During a whole-group discussion in my 8th grade Reading class as we were discussing Romantic poetry’s central themes of God and nature, one of my students - who is certainly regarded as fearless and outspoken- asked with unprecedented fervor, “Mr., if God is real, and God controls nature, then why haven’t the people in Flint, Michigan had clean water in over two years? Why wouldn’t God fix the water so His people can survive?” As a teacher, a major portion of my job requires me to make judgments and formulate responses in a matter of seconds, without much time for planning or extensive pondering. Having been trained as a teacher during my undergraduate career, having worked in a number of educational settings prior to my time at Esperanza, and spending twelve-plus hours at Esperanza each day has resulted in me developing a deep confidence in my ability to formulate responses with little delay. In that moment, however, I could not respond. I had no idea what to say. And still do not.
These past ten months have consisted of me walking into a middle school building, Monday through Friday, and working with sixty girls who are young, vehement social justice activists and freedom fighters. These students challenge norms, question systems and work tirelessly to hone the sound of their individual voices. And, yes, I am fortunate enough to bear witness to all of this. While in college I had one of my favorite education professors say to me that teachers learn far more from students than the students learn from them. With so many colloquialisms occupying the English language, I simply took her statement as “teacher talk,” merely a mantra education professors repeat to their classroom of twelve educators to-be. But this year has discredited my belief in my professor's statement being void of merit, and has shown me that the students are, in fact, the true teachers.
My girls are not only ministers of justice, but are also seekers of truth. And the greatest lesson I have learned under the tutelage of my sixty students is that truth and justice are not things we should ask for, but things we must demand - unapologetically.
Because of them, I have been able to fully accept this truth: if refusing to accept any form of injustice, inequity, dishonesty, discrimination, and prejudice (wherever it may be happening) makes me negative, then I will gladly be that. If it makes me a killjoy, then I will gladly be that as well. Even if it makes me less enjoyable to be around, I will take that as well. But, what it will NOT make me is silent.
My liberties are the results of a long line of slaves, abolitionists, civil rights leaders and freedom fighters for whom silence was not an option. My ancestors refused to wait for justice to be served them; instead, they demanded it. Marched for it. Sang for it. Protested for it. Lobbied for it. And even died for it. Thus - because they did, I must, and because I must, I shall.