I can’t express how elated I am right now! Today was BY FAR of the best days I have ever had at work, in any job. This isn’t because it was devoid of problems, nor does it mean I went a whole day without reprimand or disciplining a student. Today was so incredible because my students blindly walked into the most important topic their generation is facing right now, and I was able to speak truth into their lives, without mentioning God, Jesus, or The Cross. My message was clear though, and I will be praying that it sticks with as many as God will allow.
My 9th grade classes are getting into our short story lesson, in which they will learning the elements of plot in every story. The element of plot that exists in EVERY story and in EVERY life that this: CONFLICT. Today’s lesson was to discuss and write about conflict: the ones we’ve faced, are facing, or have seen others face. The students shared their conflicts and were able to express they’re aggressions and feelings openly. In my first period class a student raised his hand and said that race was a conflict for him, and almost everyone in the room agreed. As I teach at a school that is 99% African-American, you can imagine that these students were of similar mind when they heard this complaint. I began to draw out of them what exactly was the conflict with race, and why this conflict existed. People talked loud, expressed anger, spoke about personal experiences, and a lack of answered existed as to how it all could get better. I told my students to start shouting out stereotypical words or phrases people use to label minorities in America. The list was so long I ran out of board space! I then asked them this:
“If you’ve all previously agreed that if someone called you a name that you didn’t agree with you wouldn’t tolerate it, why then are you tolerating being called all these names on a daily basis? How can you change the name that people call you into one that you accept?”
What’s ironic about this just “coming up” is that I’ve been talking about this topic in 2 of my graduate classes for the past few months (this past Tuesday night especially) and I can’t believe I was able to express to my students that which my professor expressed to us:
“If you change someone’s name, you change their identity.”
As a culture, African Americans, in general, don’t know their identity. We are typically told by the media and the government who we are and what we will amount to. If someone is constantly telling you who you are and what you will be, you will eventually become that. My professor told us the other night ( and I still need to check these facts) that around 83% of slaves who came over from Africa were LITERATE. A recent poll taken in the United States recorded that only 51% of African Americans are literate now. I don’t know if this is exactly accurate, but when I think about this, it makes sense. If we weren’t illiterate when we came here, but we are increasing becoming illiterate, it appears that we are believing what people say we are. Even if the statistics aren’t accurate, look around you! People call us poor, junkies, dead-beats, uneducated, lazy, loud, never on time, illiterate, drugged up, criminals, unreliable, and so on. I see so much of this on a daily basis because people have decided to accept the name they are given.
I want more for my students. I want more for myself. I learned a long time ago to refuse to accept the name people give me, but these kids don’t better yet. They don’t know that they have the choice to rise above any and every stereotype and be called a better name: educated, loved, loyal, stable, rich, wise, free, caring, successful, literate, civilized, proper, phenomenal, outstanding, trustworthy, honest, conquerer, capable.
I ended class by telling my students that this conflict is not only man vs. man, it’s man vs. self as well. We might not be able to stop the former, but the latter is completely in our control. I told them it’s paramount to know who you and the name you have for yourself, NOW. Decide now what you want to be called, or else someone will TELL YOU WHO YOU ARE, and you’ll believe them. I don’t know why I feel so passionately about this, but words just kept flowing out of my mouth when I was teaching this lesson on conflict. YES, it will ALL tie into the stories we read, but this wasn’t what I intended to teach today. My plans weren’t exactly what God has in mind, and today, I praise Him for this. I honestly think even if one students decides to do things differently, God accomplished something through me. And, on top of that, I learned some things about myself. I told my students to write the name they want to be called at the bottom of their paper before turning it in. I was blown away by the responses, and so impressed when several asked me if they could be called more than one thing. I said, “of course you can.” I’ve decided to turn this into an assignment which will end in us decorating the outside bulletin board with their new names. I cannot WAIT to see this!
Who do I say that I am?
I am loyal, trustworthy, successful, Godly, loving, caring, able, equipped, hard-working, dedicated, a little crazy, passionate, talented, happy, humourous, smiling, employed, blessed, surviving, ransomed, loved, alive.
Who do you say that you are?