Meet Dark Angel. Dark Angel is not his real name; it's his boxing name. He is a professional middleweight (I think) boxer and the father of one of my former students. (Hence the poster in the photos - never thought I'd have a boxing poster up in my classroom!) He is also one of the best fathers I have seen in my almost 7 years teaching in Oakland.
His daughter is now in fifth grade, at ten and a half years old. She is almost as tall as me, beautiful, intelligent, talented, and confident. I've known her since she was in first grade and have been privileged to see the time and care her dad invests in her. She still comes to visit me every day - sometimes she helps out, sometimes she comes to talk, and sometimes she comes to do her own research for her fifth-grade reports. One day, when she had a substitute and I had lost my voice, she ran my class (efficiently!) for two hours. She gave and corrected a spelling test, she answered all the third graders' questions, and she kept them on task.
I was able to have a conversation with her father last week about how well she's doing. I mentioned that she's become the star of the basketball team and seems to be a very talented athlete in general, possibly taking after her father. He said that he's happy that she likes sports, but academics is the most important thing, and as long as she focuses on her academics, she can play all the sports she wants. He said that he tell her it doesn't matter what grades she gets - as long as she's doing her best, he'll be so proud of her, no matter what her grades. (Any wonder she's getting top grades?) He goes to all her games, all her speeches, and is at school at least 3 times a week to check on her, help her teacher, see what's going on at the school, whatever. Every time I talk to him, he tells me how much he loves his daughter and how he prays for her to be able to succeed. Then he usually starts thanking me for everything I've done for her. Which is very very little compared to the value of having this kind of relationship with her father.
The first thing you'd notice about this girl is her smile. Although she's lived in East Oakland her whole life, her parents aren't married, she faces a lot of the same problems the other kids face, she has the most joyful smile I've ever seen and she smiles a lot. I don't worry about this one. Once you see her smile, you know she's going to be OK, which is not an assurance I feel about most of my kids. It's amazing what having a loving dad in your life can do.