Somebody Has To Sweep The Floor!

For most of my professional career I have worked with kids/young people/youth/at-risk-youth/participants/high school students/juvenile delinquents/snot noses/know it alls and so on.  For the past 4 years I have worked with kids on the South Side of Chicago, the Low-End (Bronzeville) and Englewood (roughest neighborhood I know) I think I have done pretty well in my work.  Have I always been successful with every kid?  No, but I have made an impact.  People have asked how I have been able to get a group of young men that don’t care about grades, have done any number of illegal things, to take part in activities or groups I organize.  One assistant principal told me once, “you have one ragged group of guys following you.  But damn they believe in you and stay out of trouble because of that”.  I told people I have gotten through to them by keeping every promise and never lying to them. Now that’s a lie.

I have kept every promise… every promise!  But I have lied.  I have told the same lie that every adult tells a child.  I look them straight in their eyes and say “you can be anything you want to be”.  LIE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  That is up there with “the interest rates will never change” and “it’s big enough for me”.  Yes I have lied to kids, we have as a country, as schools, and as institutions.  No Child Left Behind… MY ASS!  We may not leave them behind, but we will tell security to not let them in the building anymore.

I am not going to get into how teachers are not allowed to teach, but instead do test prep for 7 hours a day.  Not going to get into high school graduation rates, set by identifying the idiots by their sophomore year and kicking them out before they F-up the 98 percent graduation rate their senior year.  I am not at all getting into public schools being funded by the property tax of the school’s neighborhood.  So if the school is in a community where the houses are worth $34,900 but in foreclosure and on the market for $10,000 then the last chapter of the history books in that school has a title like “Rosa Parks-Trouble Maker”.  Okay, I got into it a bit.

We want kids to believe in themselves, maybe because we did not get enough of it ourselves.  We had corporal punishment, coaches paddled you, English teachers cracked you in the back of your head for double-negatives, and once the teachers got through with you the principal called all the students in the auditorium for a school assembly to give you swats and for a reading of your “permanent record” in front of your friends and worse the kids that did not need ammunition to make fun of you.

Then when your parent finds out about all this, they run into the school pissed and tell the principal’s secretary, they can care less that the principal is a meeting they are going in her office right now.  After yelling at the principal for 17 minutes they call for you over the intercom “your mother is in the principal’s office”.  Okay a little embarrassing but now mom is here to put the principal in her place.  You walk into the office and your mom whips your ass in front of the principal’s face.  Not the quick little slaps, but the type of ass beating that if your parent is a Family Court Judge and you post it on YouTube can get him on the national news and possibly removed from the bench (real talk: fired).  Different time, your parents beat you for getting beat by other adults.  Different time, you see the principal reach for the phone, but it’s to unplug it if you had fantasies of calling a social worker.

Different times, the adults in my life dealt in the truth.  The truth was usually followed by a vicious open hand smack to the jaw, but it was honest pain.  Today, I must have a sympathetic ear, a kind word, a hand on the shoulder, and followed by a lie for a kid.

Lie: “You can be a lawyer one day”

Truth: “You cannot be a lawyer! You are 15 and already have 2 felonies”

Lie: “If you apply yourself you can bring your grades up”

Truth: “Well if you can stop smoking weed before you come to school in the morning, you could have a clear head and realize for yourself you are in the second semester of your senior year and have 0.29 GPA”

Lie: “Not all cops are out to get you”

Truth: “You have committed 4 robberies, shot 2 people, have a bench warrant for ‘failure to appear’, and the local news has shown your mug shot since 11 last night!  So not all cops are out to get you, but all the cops are looking for you!”

There are thousands of kids graduating every year who believe they are going to have the career of their dreams and some will!  I know very few people who are doing exactly what they thought they would be doing.  The few people I know that ended up doing what intended on doing were 6’6″ or taller and averaged 18 points or more in the Big Ten.  The rest of us… work with kids.

For all the issues this country is facing, lots of it comes down to people being in careers they did not see themselves.  Let’s be honest, very few of us dreamed about $19,000 a year jobs (The salary of my first job, I cried right after accepting it).  8 years ago I saw friends of mine buying $250,000 homes but they made $28,000 a year.  It made no sense to me but since the financial collapse, and watching “Too Big To Fail”, we went through a period where people attempted to live the lives they dreamed of without being able to support that lifestyle.

