The Trajectory Of A Life
If I can help somebody, as I pass along, If I can cheer somebody, with word or song, If I can show somebody, he or she is traveling wrong,Then my living shall be in vain...
That song, describes my life’s mission, my life’s purpose, and I believe it describes why many of you, decided to become educators. You’re here, because you recognize that life and success is not about how many degrees we’ve earned, but about how many degrees we’ve helped someone else earn.
I was born into a very beautiful, but very broken-family. My father has been in prison my whole life, and my mother was disowned at a young age for giving birth to me. Now, my step dad was addicted to cocaine, and was also an alcoholic. And anytime he got drunk or high, he used to physically beat my mother. When I was about 11 years old-I’ll never forget that night. My stepfather grabbed my mother by the back of her head, and he slammed her face through a glass window, and a piece of glass fell down and opened the back of my mother’s neck-and blood was everywhere. And at 11 years old, when someone should have been defending me, when someone should’ve been protecting me, I was having to fight for my mother’s life. There were many nights when...many nights when we’d be so hungry that I would sit outside, outside behind Taco Bell or the McDonald’s, and I would wait for them to empty their trash.And once they emptied their trash, I would jump into dumpsters and tear bags open, trying to find something to eat. So when you’re going through those kinds of things at home, when you’re seeing-your parents on drugs, and you’re seeing that kind of abuse...Something dark begins to happen too your soul. And you take those Issues, with you, to school.
Throughout the years I had one best friend that would attempt to help. My best friend Alex, called me and told me he was on his way over to my house, and I waited up for Alex... But Alex never showed up. The next day people pulled me aside and said Alex got killed last night. A group of guys jumped him, and strangled him with guitar strings; one of the cowards, more daring than the rest, stabbed him through the throat with a piece of treebark. And then they threw his body off a cliff. And I don’t care how far I get from that experience; I will never ever forget the night I walked into that funeral home and I could- I can still see the wire marks that were around my friend’s neck. When my friend Alex died, something inside of me died with him. My soul began to cry out with the philosopher Schopenhauer who said, “Life, is an endless pain, with a painful end.”
It was in that place where I just gave up. I dropped out of highschool, and I was just roaming the streets. And I began to say things like, “ People like me, We aint’ supposed to make it. In my kind of neighborhood, something is set up for us to fail...So we ought not even try.¨ In that place of anger, and brokenness, in that place a guy just walks up to me out of nowhere and says, “I used to be addicted to cocaine, I had a nice job, I had a big house, a beautiful wife, I had three beautiful little girls…. But my addiction caused me to lose my job. I lost my Job, so I lost my house, and when I lost my house, my wife left me,and my three little girls, want nothing to do with me. One night I was sleeping behind a dumpster, and a man came and he shoved me, and then picked me up, and put my hand over his shoulder, and just said, ‘It’s gonna be ok.’ He introduced me to his family. Took me in. And they loved me-off of drugs. And when I see you sitting here on a bench on a school day, I just saw a reflection of myself.¨ He asked me why I wasn’t in school, and I told him that I gave up on school, because school gave up on me.” He said, “Don’t be like me,don’t throw your life away, like me , you could have a brighter future than your past, you can use your pain as a source of inspiration. Please! Go back to school.”
The very next year I sat in the back of the classroom of a 23-year-old student teacher by the name of Erin Gruwell. And if you don’t know her story, Erin grew up behind a gated community, and she was on the way to Law school when the Rodney King riots broke out. She saw Reginald Denny get hit in the head by a brick, and she had this epiphany, “ Maybe I’m supposed to change the world by teaching English in the inner city, so maybe, I can give them hope by teaching them English.” I will never forget the day she walked into our class with a white pearl necklace,a white polka-dotted pretty woman dress, and a bag. And in this bag were syllabi that had names like Shakespeare, and Homer and Chaucer. I was looking at this syllabus, and I was wondering, ¨How come she has us reading all of these books by all these dead white men.” She said , “ Today we’re going to learn about Shakespeare.” And I said, “ I don’t care about no Shakespeare, what you know about that Tupac.” And one day she walked into the classroom and said , “OH MY GOODNESS, You guys I’ve gotta tell you something that TWO-PACK SHAKER said.¨ And we were like “Miss G, it’s Tupac shakur,” and she said “no it’s Tupack Shaker”….
