When I was teaching, I learned that the community around the school l- specifically the black community - had a lot of problems and a lot of really amazing qualities. This is all highly generalized, so please understand that I know that, and I know I'm not talking about everyone. Family structure can be qualified as both negative and positive, I think. There are so many missing fathers that it's a bit of a cliche. I was always glad that Father's Day came after school was out because it was so hard for the kids. Many of the mothers were quite young when they had children. Many of them have children with all different fathers.
There are also some really wonderful parts to this particular black community. The women in the family are generally incredible. The extended family tends to be a strong one - at least in a matriarchal sense. Many of my students had mothers, aunties, grannies, great-aunts, and even great-grandmothers who were involved in their lives. Older sisters came on field trips and helped raise their little brothers.
This is obvious when I go to pick up my Little Sister. her mom works until 5:00 so she goes to her Nana's house after school, as do most of her cousins and her little brother. Regardless of if I pick her up at her mom's or Nana's house (in the same complex), there are usually at least four kids and a variety of adult aunties, cousins, and other women. They all take care of her and love her and nurture her. It's interesting, because you always hear about the collapse of the black family structure, but very little about the accomplishments. I've seen a little brother look up to his adult sister and glow with pride when she compliments his report card, or three generations of women come to 5th grade graduation. Many of us with more "traditional" nuclear families could benefit from that kind of familial involvement.
Today, I took my Little Sister out to eat. (I'm going to call her "Clarabelle" because that's what she names all her characters and imaginary animals!) She doesn't eat very much - I guess 7-year olds don't eat much yet. She had a burrito and decided she didn't like it and wanted to eat mine, which was huge, so we shared it. She was sitting on my lap when a homeless guy walked over. He looked like he was in his 60s, but may have been much younger, just with a hard life. He had trouble talking and walking and was missing most of his teeth, but didn't seem like he was currently on drugs or drunk. He didn't seem dangerous, and there were lots of restaurant employees around.
This guy asked for my Clarabelle's burrito, which was almost all still there. She said he could have it (I think she felt safe because she was on my lap). He said, "But I'm a bum. Tell her I'm a bum, I'm homeless." He never spoke directly to her, but kept telling me to tell her things. I said it was OK, and wrapped up the burrito for him. He said "But I'm homeless. No problem?" I said "No problem, you can have it." We kept repeating this and then he looked at Clarabelle, and said to me, "She's going to go to college?" I said she was. He repeated that for a while, and then looked straight at me and said "You make sure she goes to college." I said I would and he said, "She's a good girl? She's smart?" Clarabelle said yes, she was. He looked at me and said, "You make sure she goes to college. I'm just a bum. I'm homeless. God bless you and she goes to college."
He left and she said, "He wasn't scary. He knows I'm smart and I need an education." Then we had the conversation about how you never ever talk to adults you don't know when you're by yourself. But she knew that already.
One year ago: Segregation in the Schools