We’re ravaging the school supplies sections of the SuperWalmart and the Walgreens and the two dollar stores in town. This morning, I walked the half mile to Our Lady of Victories. It’s across the road from a cotton field, like every building in Cleveland. And sitting there in a pew, I was confused and kind of enraged. Because you can talk about the “achievement gap” and you can throw it around like the catchy buzzword that it is, but there are times when you actually see it right there in front of you and it’s maddeningly tangible. Where were those old men that hang out at gas stations or the women that live in the tin houses on my school route or the little kids that took reading tests at Quitman on Friday? Where do these little kids at the Catholic church, with bows in their hair and books in their hands, go to school? Surely not Quitman County Elementary. How come all these kids to get to grow up like this, how come I got to grow up better than this, and the students I meet tomorrow don’t? Why are these kids at the Catholic church, wearing their sundresses and their Ole Miss belts, all white? Why are my students, who don’t have a notion of college, much less a notion of their favorite ones, black? Why hasn’t this difference righted itself yet? Whose fault is this? Why doesn’t someone put an end to it?
So I was angry and I felt guilty and I just didn’t know what to think. Because I’m supposed to be the changing force in these kids’ summers and hopefully in their lives. I’m supposed to be putting at end to it. But I have no idea how to do that, how to fix things like this. Tomorrow, I won’t be thinking about my six years at Hockaday, but maybe I should be.
Tomorrow, I start my foray into teaching, bright and early on the bus with the blinking white light. And it’s going to be a challenge and it’s going to change me and I’m going to grow up and hopefully do something practical with my life. But yesterday, yesterday I was still just a young kid, watching the country roll by from the passenger seat of a pick up truck (oh Texas, how I miss you) and drinking beer on a lonely bank of the Mississippi River.
Driving out here, you’re reminded of Texas. The fields go on forever and the sky tends to follow, only there’s rows of cotton and corn instead of grasses and cattle. No cattle guards or fences, just fields. And the ground’s still wet from the last flood instead of dusty and crackling under your feet. Mississippi makes me miss Texas because it makes me feel much the same way when I’m out there in the open fields with the sky and the land and the soft, humid breeze. Makes me feel more like I’m in church than when I’m really in church.
Getting on the school bus tomorrow morning. Wish me luck.