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Just Another True Story — A Poem

by Fred Dodsworth

 

We’ll call him Kenyatta,

that wasn’t his name

but you get the picture

It was second grade in America

the land of testing and more testing

and the test he was being tested for

was one of those tests by which

little boys and little girls are divided

into those who do and those who don’t,

those who advance and those who retreat,

those who end up in the Ivy

and those who end up in the weeds

 

This little one was just as smart

as any child of seven or eight might be

if he had computers in his home

if there was food on his table

if there was a home

if the sound of gunshots

could have been confused

with an automobile backfiring.

But he didn’t live in such place,

he lived in that place

where innocents get punished

for crimes they never committed.

 

That day, the day of tests

Kenyatta sat at his desk

like all the other children

and while they diligently spelled out the words

answered questions and advanced

Kenyatta only saw letters swirling

refusing to resolve into words.

He couldn’t read.

 

He hadn’t gotten help

from his teacher who carried too many

nor from his principal in her office detached

not from the librarian who might have helped him

no Hail Fellow, Well Met or Good Samaritan stepped up

So he did what anyone might do,

he roared, he wadded up his test and threw it on the floor

he jumped up from his desk and stormed out

while the other children shook

—this display disrupted their concentration

derailed their best intentions,

constrained their responses,

it might even have changed their life’s course.

 

That day I came home,

…after speaking with his teacher

and hearing her say

— and she was a good teacher,

loved by her students :

“they don’t give us any help,

the children are so many

and there’s only so much of me.”

…after speaking with his principal

and hearing her say:

“teachers must learn how to deal with this on their own.

We can’t come to the rescue

every time a child falls behind.”

I came home that day

and told my wife:

“If this kid is not given a hand,

he’s not going to survive.”

 

Then I went about my business,

aiding where I could,

looking away when I couldn’t

and I forgot about Kenyatta.

I’d see him from time to time

sullen and angry

but there’s nothing worth noting

when a child who eats irregularly

glares, stares, makes mean eyes.

Ten years later I was in New York on business

my wife sent a newspaper clipping

the once promising young man

had been gunned down in the street

a deal didn’t go down like he’d planned.

 

A different boy or girl,

might have been dealing a different product

might have been selling automobiles

 or building computers or

might have been teaching in a local school.

But he didn’t get a helping hand

all he got was indifference at best

malevolence more likely

cruelty and oppression as his allotment

compounded, amortized, and institutionalized

on a daily basis

until all other options disappeared

and then we ask…

and then we ask…

what went wrong?

What do you think went wrong?

and how much longer

will we allow this wrong to go on?

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