This is the air we breathe, the water we swim in, the mound of dirt we dig through, and sometimes the manure in which we plant seeds of a different kind.
When my grandfather returned from the war in Europe, he brought home a Luger and his helmet.
My grandmother stored the Luger high on a closet shelf, but she had a different vision for the helmet.
In previous columns I shared the voices of local teens as they examined how stereotypes distance and dismiss the other and next as they expressed their own encounters with racism. Those stories were personal and painful.
The final challenge invited the students to delve into their histories to honor where they come from; to acknowledge the truths life has shown them so far; and to illuminate a different vision of themselves in this present moment. Here are a few of their words:
I come from bread and garden hoses, tamales and the smell of paint.
I am the product of water bottles and caldo de marisco, curly mohawks and my Grandmas tilted walk.
I come from mangoes, Itsy Bitsy Spider, and shopping malls.
I am the TV remote, my moms tamales de pollo, soccer games and Are you Mexican?
But here is the secret nobody knows (Or maybe they do but Im telling you now): What Goes Around, Comes Around; Karma is a Mother.
And I am a desert with water.
I come from chocolate milk and brown eyes, a secret treehouse and Cinnamon Toast Crunch.
I am the product of sweet potato pie, Young Jeezy, my grandmas grey hair.
I come from lawn mowers and the mall, my dads house and axes.
I am shoes on the internet, rough bricks and Black people are always trying to steal something.
But here is the secret nobody knows: You Only Live Once
And I am a graphic T-shirt, hanging in the closet, hidden behind a door but waiting to be discovered.
I come from shiny brown hair, sizzling hot dogs, and rosy cheeks, tortillas, scribbling pencils, and books.
I am the product of colors on a paintbrush, sweet icing on a cake, the bright green in my uncles eyes.
I come from pots filled with rice, Mi Nina Bonita, and a broom brushing a floor that will never be clean.
I am the comfortable loud noises on Franklin Street, the beating hearts of kids playing soccer, people saying I cant get an education.
But here is the secret nobody knows: There will always be ups and downs. And I am a rainbow spilling over with creativity and color.
I come from formula milk, Durham streets, brown skin, and Chuck E Cheese.
I am the product of laptops and hammers, apartments and spiders, screwdrivers and pizza.
I come from mops, okra, brooms, and brown eyes.
I am chocolate candles, vanilla ice cream and Black people are dumb.
But here is the secret nobody knows: Its the Inside that Counts.
And I am a soldier standing tall on a battlefield.
I come from applesauce, big eyes, and the smell of gasoline.
I am the product of soft skin, cut grass, and the color purple.
I come from spatulas and sourgrass, hummus and beagles.
I am the sound of screaming, the laughter of kids, and African American people are stupid.
But here is the secret nobody knows (or maybe they do but Im telling you now): Were. All. Family.
And I am a lily in the desert.
When the teens performed these pieces, they closed with an invitation to join them in imagining a shared present, one where their personal visions were acknowledged and validated:
Someones always telling your story without ever opening the book; They only read the title, see the cover and its cloth Erase your whole identity without a second look.
Im sorry but they miss the best adventure that ever lived on Planet Earth; The real-life story of ME within the pages of MY book:
The machetes and crushed peppers, barbecue, and brooms,
Spatulas and sourgrass, broken glass and fresh cut lawn.
The lily in the desert that still blooms.
So I will write myself a different story
Sing myself a newer song
Make myself a promise to a future thats my own.
I will CELEBRATE myself in this world that we all share
And invite you to assume
That what I assume is true.
For every atom that belongs to me as good
Belongs also to you.
See? The promise I make to the future is me
But also you.
What did my grandmother do with that helmet from the war? She poked holes in it with an ice pick, turned it upside down, filled the inside with dirt and planted petunias.
I like to think that with enough validation and guidance, this is what these children will also do: poke holes in the container we have handed them, flip it on its head, and against all expectations, bloom where theyve been planted.