Oakland is notorious. Dr. Evil joked in Austin Powers about getting his props in Oak-town because it would be the most difficult part of his plan to takeover the world.
The Black Panthers began in Oakland and were later dismantled in 1968, primarily in the same place. Today this city is not celebrated for its political activism, but is infamous for their homicide rate. Seasoned journalist Chauncey Bailey was murdered in August 2007. On June 16, 2008 a sixteen year-old was shot and killed in the middle of the day.
This news is nothing new to those who live in the Bay Area. Death and pain is a common reality to all that exist in Oakland, including the youth. However, I believe in resilience. I know it exists because I see it everyday in the eyes of the Oakland teenagers I work for.
Resilience, the ability to bounce back from adversities, is the key to the future. Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi and many others envisioned a brighter world full of bounce. These are days when kids can pursue their passions and achieve their dreams because they will bounce back from misfortunes, turning them into conquests.
I went to work one afternoon and heard about a teenager being shot at the bus stop in front of his school. The kids were undoubtedly shaken, but not scared. They stood firm and answered this violence with silence and compassion, knowing that it could have been anyone of them.
I knew death and pain in high school, but not how they know it. For these kids pain is simply a part of residing in Oakland.
When I help students write essays about Elie Weisel’s experience in Night, the connection to their present day struggle is undeniable. The fight it takes to maintain one’s humanity can be brutal—emotionally and physically.
Their dreams bounce higher than the majority of adults I know. This is because they have been pulled, stretched and tested in every way. I heard some say that they don’t know their biological fathers; some don’t know their biological parents. I heard one say their mother was on drugs and another say that they know cutters. I heard many say they’ve been affected by violence. I know one who wants to be a pediatrician and another who wants to be an engineer. I heard one say that poetry is her addiction and another say that all she wants do is music.
They move past the Shakespearean-like tragedies by speaking their heart through the arts, primarily poetry. When I read or hear their poems my arms fill with goose bumps. They create their own realities through their poetry. A wise young man told me that poetry is neither left brain nor right brain, it just is. And, poetry can only be answered with poetry.
These kids want to keep their humanity so that they can change the world and I believe that they will—witnessing their resilience makes me want to bounce just as high as they do.
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