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Little Bronx Chronicles

Last week was Earth Day. The school had a dance. This week, two scrappy evergreen bushes were uprooted from the asphalt schoolyard and put out at the curb with the garbage. Busy little fingers had left them all but bare. Now there is only one evergreen left.

* * * *

Everyone’s doing a dance these days called the Crip Walk. They say it is, in fact, a gang thing. I had an uncle who was in a gang, one says. All this neighborhood is Bloods. No, it all Crips, someone else says.

Teacher spouts a little routine pabulum about gangs: Gangs are for hurting people, she says, on miserably ineffective autopilot. They beat you when you want to get in, they beat you when you try to leave, if they don’t kill you. She rummages through her memories trying to recall what else her ex-boyfriend’s naughty high school friend told her about when he went down to the park behind the jazz clubs and upscale chain stores to get jumped into a gang.

She knows she is wrong, and that gangs are about having a family if you maybe didn’t have one before. The kids know this, too, and they look at her with doubting heads cocked to the side. What they know is much more specific: To get into these Bloods, you have to kill another Blood, they say. You have to kill someone, like this: Finger-gun in the face. Bandannas and hand signs are discussed around the edges of the short crowd, reverent eyes wide.

The Crip Walk is not unlike the Suzy Q, an old step from the Lindy Hop. It has a step and a twist on the heel. Teacher shows them that, too. The girls are excited to learn.

* * * *

These are the same kids you were teaching to count with plastic money? a friend asks. Yes, I say. I have taught them to swing dance, and how to add change. I have taught them what makes water boil, how to count on their fingers in binary, where their Nikes come from, and the chant, “No Justice, No Peace!”, which we change to “No Cooking, No Peace!” when the principal is being an as$hole again and hogging the culinary arts room with a meeting.

This may be all they will remember about me. Perhaps they will not even remember me, or how to count in binary.

* * * *

It has gone widely unnoticed that today a policeman turned a gun on a protester at Eugenio Maria de Hostos Community College in the Bronx yesterday. The protest was on behalf of 450 students who will be left out in the cold when entry-level remedial courses are cancelled for the next semester.

I am waiting to hear if the afterschool social work coordinator had a meeting yesterday with the mother of the three perennially absentee children, the two-times-held-back girl who threatened to punch me in the face, whose brother is in my third grade class and cannot read, whose other sister wears beautiful clothes that are not the school uniform and tries to bribe me with presents. Day before yesterday the mother did not show. Finally, thank God, if she is not present, it will not go unnoticed.

* * * *

Every day I could write something as extraordinary as this. These children are miracles of God and of American neglect.

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