Ask me why I do what I do and I’ll hand you a list like a phonebook. 25,000 names of kids in Birmingham City Schools and I am not lying when I tell you I do it for every single one.
I met Triniti and Josselyn when they were in the tenth grade. We’d been taking our first class of Academy of Health Sciences students to UAB Hospital for a couple of months by then, and they inquired out loud why I was always following them around with a camera.
“What are you doing here?” Triniti said with a smile.
“It’s sort of my job,” I replied.
They were the cool kids (a former not-cool-kid can always tell), but against all odds, we became friends. Josselyn, Triniti and a whole batch of others for whom I would cry at Carver’s 2016 high-school graduation. I spent lunches with them doing ACT prep and writing college admissions essays and completing financial aid forms. I went to softball games and Senior Night and end-of-year banquets. I have their senior photos pinned to my refrigerator with magnets.
And they – by golly, they! – made me better at my job and enriched my life. They came to every meeting I ever asked them to attend. They joined me for lunches and dinners and chili cook-offs. They invited me to softball games and Senior Night and end-of-year banquets. They asked me to attend their family graduation dinners. Knowledge of the entirety of the surviving English language cannot produce the words to capture the gratitude I have for all of this. I know, I promise, I’ve tried.
What cosmic luck it is that the glittering fabric of space-time bent in such a way as to give me the privilege of being a part of their lives! I am humbled by the kindness they express to me in small gestures and by the subtle elegance of friendship itself. I understand, now, why almost anyone I’ve ever met in Birmingham City Schools refers to their students as ‘babies,’ because, y’all, these ones are mine. But to know them is to accept the contingency that while – most of the time – my heart will burst, one day it may also break. The mere possibility that they will not grow up to be the people that the universe intended them to be is as unsettling as a ghostly shadow in my bones or in my lungs.
Truly, there’s a long list of answers to the question of why I do what I do, but most importantly it is Them. It is Triniti and Josselyn. It is Robyn and Randi and Jamerial and Jharin. Trey, She’Lah, Mohamed, and Jasmine. Alondra. Jaden. Trentin. Aspen. I can’t get these kids properly out of my head.
No one said it would be easy, but we never did it because it was. Among so many other things, I am grateful for a team that takes this work so personally that, sometimes, it hurts. But, folks, it’s so worth it, and as long as they persist, so will we.