This is Part 5 of my series “Letters from John.” In Part I, I wrote, “I’m in a beautifully loving marriage to John Dukes, a man who is truly one of the greatest human beings I’ve ever had the pleasure to know. My husband is also incarcerated. During our friendship, courtship, and marriage, John and I have spent a lot of time tracing his trajectory from the various schools he attended as a boy in NYC and on Long Island to his current status as an inmate in a New York State correctional facility. Part 2 is here, Part 3 is here, and Part 4 is here.
In this letter, John rounds out his academic journey with a reflection of the highs and lows of his senior year in high school. More and more it is clear that, specifically for students of color, purpose-driven learning and mentorship are key components of education that are tragically missing from their curriculum. What I hear my husband John saying most strongly is that a resurgence of the “It Takes a Village” way of thinking is needed within education. Students of color need teachers of color to help guide them through the labyrinths of school, on academic, social, and emotional levels. Our mere visual presence gives hope to them and positively informs where they can see themselves in the future.
I went to another new school and dressed up everyday. These children went to class more and the school was surrounded by busy roadways. In fact, corner stores weren’t near by so if you were in school, you stayed in class. My cutting school days were over (by force, not choice).
Honestly, I preferred going to this school. I liked being the new student and reinventing myself. I lived in a quiet area (remote, some would say). School became the place to meet and the principal was Black. That was the first time I ever saw that: a Black man in charge of a school.
Perhaps race played a part of my dislike for school. When you have men/women who look like you, sometimes children relate better. I remember liking gym when I was younger because my teacher was Black — a Black man, even though I never played a sport in school. (I couldn’t be coached. I liked freedom, to a fault.)
I never really had an interest in school activities. I had girls asking me to prom, yet I never went. My senior pictures weren’t an issue for me — I didn’t want them. School was in the corner of my mind.
I do remember in eleventh-grade my social studies teacher took our class to see the movie “Glory.” Truthfully, that movie inspired me to learn for awhile. Perhaps I needed more understanding concerning school. Most students are not told why we go to school.
Black children like myself need extra understanding of the importance of education.
Your husband John