Money can’t buy you love, but it can buy you justice. This position is not one for arguing – today’s contention is how to ignite hope in a community that has seen it’s dream of equality shot down decade after decade. Not false hope. Not pipe dreams. So far, this is the type of hope that generations of Black Americans have been given; false premises of being seen, heard, and valued. Unfortunately this view also permeates classrooms. Dreams devoid of hope vanish into thin air leaving it more difficult to breathe for all of us. Gasping for a hope that seems to evade.
I was unprepared for the reckoning my heart would face when I watched the movie Just Mercy. I read the book a few years ago and was wrecked by Bryan Stevenson’s compelling proposition to be proximate to the poor if you want to see change (in yourself and larger systems). I made moves. Became proximate. But let me tell you, when this book was brought to life on the screen, I could only see two things; black men in my family and the black boys in my classroom. I was unable to shake the reality of how so many of their dreams vanish into thin air early. Historically, the criminal justice system presumes guilt before trial and the classroom deems incompetent before demonstrating capability. As I wept in that theater over and over again at real lives who were deemed to have zero meaning, I asked myself about the power of hope to fuel justice.
Hopelessness is the end of justice. – Bryan Stevenson
This movie reminded me of the power of knowing you have someone in your corner fighting for you. The power of knowing that someone believes your life has value. The power of knowing that you aren’t the only one who hasn’t given up hope. The power of knowing what it feels like to receive mercy. The power of proximity to drive empathy-fueled action.
I have chosen the classroom as a place to restore hope. It is the most difficult thing I have done. It is complex and nuanced. No parent or child is the worst thing they have ever done. Each child I behold not only bears the image of God but also the hopes of their parents; their people. I get that. I know what it is to have the dreams of your family resting on your shoulders. When my students are older, I hope they know how much I fought for them. I hope they know how much I loved them. I hope they know how much I valued them.
There are lots of lessons to learn throughout the course of a school year, but I hope to infuse students and the families I serve with new hope. A new hope which restores truth to a generation of black and brown children who have been told that they are incapable. All children are capable of learning. All children are worthy of love. This blog is more of a note-to-self. May I always stand in these truths in the classroom.
“I got my truth back…you gave that to me. Ain’t nobody gone take that from us.” – Walter McMillian [Just Mercy]