By CAPRICE J. BANKS
I am a high school teacher in the city of Chicago. In the last four days, I’ve lost two students to gun violence. Currently, I am numb and discombobulated.
Each day, I walk into my classroom and declare “today will be an awesome day.”
On a good day, a bunch of chaotic amazingness takes place and my babes leave at the end of the day having learned what I set out to teach them.
On an awesome day, a bunch of chaotic amazingness takes place and I leave at the end of the day having learned what my babes unintentionally set out to teach me. This exchange is one of the most rewarding aspects of teaching.
I was not optimistic about this career path. I reluctantly answered the calling on my life out of obedience. I knew that if I became a teacher, my students would eventually infiltrate my heart when I wasn’t looking. And when that happened, I’d be a sucker with a bullseye on my forehead. I couldn’t risk this ruining my “no nonsense” image and my street credibility.
Fast forward five years.
I’m in deep. I love my students and I call them my “babies,” even though they range from 14–18 years old. I am now, what I never wanted to be…invested.
So much so that the first time I lost a student, I had to seek help. I vividly remember her smile and how she laughed herself to tears. I think about her quiet power and how she cared for others. She died like she lived; protecting her siblings in a fire. It’s been a little more than a year. I still really miss her.
Four days ago, in the midst of still healing, I lost another baby. Another girl; this one to gun violence in Chicago. It is devastating. The dull, heavy throbbing of my heart is painful.
It was 3:30 pm in the afternoon–broad daylight. She was the victim of a drive-by. On one side of a minute she was walking, talking and laughing (I’m sure) …and the other side of that same minute, her very soul struggled between heaven and earth. Moments later, it chose heaven.
I prayed about how to console my breathing babies the following day. God gave me strength to assist. The sting is subsiding in microscopic doses. The wound is still deep, still fresh.
And then yesterday, at 2pm in the afternoon, physical weapons formed against yet another of my babies prospered.
He was a hardworking young man because working hard was a standard in his household. He once explained to me how nothing feels better than having your own money. He took no shortcuts. He interviewed and landed legit positions. He was not what the world thinks of most young Black men.
Shots rang out. And soon thereafter, he heard the voices of angels.
I am left here, confused about what to tell my breathing babies. What do I teach them? The only prerequisite to die in Chicago is to live in Chicago. How do I inspire them to live if death seems imminent? How do I speak of the future to an unpromising tomorrow?
This is why I never wanted to teach, to care, to love. In grief, I am listening for the lesson. I am listening…in tears…speechless.
Caprice J. Banks is an elementary school tutor who currently resides in Atlanta, Georgia. At the time this essay was written, she was a 5th year high school English teacher in Chicago Public Schools. A writer at heart, Caprice penned this essay to make sense of her mission to educate while sorting through the effects of Chicago violence in CPS classrooms. She is a Stanford University Hollyhock Fellowship Alumnus, a Chicago Area Writing Project Teacher Consultant and a Chicago Shakespeare Theatre Bard Core Alum.
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