Warm-Up Question: What keeps you going when you want to give up? Comment below this blog with your answer.
In last week’s blog, I mentioned a murdered student. What I didn’t have space to say was how Twin’s life and death continues to give me the strength to fight for urban education reform. Below is the email I sent the entire staff on May 17th, 2013, the day after her murder and some of their responses. I have removed some names, but everything else is just as it was originally written. I pray these words strengthen you:
To know her was to love her.
Kierra “Twin” Jones was one of a kind. At just about five feet, ninety pounds, she had a huge spirit that was belying of her stature. With braids, tattoos, and oversized clothing it would be easy to look at her and assume the worst. But once Twin smiled, all of that melted away. And you saw her for what she was. A young woman who dared to be herself, a young woman who loved openly, a young woman who was just as quick to give an encouraging word as she was to crack a joke. And as she spoke–slow and measured, you could feel the reservoir of wisdom that was deep inside of her.
She wasn’t perfect, as none of us are. However, she was strengthened through every mistake, fortified through every failure. And throughout the revolving door that is night school, she remained constant. When her peers’ resolve weakened she said, “I have faith.”
Twin exemplified everything that All City is supposed to represent. She dreamed through adversity. She strived every day; even in the midst of the complacency that surrounds us all. She was a leader, she was a peacemaker, so much so that it cost her her life.
And through her death, life continues. Old students are coming back through that revolving door. They’re saying they’re going to graduate for Twin. And though they may stumble, though they may never pass a Regents, or walk the stage, they have all LEARNED.
Hopefully we too can learn from this. Our success as educators is not limited to test scores. Our success comes when we dig deep within ourselves and continue to hope. Our success comes when we look past the statistics and see our students as people who deserve dignity and respect. Our success comes when we forgive the students who disrespect and underappreciate us. Our success comes when we treat our students like we would want someone to treat our own kids. Our success comes when we don’t coddle students, but when we push them to excel. Our success comes when we lead by example.
Kierra’s family is requesting donations to buy her headstone. Please give as much as you can. See K**** in the office.
“Thank you- just getting to email and you reminded me to stop and be thankful for each breath. Kierra was a special girl and you captured her spirit well. She serves as a reminder of why we each choose to teach. “
I want to thank you sincerely for what you wrote. I had so many mixed emotions about the loss of Kierra as she was one of my students from Freddie Thomas too. I think you captured everything so beautifully and it is an encouragement to us all. Thank you for always having that spirit of faithfulness and perseverance. I am proud to call you my colleague and friend.”
“Thank you Ms. A. You could not have worded it any better. Although she was not one of my students personally, it was very apparent that she was on a mission and that her tough exterior was quite the opposite of her demeanor. I saw her regularly, since she was friends with a lot of my night class students. She was always smiling, and never confrontational. She was definitely the vision of this alternative program, someone who was determined to make it and really took advantage of our program’s opportunity for success.
Thank you for taking the time to write such a beautiful message. I can only imagine how hard this has been for you, and anyone else who was lucky enough to be part of Kierra’s life. I know that she was a Freddie student, and that many of you had her in the past…I am fortunate to have never lost a student of my own…but that doesn’t mean that Kierra’s death doesn’t hit home for me. It definitely reminds me of the fragility of life, and the importance of what we do, as educators…we may be expected to teach curriculum, but we teach so much more than that…and mostly by example.”
“Thank you. Very beautiful and heartfelt. Thank you.”
“Thank you for your inspirational message and beautifully written words that truly reflect Kierra’s spirit. At Freddie, I had the pleasure of watching her grow and mature not only as a student, but into a woman as well. I marveled at her ability to change her life and have a positive influence on those around her. Each time I saw her beautiful smiling face at ACH, I thought about her steadfast determination to graduate and wished we had more students like her. I thought of her as one of those true success stories we encounter on such a seemingly limited basis. Although she will not be walking the stage, how remarkable it is that she has inspired others to graduate on her behalf. She has made a lasting impression on so many.”
“Truly beautiful!!! To know all the Jones’ kids is to love them!”
“I will admit that many of my days were filled with hope when Kierra smiled back to me and even though we did not know each other personally she made a difference in my life.”
Click the following links if you would like to learn more about Twin and her untimely death: