“Hey Ms. Joy?”, he said.
“Yes… (I’m trying to take attendance)”
“Another black man got shot last night”
“(pause) I know”
5 minutes later, I noticed another student is not eating breakfast, so I asked her what’s wrong. She replied, “I watched the video of the man getting shot. I’m not hungry”.
This morning I felt a sadness, a heaviness, an anger that I have not felt before, and no matter what I did, I could not shake the feeling. As I got dressed, memories of yesterday flooded my mind.
Yesterday, during our daily pre-work phone call, my best friend asked, “Who is Alton Sterling?” to which I replied, “I don’t know girl,” and we continued our normal routine of complaining about our jobs until she paused again and said, “…they shot him”. “Shot who?”, I asked. “Alton Sterling,” she said. I immediately started asking questions. Who is he? What did he do? Who shot him? Is he dead? She only answered one of my questions. “The police. They shot him point blank in the head.”
Yesterday, I sat at a table with a coworker and talked about how much I fear for the lives of my students. My students, who have barely reached Sweet 16. My headstrong and rebellious students who defy authority simply because it’s embedded in their culture. My quiet and reserved students who never give me any trouble. I remember telling my coworker, “If the compliant ones are dying at the hands of officers, what will become of our students?”
Yesterday, I asked myself how we recover from such a deep cut. How do we as a community, heal from such a wound?
Yesterday, I went home and tried to relax. As I scrolled through Facebook, past angry posts, past the video of his murder, I saw a news reel with his family.
Yesterday, I watched a 15 year old boy break down on national television because his dad died.
Yesterday, I mourned the loss of a man I never knew.
Yesterday, before I even closed my eyes in a failed attempt to sleep, I saw on social media: #FalconHeightsShooting.
Another man is dead.
Yesterday, I prayed for 2 families that I am not connected to. Yesterday, I shed tears for fatherless children and husband-less wives. Yesterday, I prayed for my father. my brothers. My nephews. My uncles. My cousins. My pastor. My students. Yesterday, I prayed for children I have yet to conceive.
Yesterday, 2 days after our nation celebrated independence, we were reminded that we are not yet free.
So today, when my student said, “Hey Ms. Joy. Another black man got shot,” when my student lost her appetite after watching another execution on her Facebook News Feed, I wanted to tell them this: Be compliant. Always take your receipt. Always ask for a bag when you make a purchase. Don’t touch anything unless instructed to do so. Don’t make any sudden movements. Don’t have a broken tail light. Don’t play with water guns. Don’t sell CDs. Don’t buy skittles and Arizona tea. Don’t wear hoodies. Don’t walk alone. Don’t walk with more than 2 people. Don’t run. Keep your hands visible at all times. Keep your mouth shut.
But all I told them was, “I Know”.
Joy J. is an Illinois native and a graduate of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. She enjoys inspiring young minds and creating atmospheres for thought-provoking discussions. She is the proud founder of Singles Exchange, an online platform that dives into the realities of modern dating and relationships.