• Andrea

Emmett Evokes Joy

Updated: May 12, 2019




Cousins Emmett Till (left) and Wheeler Parker (back right) wheel around Argo-Summit, Ill., with family friend Joe B. Williams (front right). Parker said this photo was taken some time between 1949-1950. Photo courtesy Wheeler Parker Jr.

After over a decade in teaching I found myself quitting a teaching job partially through the school year. It was a first time ever for me and it left me questioning a bunch of things including career decisions I had made. To pass the time and still be connected with youth in some way, I took a part-time job teaching (if you could call it that) enrichment classes at a local elementary school. For the most part it was subbing while the kids had free time. I was a stand-in body making sure the fifth graders didn’t kill each other while they played computer games. This is their one period during the day for a break from academics and it showed. They marveled at the opportunity to “play” while in class and clamored towards the computers the minute they entered the room. One day, a kid sauntered into the class late and oddly, wandered over to the window instead of the laptop cart.

You alright?” I asked as he fixed his eyes out on the 9th ward, “you don’t want a computer?”

“Nope: he answered. “I just wanna stare out the window.”

I laughed and nodded, “Bet. I respect that…”


It didn’t last long though because well… he’s in 5th grade. That attention span is minuscule at best. Before long, he was bothering other students and hitting kids on the back of the head.


When I convinced him that he needed to grab a computer or sit quietly without hitting others, he finally grabbed a Chromebook and promptly stuck it in the middle of an already full table.


4 kids, 4 seats… but now 5 computers and one skinny kid wedging himself in between the seats of two others.


You already know I teach high school so I didn’t even pretend to understand this logic but nobody at the table was complaining so I let them continue this sardine game.


Something weird happened though.


While everyone else played some online game where lego-like figures ran around, found coins, and blew shit up, this kid googled a picture of Emmett Till.


And I watched while he excitedly tapped his friends shoulders asking,


“Do you know who this is? Do you know this guy?”


Most answered no and went back to their games but he kept repeating his name.


He’s Emmett Till! He exclaimed over and over, their eyes locked on the screens.


I tapped him quietly on the shoulder, “Tell me what else you know.”


This got the attention of his friends finally and they paused their game while he stood up and straight and announced,


“He was 14. This what they did to him.” He pointed excitedly to Till’s mangled face...the face that launched a million tears.“It happened a long time ago, back in the time of racists.”


He didn’t have the story quite right, the time of racists is most def forever in this damn country, and he missed a hell of a lot of details.


But I sorta froze that moment in mind and tried to remember…


4 little black boys crowded around a computer while another showed pictures of 14 year old Emmett Till, proud of his knowledge of an important part of our history.


When I got home later and spent some time reflecting on that moment, there was a lot that popped up:

*The appreciation for Black teachers who infuse these important stories into the curriculum*

*The love for the Black parents who find a way to teach their kids Black history, curriculum be damned*

*The dope feeling when a kid who has been branded a “troublemaker” steps up to show everyone how smart he/she is*

*The pride in even being able to get to see moments like this as a teacher*


But as the kids were putting their computers up a few minutes later all that came to mind was a deep sense of gratitude.


I’m glad I was called to serve my community through teaching. How else could I see #melaninmagic like this every damn day???

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