The following is a Letter to the Editor from Jordan Pineda, local educator and founder of City to Cea.
I want to tell you a true story that took place in our city four months ago at the home of a 13-year-old boy who had just been shot three times in the chest by a gas station clerk. I want you to experience what I experienced when I visited his home.
The porch has holes in the boards and the windows are painted over with white. You walk in and there is a grandmother crying on a couch. There is a bed with two girls sitting and braiding hair; they’re quiet with fierce eyes. You walk further in and it gets hazy. You have to slide your feet so you don’t trip. There aren’t any doors to the rooms and you see more boys and girls. One boy moves past with his head down while he walks a blue bicycle through the home. There is loud music. Finally, a mother comes out and she hugs you and says, “It’s okay,” but it’s not okay, because her baby boy is dead and he’ll always be dead.
This little boy’s name was Quentin*. He was killed while attempting an armed robbery. His home is a scene that I witnessed four times when I was teaching, but this time it’s not my student, it’s my colleague’s, and it’s her burden to bare, so I walk out of the house and watch the boy’s little brother pedal his rusty blue bike down a dead-end street.
Quentin made a decision that night: that his best option for survival in that moment was to rob a gas station attendant, and he’s dead because of it.
Then last Thursday night, an incident that could have been seen as kids just being kids turned deadly when an 11-year-old boy was struck and killed by a car outside of McClintock Middle School. Police later said the victim was involved in an altercation with two other children when he ran out into the roadway and was hit. Investigators have since charged another 11-year-old boy and a 12-year-old girl with involuntary manslaughter, and they will now have to deal with situations that no adult even wants to experience in their lives.
Nobody gets it. Years of oppression and objectification and bad decisions and bad luck and profiling and posturing and grief and drowned greatness have created scenes like this in the Queen City. They’ll talk about fixing it but they’ve never been in that room and they’ve never recognized a mug shot on the news as the kid that sits in the second chair from the left in the first row who prefers to write with a pen over a pencil. They don’t get it because they’ve never seen the desperation — never internalized it.
My student Dre stopped coming to school in 11th grade. He came into my 10th grade English class reading at a fifth-grade level. He worked hard but it wasn’t enough. He left me in June of 2018 and that was that … until I saw his face on TV a month ago and I cried.
Dre is why I ran for school board this year, and he’s why I will continue to fight for equity in education. We need to drastically redefine the education that we are providing our kids in Charlotte, regardless of their wealth, zip code or the color of their skin. If we don’t, we’re going to keep losing kids to the graves or to jails, and people like me will keep saying, “What if?”
What if Charlotte had universal pre-kindergarten programs that Dre would have had access to when he was 3 years old? He could have entered kindergarten on pace with every other kid. What if he saw himself in his K-3 curriculum and instead of putting a book down, he kept reading because he was inspired by the great black men he read about? Maybe he would have left the third grade reading at that level, all but guaranteeing himself a spot at a state college. What if Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) had more male teachers of color and Dre had one of them in sixth grade? Maybe he would have found a better role model.
What if, by ninth grade, Dre wanted to work with his hands more than he wanted to read and CMS provided an effective certificate program in auto-mechanics or carpentry or HVAC or welding? Maybe Dre would have graduated high school with a certificate that earned himself a well-paying job that enabled him to buy his own home to raise his children in? What if, through all those years, there was a therapist Dre could speak to about how badly he hated living in foster care and how excited he was to live with his mama again and then be able to talk to that therapist again when, inevitably, no mama ever came. Maybe he wouldn’t have tried to strangle that girl.
We can’t afford any more “What ifs.” We need equity in CMS. It saves lives. There are many more Quentins. I’ve got more stories like Dre’s to tell, too. As of last Thursday night, the teachers at McClintock Middle School have one to tell of their own. We’re all tired of saying “What if?”
*Name has been changed in consideration of family’s privacy.