Posted by on Sep 23, 2015 in Blog | 0 comments

The highs of yesterday, including my birthday and another successful art project campaign, were sucked away by the tragic news of a former student’s death.

Not just his death – the news that he was murdered, shot in the street, and left to die.  I don’t know what path he was on at this stage in his life, but I remember his kind heart, quiet demeanor.  He did not deserve to die in the middle of a busy road at 8 PM before he was even 18.  RIP Raheem.  This breaks my heart.

As some of you know, I taught elementary school in one of the roughest areas of Norfolk, VA for 8 years.  I walked into the  job at 24 years old, totally CLUELESS about what I was getting into.   I couldn’t relate to these kids’ lives any more than I could relate to the Queen of England – yet, we connected.   As a third grade teacher, I encouraged them, I taught them, sometimes I fed and clothed them, and mostly, I worried about them.   I saw their amazing potential.  I also saw what they were all up against – influences in their neighborhood, low expectations from society, neglect, abuse, unstable families and homes, no one to guide them down the “right” path, and at times hopelessness.   I had trouble back then thinking that I, one person, could suddenly change the outcome of their lives.  I still have trouble today, so many years later, feeling responsible that they are not all headed towards respectable careers and lives – safe and happy. 

I hear it a lot, and I have even said it –

Everyone has choices in life.  

However, I know my choices at 18 were very different than Raheem’s.  I was choosing what major to declare in college.  I was choosing which new car I wanted.  I was choosing what countries I wanted to visit on my trip to Europe that spring – all things my parents were mostly footing the bill for.  My choices were very different.  My life was very different. I just can’t relate, and neither can most of you.

Keep this in mind when you watch the news or say something horrible and look down on an entire group of people – whether they are “ghetto thugs”, immigrants, or Syrian refugees.

YOU CAN’T RELATE.

You know nothing about what it is like to walk in their shoes.

Empathy and love. 

Show it.  Spread it.

 

empathy

 

MLK

 

I am thankful that I am still connected to many of my former students including , T, who shared details about Raheem with me late last night.  I couldn’t pick an emotion – complete sadness or anger?  I think I had a mix of both and still do.  T got an earful last night as I begged him to be better and not end up dead in the street.  His response – “Miss wainwright, coming from me, these streets run too long, and u cant out run them.   trust me, y’all didn’t teach us to go down the wrong path.  u right we r better than that.”

They are all better than even they know.  I wish more people told them this on a daily basis.

“You speak people into existence.”   – those were the wisest words I have ever heard and came from a UVA professor in a teaching workshop I attended.  People become what you tell them they are –  good or bad.

I just want good things for all of them.  Yes, it is silly, but I really thought I could “save” them all.  I tried my best to speak them into existence.

I guess I just wanted everyone to see the greatness that I did in their little 9 year old souls. 

These kids taught me so much about the world and myself.  The neighborhood people took care of me when I walked kids home.  Most were good people and knew that I loved their children.  After home visits, older brothers of my students (some pretty stereotypical “thugs” – just out of jail, gold teeth, tattoos) would even walk me to my car after dark to make sure I was safe.  I was grateful.  I may have been naïve, but they always treated me with kindness.

They haven’t even named Raheem in the news yet, of course everyone from the neighborhood knew he had died about an hour after it happened.  They may also know who the murderers are, but will never tell.  That is an unwritten rule, for a good reason – self-preservation.  There is a chance they are also trying to go over the police and take care of it themselves.

I also have some wonderful stories of perserverance about my students.  T, who I have already mentioned, is probably the student I talk to the most.  He is still trying to find his way.  One is an art student (like I was) at Virginia Tech, another was just signed onto the Hokie football team.  One of my all-time favs ,who had many cards stacked against him, is a very successsful student at Norfolk State.

I am rooting for them constantly, even if they don’t know it.

So, no matter how happy yesterday was for me, this event has overshadowed all of it.  Life’s not fair and too many young lives are being lost to violence.

 

I do want, in all the chaos going on in my head, THANK EVERYONE SO MUCH FOR ALL OF THE SUPPORT OF MY PROJECT.    I appreciate it more than you know, and I am so glad that I get to work at my dream job every day while being able to be there for my family.  I can’t wait to get started painting all of these beautiful travels!

However, right now I am emotionally drained and need a few days to regroup.

Hug your loved ones, and reach out to someone who may need a hand.  Love goes a long way.

Cheers!