Friday, March 18, 2016

Somewhere In America

A few weeks ago, a celebrity death showed up in my Facebook newsfeed. It was Mickey Rooney. You know, Elizabeth Taylor's trainer in National Velvet, Judy Garland's song and dance partner in countless musicals, cinema history's most offensively racist depiction of a Japanese person in Breakfast at Tiffany's. It was sad news. 

Or, it would have been.

If it weren't two years old.

Some social media stories tend to be everywhere at once. When Miley Cyrus twerked at MTV's Video Music Awards, we all saw it (whether we wanted to or not) within hours. Other items float around the interwebs for months and years, becoming new news to new viewers, no matter how old news the event is in the old-school, real-life, analog world.

Earlier this week, a friend of mine (a dad with two terrific tween daughters), posted a piece of poetry, written and performed by three remarkable teen girls. I was blown away, reposted it and immediately made my own teenage daughter sit down and watch it.

I was interested in the story behind the striking video and, upon some quick googling, was surprised to learn that the poets — Belissa Escobedo, Rhiannon McGavin, and Zariya Allen — wrote it a couple of years ago (close to the time when Mickey Rooney died, actually). The three girls are members of Get Lit: Words Ignite, a not-for-profit that encourages kids to use the power of words to improve drop-out rates and literacy in Los Angeles (where 40% of public high students don't make it to graduation).

Escobedo, McGavin and Allen performed their "Somewhere in America" in competition at Youth Speaks' Brave New Voices, and were then invited to do it on national television by Queen Latifah.

I'm sorry I saw this nearly two years late, but glad it found its way to me. And, I'm particularly glad I can share it with you.

Here's the video, and a transcript below: 

Here in America and every single state they have a set of standards for every subject, a collection of lessons that the teacher’s required to teach by the end of the term. But the greatest lessons you will ever teach us will not come from your syllabus. The greatest lessons you will ever teach us you will not even remember.

You never told us what we weren’t allowed to say. We just learned how to hold our tongues.

Now somewhere in America there is a child holding a copy of ‘Catcher in the Rye’ and there is a child holding a gun. But only one of these things have been banned by their state government and, it’s not the one that can rip through flesh, it’s the one that says “‘F’ You” on more pages than one.
Because we must control what people say. how they think. And if they want to become the overseer of their own selves then we’ll show them a real one.

And somewhere in America there is a child sitting at his mother’s computer reading the home page of the KKK’s website and that’s open to the public. But that child will have never read ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ because his school has banned it for it’s use of the ‘N’-word.

Maya Angelou is prohibited because we’re not allowed to talk about rape in school. We are taught that just because something happens doesn’t mean we are to talk about it.

They build us brand new shopping malls so we’ll forget where we’re really standing – ON THE BONES of the Hispanics, ON THE BONES of the slaves, ON THE BONES of the Native Americans, ON THE BONES of those who fought just to speak.

Transcontinental railroads to Japanese internment camps. There are things missing from our history books. But we were taught that it is better to be silent than to make them uncomfortable.

Somewhere in America private school girls search for hours through boutiques trying to find the prom dress of their dreams; while kids on the south side spend hours searching through the lost and found ’cause winter’s coming soon and that’s the only jacket they have.

Kids are late to class for working the midnight shift. They give awards for best attendance but not for keeping your family off the streets.

These kids will call your music ghetto. They will tell you you don’t talk right. Then they’ll get in the backseat of a car with all their friends singing how they’re “‘Bout that life” and “We can’t stop”. 

Somewhere in America schools are promoting self confidence while they whip out their scales and shout out your body fat percentage in class. Where the heftier girls are hiding away and the slim fit beauties can’t help but giggle with pride.

The preppy kids go thrift shopping because they think it sounds fun. But we go ’cause that’s all we’ve got money for ’cause mama works for the city; mama only gets paid once a month.

Somewhere in America a girl is getting felt up by a grown man on a subway. She’s still in her school uniform and that’s part of the appeal. It’s hard to run in knee socks and Mary Jane’s and all her male teachers know it, too.

Coaches cover up star players raping freshmen after the dance. Women are killed for rejecting a date but God forbid I bring my girlfriend to prom.

A girl is blackout drunk at the after party. Take a picture before her wounds wake her. How many pixels is your sanity worth?

What’s a 4.0 to a cold jury?

What’d you learn in class today? Don’t talk loud, don’t speak loud, keep your hands to yourself, keep your head down. Keep your eyes on your own paper. If you don’t know the answer fill in C.

Always wear ear-buds when you ride the bus alone. If you think that someone’s following you pretend you’re on the phone.

A teacher never fails. Only you do.

Every state in America.

The greatest lessons are the ones you don’t remember learning.
If you've enjoyed this post, I invite you to order the book Lovin' the Alien here.    

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