Sometimes, you just have to cry…


train won't stop
It was a difficult week. Once again I find myself at the center of school reform in my professional life. I won’t go into a lot of detail, but car issues have affected my transportation choices on and off this summer, and last week brought more troubles. When a friend asked a group of us to accompany her to see the movie “Fruitvale Station” I said sure, because when one is experiencing a life filled with “first-world” troubles, you need some perspective. I’m glad I went although it was a truly bittersweet experience for a number of reasons.

Going “home”…

Prior to moving to Sacramento, I had lived in Oakland, California for around 15 years. Our son was born there, and I had transitioned to and started my teaching career there. The movie did an excellent job catching the vibe of that place, and it truly was like going back for a family reunion where there are changes, but the basics stay the same. Oakland in the post-war had an extreme case of white-flight, became an African-American plurality city. Then as gentrification and immigration increased in the 1980s and 90s black plurality dropped to 27% and  it’s now pretty much an “all minority city” (the other large ethnic/racial groups are ~20-25%). This made for a place where other non-white groups often mixed a bit more in the more dominant African-American culture of the city, certainly more than they did in my husband’s native San Francisco. The few whites are, of course, urban pioneer/gentrifiers, but are treated quite nicely by the film-maker.

Is there a lesson?

Since I was with a group of friends, we had quite the chat over dinner after the movie. They wondered, if folks saw this movie, would it change how they saw issues like Trayvon Martin? Sadly I have to say that even with a really stellar film portrayal of the sad and pointless death of this young man, people will continue to see what they are going to see. While we were sitting in the theater, drying our tears and de-compressing, there was an older white couple behind us discussing the film. Actually, the man was telling the woman what he thought, rather than “discussing” but that is perhaps a bit judgmental on my part.

To put things in context, just because I’m no longer in Oakland, does not mean I’m living in the lily-white suburbs. The theater is in what is listed as the most diverse zip-code in America. Given the movie subject-matter, the theater had more African-Americans than usual, but it was not exclusively so.

For the gentleman, the pivotal part of the movie is when Oscar and his friends are taken off the BART Train, and Oscar is shot. The older gentleman in the theater felt that the “boys had escalated the situation”. I found this interesting because my friends and I thought the BART cops had pretty clearly escalated the situation. Since I’ve worked with “troubled” youth, I’ve had training in handling crisis situations, and as it was portrayed in the film (realizing that it is not necessarily how it happened in real-life), the cops broke a whole lot of rules about how to handle the situation.

Two people seeing the same situation, especially one so fraught, will see it differently. We bring our own context to the situation. Just seeing it will not be enough, we’ll need to see it from multiple view-points. I have been the cop in this story, pissed off at some smart-mouthed kid. I have been the crowd on the BART train looking on as some authority figure escalated a situation that didn’t need to go that way. I’ve also been that snot-nosed kid rolling my eyes, and arguing with the adult. Nothing will change until we can see the humanity in each other and that’s the only take-away I have for this.

Thanks to Mr. Jose Vilson for letting me talk through the ideas that led to this post during his surprise visit to EdCampSFBay yesterday. May our boys (both students and sons) see a safer, and more accepting world. Hopefully our work will help get us there.

Photo Credit: train won’t stop by jovino, on Flickr

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