Tuesday, November 30, 2010

"Ok, Miss, I get that the kid was murdered but did they run his pockets?"


Here's the back story that leads to that very disturbing comment made today in class.

Not sure if you all remember the heart breaking story of Derrion Albert a 16 year old high school student that was beaten to death in a Chicago melee after school last September. The scene was caught on video and broadcast on every news channel for days. I believe four teens were charged with his murder.
Last year I was upset to tears imagining if this happened to my son, a member of my family, or any of my boys in the program. It moved me to action and I created a three day lesson on Violence Among African American boys for the boys class. They were outraged by the footage, we talked at length about how their some of their ill thought out actions could have lasting consequences. We argued over the importance of having a "rep" vs. staying alive. I even used Nas' Open Letter to Young Warriors in Chicago. The boys were moved, touched, and inspired. I would say out of the 34 boys in the class, at least 30 of them were moved by the events and my lesson charging them to make a difference.

That was last year.

This year, I opened with just the Nas letter which I read out loud in class. I asked them 3 questions:
  1. What was the article talking about?
  2. What is your opinion of the article?
  3. What fault could readers have with Nas' writing?
The discussion that followed was great. They were actively participating and anxious for the back story. After I told them Derrion's story and how upset I was, and what I did last year, I fielded several of their questions: "Did they find his killers?" "Why did they pick him?" "How come the people videotaping didn't stop to help him?"...and then I got:

"Ok, Miss, I get that the kid was murdered but did they run his pockets?" At first I didn't think I heard him correctly, and I asked the student to clarify, "I mean, I get that he was dead and all, but did they get anything out of it?"

I must have blacked out for a minute and was rendered speechless because the boys all pounced on him with their own astonishment:


And very calmly this student kept explaining that it didn't make sense to let "his stuff go to waste...why just beat somebody to death and not rob them too?"

It took me a few minutes to get back to my lesson and move on to the writing a thesis based on this topic, letter, and tragic event.

This is frightening...or am I just oversensitive?


cuzzo said...

ok finally i can see the word verification...but omg...what was the boy with the question about did they run his pockets thinking...what kind of upbringing or morals does he have to think that is ok? Trust that society scares me at times to not just for black boys/men (my son included) but also for black females...its a scary place and we have to wonder what the world is coming to...how do you change his thinking if in high school such logic seems so nonchalant....

Jen said...

You are NOT oversensitive!! I have dealt with insensitivity more frequently in the last few years from my kids, although not quite to that extent. Often, I try to rationalize that it's modern "culture" or their lack of parental support and involvement. But these aren't good enough excuses. I teach civics, and I feel like it's my responsibility every day to teach them to be the best citizens they can be. My school has a very high rate of poverty (over 90% of 800 kids receive free/reduced lunch)and we have a very diverse population (over 40% Hispanic, about 25% African American, 20-25% white and 10-15% Asian). I know the combination of different cultural backgrounds and lack of economic resources cannot possibly explain some of the apathy and irresponsible behavior I see in such young teenagers. It is just depressing sometimes. :(

Hope you're day is better today!! :)

Keith said...

You had every right to feel the way you felt. But I think that what the boy said was part of his sad reality. One where life doesn't hold much value beyond what can be found in a pocket. For him it was a logical. I had a cousin murdered once back in the late 80s for his gold chain. Times and mentalities don't change much in the so-called 'hood. What's great is that his friends stepped in and made sure he heard why it was a big deal. Hopefully their words gave him food for thought. The desensitization of our youth is profoundly disturbing.