When you look at people through out your days what goes through your mind? Do you look at people and make assumptions about their lives? Do you wonder where they are going, and or where they are coming from? Does their past cross your mind? Where they grew up and how they happen to be crossing your path at that exact time? What led them to be right there with you right now?
I try not to look at people with eyes of judgement, but I do wonder with curiosity. Watching a young man with a backpack, tattered jeans, unkempt appearance passing may have me wondering what has brought him to this place in his life. Is he searching for assistance, or is he content with his being and drifting through life with a joy in his heart I can not see? I feel I have been on the side of those looks in my life and now it has allowed me to change my mindset. I do not use judgement because I know there is a story to every situation.
In the mid 80’s I was to begin my middle school journey. Yes it was called middle school at the time and not junior high, and I do not know when that title was changed. The elementary school I had gone to at that time happen to go up to sixth grade. This was the first time I went to a school for more then one year before moving. Fifth and sixth grade allowed me to make a few friends and have the teachers and staff see something in me without me having to pack up and leave just as they were starting to get somewhere with me academically. Here I go packed up and moving on to a new place which also meant a new school. The good thing about moving back downtown was that we had made that move several times to different parts of the area and it was always like coming back home. I knew the streets and area. I knew some of the other kids around, but only as acquaintances. None of them were really friends, because I had never stayed long enough to make that happen. Either way it was the beginning of the summer and my next step was middle school.
I was a big kid, but I was coming into the middle of these established adolescents . The 8th graders were the big fish of the school, and the majority of the 6th graders came up together from their elementary schools and neighborhoods. I would have to swim against the stream and find my place in this new world. I tried to make at least one friend that would be going to school with me. It was actually pretty easy because there were only two choices of school in our area so I was bound to have one of the kids in the group around me also be going to this new place I called school. I had so much time to get to know people because even at the ripe old age of 11 I was pretty much on my own to get reacquainted with the streets. Parental guidance was a part time job for my dad most of my life even though he was my only parent. We are not going to get into much details of my pops, and even about the people I met that summer because this story is actually about something more then that. It is about a letter my dad received before starting at my new school. It came from the school district and stated that the district would be starting a new desegregation program and that I would now be bused to a school on the south side of the city in an affluent and predominantly white neighborhood. How I was chosen for this program til this day I do not know, but my whole idea of finding friends this summer just backfired on me.
I had no idea what any of this meant. Was this a punishment? Why did I have to go to school with a bunch of people I didn’t know in a place that might as well have been in China because it was just as foreign to me. I did not know the differences in the sense of they had privilege, or I was poverty level all I knew was that it all seemed unfair. I was used to going to a new school every year, but at least I knew where I was going. Now I am being sent somewhere. The idea of being sent without choice really seemed strange to me, but I embraced the idea because I had no choice at the end of the day.
I learned that it was not only me, a few of the kids around the area were also going to be bused around to other schools. Some would be going to the same school I would, but there was also another school that was on the list. Over time I would forget about the busing situation and just be a kid enjoying his summer break. Having fun with the neighborhood kids, and probably finding some not so good things to get into. We wandered the streets so freely like there was no danger or fear of something happening to us. We spent hours at the local 7-11 playing Donkey Kong Jr, eating frozen burritos and downing Slurpee. This was also around the time when I picked up a little bad habit called smoking. I remember the first time I accepted a cigarette from one of the other kids and to be cool I smoked with them. I felt sick, but over time I would grow fond of the slight buzz a cigarette would give me. My first experience with a funny feeling brought on by a foreign substance but not my last. I also learned to borrow items from the store without the intent of paying for them and getting full use of the product. I guess some would call this stealing, and they would be right. I look back on those times and yes they were care free, but the lack of guidance and following those around me that were at times much older led me to learn things I should have never been a part of. Back to the story.
