On the way to the Corn Hill Festival, I biked through familiar neighborhoods in the 19th Ward. Taking that route to find material for reflection upon the Black Lives Matter rally I had attended yesterday at the Liberty Pole Way. Along the way, I found a part of my life I missed.
With not a lot of people around, I came across two churches and a wall mural at the corner of Dr. Samuel McCree Way and Steward, and the Clara Barton School down the street.
As this neighborhood is recoiling from the recent national traumas, I thought of the African-American churches as bulwarks against the surrounding social fabric ceaselessly punctured by poverty and racism.
And the public school — for all its challenges — as still the place where children can learn to build this community or, if they choose, leave to where other dreams take them. (see A ray of light on 595 Frost Avenue )
I hoped the message of the wall mural was true.
Further down McCree, people had gathered for the Mount Zion Mass Choir fundraiser. The church ladies were welcoming. When people heard it was a community magazine, they readily agreed to photo-ops. One man told the car wash guys (and gal) to look busy — which they were.
We touched just briefly on recent events. The church ladies taking tickets said their spirits were as strong as ever. And if the guys washed enough cars, and enough fish was fried, the choir might raise enough for new robes.
Across the way in the playing fields behind the old Madison campus, Edison football coach Jack Dees’ staff was running off season three-day-a week practices. Coach Dees barked at the boys who let up after being burned defending a pass. He got in players’ faces for bad blocking technique. One of his staff managed to throw a TD pass — if a little wobbly.
But Coach Dees knew he was there for more than football. Mindful of where young men can go during a hot summer, Dees said these practices keep them busy. Focused and directed on the positive. So maybe their names would never get read at a Black Lives Matter rally at the Liberty Pole Way.
But it was the schools I had missed. A while back for a couple of years, I substituted in the RCSD. I went to every school in the District, including those in the 19th Ward.
At Clara Barton, we often needed the patience of dear Clara herself. At George Mather Forbes, I was the music teacher for three days. At Dr. Charles Terrell Lunsford School, we did research for When Martin Luther King was at the home of Charles Lunsford. At Wilson Foundation Academy where I read Walter Dean Myers to the big kids and the little kids got warm snow pants.
Although most only briefly, I met thousands of faculty, staff and students. And, if the truth be told, I met more minority people in a day than I would in a year in Brighton where I live.
Of course, urban education is hard. We all felt frustrated with student indifference and disruption. And all the problems that spring from generational poverty and racism. And felt the heartbreak of seeing those kids who came to believe that their black lives didn’t matter.
But I came to enjoy the rhythms and energy of urban school culture and the life I saw in the neighborhoods. Like many teachers who live in the suburbs, after a while you don’t think about race when in school — until you drive back over the city line to your leafy white Brighton neighborhood. Then the Two Rochesters come home.
Looping through the 19th Ward, I realized my substituting experience was fading from vivid memory.
While I kept up with some colleagues, more or less I reverted back to my old ways. Less and less frequently do I find myself in the Crescent.
When reaching the Corn Hill Festival — a lot of the suburban Rochester galore — I realized, alas, I didn’t have the big answer to bridging the Two Rochesters.
I can’t say I advise you to become a substitute teacher in the RCSD. But maybe in your daily travels take some detour routes through neighborhoods off your usual radar screen. And next year — or tomorrow — bike to the Corn Hill Festival through the 19th Ward.