I Refuse to Bury Another Student

Yakez Semark was a bright, warm, charismatic 20-year-old whose life ended several weeks ago due to gun violence. He was also one of my first students. When one of his former classmates notified me about Yakez’s murder, I was speechless. It is impossible to predict the fate of a student. We do our best we can but ultimately we let go. As a teacher I give 100 percent to my classroom daily. It is important for me to see students succeed. In order for me not to burn out, I do not blame myself if a student does not take the path that I would desire. I remind myself that I did what I could and then I try to accept the results. Having said that, Yakez’s death was beyond shocking. He was not a “troublemaker,” nor was he involved with any gang activity. For some students in Chicago, residents of specific neighborhoods have argued that gang involvement is nearly inevitable. Yakez did not live in one of those neighborhoods. He was a good student, went to work and never got into trouble. Several years ago, I lost another student, who became highly involved in gang activity. He had tried to get on the path to success but ultimately got pulled back into a lifestyle he had try to escape. He was 16 years old and was shot in the head. His name was Gio. The Florida massacre has made me think a lot about both Gio and Yakez. I have worked with kids for over a decade and have lost two. I recently spoke with another teacher who lost eight students in a year and a half. These statistics are unacceptable. Sadly the violence that has affected so many in communities of color often goes unnoticed. It is worth noting that so much of White America has viewed the violence and poverty of urban communities as simply a pesky problem that does not affect them. I would know because I have worked with a number of racist teachers. As educators, we are often told to be objective, quiet and not force our views upon our students. And to a great extent, I agree with this. Our goal should be to keep pushing our students to be lifelong learners and independent, critical thinkers, not to hold our views. But this issue is different. The murder of innocent children, the NRA’s deafening, racist silence on Philando Castile (only ending after immense public pressure), and the sense that these events are so common and inevitable without any change in policy have furthered a sense of deep anger at the utter spinelessness of lawmakers who refuse to take any action against the monster that is the gun lobby. I am not advocating for repeal of the Second Amendment. I am not trying to persuade my students to believe in gun control. But I cannot be silent at the utter madness that has taken over this Congress, as the lives of children have become less important than AR-15s. To the gun lobby and the politicians who are pulled by their strings, it is clear that Black lives do not matter to them. Children’s lives do not matter. All that matters are the donations they receive from the NRA. I am inspired by the courage of these young people. They have more courage than the spineless Republicans and Democrats who refuse to do anything about this violence. I did not know any of the classmates of the victims in Florida, but as I watch them cry, I am reminded of Yakez and Gio, who should both still be here today. Their lives mattered. I refuse to bury another student.
Mike Friedberg
Mike Friedberg has been a passionate youth advocate since 2007. He began working with students at a community center and has been a Chicago Public Schools teacher since 2012. He currently teaches seventh and eighth-grade science and has previously taught language arts. Mike has interests in working with English-language learners, culturally-relevant pedagogy, project-based learning, Holocaust ...

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