Dear Dr. Crandall,
Hey, there. It is Kobe from Bassick High School. How have you been? It is extremely upsetting that we haven't talked or perhaps bonded since the Fairfield University Young Adult Literacy Labs that Mrs. Silver, and yourself, introduced me to! Well, I have already departed from high school, and now I continue my education at York Technical College in Rock Hill, South Carolina, while playing for a post-graduate program also within a 10 mile radius of where I live. Hopefully I am blessed with the luxurious opportunity to receive a pleasant response!
This is a response to you, but I'm not sure it is luxurious or pleasant. I can tell you, though, it is on the web. I moved to digital writing in 2008 because I found that keeping my thoughts in books for my shelves was rather selfish (the same goes for letters). Online, my thinking can be shared with others and so it doesn't disappear upon my whims and fancies. They can be discovered by others wasting their life in search for answers (I think that is what being human is all about). How are you?
I very much remember you and I will tell you why. It has to do with Ms. Silver. From the first time I met her she was talking about your integrity, drive, and desire to do something miraculous with your world. I met you because I followed the koi at Bassick High School to where their souls were being fed and so many were swimming to Ms. Silver's art room. She and I are a rare breed of teacher - our curriculum and instruction transcend state tests, district policies, political expectations, and numerical policing. We are are in this for soul work. There is nothing more important than connecting with kids and helping them to find within themselves the power to achieve. Those of us who have worked in urban locations, however, recognize that even when bright, colorful, and beautiful koi are eager to jump into bigger, more fortunate ponds, the pollution of our nation (see Flint for the most recent example) poisons their dreams.
I go to Ms. Silver whenever I want a reinvestment in all that matters in education. Silver really is the new gold. In the end, it is the teachers and leaders like her who matter the most. We don't remember the #$$#@ that wrote us up, or the #$#@ that yelled at us, or the $#%#@ who told us we wouldn't make it. We remember the voices and guidance of those who helped us to find our wings. (Correction: we do remember the ##@$. But they don't matter in the same ways that good advice does).
I imagine you, like the vast majority of young men and women I've worked with throughout my career, are still looking for answers and solutions to what you are experiencing and facing. It is a rough truth to hear, but high school offers the last safe space for you to process what you hope to do in the world. It isn't the end, but for many, it is the last location where a family of committed individuals have your back and work tirelessly to encourage and support you. Some find this in college, but most don't. There are too many egos in higher education seeking their own careers and they can't be bothered with the potential of young people.
The world is cruel. I'm 43 now, and I continue to be slapped upside the head by how cruel it can be. I've found my faith, however, in working with young people and by admitting, "Man, I only know what I know, but I'm more invested in learning what you have to teach me." I'm skeptical of those who preach at me with answers, and more in kinship with those who have all the questions. I like to hear from how others know their worlds.
With that said, I recognize that, at times, there's a need for suggestions and advice, especially for young people putting one step in front of the other. I've lived my life and know the corners I've turned and the greatest truth I can tell you is that no two journeys are alike. You are (as Cat Stevens would say) on your own "road to find out." My thoughts about the bigger life thing. Well, I'm not sure I have answers, but I might have ramblings. So here they go...(just a few)
- Plato's Allegory of the Cave is everything. Basically, he says all of us are born chained inside of caves and behind us is this fire. Because we're chained, we never see outside the cave - we only know the shadows that our bodies produce on the walls in front of us. This is our reality. Shadows. The goal of the educated man, though, is to find a way to unshackle that reality and to get outside the cave. To know the Bassick/Bridgeport life is simply to know that cave. Connecticut is a cave, too. There, you gained truths from your teachers, friends, experiences, family and the media. But are they true or were they just created to make you doubt yourself...to paint yourself in a negative light? What else can you be if you don't let negativity shackle you to a position of powerlessness? My point? Education is the answer. But you can only be educated when you ask great questions and you look for answers yourself.
- Surround yourself with love and positivity. It is as simple as defining people in life as "these are the go-getters and the lovers of life" and "these are the haters and miserable people in life." If you are always with the negatives: you can't, you won't, you shouldn't, etc. then you will never believe in the potential you have. The news, gossip, music industry, etc. want you to believe that you're a nobody. Sadly, I think the majority of people fall victim to this. It is so much more fun to be with positive, fun, and achieving individuals.
- Read. Write. Be a nerd. It is never the sprint but the marathon, and even if life is a team sport, you have to play most of it alone. No one can steal your brain, so if you find books that empower you, and you write to know yourself better, you will find yourself as a man of integrity. Taking care of your physical self, too (via sports) is also key, but in the back of your mind, you need to always have a book you want to read, or some ideas you want to jot down. Don't let your mind grow passive through lack of activity.
- Never settle for answers you don't want to hear. When you hear "no," keep working until you find a way that it becomes a "yes." If this is the case, then you need to know what you want to hear "yes" to. And, if the journey only brings you to more "no...no...no" then you should think about alternative plans to make it the "yes" that you want.
- There's no excuses. Ever. Well, there are, but they won't get you anywhere. The sad reality of all of our lives is we'll be forgotten rather quickly. Our loved ones will remember us for a while, but they too will go and they will be forgotten. Douglas Coupland once said, "The human body is water's evil plot to transport itself around the world." I add to that, "The human brain is a clever adaptation to push ideas and histories onto greater and better generations." Be the man who invests in the thinkers and integrity of tomorrow. Make your mark by doing what is right and living for the well-being of others.
- Laugh. That simple. Find reasons to laugh.
- Have good, critical friends who want the best for you...who are honest with you...and that you admire. That's what I've been able to do with a professional friendship with Ms. Silver.
Neither one of us, Yellow or Stripe, expect ticker tape parades or red carpets, but because we fight for kids and invest in them so they have the slightest chance of making it in this creepy, challenging, but sometimes rewarding world, every now and again our work is recognized.
But it's not about being recognized. It's about laughing, smiling, trusting, loving, believing, fighting, creating, trying, reimagining, exploring, redirecting, reading, writing, thinking, and knowing there's a bigger picture to all of this.
I'm not sure where you are right now, Kobe, but I know Ms. Silver gave me the note you wrote and that you looked up to her immensely. I think if you reflect deeply on whatever it is you're searching for you'll come to a place where her investment in you will provide the answers. There are many others, I know, who have done the same. It is your job, however, to be strong and to follow your gut to do what is right. You know. I know you do.
And I believe in you, too, because Ms. Silver believes in you. There's no need to respond. Rather, I'd like you to go out into this world and be the best man you can be. Okay, you can let me know if this was pleasant or not.....