It was the end of the summer and school was around the corner. We picked up a couple things to start the school year off with like clothes and school supplies I guess. I do not remember having a back pack so maybe that part didn’t happen. I know I would always get some kind of new clothes. Mervys was the spot, but I knew I was limited. We didn’t have much money so I knew not to ask for much. Usually 2 pairs of pants, a couple shirts and socks and underwear. Basic needs fulfilled and if I was lucky I would get a new pair of shoes. Nothing fancy, but something new meant the world when it came to shoes. I was ready for my new adventure. I could be anyone I wanted to be in this new place. They didn’t know me so the opportunity to reinvent myself was like gold. I was actually becoming excited for this new opportunity. I was able to go to a “better” school as my dad said. He did not have to try to figure out how to get me there or pick me up because I was going to be taking a school bus. This was also a new concept for myself. We had always lived close enough to schools that I walked, but now I had a chauffeur.
The first day I was woke up and it was still dark outside. It was like 5:00 am, and I felt like I should still be in bed. The bus ride was a little over an hour with picking up other students along the route and my stop was first on the list, so this made it the earliest pick up. 6:15 and if I was late my dad would have to get me to school and then it was a war. Screaming and yelling as I sit in silence for the ride to get my education was not how I wanted my days to start, so getting up early became normal to me. I was outside waiting for the bus by 6 am and could see there was others from the neighborhood enjoying the benefits of the school bus system. When the bus pulled up the sun was also starting his appearance for the day. The bus was cold and the seats were hard, but I got first choice on where I wanted to sit. That was the greatest perk of being picked up first. Not having that awkward moment of walking down the aisle and looking to to see who would let you sit by them, and if no one would be okay with scooting over the bus driver would chose and then you got the look from the kid already in that seat. We picked up at several other stops on our journey to this new found land called middle school. Here I come.
I could see the new school ahead. It was so much bigger then any other school I had gone too. It was so clean and had tennis courts and was in a really nice area. I could see a couple other school buses ahead of us parked already. Students were sitting on the buses still, and I just assumed it was not time to let us off yet. Maybe we were early, and there was no one to watch us. We pulled up and the bus set his break. We sat there for a moment and waited for the door to open and let us venture off into the newness of middle school. I was excited for the new chapter finally, and we just sat there. I began to see kids getting dropped off by their parents I assume, and walking up from their homes near by and we just sat there like animals in a cage for them to observe. We all sat there and talked and waited for the doors to open so we can go in, and it never happened. Other buses pulled up behind us and it got later in the morning which turned to afternoon. I could see a few people pushing carts towards the buses and the doors finally opened. We began to get up and the young lady asked us to sit back down and came through and handed bag lunches to each of us on the bus. Wow, our new fancy school that I still have not stepped into brought lunch out to us as we waited for something. Anything. A few of the students that had to use the restroom were escorted to the bathrooms where ever they were and brought back to the bus. I was not sure what was going on because we had seen other students walk in and go to school. We had seen teachers and staff walk by and try not to look or make eye contact with us on the bus. We talked and laughed and got loud at times, but no one really said anything. I heard the bell sound several times through out the day and I could see kids walking to their next classes, but I never got to walk in there that first day.
I remember before that last bell rang there was a group of adults that came out of the front of the school and walked to their cars and pulled away. It was not a huge group, but they did not look like teachers or staff, and I would learn later on that it was a group of parents upset that we were going to this school. That final bell rang, the driver came back into the bus and turned his key, and closed the door on the first day and pulled away. We were taken back to the same spot that hours earlier we were picked up from. Doors opened we walked off and there was nothing said about what had just happened. The bus closed his door and pulled away as if everything was normal. Was this going to happen again tomorrow? What exactly happened to us? Why did we sit on a bus all day without anyone coming out and welcoming us to this new place? I guess at that age I did not understand what was going on, or know to question what was happening. I never told my dad what had happened, but he never asked how my first day was either. I found out much later that parents were upset that we had been allowed to come to their school, while their children were being bused down to take our places at our home schools. I could totally understand being upset that you bought a house in a good neighborhood with the best schools for your children and now you are being told that your son or daughter will be going to a school downtown that probably is not that great, but we were children? Why were we being put in this position because of things totally out of our control? It brings up things in me today I can not seem to grasp, but I can tell you I had a great experience at the school in the end. We as children did not look at each other with judgement. We just went to class and did our thing. Do not get me wrong, there was an adjustment for most of us that were at that school and that included students, teachers and staff. I may not have looked like the kids at that school, but the curiosity and hunger to learn was the same.