In the Building


In the Sprungs, I had grown completely comfortable with my job. I assumed the experience I had gained would be an asset in the Building. I was a little nervous that first day, but I was only nervous the way I always am when I meet a new group of students. If I had known that essentially I was going to have to start from scratch, I would have been far more nervous. 

I had no history with the kids. I hadn’t proven myself to them. I was just some “herb-ass” White man. 

I was given a nice, large classroom right across the hall from Ms. Peterson. When the first kid entered the room, I said, “Hey, what’s up?” I told him my name was Jason. He laughed at me. 

In the Sprungs, kids would definitely laugh at you. But normally, only if they were in a group. One-on-one, if a kid didn’t like you, he might not respond to you, but he wouldn’t laugh at you until his friends were there. This kid didn’t need a group. He could laugh at me all by himself. 

Now, while he didn’t need an audience, neither did he mind having one. In all, twelve kids entered the room that period. As soon as his friends joined him, he said, “This nigga a corny-ass motherfucker. He be talkin’ to me like, ‘Hello there. How are you today?’ ” 

I said, “You a lyin’ ass mo-fo. That’s not what I said. What I said was, ‘What’s up?’” 

“Say word to mother you didn’t say, ‘Hello there.’ Say word to mother.” 

“Word’s bond. You playing yourself. I hope someone’s got a shovel. Cause this motherfucker so full of shit we need ’ta start shovelin’ right now so we don’t drown.” 

The other students were smiling. They were looking back and forth between the two of us. They weren’t taking my side because I was new and I’m White. The good news was they weren’t not taking his side either. In the Sprungs I would have had them laughing by now, but up here in the Building they obviously had a better sense of humor. To get them to laugh, it was clear, I was going to have to work. 

The first kid I spoke to was beginning to look amused too, like maybe I had more game than he thought. I ask him his name. 

He told me his name was Elijah. I said, “Well, golly gee. Elijah. Now isn’t that a name that originates in the Bible?” 

He said, “See what I’m sayin’? That how he be talkin’ to me.” 

I said, “What ’chu talkin’ about? How you say I’m talkin’?” 

“Like you just did. ‘Golly gee’ and shit. 

I said, “Yo, man. Are you for real? I didn’t say that. Did any’a you hear me say ‘Golly gee’?” 

One kid said, “No,” and he was grinning big and then another kid agreed and Elijah started going nuts. 

He said, “Oh, so it like that, ha?” He was grinning now. 

I asked them their names and they all told me, though one kid claimed his name was “Nun-ya.”