chil­dren . . . for of gdom of Heaven!

The Star (St. Lucia) - - COMMENT -

teacher’s black­board.

De­spite that school class­rooms are sup­posed to be in­spi­ra­tional, this one brought to mind soli­tary con­fine­ment, at least as de­picted by Hol­ly­wood. I stud­ied the stu­dents as they ar­rived.

The young men first, then three young ladies. A few smiled at me, some shook my hand but with such limp-wristed dif­fi­dence as left me won­der­ing who among them might be the na­tion’s lead­ers of to­mor­row. And then I thought about our present lead­ers, the politi­cians in whose hands we con­tinue to place the present and fu­ture of this coun­try: their de­meanor that spoke of on-the-floor en­ergy lev­els, their un­chang­ing out-tol­unch ex­pres­sions, their blank eyes—was all of that im­planted in class­rooms such as just de­scribed?

I opened my ad­dress with a prom­ise: I would not lec­ture my young au­di­ence on good be­hav­ior. I would not lie to them about how well man­nered I was in my youth; nor would I seek to con­vince them that I was the best son a mother ever had.

In­stead, I as­sured them that as a kid I was a royal pain-in-the-ass (yes, I put it that way)—as are most kids. I told them I had en­ergy to burn, like any other healthy kid 15-16 years old. And yes, I got into all kinds of trou­ble al­most ev­ery day, as con­ceiv­ably they did.

Mean­while, I was not­ing with se­cret ap­pre­ci­a­tion the at­ti­tu­di­nal change that had abruptly come over them. They were ac­tu­ally lis­ten­ing to me, an­tic­i­pa­tion light­ing up their wide open eyes.

I fur­ther re­as­sured them: “For­get about those adult voices on the ra­dio that keep talk­ing about how bad you are. For­get their echo­ing al­le­ga­tions about 16-year-old killers. You are not to blame. Per­son­ally, I don’t blame even the 16-year-old mon­sters. Rather I blame those who brought them into this world in the purest state, to­tally in­no­cent, then be­trayed them, ei­ther by their own be­hav­ior or by egre­gious ne­glect, in the process turn­ing them into killer teenagers, rapists and other ver­min.”

I pleaded with the kids to trust their teach­ers. Touched on rape and its end­less con­se­quences. I told them I too had grown up wish­ing I were the son of wealthy par­ents, with ev­ery­thing won­der­ful within reach. I cal­cu­lat­ingly re­called that I had been ex­pelled from school at four­teen, for bad be­hav­ior of which I never was guilty. Yes, I felt my world cave in con­se­quen­tially. But I re­fused to be beaten by pre­var­i­cat­ing wolves in sheep’s cloth­ing. I had picked my­self off the floor— with a de­ter­mi­na­tion to be a cham­pion at what­ever I tack­led.

I told them, truth­fully, that for me los­ing bat­tles had never been an op­tion, never mind that here and there I had for­feited a round or two.

“My sweet­est re­venge,” I said, “was when I was in­vited to de­liver mo­ti­va­tional speeches at the very school that sev­eral years ear­lier had kicked me out for some­thing I did not do!”

I took sev­eral ques­tions at the end of my talk, among them, whether I had ever been a gang mem­ber; how I felt about Rasta. In­ter­est­ing, but the best were asked one-on-one as I made my way to my car. All in all, I think I touched a few young hearts. But as happy as they had seemed as we said our good-byes, their joy did not begin to match what I felt as I headed back to work.

Wayne with teacher, poet and au­thor Stephen Dantes. He in­vited the pub­lisher to ad­dress his stu­dents at their be­hest.

are sup­posed to be the lead­ers of e trou­ble!”

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