“It’s 9:30. Where have you been Ron?”
“I was out late dude. You know, taking care of biz”
“Shouldn’t you be in second period taking your final exam?”
“Damn dude I forgot all about it. It don’t matter. I’m probably not passing math anyway.”
I’ve known Ronnie since the sixth grade. Even then his mother thought it would be cool if she had him wear a “grill” of highly polished stainless steel over his upper teeth. I always called him Ron instead of Ronnie. It tended to make him feel more like a young man.
Ron and I had fought the grade battle for several years. He understood he would never be an “A” student and I understood he would always be a “C, D” student. I always stressed schoolwork when we talked. More importantly he knew he needed to be a young man instead of a street thug. Most of the time he failed at his schoolwork, but seldom did he fail to be a young man.
When others saw him on the street, they saw a thug. He usually dressed in very dark, baggy, and layered clothing. His hair worn in long braids. Most often he has a hood dangling on the back of his head. His crowning glories are the dark glasses hiding his eyes and the shiny grill reflecting out of his mouth. All of this camouflage did an excellent job of hiding a good-hearted soul mostly missed by the casual observer.
Ron struggles with the street. He struggles with a very religious mother. However, he mostly struggles with himself. In the hood, everyday, he sees quick money and friends disappearing either into jail or the graveyard. Thanks to the influence of this and his family he has a small tolerance for Caucasians. Several times he let me know that Caucasian was a funny name, “Sounds like a pair of shoes. Yes, I would like to have a pair of Caucasians in size twelve.” Then he would laugh making the sound of air leaking from a tire.
“Good morning Ron.”
“Morning man,” he replied each morning entering my portable classroom. I don’t remember him ever having breakfast before coming to school. So each morning he microwaved Ramon Noodles, chicken flavored, before heading out to English One. During three years in high school he tried passing English without ever getting close. However, he never quit attending the class. Each year I had to argue with his teacher not to socially pass him just to not have him in class the following year. As the end of year four approached, he proudly possessed a 71 in English.
I watched on a very fine Sunday afternoon as he walked across the graduation stage. I honestly thought he was taller. Afterwards, as I leaned against the exit door watching the graduation crowd of students and families, I saw Ron being hugged by his mother, older brother, and stepfather.
Seventh grade was the pivotal point in our relationship. Ron was small in stature and large in mouth. Ms. Ellison was and continues to be a stodgy English teacher. She rules her domain. That domain being her classroom and the students are her minions. They must all fit the mold of hard working, respectful (by her definition), and most importantly quiet. Ron could not comply with one of these demands let along all three.
Right after first class began my classroom door was flung open banging against the wall. Ron came running in with tears beginning to fill his eyes. Close on his heels marched Ms. Ellison. Her tan corduroy pants “zipped” as her legs moved her forward in pursuit of Ron to further punish him.
“He is not to be in my class again. He cannot behave. He’s nothing but trouble. Do you hear me Ron? You’re not to come into my class again!” I wanted to tell her that the yelling was unbecoming to a teacher, but I was more concerned with Ron then an irate English teacher.
“You’ll have to leave now Ms. Ellison you’re interrupting my class. We’re just getting ready to listen to the announcements.” She wanted to continue berating Ron as I escorted her out and closed the door leaving her to stare at the door.
By the time the morning announcements were completed Ron had settled down to his normally talkative self and the rest of the class had forgotten the incident. They were in the process of pooling money they had collected for two days to contribute to another of the many fund raising activities schools engage in to help the school. As I recall they had collected around ninety-five dollars. The “popular class leader” presented me with the money. I completed a receipt for the school secretary and placed the money in a brown envelope. The class leader stood next to my desk waiting to take the envelope to the office.
“Ron, can you come here a second? I need you to do something for me.”
“What you need man?”
“Please take this envelope to the school office for me.” By the expression on the class leader’s face, this was a complete surprise to him. It probably was no more a shock to him then to Ron. I suspected it was the first time he had been placed into a position of responsibility.
“Don’t take to long Ron. We got a lot of work to do this morning. You have to catch-up if you’re going to be with me for the remainder of the year.” Ron returned within two minutes and took his place in the class. The office staff later sent me a note asking if it was proper to have Ron bring money to the office. I simply noted on the yellow paper, “You got the money didn’t you!” I heard nothing further. The principal agreed, with the insistence of Ms. Ellison, Ron should remain in my class during first period.
Here in high school, four years later, as I lean against the exit door watching the graduation crowd of students and families, I watch Ron proudly being hugged by his mother, older brother, and stepfather.