An Ode to the Beautiful and Unrefined

“You’re hired. You will be teaching fifth grade.”

As a soon to be college graduate and nearly married man, I left Frayser Achievement Elementary the day of my promised employment relieved, and aware. I was aware of two things I lacked; melanin and experience. I was unaware that for the next four and a half years I would have the privilege of being in constant community with powerful, unrefined, beauty; a fossil fuel to inspiration and self-discovery.

Unrefined.

Unrefined meaning unpolished; unpolished meaning one who is unconcerned with genteel. In other words, Frayser don’t front. You see what you get and you get what you see, authentic. Coming from academia and the midwest, this was the first virtue that Frayser taught me. It is a place I became comfortable with being authentically angry, and place where I found a passion just south of rage. Guardians ready to pop off on anyone that threatens the wellbeing of their child. Students that are ready to brawl for that sake of the matriarch, and teachers emboldened by a chip on their shoulder that required little digging to understand. The chip blantly stated we ride or die for our students… and f*ck errebody who ain’t with that.

My students brought this anger to our classroom, and my colleagues modeled how to hold it and welcome it in my classroom. Anger is a response to what should not be, and teaching in a school that was segregated, underfunded, and forgotten demands anger. It is here that I learned to befriend and accept anger. I taught 183 angry students. I interacted with 183 angry families, and I became a person who happily wears my passion as a reminder that complacency will never ever be an option. Here is to the unrefined, the angry.

Beautiful.

I struggle to assign it as a describer to anything because it is a gateway to the shallow, cliched, and biased writing. A white Jesus is beautiful to some and absolutely terrifying to others. Kardashian beauty is alluring but when you jump into that you break you neck; too shallow. Top 100 radio has high jacked beauty and beat it to death, but I believe there are a few things that are worthy of the title beautiful.

Frayser the beautiful is a title earned by the grandmas who came to tutoring on Saturday mornings to make sure they understood what their grandsons and granddaughters needed to do on homework. Beauty is a young man who experienced the unspeakable and still chose to follow his teacher in wearing love on his wrist. Beauty is fifth graders helping kindergarteners learn how to read. Beauty is the most difficult student I ever taught not feeling like a criminal, rather feeling like she belongs and is fought for. Beautiful is students going to a blacktop basketball court where a young man three days prior had been killed in a silly act of violence to sing and show the rest of the world that murders will not be title you can assign to them. Beauty is me, a white man, finding humility and being welcomed into the sacred places of my black colleagues. There is beauty in Frayser and here is to all who have searched and found it.

Power.

In all honesty, there were days that I felt completely powerless. I learned instability was the jester. His entertainment of choice is playing a game of russian roulette with schools as the participants, and the kings and queens, oh, how they wish to be entertained. In this game each chamber is loaded. Each chamber filled either with a new initiative, a budget cut, or a leader that is like a ship captain that choses to drain the oceans instead of learning to navigate the exhilarating, and sometimes tumultuous seas of Frayser.

Hope grows.

New initiative.

Click, boom, hope’s brains blown out.

Hope regenerates.

Budget cut.

Click, boom, hope aborted.

Hope breathes.

Leader lacking humility.

Click, boom, hope breathless.

Now this poetic picture of hope in juxtaposition to the death of hope is a masterpiece of power and the students, colleagues, and families of Frayser, the artists. Frayser a community of power. Blow them up and they will come back like groot. Just when the community seems completely depleted it regenerates enough to get up the next day. Frayser students, Frayser Teachers, and Frayser families, they are creatures of resurrection. Here is to the petite yet perpetual power of resurrection. A power that outlasts.

Here is to the beautiful, unrefined, and powerful community that I have called home for the last four years.

Signed,

A teacher who has had the privilege of being captivated by beauty, loving anger, and remaining.