Hi. I'm Chrysanthius. And I don't know how to stop a bully from tormenting my child.
Yes, me. A decorated, experienced, well-known educator, facilitator, coach, and consultant, cannot protect her baby.
First things first. Isn't she just the most gorgeous thing? Hubby and I did a great job of making this one.
She comes home with the perfect face, and not a hair out of place. Her big, brown pupils with brilliant whites remind me of s'mores over a summer fire. Her skin looks like a Hershey bar - now, with almonds, because the stress of being a rose among weeds has taken its toll, manifesting as a mild outbreak. Her lashes are the envy of Maybelline, and her tidy nose and plump lips make up one of the most beautiful and unique faces I have ever seen. Petite and a good 98 lbs soaking wet, she has always reminded me of a Bratz doll or a black Tinkerbell - opinionated, alluring, stubborn, tenacious, straight-shooting, nervous, and can magically do anything she tries. Today, this perfect face is sad, and it's not the first time. Most times, it's a pout just because she didn't get her way - but a mother knows when something is not right. With Ausha, the puffy eyes are a dead giveaway.
"What's wrong, Ausha?" I ask.
"It wasn't a great day," she replies. She tells me of kids calling her crazy and laughing at her for needing frequent breaks. She tells me of kids pulling her chair out, calling her names, excluding, spreading false rumors. She then shows me a screenshot of a conversation. She explains that she joined a group chat, and that everyone left the group chat once she joined. "Nobody wants her here," one comment said. Although they came from a teen boy who has probably not yet found an appropriate showering regimen, the words hit me hard.
I'm 38, and, if you haven't noticed by now, basically a gangsta when it comes to shutting down white supremacist nonsense. Still, the words caused a crack. The last time I learned that I was not wanted in a space was at work last year, and it sent me into a depression so deep, I spent nearly a month in bed, only leaving the bed for showers, cooking dinner, and using the bathroom. To have a 15 year old see those words etched into .jpeg cyber memory - and her own name attached to it - broke me.
I began to think about my own classroom practices during my years of teaching. Even when I was a rookie and couldn't teach a child to read if my life depended on it, I prided myself on building a culture of respect for self and others in my classroom. I assigned jobs and paid students fake money to buy goodies every Friday - only after they have paid rent for their desks, of course. I held class meetings every week, tuning up whatever problems arose from students or myself. If John Doe harassed Jane, John was going to see me STAT. And, if Jane harassed John, I'd get on Jane's case just as expeditiously. NOBODY would make ANYBODY feel unimportant or unwelcome. "Your parents don't pay tax dollars for that," I used to say. I loved kids too much to lie to them, and I loved them enough to tell them the truth. If their attitude stunk, we got together some attitude cleaner and made it fresh. If they were gullible, we collected some Street Smarts to put into our bag of tricks. If they were nosey, I'd tell em to go buy a can of business. If they gave up too easily, I'd have them crochet some perseverance for their cold neck. (Yes, I taught my students to crochet.) The only way I would send a child out of my classroom was if they did something flagrant - throwing a chair, fighting. If they wanted to have public words, public words were had. But they were not leaving. They would learn to do right, get along, be their best selves, right there in that space. I'm inclined to believe that it was this honesty, rigor, high expectation, trust, and firm boundary establishment that consistently made my classroom a safe space, year after year, mostly free of the bullying and harassment that was viral in other parts of the school. Students would walk out of other classes with their work and ask to work in my room. And I'd let them. But this is not my class. This is not my school.
What do I do? Do I wield my prowess and pop up unexpectedly at the school, using my position to scare students into leaving my child alone or facing suspension? Do I talk to administrators and counselors - some of who were the same staff that let me down and had low expectations of me as a teenager when I attended the same school? Knowing they won't do a damn thing about it? Do I call on some of my more ratchet family members of whom age is not a factor in setting someone straight? Do I have her videotape the kids who harass her? Do I send her father to protect her, knowing it may be a trigger to some of the fatherless? Or do I transfer her to another school, a fresh start, a new beginning?
I hug my child. I tell her that I feel her hurt. I tell her that she's safe at home. I tell her she's beautiful times 10 and smart times 10 squared. I tell her my story. I tell her of the reason Mom spent so much time in bed from late May to late June. I tell her how, after that experience, I will NEVER, in my life, allow someone else to define me, represent me, or create an image of me. I tell her how I reached deep inside and went back to my roots to find myself, after intimidated white men nearly made me lose myself. I tell her how I am strong for facing the bully, and even stronger for loving myself enough to spend as much energy protecting my heart in this teacher leadership role, as I did my students' hearts while teaching. I tell her how I channeled the energy into something that will make a difference in the lives of other people of color in the school system. I tell her how my horrific breakdown gave birth to TREE Consulting. I tell her that what the devil means for evil, God means for good.
Yes, me. A decorated, experienced, well-known educator, facilitator, coach, and consultant, cannot protect her baby. But she can teach that baby to fight like hell.
The reporting, the showing up to the school to coat-check a kid or two, the paper trails, the screenshots - that will come in due time. But right now, I cede my professional power to an even higher calling - that of fortifying and uplifting a burgeoning, beautiful Black woman, who will, at some point, heal herself and use her experience to fight for another Black woman.
As long as no one hits her. Then, it's on to the sock full of quarters.