Dear C

“What’s your best advice?” is a question I recently asked one of my students as we got to know each other over fractions.

Said student, let’s call him C, is a black man around 60+ years old. Physically, we could not be more opposite of each other. If you saw us standing on a street corner together, you would not assume us friends, as sad of a fact that may be. But alas, here we were sitting together and his answer to my question was immediate: “Keep an open mind and be spiritually inclined.”

I must tell you that I love collecting stories. One of my favorite parts of my job so far is the connections I’ve made. My students have lived full lives and they offer their stories freely, just as they would their gumbo on a Sunday afternoon. They have generous hearts and open spirits. Some of them pray as often as they breathe and let me know it. What I mean to say is, I asked C this question because I know he’s my teacher this year. They all are.

The things that proceeded to come out of this man’s mouth blew me away. My unconscious bias tells me that a man who can barely read or write couldn’t possibly have the kind of insight he has. Society casts illiterate people to the margins, giving them no value. No chance to share their wisdom or contribute their gifts. It is an enormous loss. I want to live against that, to sit with people in the margins and let them teach me as much as I’m teaching them. That is my job this year. Give and take and give and take.

C went on to tell me that maintaining an open mind is the most important thing we can practice. He said hate and fear is what’s killing young black boys. He said we have to open our minds and hearts to love if we want to get better. That we need to keep our eyes to the sky and remember where we come from. What a beautiful point of view from a man who comes from a generation that has every reason to be angry and closed-off. He said so many things, speaking on mass incarceration, absent fathers, and discipline in schools. The details are beside the point in this blog post, though. I just want you to know that his commentary on our world’s problems were refreshingly simple, and when his words hit my ears, they felt like truth. They felt like love.

“You just have to sit down and talk with folks,” he told me.

C, my friend and brother, it is an honor to sit down and talk with you every week. May your voice never be silenced.