A monologue from the play by Nikkole Salter
BEVERLY (forty-three, African American)
Have you ever spent some time in a Newark high school? Part of my job was to walk through every school in the district to observe teachers.
Elementary and middle schools were generally fine. Jordan went to Hawthorne Elementary. Excellent school. But high school?
Something shifts. I remember being on a walk through in Jordan’s high school, the bell rings to switch classes and out pour the students.
And it’s the usual thing, but this day something was . . . I don’t know I was just more aware . . . The conversations amongst the kids were just—
n-word this. b-word that. F-this. Right in front of adults. They didn’t care. I heard a teacher in the distance shout, “Get yo’ a-word to class.”
And this was them on their best behavior, I mean, they knew we were coming to walk through. Lots of lingering.
Lots of on-the-corner loitering. A security officer a little too friendly with one of the little girls for my taste. Then I think to myself, he’s not but twenty years old.
He most likely graduated from there two years ago. There were lots of kids, an innumerable amount, not carrying anything at all,
which means they had no books no homework to turn in, nothing with which to take notes or carry handouts or store materials they received, no paper and pen even.
And this was not because they all had laptops or tablets or anything, like the students here. The bell rings for class to start,
passing is over, but no one’s in a rush. Just shuffling along. I decide sneak away from the walk to peak in on Jordan’s class—
I kept him out of the general population. He was in “honors academy,” I made sure. And I never tell him when I’m going to pop up, so he’ll always be on his best.
and I get to his class and what do I see? . . . All the boys are lined up on one side of the room, girls on the other,
facing the wall, spread eagle while two security officers wand them down. Another walks through the aisles of the class looking through their bags . . . for contraband.
The teacher’s entering grades, and I tell her who I am and I ask her, “What’s going on here?” Figuring there was a serious incident of violence.
But she casually says, “Random security check.” They pick a classroom at random every morning. Like numbers out of a hat.
They got my baby on the wall doin’ the pat down perp walk—he’s done nothing wrong, and what killed me was that this was normal.
All of it—the hallways, the cursing, the low expectations, the loitering—The kids were used to it. I had become used to it.
The teacher was used to interrupting her lesson for random security checks. I mean, this was a classroom—
supposed to be a learning space, a safe space, but there they were spread eagle…and not at all bothered by it…laughing even.
And I realized: My son was being indoctrinated into prison culture because of my career aspirations. I pulled him from that school that same day and quit the next.
Just packed my stuff up, and walked away. Right in the middle of curriculum approval. I didn’t even finish presenting to the board.
I didn’t want to be associated with that mayhem, not one more minute.