Da G.O.A.T. (Gangsta of ALL Teachers)
I used to be a teacher. Not just a teacher, but Teacher of the Year. A career in education was not my first choice. Socially, I was a troubled kid being the only black kid in Pre-AP/Advanced courses.That made me something similar to Everybody Hates Chris, black kids said I acted too white, white kids said I was too black. Eventually, it worked itself out by high school and college but it left scars that I carried into the classroom. As a teacher, I felt responsible for every kid feeling included in the lesson and I became enamored with fairness and reality. I didn’t want kids to be treated equally, I wanted them treated fairly. I wanted them to understand the difference between the two. I wanted students to feel comfortable speaking to me, with me and for me. I wanted my classroom to mimic reality but under my direction. To meet those ends, I adopted my classes according to the single groups because morning classes were less active than afternoon sessions. I built my classroom management on rent and social expectations to enhance the experiences for all. I spent my own money to reward students weekly with physical gifts and made bragging to parents a classroom activity. In my world, it was my job to “sell” kids on learning history facts and convince them school was the microcosm of life. If they could see the intersecting lines between school and life, it would prepare them mentally for challenges like bills, friendship, credit scores, even navigating police interactions. When I retired early due to advanced Multiple Sclerosis, I drifted from career to career as my poor health prevented permanent employment. I found therapy and clarity in writing stories of my experiences, teaching methods and personal decisions. This is the first of many…
So, Why Teach?
Foreword of Da G.O.A.T. (Gangsta of ALL Teachers)
Because it’s not about the money or power.
I’m getting older
and lost interest in “ballin”.
Teaching is about being a part of something,
influencing the next generation.
Nobody lives forever,
I don’t want to.
But through teaching;
“Philosophies may stand eternal,
Perspectives may last forever”.
It’s my calling, in my blood.
I was born to do this.
Possessed with a passion to do this.
I’m going to do this.
My commitment to teaching
stems from pride and love.
It’s my way of paying dues
to those I owe my freedom,
My responsibility is to follow the footsteps
of those who left the torch of education,
Yoshua Ben Yoseph,
Dr. Carter Woodson.
I’m teaching because time is of the essence
it’s never too late to make a difference.
Never too late to challenge the standards of society,
shake the social foundations,
Never too late to encourage critical thinking,
I teach because the opportunity
to improve an individual’s integrity
gives me butterflies in my stomach.
I teach because I’m fascinated
with the fantasy
I can reach the unreachable,
touch the untouchable.
I teach because I can’t preach
but it’s my belief
that you must question
what you’ve been told.
formulate opinions of your own.
There are those that don’t want me near young people.
What I’ll say,
But I welcome that stress
each and every year.
Because of those that need me and deserve me.
Those that haven’t seen
with their own eyes,
how much of what they live
is a lie.
My obligation is to increase
their odds of success and survival.
My duty is to interrupt
the social and criminal injustice cycle.
I’m teaching because I’m full of ideas,
I champion multiculturalism.
Damn those who deny it.
society can be reconstructed
on the establishment of
So, why teach?
a teacher like me
“You Could Be Anything and you chose this?”
Chapter 1 of Da G.O.A.T. (Gangsta of ALL Teachers)
“Actually, naw to the nope. I went to college hating math and wanting to own a nightclub. I was never popular in my school. I left few impressions in my small hometown. Girls rarely gave my nerdy tail any play. Maaaaaaaan, teaching was the last thing on my mind when I left the crib.” I struggled to keep a straight face at their shocked expressions and reactions of disbelief.
The students burst out talking at once. The questions were all variations of the same. “CLUB?!! Like a nightclub CLUB? We KNOW you lying Mr. C! Why this then?” The questions bounced from student to student. “Whatcha gon call it? What kinda music? Y’all serving them goooood drinks?” The class began to feed on the conversation, questions grew in boldness. “Ladies get in free before 10p? Is there a dress code?”
I laughed myself. I always laugh at their reactions to stories of teachers’ lives before the classroom. All students have images and preconceptions of their teachers. Well, a lot of students do. At least, the ones that participate do. I think. I let the kids excitedly throw their guesses at each other. They were way past caring what the actual answer was. At this point, it was about one-upping each other.
“Mr. C, you was just trying to be a playa huh? You already said nobody liked you growing up!” Ouch. That one stung a bit but it is crucial to keep the straight face. If the student know that their guesses are starting to burn me, I lose. I lose quick. Usually, it doesn’t take too long before someone gets close enough that I can slide back in the conversation and steer it towards an acceptable destination.
“NAW, he was prolly just trying to be a thug. A wannabe Jamie Saint Patrick with a fake-ass club Truth.”
Close enough, I thought. “Ding. Ding. Ding. Ding. We have a winner.” The class went silent. Not because someone cursed in my presence. Not because the guess was too wild. Not even because I agreed. Silence always follows K’myree. She was a live wire without bounds that enjoyed the art of being petty, pushing limits. When K’myree spoke, it was to gauge how much she would hate on you. She took calculated wordplay to the extremes, even by middle school standards.
“Got my money?” she asked? “That was a level 3 question so I earned $30 bucks.”
