Today, riding on the el, I ran into a student who graduated from the school where I used to be principal. He said I had allowed him to transfer into the school when other schools were not letting him in, and he thanked me for giving him that opportunity. He said he now has a job working for the county, that he has his associates degree, that he’s trying to open his own business, and that it’s thanks to the opportunity I gave him.
Now, I don’t think that this was all because of me by any means, although I appreciate him saying it. Whatever he has done and whatever success he has had, it is down to his effort, his persistence, his work. But to think that maybe I had some small part in how his life is going is really humbling. To think that my decision, maybe 9 or 10 years ago, had some impact on this young man’s life, and how he views himself, it’s just unbelievable. It’s why I became an educator.
And to think that two people, one a Black man in his mid-20s heading from work to pick his son up from school, another a 43-year-old white man heading home from work to his wife and daughter, could share a beautiful moment of recognition and community on the el train fills me with hope. It is a small thing, but it makes me think that those small things are what bridge the gaps that separate us. The gaps of race, the gaps of gender, the gaps of money, all these things are constructed by wealthy white men to maintain our separation, to protect our power, to guard us against fear. But maybe we can break down those barriers by the simple act of connection between one human being and another. Maybe sharing our emotions with one another can be the small act of rebellion against white supremacy that shakes the foundation.
So to this young man: congratulations, and thank you. Maybe I did a little to help you all those years ago, but today you gave me the gift of your shared emotions. And that gift was both simple and revolutionary.
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