“Wow! Look at that airplane!”
“What? You’ve never seen a plane take off before?”
“Not like that, only in the movies”
Last Thursday, I went up north to Miami (about an hour and a half away) with some students from the poetry club. We were going to an informational session for a competition that is coming up in mid-April. It was an eye-opening experience, for them as well as for me.
Though they live in Miami-Dade County, they have never been to the city nor the beach. A plane was taking off as we drove past the airport. They all freaked out because they had only seen that in the movies. At first, I thought it was cute. Then it hit me that they have no exposure to the outside world.
We continue driving and B points out that his homeless shelter was somewhere around. Whoa, I didn’t expect him to be so open and point that out. I didn’t want to make it awkward so I asked how long he had to live there. He had been homeless for 4 months and he hated it because everyday a schoolbus would take him to school and he was the only one on it. The subject was changed, but I stored it in my heart.
We make it to the event and they got to interact with some students from another poetry club. It was inspiring getting to hear from students from other schools. One was even encouraging our students to go to college. He related mostly to B because he too wanted to be a rapper. He then said that being a rapper is all about the connections you make and that college is a place for those connections. That college can only be a good thing because it will provide opportunities to so much more. B resisted at first, but started to be open to the idea.
They saw a few performances and were awed, humbled, and inspired. It was such a great way to get them exposed to different types of performances and to have them interact with people whom they would never have the chance to interact with.
After, we went to subway to grab dinner. At first they were hesitant and suggested the Burger King dollar menu. I told them no, and not to worry because I would treat them. They were, I guess you can say, shocked that I, a teacher would do such a thing. I told them, it’s no big deal, they deserved it. When we arrived, B stayed in the back. I asked him what he wanted. He told me that he never ordered. Usually people order for him and just give him whatever. Perhaps he was saying that because he had never had subway and didn’t want to be embarassed or perhaps not. Another one of my students got so excited that he could put any topping in his sandwich that he got meatballs as well as chicken. I looked at the guy who made the sandwich and he gave me the “its-ok-i-understand” look.
We went to sit down after we all got our sandwiches. They were all so giddy. I started opening mine to eat and I saw F just observing. I asked, what’s wrong? He said, “this is so surreal. Never did I think I would be up north, in a subway, with you, B, M, and B.” And I thought about it. It was pretty surreal. But I told him, “see, poetry brings people together. We are like family now. This is a family dinner.” As I said that, I could see the atmosphere change. That was when we became a family.
We started eating and sharing conversation when B stopped. There was a man outside who kept on staring at him. The man was homeless. B told me that he felt bad and was going to give him half of his sandwich because he knows how it feels to be hungry. I told him he didn’t have to and that I would buy him a new one. After we finished, we went to go look for the man to ask if he wanted a sandwich, but he was no where to be found so B left his sandwich outside. I asked, “what he no one gets it? wouldn’t that be a waste?” He said, “no, if he’s hungry, he’ll find it”. I asked him, “how come you didn’t eat your cookies? (he had been super excited for them earlier)” He said he was bringing them back for his siblings.
I came home that night, bawling to my roommate. It’s not fair that they have to go through what they go through. We live such different worlds. And a meal that I take for granted is something that they treasure. I can’t imagine B homeless, scavenging the ground for food. I can’t imagine running away and spending two nights outside of Wal-mart to get some change. I can’t imagine doing at that just 17 years old. But this is the reality. And that day, I got a piece of it.
What inspires me the most is that these students are able to take whatever hardship and painful experience and channel it into something beautiful. That no matter the ache, they take it and make art. Inspiring. Beautiful. Powerful.
I got to see their hearts that day and it broke mine. This poetry club never came at a better time.