If your phone rings at 5:30 in the morning, it’s never good news.
Yesterday morning, long before my alarm was due, my phone started vibrating on my dresser. I muttered several expletives to myself and rolled over planning to ignore it. Then my brain started turning through a cavalcade of worst case scenarios. I tried to go back to sleep, but that lasted about two minutes. Then my phone vibrated again. “Fine,” I muttered and went to check who it was. It was a simple, brutal, life altering text from my principal: “According to kids it looks like Elijah Crawford was killed last night.” I don’t really remember the next two hours.
Elijah was the most energetic student I have ever taught. He drove me up the wall freshmen year. But, over the next three years I had the pleasure of watching him grow, mellow slightly, and turn into one of the hardest working students I had last year. He was a captain of the wrestling team. He sat in the front seat in my AP Government class. He grinded for me like no other student last year. And I remember how proud of him I felt as I read his name last June at graduation. Now I can’t believe he’s gone.
We’ve lost kids before, we lost Chandler and Hector in the last few years. Last year, we lost Jalon--that one really hurt me too. But I have never felt a loss this personal.
The next thing I remember was finding his math teacher in her classroom. She also had a very close relationship with Elijah. We had just discussed a few days prior how much we missed him--now he was gone. We hugged and cried in her doorway for what seemed like an eternity. I was a mess; she was worse. Neither of us knew what to say. We just cried. There really aren’t words for moments like that, if there are I certainly am not smart or composed enough under pressure to know them. We just cried.
It was Election Day and I had an armful of Voters’ Pamphlets to use in Government with me. As I shuffled past pockets of students, some with tears in their eyes, other completely unaware of what had happened, I just cried.
My next clear memory was right before the bell rang for my first class. Tears again welled up in my eyes and as I greeted seniors at the door. I was informed that about a third of my class was downstairs with the district crisis team. I wished I was with them. I appreciate that my district has protocols in place for moments like this, but at the same time, there really aren’t protocols for moments like this.
Throughout the day people kept asking me “are you okay?” “how are you holding up?” “you, good B?” my answer to each one was the same: “I am a mess.” I was a mess and remain a mess as I type this. I keep listening to The Mighty Rio Grande by This Will Destroy You. I keep welling up when I see one of the kids from the wrestling team in the hallway. I really lost it this morning when the (frustratingly effective) Twitter algorithm, recommended I start following him.
But I am glad I am upset. I shouldn’t be okay.
Society is far too willing to accept the violence that frequently takes the lives of young black men. The normalization of the deaths of young black males is a scourge on our society. It should shame us all. We should never be comfortable with the loss of young men with their entire lives ahead of them. The normalization of funerals, of candle light vigils, of impromptu street corner memorials are all sad commentary on our shortcomings as a culture.
In the coming days, there will be news reports and investigations. There will be a moment of silence at the football game. There will be tears. Tomorrow I will call his mother and see how I can help the family, but for now, I am not okay.
None of us should be okay.