by Rev. Dr. Darryl Aaron
For more than a year we have been hearing it is problematic for teachers to teach and for students to learn virtually during the pandemic. With that said, parents have also voiced their challenges with being educators for this unique time in their children’s lives. And now that school has reopened, one teacher reported she had forty-one pupils in her class. These problems are indeed present; however, the poem written by a young Black boy demonstrates that the difficulty with teaching and learning did not start a few weeks ago or even a year ago. Early on amid the pandemic a deacon of my church was cleaning out his desk and sent me this artistic gift:
“Cause I Aint Got a Pencil”
I woke myself up
Cause we aint got an alarm clock
Dug in the dirty clothes basket,
Cause aint nobody washed my uniform
Brushed my hair and teeth in the dark,
Cause the lights aint on
Even got my baby sister ready,
Cause my momma wasn’t home.
Got us both to school on time,
To eat us a good breakfast.
Then when I got to class the teacher fussed
Cause I aint got a pencil.
According to Joshua Dickerson, the poet, who has many reasons for not having a pencil, reminds us that every day is a mountain climb for many who teach and learn. Please don’t say I am using hyperbole when it comes to brother Dickerson’s daily climb. The subject of the poem is a child being asked to do adult tasks. Adults know that they fail daily with their own duties; therefore, we know that when children must age too quickly, their lives are distorted. Nevertheless, let’s say that Dickerson is living under compromised conditions and he has learned to adjust. Like a tree, Dickerson has learned how to “bend with the wind and keep on living.”
Without a doubt the pandemic has placed many of us in compromising situations. We have had to make concessions with staying at home, cooking three meals a day and attending church on a computer. You and I cannot dodge the fact that if we are going to survive, we must make some decisions to compromise. I am more than aware that people don’t like the word compromise. But if it is necessary to use a softer word such as adjust, like the tree does with the wind, then we all can do that. The tree cannot change the weather, but it can bend to the climate. Matter of fact, more than likely the tree will have all kinds of grotesque forms because it has been bending and adjusting to survive. That is unimportant. The main business of the tree is to survive.
With that said, it is still immoral that so many children don’t survive because the climate they are forced to endure is simply too harsh for their tender bodies. Recently, Wess spoke about powerful practices
that assist with nourishing hope and resisting injustice
. I am concerned about Joshua Dickerson the same way I would have been before Adam Toledo, a 13-year-old black male died. Why, because I have a holy hunch Adam was running from a police office with or without a gun because he had not been afforded the opportunity to exercise powerful practices. More than likely he too had been asked why he did not have a pencil because he had been shaped by a world that practices rituals of death rather than observe consecrated acts that give life. Theodore Parker, the Unitarian Universalist asserted he would not pretend to understand the moral universe, he simply trusted that the arc was a long one. A century later Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would claim he knew enough about the arc of the moral universe that he was sure it bended toward justice. My twenty-five years of experience as an educator and pastor gives me authority to name, claim, and proclaim this fact: if our nation had the moral courage to perform powerful practices that provide hope and dismantle racist systems, Dickerson and Toledo would have greater chances at receiving the justice needed to “bend with the wind and keep on living.”
Dr. Darryl W. Aaron, Pastor
Providence Baptist Church