A Florida educator reflects on the mean streets his students live in and challenges them to defy the expectations many people have of them.
You are about to graduate from Miami Carol City High School and no matter what your score on Jeb Bush?s test; almost all of you have earned a diploma. As Jay Z once rhymed, ?It?s a hard knock life for us / Stead of treated, we get tricked / Stead of kisses, we get kicked / It?s the hard knock life.? Most of you have earned your doctoral degrees in the school of hard knocks.
During the 23 years I have spent at Carol City High it seems like the students have gotten better every year. The Class of ?06 is no exception. To watch you struggle with life?s modern complexity and still perform so well in the classroom, on stage, in the athletic arena and in the community has been uplifting.
You are a group of brilliant and talented young people. I say that even to the person who stole my cell phone a few weeks ago and sent 17 text messages before the service was cut off. As a teacher I just hope you enhanced your writing skills and got some wisdom in those seven return messages.
You know when your class started the journey through this high school four years ago you were nearly a thousand strong. There are but 492 of you left. Even more tragically there will be several empty chairs at the graduation ceremonies on May 25th. Evan Page should have been there. But Evan was murdered down the street from MCC just after we celebrated Thanksgiving. Sherika Wilson Lynch should have been there, her 16-month-old baby Ahmani sitting with a proud family in the audience. But Sherika was murdered on a trip to the store in Opa Locka?s notorious Triangle while many of you were off to Grad Bash.
Even though he attended Northwestern High School, our own Mrs. Anderson?s beloved son James ?JT? Anderson would have no doubt been in there to see his sister Nichelle graduate. But James was cut down too on our mean streets. Then just the other day Devon Sutton also fell. At the wake for ?JT? and the memorial for ?Scooter? hundreds of young people wore shirts bearing their pictures. Nowadays it is commonplace for youths to dress in images of their dead classmates, teammates, friends or relatives.
The violent death of so many young people is evidence that our society is in a terrible mess. We have come to such a cold hard place that a 14-year-old boy can be suffocated in a state-run boot camp and a child can be labeled a failure before their 9th birthday. This month the Florida Department of Education will notify 28,600 kids that they failed the FCAT and to be certain they internalize this blow to their self-image they will be held back in 3rd grade. Don?t just be sad about these things. Just before he was killed Malcolm X said, ?Usually when people are sad, they don?t do anything. They just cry over their condition. But when they get angry, they bring about change.? Things must change!
If you decide to fight for a better world, you will confront very powerful forces. You must meet those forces with unity! Don?t be tricked into fighting and killing each other by those who care nothing for you or nothing will change. Your classmates in this school are your brothers and sisters. No matter their race, no matter their language, no matter their nationality, they are your only hope of winning this struggle!
Down 183rd Street at Norland, across 183rd at Pace, up 183rd at American you have brothers and sisters. At Northwestern, Edison, and Central you have more brothers and sisters. In Detroit, Atlanta, New Orleans and rural Kansas you have more brothers and sisters. The students marching out of their schools from Los Angeles to Homestead for immigrant rights are your brothers and sisters too. The students from Florida A&M, FSU and Tallahassee Community College who sat in Governor Bush?s office demanding justice for Martin Lee Anderson and his family are your older brothers and sisters and excellent role models.
While you are putting on the cap and gown consider the words of a man executed in the State of California during this school year. Stanley ?Tookie? Williams wrote, ?Across this nation, countless young men and women, like you, are vegetating in juvenile halls and in youth authorities. More and more prisons are being constructed to accommodate your generation when you grow to adulthood. The question is, can you become motivated enough to defy the expectations that many people have of you??
You will answer Tookie?s question with the rest of your lives. Good luck Class of 2006!