“Pack says, I’d Rather die like a man, than live like a coward; There’s a ghetto up in heaven and it’s ours!” she turned around and said, “BLACK POWER”…She said , “ No, no listen, listen, I rather die like a man, than like coward. Dies is the opposite of lives, man is the opposite of coward; class Tupac uses something called, Iambic pentameter”…
So I left class that day, and I was listening to my favorite poet,Calvin Brotus. A.K.A. Snoop-doggy dog, who said..” Falling back on that, with a hellified gangsta lean, gettin’ funky on the mic , like an old batch of collard greens, it’s the capital S, oh yes I’m fresh N double O-P, D O double G-Y, D O double G I see…
And I hollered out, “Man! That’s Iambic pentameter!”And my boys was like “what you say about my momma?” Miss. G was beginning to dissect what the rappers were saying, and she would butcher their names, but out of it she taught us things like metaphors and similes, and personification, and voice and tone..and so on.And she brought us to realize that not only did Tupac use these, but Shakespeare also used them.She said, “Class, Shakespeare used these things, Tupac used them, but now, you too can use them, to tell your story.” After saying that she passed out these journals and said, “Just write, write until you can’t write anymore, write like there is no tomorrow, write like your life depended on it.” We started writing and one day Miss G pulled me aside and said, “Manny, you have a gift.” She said, “You, my friend, have to go to college.
She invited me over to her house to play a game of basketball with her husband and then dinner. So we had a nice dinner, and I hear her call me from the kitchen, “Manny! Come here for a second,” and I walked into the kitchen and she said, “Let’s apply for college.”
So she told me to apply to UC Berkeley, a school she didn’t even get into, mind you she had a 4.2 GPA. She said, “I think you can get in.”
I asked her, “What’s that?”
She said, “It’s the school Jason Kidd plays basketball for.”
I said, “Yea, yea, let’s go there!”
And I applied, and I got this package in the mail, and I didn’t appreciate the significance in getting an acceptance letter from Berkeley….
I took it to Miss G, and she said, “We Got in, We Got in!!..and you have to go.”
That was the beginning of my life, Miss G, had helped to become the first person in my family to go to college.
When I got to Berkeley, I earned one degree for myself and one degree for Alex, and when I graduated Miss G, said “ I’m proud of you Manny!” She said, “So what about a master’s degree?,”
So I applied to graduate school, and a couple of years ago, I graduated with my master’s degree. And she called me again and said, “Manny Congratulations!!”
And I was a highschool dropout…didn’t know English that well.
And I don’t share to impress you, but to impress upon you, that when you see me, you can get a glimpse of what can be of any child, that’s not given a handout, but a hand up. One word of encouragement, one word of enlightenment, can change the trajectory of a life.
I speak for that Indonesian child whose only hope for success is swept off to sea by a tsunami. I speak for that child who has to sleep on streets, begging for help. Not only those, I speak for that child in Indianapolis, who has been raped, beaten, and forgotten.My message is to not give up, you will overcome. I wanna leave these words with you, I believe these words are why we are all here.
“If” by Rudyard Kipling
If you can keep your head, when all about you are blaming you
If you can trust yourself, when all doubt you!
If you can meet triumph and disaster, and treat those two imposters just the same
If you can dare to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Or watch the things that you have built up broken
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
If you can forge a heart to serve your tome years after you
Yours is the earth!
If you will do that, you will have changed a trajectory of a live!
Copyright © 2010 Christian Marigold