Sunday Sermon (September 7, 2008)

¡Hola! Everybody…
Today, it’s a little difficult… I’ve had too many loved ones fall to the monster of addiction. People, when you get up and look at all this election hoopla and fall into some apathetic, “They’re all the same” crap, believe me, you’re doing a great disservice to yourself.

Case in point: why do we treat addiction as a crime? What has this so-called “War on Drugs” wrought? As far as I’m concerned, the drug war is a war on poor and working class communities.

Last night, I learned that my cousin’s daughter, a mere 23-years-old was pronounced brain-dead as a result of an overdose. My cousin and I were raised together, but we’re no longer close. She lives in Texas and we just never kept up with each other. Still, I love her as I would a sister. I remember the day she told me she was pregnant and how happy she was that day not so many years ago.

I can’t begin to imagine what she is going through.

* * *

-=[ Fear ]=-

“Fear lies not in reality,
but in the minds of children
who do not understand reality.”

A Course in Miracles

You realize there’s a war on our children, right? As a society, we’ve abdicated our responsibility and then blame the very children we have abandoned…

I had a cousin, Jimmy. Both Jimmy and I were pretty smart. We all lived in the same run down tenement building, 704 E. 5th St. Growing up together, we were taught to read before kindergarten. The only difference between Jimmy and me was that Jimmy’s intelligence was more practical in nature. He had a mechanical aptitude, liked to use his knowledge to build things, he had an insatiable curiosity to understand how things worked.

I was more abstract. My mother would send me to the corner bodega to buy some things and I would take hours, often making my whole tribe come out en masse to look for me. I would usually be found sitting somewhere, staring off into space daydreaming, or studiously looking at patterns of cracks on the sidewalk. It drove my mother crazy. My relatives would ask me why, and I would just shrug and say that the patterns were interesting. LOL It’s funny in that I’ve been looking at patterns all my life.

Anyway, my cousin Jimmy and I were pretty smart and were similar in many respects except one: Jimmy looked more like a “typical” Puerto Rican. His jet-black hair was wavy and his skin darker than mine. My hair was light brown and my eyes some kind of aquamarine blue. We didn’t even look like we came from the same family. Jimmy took more after my father’s side, all of whom were tall and darker-skinned than my mother’s side, who were all light-skinned and short.

Now, at that time, public schools in NYC tracked students. What that means is that they had a hierarchy of classes. If you were in class “2-1,” for example, that meant you were really smart. Conversely, if you were in classes “2-6” then you were a stupid ma’fucca! As children, we would make fun of one another. The “2-6” classmates were often ridiculed and the teachers themselves probably saw them as future criminals. This would make the “dumber” classmates angry and aggressive, further stigmatizing them.

My cousin and I read at the same level, were equally smart, but Jimmy was placed in one of the “dumber” classes, while I was always placed in the “smart” classes. Sure, our parents advocated on his behalf and these issues were sometimes “resolved,” but this form of institutional treatment would affect both Jimmy and me. We both learned early on, for example, that school wasn’t really a friendly place. For Jimmy there was another lesson: he learned, at an early age, that outside of his community and family, he wasn’t valued no matter what merits he brought to the table.

Jimmy would always “underachieve,” but as a young man, he would find his niche, though I believe he would’ve been a brilliant engineer or architect. He would die from an accident at a relatively young age.

Many years later, I came across a study as part of my graduate studies that reminded me of Jimmy. An experiment was conducted in secrecy at a school. The school had to classes for the same aged children. At the end of the school year, an examination was administered in order to select the children for the following year. This time, however, the results of the exams were kept hidden. As part of the study, only the principle and the researchers knew the truth. Simply put, those children who scored high on the exams were placed with children who didn’t score as well. In other words, high performing children and low performing children were split evenly between the two classes. Teachers for the next year were carefully selected for equal ability and experience. Even the classrooms were chosen with similar facilities.

Everything was made equal as possible, except for one thing: one was called “2-1,” the other, “2-2.”

Whereas in reality the classes had children of equal ability, in everyone’s minds the children in class 2-1 were the clever ones, and the children of class 2-2 were not so smart. Some of the parents of the 2-1 class were pleasantly surprised that their child had done so well and rewarded them with presents and praise, whereas the parents of the children in class 2-2 scolded their children for not working hard enough and took away some of their privileges. Even the teachers became caught up in the process, teaching the kids in class 2-2 in a different manner, not expecting too much from them. For a whole year, the illusion was maintained. Then came another end-of-the-year exam.

The results, though not surprising, were chilling. The children of class 2-1 performed better than the children of class 2-2. In fact, the results were just as if they had been chosen from the top half of the last year’s exam. They had become the cream of the crop – the best and brightest students. Moreover, those in the other class, though equal the year before, had now become dull students. That was what they were told the whole year, that was how they were treated, and that was what they believed – so that was what they had become.

In light of the election cycle, this experiment brings to my mind the different visions being offered to the American people. One is of inclusion and respect for diversity – about possibilities, not wars. The other is about isolation and the demand to adhere to one set of worldviews. One set of principles wants to continue the experiment illustrated above, perpetuating fear and ignorance of “the other.” Then there are a set of principles that wants to begin the process of creating solutions, not waging wars.

Our children’s’ lives literally depend on the choices we make today.




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