a million deaths is a statistic. "
The truth about Juan Carlos Guzman (June 23, 1996 - April 27, 2014)is that maybe he should still be alive. Nobody deserves to be murdered no matter what color, affiliation, or difference. When I met Juan, he was a small kid from California. It was my second year teaching at Wooddale Middle School in Memphis, TN. I was honestly starting to feel that I had found my way. Over time this kid, in a big flat brim hat, baggy khakis, and an infectious smile would come sit in the door way of step practice. According to all of the teachers, Juan was a troubled continuously active kid. To me all I saw was a kid that wanted to belong. He was just like me when I was small: sarcastic, playful, bright, and a genius in the classroom. Often he would finish his work early and just create mischief. After school, he kept coming to practice. I, in return, kept throwing him out.
He finally got angry with me one day and refused to leave. He told me that he was going to stay. I tried to put him out and he screamed, "What do I have to do, Mr. MO?" I told him, "Get your conduct in order." Juan left and came back three hours later and said look, Mr. All the teachers said I'm better. I chuckled. I let him in that day. From that day forward, I mentored Juan. He was easy too cheer for. A bright kid with a bright future who honestly had one of the most genuine hearts I've ever met. It's hard to see a student slowly creep down the wrong path. I started noticing flags, colors, friends, and aggressive edge that wasn't there before. Over the years, I asked him why are you engaging in the streets. He looked me in the face and said, "Because every teacher is not like you. They don't care bout me. They don't give an F--- about me." Juan reminded me of the moment that I was angry at never being allowed to join the honors poetry class. I felt tremendously bad for not allowing him to hang around earlier and recognizing that he just wanted to have fun.
These words stung because I knew great teachers who loved him and tried to teach him to the best of their ability. I knew many men who tried to act as role models. A certain regret laid on my shoulders. It wasn't until an unrelated incident with my career forced me to take hard looks at why I felt this way. Why was I so broken? Why did I feel like I could have done more? Helen Keller once wrote, " I do not want the peace which passeth understanding, I want the understanding which bringeth peace." I don't have faith in the system to create avenues for brown boys to feel safe. Time and time again, the system has shown they are more interested in finding ways to monetize or capitalize off of criminal activity rather than reform.
There are so many areas for the middle class to attend, to enrich themselves, and to become better citizens. Where do the poor, angry, hurt, and kids that are not "angels" go? I felt this anguish because I feel like I have ducked my purpose for too long. I have the knowledge to create avenues but have been selfish in my own desire to succeed. What if it doesn't work? What if I lose all my shiny objects? Juan's death showed me that now is the time. I can't wait for another Brown boy to lose his life without trying to create an answer. The truth of my own struggles, of my own understanding of the sorrow that young males sometimes hold can be used for good.
Over the course of the next year, I will seek a path. Truly the only difference between Juan and Me was maybe two choices and an aunt. I hope that Juan's family seeks peace more than justice. I can not imagine the sorrow or anger to have someone taken from you. I won't even try to justify or go into why people join gangs. The truth is people need people to love them. People need people to love them when they are dirty, poor, angry, hurt, unlovable. People need people to open the door and not shut it. I ask you for all the brown boys and all the people we have lost: CAN WE OPEN A FEW MORE DOORS? I'm tired of burying brown boys. I'm tired of mothers telling me thank-you for mentoring and trying. I'm tired of hearing muffled cries of fathers. Today, I ask as a community to hug our youth today. Today, tell one that they can be great. Tell them they are awesome beyond compare and most of all. Tell them of a boy named Juan who had the heart of an angel who got trapped in the hell of the streets. R.I.P my student. May God Bring you a stage to step on and the big hats you like.