• by Tom Keene • IDRA Newsletter • May 1996 •
Surrounded by gangs and graffiti, J.T. Brackenridge Elementary School is in the heart of one of America’s first and oldest public housing projects. Its children and families constitute the nation’s 11th-poorest census tract. Its students, parents and teachers, its administrators and staff, shoulder the tasks of learning and teaching against a tide of economic stress unseen and overlooked or ignored by most Americans. Signs of the strain are not hard to find. Confusion, anger, burn-out and despair happen.
But if one looks, signs of hope are also to be found. One sign is the absence of gang graffiti on or in the school. The school, one of the oldest in the city, was reconstructed some years ago. By agreement among the local gangs, the renovated school was declared off-limits to gang graffiti and gang violence.
Another sign of hope is the presence of graffiti on long strips of white butcher paper hung along one of the school’s hallways. It is a paper and crayon mural, a hallscape of American dreams put together by students and parents as part of Children’s Creative Response to Conflict, one of the school’s many innovative programs.
Anyone looking for a bright star of hope in a midnight of discouragement might try reading and reflecting on the mural, its pictures and words. The mural projects the children’s vision of the world they want: enough food for everyone; families that are happy and care for each other; clean air and water; lots of animals; you can leave keys in your car; good schools; graduating and getting a job. Black people, red people, yellow people, brown people, white people: We all love each other. Basketball courts. Friendship. Clean city. Parks where we can play. Beautiful gardens. Drug-free people. Clean houses. A clean ocean for whales. Neighbors who help each other. A college education. A clean world.
Sprinkled among the visions are action imperatives for achieving such a world: Keep the world clean; recycle; stop killing children in school; no cutting down trees; stop the wars; a clean, safe environment; stop the violence; help the people on the streets.
On the wall opposite the children’s mural is a smaller one by their parents: a better life for my kids and all other kids in the world; safe schools; to see children love and not hate one another. One parent expressed hope that unconditioned love might go out to our children when they give us bad reports, to teachers when they don’t understand our kids, to teenagers who are out on the street, to parents who have no interest in the education of their own kids.
American dreams like the dream of Martin Luther King Jr.; like those who wrote the U.S. Constitution and its preamble and hoped for justice. American dreams of American children and American parents. Dreams that, to become true, call for a new vision and hard work. Alongside the parent’s mural on a poster board is a short poem:
“The world of tomorrow, they say when it comes,
Will free every city and town of its slums,
So if you like gardens where children can play,
Let’s make the world of tomorrow today.
The world of tomorrow will care for its youth,
And teach them in all things to search for the truth.
So parents and children, together lets say,
Let’s make the world of tomorrow today.”
Tom Keene is a poet/activist who counsels children and parents in the Alazán-Apache Courts. Reprinted with permission from the San Antonio Express-News. Comments and questions may be sent via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
[©1996, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the May 1996 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]