I’m a 5’2 white girl. What do I know about the “ghetto” you might be thinking. It’s cool. We’re all good. You can think that way. By definition, the “ghetto” is a part of the city in which members of a particular race or group live, usually in poor conditions. Weird fact, the word was first used around 1611. From Venetian dialect, where the Italians made Jews live on a ghèto island. Outcasts. Now, let’s get back to “modern-day.”
Police tape. Dark shadows in alleys where you do NOT want to go. Trash littering the ground. People hanging out on the corners in broad daylight…shaking hands while passing things off. Run-down buildings and tenements that need to be condemned, but folks call that home. Crack houses. Shots fired. Police on the scene. Made the news for another murder, but folks around these parts just think it’s another day.
My first job as a teacher was here. That’s right. Because I “survived” student-teaching in the east-end, I was offered a job there. I accepted. The above was what I passed on my first day student-teaching. No lie. Police tape on the ground. I still went back.
The first year I was a teacher, I was so full of hope and excitement. I was going to change the world. I just knew it. I will never forget that year, or the next, or the one after that. I was the one who was changed. Not the world.
I was the new “white” teacher. I didn’t think it mattered what color I was. Apparently, I was wrong. I made some great friends with the other teachers, but I truly was different. I was white, married to a white man. Couldn’t get any whiter. I was a newlywed, with no children of my own. My principal was a short, stout, black woman who had a smile I was drawn too when I interviewed for the job. She hugged me on my first open house and could tell I was ready. I looked like every typical teacher vision you could imagine. I had on ahem, a dress with teachery things all over it. I remember that night. I only met about 6 parents. I had 15 on roll because it was a Title 1 school.
To tell this correctly, you would have to know that most phone numbers didn’t work. I still had not met some parents by January. The guidance counselor became my friend and we talked about home visits. I became a mentor to a child from another room, and the other “white” teacher and I signed up to take the boys we were mentoring on a school sponsored bowling event. At night. You see, I didn’t think that the time of day mattered. All I knew was we were taking the kids somewhere they probably never went. We had pizza and sodas. And my little boy had a great time. We took him home first, it was getting pretty dark. I walked him up to the door, and knocked and someone let him in. They waved at me, but didn’t say anything.
I got back into my new white SUV. It was my dream car, by the way. It had just come out. It was an Xterra. Up until that point, I had always had small cars. So my friend and I went to take the next child home. She knew where he lived, but for some reason she said she wasn’t sure anyone was going to be home. It was a pretty scary drive down a back alley to this place. She jumped out and went up to the door. I was looking around…with the child in the back. Next thing I know some young men come up to my car. I only had two seconds to ponder what they wanted. He knocked on my window and flashed me the…peace sign. I rolled the window down a bit. He said “Peace, I like your car.” I’ll never forget it. I said thanks and my friend jumped back in the vehicle. No one was home so we had to try a babysitters.
We were driving down small roads, and we went to a group of tenements that had lights on. My friend got out and went up to the door of this place. She knocked and someone yelled and the door flew open. I couldn’t really make out what was going on, but she came back and got him. When she got back in the car, she said, um, I have to leave him there because his brother is there, and that’s where his mom will look, but after the cloud of smoke rolled out, I could see a bong on the table before they pulled the door to. I asked her if she was crazy to leave him there, and she said that’s what she was supposed to do. There were no numbers that worked, and this was 16 years ago.
I’m not sure what kind of mentors we made, but eventually, the parents stopped thinking of me as that “white” teacher, and started thinking of me as their child’s teacher. I was requested even. I have 3 girls on my social media site who sent me FR after they graduated High School. I kept in touch with one family all this time and check on those girls, and they know they better behave or I’ll have a talk with their momma.
There are so many stories like this that I could tell you. But that will have to wait. Do what you can. It does matter.