Everyone has their own story. We're as different as our own fingerprints. And among those personal differences, we have differences that fall under various umbrellas, including that of social experience. And with those unique experiences come unique fears, depending on where and how one grew up.
The boat that is this particular blog entry set sail early last week. I teach library media in an urban school, which is a far cry from the rural Midwestern town in which I was educated. With the widely varied experiences I've had in my life, I have had little problem adapting to environments unlike the ones closest to me. In fact, I cherish the chance at the challenge or the adventure.
During an eight-grade class, one of the young men handed in his worksheet dealing with Black History Month. One of the names I had the kids research was the brave Medgar Evers. As is well-known, Evers was murdered in 1963 by cowards that were part of the Ku Klux Klan. This student and I fell into a great conversation about Evers, and during the course of the talk, he asked me what the KKK was, as he'd never heard of them. I described them as an "evil, racist gang that hated...actually feared anyone different from them." The young man's expression turned wistful and he admitted to me that he was just chased the week before by a gang that "tried to jump [me]." I told him I was glad he got away, and he continued on about the experience. "They wanted me to join their gang because I'm fast," he said. "But they couldn't catch up to me. " He described how they flanked him, how they ordered each other to "take him down," and how his cousins who are actually in the gang protected him by telling the others to lay off.
"That has to be scary," I told him. "I'm really glad they didn't get their hands on you." He smiled - as many of these children do when an adult expresses genuine care for them - and told me something hopeful, "They want me in their gang, but I won't ever join a gang. They'll keep coming after me, but I won't do it." I patted him on his back and said, "Good. But just be careful, got it?"
I thought about that conversation. I thought about how different his childhood is from what mine was. Yeah, we can't all have the same things or be the same way - nor should we as being unique is what is so interesting - but I couldn't help but think about how wide apart our fears were.
When I was in eighth grade, my biggest world fears centered around the Cold War. On a personal level, however, there were no gangs, per se. Not much "hard knock life" in the small town of Cadillac, Michigan, at least not compared to Bridgeport, Connecticut. Worlds apart. Sure there were the "Jock vs. Burnout Fights" that happened every other day, and the worst that would happen would be someone might have brought a small knife to the rumble. People had rough lives, but I only knew my own life.
I can only imagine the fear that my students live with daily. Torn-apart families, drugs, gangs, and at the center of it all, violence. Violence to each other, from their parents, from others in their community. I wish they could have their childhoods, lives without the real-life fears, but I know it's just that: real life.
Doesn't stop me from wishing though.