Thursday, March 22, 2012

Dear Diondre

 Yesterday I had the great pleasure of working with a group of teachers at Duke University with my good friend Lynden Harris, director of Hidden Voices. This was a teacher enrichment workshop and part of a visual presentation that will be included in the April 2013 presentation of the School to Prison Pipeline program Hidden Voices is working on. It's not like I don't have enough to do, but I always come away from the workshops being touched by someone and learning something I did not know and so I say yes to helping out whenever I can. Yesterday was no exception. Lynden started off the workshop with a writing prompt. The teachers were asked to think of a student they would like to write a letter to. Later they were asked if they would like to share what they wrote, and of course these letters brought tears to my eyes. The one I will not forget was the teacher that wrote about her little 6 year old student and how he/she did not want to leave on the last day of school. This child was crying on the last day and when asked why they were not happy about school being out, the child said, "because this is the only place I feel safe and loved." Can you imagine this? From a 6 year old!?
My part in these workshops is to lead the art component. We made file folders and time schedules that will be part of an art installation when the program is complete. It will be on display at UNC, Duke and the Artscenter in Carrboro. I will post more when the project is closer to completion. Right now Hidden Voices is collecting stories, art, and writing a play, so lots to do before it is ready for the public.

Last night was insomnia night and I couldn't stop thinking about these letters that were read. It made me think about who I would write to and what I would say, so I though I would write my own letter.
The teachers were given prompts to help them get started so I will use those. Here goes:

the prompt: describe the student, what they did, what they said, how they looked
                   locate the moment in time, space, year, environment
                   what you said, did, or thought
                   This is just to say
                   I remember
                   I hope

Dear Diondre:
You were the smallest kid, the most lively, the most beautiful, the most attention seeking student I had in class. You were in my summer camp art class at the Community School of the Arts in Charlotte, NC and the year was 2003.
You were the biggest distraction in class and kept all of the other children from getting the attention they deserved because you got it all. I remember your name because I must have said it 100 times a day. Diondre sit down, Diondre don't do that, Diondre stop talking, Diondre what are you doing? , Diondre why aren't you doing your work, where is Diondre, on and on it went. It was so unfair to the other kids, because you were such a huge distraction to me, trying to keep you safe and interested while also trying to keep you from bothering all of the other well behaved kids in the class. It was so unfair to everyone. Then one day, I had enough and I snapped. I took you into the art supply room, shut the door and sat you down. I remember making you look me right in the eye while I told you that when you went into first grade, the teachers were going to get sick of you and you would fall through the cracks because no one was going to have the time to pay attention only to you. They would develop a dislike for you, because you were being so obnoxious and you would sit in the principal's office and then you would be off on the wrong track, have a history with the schools and not get the education you deserved because of a prejudice the teachers would have towards you due to your record of being a trouble maker. I saw this happen in my daughter's schools enough to know how it works. I told you these things and then you cried, and then I held you tight. You told me you didn't like art, you wanted to play basketball, but your grandmother was on the board, and you were there for free, because she wanted you there. But you didn't want to be there.
So we went back into the classroom and I wondered how many other kids didn't want to be there, but had to be because their parents had jobs and had to put their kids in summer camps all summer. You were tired and you just wanted to play outside.
So we did other things besides art. We made drum sticks and we made music, and we ran around the room like we were crazy, and you laughed and you settled down and you were not bored because someone was making you do art. Not everyone wants to do what the schools want them to do.
I still remember your beautiful face, and how you said goodbye to me at the end of camp, and I wonder where you are now and if what I said that day to you in the supply room made any difference at all in your life. Did you sit patiently in class when you started first grade, or have you been in the principal's office too many times.
I hope you have found a good life and have a little appreciation for art....



Jerry said...

What a gift you were to Diondre. How wonderful that she had a teacher that, while worried too much time was being devoted to her, set aside even more time to says the words that needed to be said, give the support that needed to be given and listened to what she had to say. Yet another warm fuzzies post.

Laura Farrow said...

wonderful, sweet post.

Tracey Broome said...

Hey Jerry, Diondre was actually a little boy, easy to mistake the name though :) it took me forever just to learn to say it right! Can't say I felt too warm and fuzzy while I was in the moment, but now I do. I guess I owe my readers a warm fuzzy after my mental explosion, haha!
Thanks Laura, he is hard to forget, I would love to know what happened to him.....

Susan Wells said...

An ode to people being connected. Hallelujah!

Lori Buff said...

It sounds like you learned something from Diondre just as he learned something from you.

yolande clark said...

I'm kind of super emotional right now...but I think this post would have made me cry, pregnant or not. In addition to ceramics, I teach piano twice a week. Teaching is such a privilege, and I have experienced quite a few moments of unexpected connection with my kids--often during what might potentially have been frustrating interactions. Increasingly, I am realizing that there is no "bad behaviour", just stuff we have to work through. And cheesy as it may sound, love and compassion and connection are the only way. I have really found how to access my most compassionate and loving self while teaching. Then I drive home and attempt to do the same thing with my beloved husband (!) Learning all the time.... Thanks so much for this post, Tracey.