The Tuesday after the Connecticut shooting, a colleague announced that the National Education Association sent out a request for schools around the country to make snowflakes in commemoration of the victims killed at Sandy Hook Elementary. The plan is to have all of the snowflakes hanging up in the halls when the school reopens. When she informed me and my colleagues of this project, I had two thoughts:
a.) That can potentially be touching for those returning… or it may be eerie.
b.) When are people going to honor the many slain brown and black children that are killed in neighborhoods like the one where I teach? What about my kids, or the nearly 300 Chicago Public School students who have been murdered in the past three years? What about the family members my students have lost due to gun violence?
Thought b.) continues to be my second reaction any time someone mentions the Connecticut shootings (the first thought being, how horrific for the babies, educators, and members of this community). My students are all victims to gun violence. Not unusual for our school, we had a lockdown the Tuesday after the Connecticut massacre, because there was a shooting a couple of blocks from our campus. Children were outside playing, heard the gunshots, and had to rush into the nearest classroom. Was there a national, or even local news story about this? Bullets have been found on our campus during school hours; I’ve had students witness their parents get shot in their own home during a drive-by; two of our students’ grandmother was caught in a crossfire and killed the Wednesday before Christmas. Has there been a news story about any of these incidents? My students know the procedures for a lockdown better than they know our rainy-day schedule. It’s disgusting, but, again, I ask, has there been a national outcry because of these tragic realities?
People outside our environment rarely, if ever, talk about the realities my students face.
Sadly, those living and working within an environment like East Oakland rarely discuss the tragedy of children knowing the sound of a gunshot better than a Nina Simone song. Many of us who work in the schools have become numb to the war zone in which we function. Why? Partly, because we have to become numb in order to do what we need to do– educate our students. We have also become numb to our reality because when we do tell the “outside world” about our experiences, we’re often met with wavering responses like, “That’s sad,” causing us to feel like we must move onto a topic more lighthearted, so they don’t feel as depressed. I understand; it’s overwhelming; I feel it everyday. But, let me be clear– I, the teacher, who gets to drive home to another Oakland community after work, am not the victim– my 10 and 11 year-old scholars, and the young scholars living in similar neighborhoods, are the victims. They, along with their families, deserve more.
Yet, despite the fact that most students in East Oakland, and neighborhoods like East Oakland, are victims to gun violence, our nation is not responding to their tragedies. Our nation doesn’t respond with a national outcry, with tears, or with a moment of silence. More importantly, our nation doesn’t respond with the proper emotional and mental support all of my students need to recover from and survive such trauma, and I have yet to hear a national conversation around gun control take place in lieu of the many gun fires shot in East Oakland. The recent response to the Sandy Hook shootings compared to the lack of response for the violence my students, and students who look like them experience, make me wonder, where are the snowflakes for East Oakland, for Chicago, for L.A., and for all of the other neighborhoods where gun violence is a daily reality? When do they get their moment of silence? Their vigil? Their justice?