On the North Side of the city, there sits a building. People pass it by without giving it a second thought. The outside looks a lot like a prison; the inside does too at times. But mainly, the inhabitants are treated like inmates—with a cafeteria not fit for any human. The inhabitants are often set aside. Castaway. Forgotten. They do the best they can in spite of what the news says. What the others say. They show up and sometimes, that’s enough.
On the North Side of the city there sits a building people pass it by without giving it a second thought the outside looks a lot like a prison the inside does too at times but mainly the inhabitants are treated like inmates with a cafeteria not fit for any human the inhabitants are often set aside castaway forgotten they do the best they can in spite of what the news says what the others say they show up and sometimes that’s enough.
There’s a saying that can be overheard within the walls of a teacher’s lounge: “The bad kids never miss school.” Every day, there they are, present but not really present. Wanting to be there fully, but needing to be somewhere else. Seemingly whole, but actually broken into a million little pieces. And everybody knows this, yet nobody knows this.
Sometimes, Zombies walk the halls—looking for something to awaken their senses. Something that will bring them some semblance of life. That’s what the bad kids want. That’s what the unruly kids want. That’s what the troublemakers want.
And because they are called bad, cars zoom past. And minds don’t give a second thought to the kids on the North Side in a building that looks like a prison. They have already been forgotten. They have already been shoved aside. The undead.
Outsiders don’t know what the insiders been knew. Brilliance exists within those walls. Imaginations exist. Thinkers exist. Philosophers exist. Writers exist. Storytellers exist.
This kid had skin the color of fresh pencil shavings. His hair was sometimes sponged to perfection, and covered with a green hoodie on other days. His smile dripped gold. And he made sure a grin was plastered across his face at all times—to the point where the casual observer couldn’t discern if he was genuinely happy or bullshitting through the day.
He didn’t do homework. He’d said it flat out.
“I don’t do homework.”
He ain’t lie. If he could finish work at school before the day was out, he would. Whatever didn’t get finished…well, it just didn’t get finished.
But he was smart. He could answer all of the questions (or at least he tried to). He participated on the days he didn’t need to take a nap during class. He’d completely take over the Socratic Seminar. He raised thoughtful questions. He provided clearly articulated answers. He’d school anybody listening, on what it was and what it damn sure was not. He made it all the way to his senior year following this routine. He did what he had to do at school; he did what he had to do outside of school.
And then came The Assignment. He’d been there for the preliminary work: the reading of African folklore, the watching of African American storytellers on YouTube, the analyzing of African Proverbs, the analyzing and deconstructing of story archetypes. The seminars. The small group discussions. The quizzes. The quick writing responses. He didn’t complete all of the assignments, but he was there.
So it was time for him to create his own—the class was going to create African American folktales and perform them. And he was all for it. He was interested. He said he could definitely create a story. He said he could definitely include archetypes and flip and twist them so that the story was unique. There was no doubt that he could.
Except. Except. On the day the first draft was due, he had nothing. He sort of dawdled in the hall after the bell had already rung. He kind of snuck in when the time was right. This was a no sponge, no haircut day, so the green hoodie hugged his head and the sides of his face tightly. He took out his cellphone and started scrolling and presumably texting. He didn’t participate in peer-editing that day.
The next class he turned in a half-attempted outline. The next class he didn’t show up. The next class he played around while pretending to do work for 90 minutes. Always pleasant. Always kind. Sometimes smelling of weed. Always relaxed. Quiet when mad. Smiling when mad. He was everything all the time.
Performance day. He sauntered into the classroom—teeth shining like a greasy forehead. His turn. No hard copy of his story. No electronic copy appeared in the designated e-mail box by 11:59 p.m. the previous night. Yet, he smiled. And walked up to the podium with the confidence of a mediocre white man. Disconcerting it was.
He began: “In the beginning…”
Eyes were glued to him. Ears hung onto every word. Laughs echoed through the halls. Visitors gathered and hovered in the doorway.
The story was never written down. It is forgotten. But what’s remembered is how brilliant it was. How he used the right inflection. How he used his words to capture and intrigue his audience. It was a masterful performance. This was natural for him.
He was asked to perform for all of the other classes as an example; it was that good. He understood how to keep the plot moving. He understood how to use archetypes in a new and unique way. He understood the importance of diction.
But he didn’t follow the rules.
On the Northside, there is a building filled with kids who don’t follow the rules. They can’t be controlled or contained. They are oozing talent. Originality. Creativity. Trendsetting ideas. But the passersby overlook them. Not knowing. Ignorant of the fact that they’ll never hear the greatest story told by a kid in a green hoodie.
The building. That looks like a prison. Houses the cleverest. And the strongest. And the bravest. Kids.That may never break free.