Wednesday, February 27, 2013

This IS about Community

Sometime during high school I figured out that students participating in music groups were really bringing communities together.  I loved that part of music making.  I loved the idea of marching band and pep bands, I liked concerts and informal jam sessions, I liked the part where people formed relationships when they made music.

I still do.

Pep band is part of my job.  It means that for 20 or so nights  year I direct students in front of crowds that would otherwise never see the band.  I tease, cajole, beg, barrow and plead my way into good attendance from students and they almost always come.  Last night was no different.

After almost 10 years, I enjoy the crowd watching as much as I like the music making.  I love hearing kids sound confident, seeing student sections respond to something that we are playing, I really enjoy the back and forth of the crowd and the band.  On occasion, one of my girls comes with me to sit quietly and color and enjoy being with big kids - its a treat for them and a nice way to spend a later evening with one of my daughters.

Last night was like lots of other nights.

The band set up between the student section and the adult fans.  In between the band and the adult fans there is a group of high school girls.  They usually seem less interested in the game and more interested in their phones.  They are mostly students of color.  Last night a few of them had their children (carriers, diaper bags, the whole deal) with them.  Very young moms.  A bunch of the girls that were sitting there, waved at me and then came over to talk to J., who had come with me.  They wanted to meet her and admire her hair (all done up in silly Minnie mouse buns because I ran out of time in the morning.)

J. didn't talk a whole bunch.  No surprise.  She was worried about the buzzer and the ref whistles - they were louder than she would have preferred.

Half way through the first half I watched a few black young men get into  a rough house game.  Nothing serious at all.  They were at the top of the student section and were on the outside edges of the student cheering section.  They were reprimanded.

Meanwhile their white peers, at the bottom of the student section proceeded to boo the opposing players and the refs.  They made their disapproval known and their attitudes in terms of good sportsmanship were deplorable.  They were left unchecked.

At the end of the half, J. leaned over and asked me why "are all the brown girls sitting over there by themselves?"

She was right.  All of the brown girls, were clumped up.  Maybe they didn't feel lonely, but they looked it.

J. noticed.

She noticed that if you are brown and female, you sit over here.

I noticed that if you are brown and male, you better play nice.

Its nothing new.  Nothing has changed where I teach.  Its been that way.

At the end of the evening 2 former students came to see me with their babies.  I had watched them struggle with isolation, bullying, lack of support, lack of academic skills, for the better part of two years.  They both wanted to be loved.  When each girl told me she was pregnant they wanted for me to both be happy for them and be there for them.  I couldn't chastise them for a choice already made.

Individually, they brought their babies into me just a few weeks after birth wanting me to coo and oo over them.  I tried.  And my goodness, they were both beautiful, black haired babies.  Babies that are precious and already loved.  But, at 16 that love is coupled with complicated isolation and a desire to be free that is as inherent to being a teenager, as loud music.  So I listened, I asked about how they were feeling - looking for slight symptoms of post-partum depression.  I asked about feeding schedules and foolishly suggested a sling instead of the Easter basket car seat carrier.  They were still grossed out about changing diapers.  I held back judgment.

But I don't hold back judgment for the community that surrounds them.

What if the adults sitting in the stands, offered to hold a baby?  Bought an extra popcorn?  Paid an admission ticket?  What if the adults chastising the game of rough house, also asked for good sportsmanship from their peers?  What if the adults, so concerned with the outcome of a HS basketball game were equally as concerned with the outcome of those lonely, brown girls' math tests on Wednesday morning? Or how they were going to get home from the game?

The community that I keep seeking, is made up of adults (not just teachers) that ask those questions, seek those opportunities and believe.... in community.

It takes a village.


  1. Good post, Nora. You always make me think. And Miss J is a "thinker" too! I would be surprised if my 6 yr old made the same observations J made.
    I see the too-young moms with babies in my work, too. I have been negligent in thinking about what I can do to help them. But I'm thinking about it now. Thanks.

  2. I have a lot of thoughts on this...the trouble is they always contradict each other. I want to think I would hold a baby and help...but I'd probably want to do something more too, something to change things and not just comfort. Does that make sense? Maybe that is why this is such a's hard to find a balance. I never used to notice the color of anyone...ever. Now I feel like it's all I notice, because I know my daughter does notice every single time.

    I live in a small town, like really small, like 99.9% are white, German catholic and a good chunk of them are related to each other. We still have a group of girls {and boys} who seem forgotten. You can see them as early on as Kindergarten, they seem hungry for love and attention. I see them occasionally and they have turned out just like I prayed they wouldn't. They still remember me as the team mom from little league or classroom mom. They still seem like little kids when they see me and run up to say hi. Even though I know they were arrested several times already. It's just sad and it makes me feel helpless.


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