As I work with kids with dreams it is that lie we tell them that bothers me.  Honesty is rough, but we need to do it.  We point out teachers in the building, doctors, entertainers, we never point out the janitors.  Not that we should find kids to be the  janitors of the future, professionals get paid very well, and some work in some nice buildings but let’s be honest… somebody has to sweep the floor!  As I navigate the hallways of schools then leave the buildings, I look at the parking spaces of teachers.  Nice Honda’s and Toyota’s.  The principals, nice Lincoln’s and BMW’s.  Then without fail there is the “Building Engineer” parking space with the Corvette… I wish I swept floors.



7 thoughts on “Somebody Has To Sweep The Floor!

  1. I love your post and while I agree with you there is a component that I think you are overlooking. Yes all kids won’t become lawyers, physicist, teachers, engineers much less President, any more than they will become sports stars, rappers or singers, still they need to believe that their destinies are not all ready a story of teen pregnancy, incarceration and/or mediocrity. They need to know, to believe that with hardwork, persistance, the creation of a plan a plan they adher to and work is the true pathway to success; they need to recognize that giving up before they have even tried is self defeating and sealing their fate. They need to admit that they quit because they are afraid that if they fail they lend credence to what they have heard most of their lives- that they are destined to be no more than those people trapped in the hood- and that because they quit they have validated theirs and societies low expectation. They need to understand that failing is the pathway to success, and that quitting before they have begun is a sure way to failure. They need to know that I believe in them, that you believe in them, that we believe and value them, and now they need to value themselves. They need to understand that the true measure of a person is in doing the morally right thing at the most difficult times, it is how they adapt to the pressures and their fears and make them work for them, it is discovering that which you truly love and then working towards attaining it even if it is sweeping floors. It is the ability to look in the mirror and truly like yourself without bravado…all your faults and all your strengths. It is pride in your ancestry whether that of a slave, the porter, maid, the activist and the President, or the immigrant, from Mexico, Senegal, Ireland, Poland, or Iran.
    And while the truth is not all cops are out to get them the reality is many cops already have preconceived notions about young minorities in particular African American males who therefore have several strikes against them before even exiting the womb. To minimize that fact is to belie the history of Blacks in America. From slavery, Antebellum South, Black Codes, Jim Crow, Segregation and on to today, the hurdles for Blacks in America are still significant but that means that WE all have to work harder to remind them that while they exist they are not however insurmountable. These young men and women from child hood have been made to think that they can not nor ever will be anything than that janitor or the clerk, relegated to a life without choices, one that has been dictated by poverty and prejudice because of the color of their skin. Without hope or the belief that things can be better than what it has been for previous generations many go about validating the low expectation that society has for them.
    Those ghettos that you speak about are a petri dishes for low expectations, hopelessness and despair…and people, especially kids without positive reinforcement or successful examples in the home, without the proper head start that many white kids get tend are sadly to often identified as the idiots you point out in their sophomore years. The truth is some are probably idiots, but no more an idiot than many of their contemporary white students are that go onto succeed, they unfortunately did not have the same quality headstart that those kids had and so they have never had a level playing field and that is just the beginning of the lack of parity that they face each and ever day.
    So while you are right that somebody does indeed have to do the honest job of sweeping the floor, it should be the job you CHOOSE to do and not the job you take because you have no other OPTION. Hope with out planning is a dream and I don’t advocate dreaming… I much prefer to see parents, family, teachers, and the community (the community of America) mold a kids spirit and mind with possibilities and remind them the choices they make hold consequences for the legacy that they will one day want to create.

    1. Thanks for the comments!!!!

      Trust, my issue is not with our kids it is with the system/systems. We tend to tell kids you can only be a success if you follow certain career paths or make a certain amount of money. When the options are limitless, schools need to do a better job of defining what success is to an individual. You pretty much get my point, I just can’t stay serious for longer than 4 seconds. My point about kids being kicked out of schools to save the graduation rate… look for some articles from earlier this year about a school here in Chicago Urban Prep. All black male academy, 100 percent of their graduating class got scholarships to college. Unfortunately that was the schools goal and they kicked out every kid that would not get a scholarship. The city of Chicago has tough rules about transferring to other schools and some of those kids that got kicked out could not get into other high schools, lost time, and so on…

      1. I hear you and I will look for those articles that you suggested.Unfortunately what you said about that academy seems to be the pattern for many schools kids who don’t “measure up” to their self serving criteria are expendable so that they can continue to get funding. And you are absolutely correct that we need to teach these young adult to have a far broader view on how to define success as you say their options in life are limitless as long as they don’t limit theirselves.Students, parents, schools and the community all have a critical roll in their success or failure.
        Any way I love the way you write and I look forward to reading more from you.

  2. heartfelt, true, sad…nothing i can say that u don’t already know…except well written,deeply felt…an still delivered along with a slice of sacastic humor. hold on to it…we’re all gonna need it. continue…

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