so horrible could be random. We want to believe that he may have been doing something sinister– dealing drugs or gangbanging– that led to such violent death. And I hate that.
Because that’s not who Mike was.
This is who he was:  I’m not into wearing rose-colored glasses, but Mike was a great kid. He was goofy and smart. He was a hard worker. He was talented in music and athletics. He belonged to the JROTC. He missed more class than he attended because he was so involved in extra curriculuars, but he always came back after school and worked until he had made up everything he needed to. He said, “Yes, ma’am,” and “No, ma’am.” He smiled a lot. He was always up to try something new– whether that was reading a character’s part from The Crucible or being the teacher during the Do Now. He wore his JROTC uniform to school for functions. He didn’t complain; he put his head down and worked harder. He was accepted to two colleges this year– with scholarships.  He was a kid who was breaking the city’s entrenched cycle of poverty and violence that mires so many of our kids.
He was leaving after visiting his grandmother when someone walked up to his car and shot him in the head.
No reason. No warning.
There is little I can do, but today, as classes pick back up after spring break and students and staff are back for the first time after Mike’s death, I ask you to say a prayer for his classmates and teachers. They are resilient people. It’s not that the school community or city has not seen violence before– we’ve had too many students who have fallen victim to violence and it will happen again– but the sting  of surprise, shock, and grief doesn’t go away.My former school has set up a fund for Mike’s final expenses for his parents. The organizer for the fund is the social worker. Any amount of money is greatly needed and appreciated. If you would like to contribute, please visit the GoFundMe here. Thank you so much for your kindness and generosity.
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