sco·to /sko-to/ [<Gr. skotos, darkness; akin to Eng. shade] a combining form meaning darkness
This week’s post is by writer Elena Aguilar.
prefix meaning darkness.
But it wasn’t the darkness that caught my attention; it was the light that streamed through the corridor and bounced off the freshly polished floors, scrubbed tile walls, and gleaming lockers. The light flooded the space, suggesting a way out of the despair that has long engulfed this middle school deep in East Oakland, in the flatlands inhabited by only the dark-skinned, the dark-haired.
I have worked in the Oakland Unified School District for fifteen years, many of those as a teacher and now as a leadership coach, supporting principals to transform their schools. I arrived at Frick Middle School early. I like to be early. In the last few years, this school has slowly, steadily been getting better. I had time to appreciate the generic appearance of the hallway, devoid of the tagging that will soon be scrawled on walls. The summer cleaning was complete; the new year would start in a few days.
I meandered into the office, where I met the administrator who was expecting me, where I was told: “One of our kids was killed last night. An eighth grader, 13 years old. He was walking down the street with his brother and was shot.”
I want information, I seek it out. But as the details emerge, the official and the unofficial, they make no sense, none at all; they create a sad, messy narrative of poverty and violence, another grim end result of centuries of institutionalized racism and classism. Yet the details also raise uncomfortable questions about individual responsibility, because ultimately, one man chose to pick up a gun and kill another human being. I reach for academic theories, spiritual explanations, words and meditations, but they offer nothing to quell the senselessness.
It is very unlikely that my own son, my own dark-skinned child, will be another black man killed in the ghetto. I know why my boy is most likely assured of a different outcome than thousands of other boys in Oakland. And yet, on a fundamental level, I do not understand why I will sleep well tonight while Jimon Carter’s mother will not.
scotopia: vision in dim light; the ability of the eye to adjust for night vision.
I returned to Frick the following week. The principal reported that the opening days had been smooth, that grief counselors had been on site, and that learning was underway. “We have to preserve this place as a refuge,” I was told. “We try to keep it as normal as possible.”
Jimon was shot three blocks away on a bleak boulevard traversed by hundreds of kids every day on their way to and from school. I stood on the narrow sidewalk, imagining the body of the teenager on the ground. When he saw Jimon fall, his brother ran to get an uncle who was nearby. The uncle described holding the boy: “I wanted to see if he would flinch to let me know he was there, but there was nothing there. His eyes were closed, his mouth was open, and I saw the hole in the back of his head.”
A couple of girls approached me. “Did you know Jimon?” asked the tall one with long braids. “He was my neighbor.” They exchanged memories of Jimon and his identical twin brother, Jivon; then they listed the men they knew who’d been shot, stabbed, beaten, and “messed up” on the streets of East Oakland.
“I wonder if he saw that light when he died,” said the short one. “My granny told me you see a bright light and you just have to go into it and that’s where you get to find all your loved ones who’ve already passed.”
I had to leave. I had to pick up my boy from school. We’d walk the three blocks home, along streets lined with oak trees and rose bushes, where no child has ever been gunned down, where there are no memorials to remind children of their murdered neighbors, memorials that another mother walking her six year old home from first grade will have to explain.
Elena Aguilar is a writer and educator in Oakland, California. She writes about education for Edutopia www.edutopia.org/spiralnotebook/elena-aguilar and has a personal blog at www.elenaaguilar1.wordpress.com