Dear JaKorey

education, photography

Dear JaKorey,

Standing in your living room last night, I was overcome with conflicting emotions.

This was not the first time I had spoken to your mother; as you well know, we have frequent phone calls about your behavior. But, this was our most difficult conversation, and it had little to do with your actions in my classroom.

Looking around the crowded house, I could see that it was full of people, yet devoid of life. Death, in some ways, doesn’t discriminate. We will all pass on from this life eventually. But, if you’re a young, Black boy in the South, Death tends to come too soon and too violently.

I read the story in the paper yesterday, and I was saddened by the loss of yet another young life, before I knew his name, before I realized he was your brother.

“Student who skipped school Friday found dead in creek.”

An insufficient headline, capturing one poor decision, instead of his lifetime of choices and memories. Made me wonder how each of us might be remembered someday.

Despite his choices at the end of his short life, I grieve the loss of his potential. I mourn for you and your mother.

As we joined hands in your living room and bowed our heads to pray, your mother’s words filled the room with such passion and strength that I couldn’t keep my eyes closed. Lifting my head, I noticed photos of you and your brother standing in Sunday best, smiling. Glancing down, I saw your feet in socks that reached halfway up your shins; your left foot bouncing up and down, up and down.

Child-sized feet in adolescent socks. A smattering of photos, memories. Life and death.

You and I have never seen eye to eye. Your choices in my classroom have been far from excellent. I may often be frustrated with you, but I realized last night, with your hand clasped in my right and your mother’s in my left, that it doesn’t really matter. I’m not giving up on you. I care too much about you to let you slip through yet another year of school without a fire in your soul for the value of your own life.

Did you hear your mother’s prayer? She pleaded for all the little boys and girls at our school to be touched by the message of your brother’s death. She begged God to let her son, your brother, be the last student in this neighborhood to make a poor choice and pay the highest price for it.

My compassion for you is so strong that I will not be easy on you when you return. If you continue to choose inappropriate behaviors in class, I will be firm with you; I need you to understand that. I owe it to your mother, your brother and to you.

I can’t make decisions for you, JaKorey, and I can’t change the course of anyone’s life. I will, however, make it very difficult for you to do anything other than become the best version of yourself, as a student, a son and a young man.

I am devastated by the tragic loss of your brother. If you need space, quiet, time to process and heal, or a listening ear, I want my classroom to be a refuge for you.

Have courage. You are not alone.

All my love,

Ms. Jackson

Dear Jalissa

education, photography

Dear Jalissa,

Are you safe and warm this Christmas Eve? I heard on the news that the shelters around South Dallas are especially full this week. I pray that you and your family have found a place to be together and that you are not hungry tonight.

It feels strange for me to wish you a Merry Christmas. So, I will wish you peace in the midst of uncertainty, pain and loss. I pray for a bed to sleep in, a warm meal to eat and a sense of security tonight. And most of all, I wish you a hopeful Christmas season.

Hold fast to the belief that one day you will have a place to call home again.

All my love,

-Ms. Jackson

Dear Jada

education, photography

Dear Jada,

Please don’t be embarrassed that you are hungry. I am so grateful you opened up to me in your letter. You’re right; your behavior has been irrational lately. Now I know why.

I can’t give you any cash for food. But if you look under the plant on my desk on your way out of class today, you will find an envelop with several important papers inside. The yellow sheet explains that your meal account balance has been paid, and you have enough credit now for lunch and breakfast this week.

I talked to Ms. Johnson about how to connect your mom with a program that will provide food every day that you are not in school over winter break. I know how hard your mom is working to provide for you, your brothers and your sisters. I also know this time of year is expensive, and our community has a program for families who are in a tough spot financially.

You have nothing to apologize for and nothing to be embarrassed about. As much as possible, I want you to focus on preparing for your midterms. Trust that the adults in your life are working together to make sure this winter break will be different.

You will not go hungry.

All my love,

Ms. Jackson

Dear Ethan and Christian

education, photography

Dear Ethan and Christian,

I have a new vocabulary word for you:

Empathy – the ability to understand and share the feelings of another

Today you two showed empathy when you noticed that I was stressed and frustrated at lunch. While nearly every other 6th grade student continued being rowdy and silly when I asked them to enter the cafeteria silently, you two thought about what it must feel like to be me, and you invited me to eat lunch at your table.

Ethan, I’ll never forget your quip:

“Well, about all we can do is pray!”

Amen to that.

And Christian, thank you for offering me a French fry while taking my mind off the craziness of the cafeteria by yammering about the latest movies you’ve seen.

You two are the coolest. Thanks for reminding me of what kindness looks like.

All my love,

-Ms. Jackson