Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Vigil at Richmond High

Yesterday, some of the staff and students from St. Dymphna's walked over to Richmond High for a rally and candlelight vigil for the young woman who was raped and beaten on campus a week and a half ago.

The first thing I notice, of course, is that their students look just my students--young, cute, vulnerable, exasperating. Same neighborhoods, same clothes, except for our school khakis and polo shirts. They wear their hair the same way, and greet each other identically. No distance here. These are the people in our neighborhood.

Our little group was greeted, and given white cloth armbands by students and parents. We sat down on folding chairs in the late afternoon sun, and watched the rally. There were signs--"Harm 2 One Is Harm 2 All". "Never Blame The Victim". Hand-labeled, painted in bright colors.

The rally began with an Aztec ceremony conducted by one of the teachers. Speaking in English and Spanish, he explained that he would be honoring the directions--and added, as an aside, that he hoped the smudge smoke would not bother anyone, but that if you were offended, you should consider that it was less offensive than the pot smoke that had contaminated our neighborhoods for too long. As a young man blew a conch shell, he swung a smudging pot to the four directions, to the sky and the earth. Substitute a shofar, substitute a lulav--amazing how similar all these things are, stripped down to essentials.

He was followed by students who read poetry, the mayor of Richmond, the principal of the school, a coach who sang a gospel piece, and school board members. There was a dance performance. The St. Dymphna crew crept away at this point, but left behind our principal, and some students from the neighborhood who were there with their parents. The group stayed on until dark, and lit candles in the twilight.

It felt inadequate, all of it, and I think it's because of the language people are using. Everything was heavily couched in the same social justice language we in the Bay Area use for everything from solar panels to street crime, and it just fell flat, it felt stupid and inexpressive. "Sustainable social change", said one kid "speaking truth to power, demanding change" said the mayor. "Healing from violence," said everyone. The media were chided for presenting a negative image of the school. It wasn't until one of the school board members stood up that I heard a direct message to the students that they were responsible for opposing sexism, homophobia, violence. You stand up, he said, and you stand up even if you're the only one who stands up.

Thank you, Mr. Medrano. That was what I needed to hear. I could have also stood to hear "and you call the police when a crime is in progress".

It was nice to be there. It was even nicer to hear that there are now six young men charged in the case. I am so angry. I am even more worried about my students than I used to be. Bad times.

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