“LEVEL THREE QUESTION? Come on Mr. C! The question was, what did you want to be when you grew up? That is basic, foot soldier, level one type of questioning. How she claiming $30?” Cadillac spoke from the back of the classroom. A fierce football player with a true penchant for running smooth off on folks. No lie, it’s how he got the nickname, Cadillac, he really runs smooth and he runs off.
“For real Mr. C! $30 is akin to pimping you in your classroom.” said Jamaica. Jamaica was a walking, talking oxymoron of the highest degree. His parents were local lawyers that met, married and came home pregnant while vacationing in Jamaica. Jamaica, the only non-minority kid in my classroom, wiped his glasses with a cleaning cloth, folded it neatly along the same creases and slid it into the supply box at the center of his group table.
“FIRST OF ALL…” K’myree spoke loudly.
“Nope.” I interjected quickly. “Instead, explain why you earned the $30.” “Matter of fact”, I waved $50 at the class, “let’s just see who hustling this today.
Y’all know rent is due Friday, phone calls home Friday, the whole nine.” The money keeps my classes humming and involved. The Fridays keep my students following classroom rules. Every year, I have a single student design a new set of Knowledge Cash, $10s, $20s, $50s and $100s. I reward students’ participation and effort by handing out Knowledge Cash throughout the week. Students earn the money based on answering leveled questions, asking leveled questions, volunteering, tutoring peers and being a hero/heroine. It is an amazing teaching tool that I borrowed from a training. On Fridays, kids pay rent on their desks, louder the group, higher the rent. After rent, I brag to parents, of the kids with enough Knowledge Cash to pay phone bills, about how well their child has done this week in my class. Short on rent? I move the student and when he/she has earned enough to pay rent and hire movers, I move them back.
“It was a level one question so it’s worth $10.” said K’myree. “but I gave a level three answer by using inferences, then I added a big picture by analyzing his emotions.” She grinned. “I pay attention fool. I know my stuff.”
“Great job K’myree!” I handed her an old $20 from years ago and a new $10. She frowned at the old $20.
“Mr. Chase, you tripping with these old $20s.” she responded and flicked her middle finger to Cadillac and Jamaica.
Neither motioned in returned but Cadillac mouthed back, “whatever”.
Other students kept guessing for the remaining $20 of answers. There wasn’t really another $20 worth of answers but the promise of more money keeps my students aligned and focused. On my desk was my prized, collectable James Brown singing doll. Made of plastic and covered in dust, the volume was one setting, loud. I pressed the on button and JB’s voice belted over the students remaining guesses. They began to simultaneously nod their heads to the rhythm while a hush sashayed over the room. Within seconds, the entire class was quiet.
Talking during JB’s I Feel Good song is grounds for automatic rent increase on talkers and groups.
“So, YOU tell us.” said Cadillac. “What made you skip the nightclub to be a damn teacher?”
“I’m keeping a promise.” I said. I pulled an empty student desk to the front and sat on the table part of it.
The class settled into their chairs. “YAAAAAAS!” Jamaica exclaimed. “No more work, tell us a story! Tell us the story of why you teaching.”
And then there was one
Chapter 2 of Da G.O.A.T. (Gangsta of ALL Teachers)
“Nigga…” He leaned back, blowing Newport cigarette smoke in the shape of circles. Holding his lips in a small, tight O-shape, he would move his tongue back and forth over the opening. The smoke drifted lazily from his mouth, starting as a perfect circle and slowly dissipating as it reached the ceiling of the tiny efficiency apartment. “Number one, calm down. Number two, he ain’t dead. I shot him in the dick.”
W’Kendrick was not a particularly imposing figure. Raised by a single mother, he carried the baggage of never knowing his father everywhere. To this very day, it reigns as the Gucci backpack of thugs, OGz, foot soldiers, drug dealers and rappers. His open cockiness invited challenges and fights since he could talk, which he often did too much of. W’Kendrick was dangerous because he didn’t feel danger. He lived by the I-Wish creed; short for, I wish a muthafucka would. This is all complicated by the fact that W’Kendrick’s voice was naturally high pitched and he smiled entirely too much.
“Maaaaaaan, you bullshittin.” Strange was the polar opposite to W’Kendrick’s thuggish, ruggish demeanor. His parents were college educated and high school sweethearts. He spent his childhood reading Marvel comic books, running from bullies and stuck between two worlds. Black kids poked fun at him for being the only black kid in all AP classes. White kids poked fun at him for being black. Period, point blank.
W’Kendrick and Strange were America’s worst nightmare, young, black and working together. W’Kendrick envisioned himself as the next Frank Lucas, a drug trafficker known for his generous community events that fed hundreds of hungry people every Thanksgiving. Strange was a dreamer and stoner with a serious affection for hanging out with friends. Marijuana possession charges resulted in expulsion from his first three colleges. The unlikely duo met in a high school Calculus class. W’Kendrick was a junior, Strange was a senior. Strange was sixteen. W’Kendrick was seventeen. Strange earned a C for that calculus class, with the help of a hired tutor. W’Kendrick earned a B, without help.
W’Kendrick coughed and sipped from a 44 oz white styrofoam cup. “You should’ve heard him crying and shit.” He laughed in a subdued squeal. “I told that nigga. Nigga, I’m not gon kill you but you gon learn bout stealing from me. I don’t smoke my own weed and you gon steal MY weed?” He used his fingers to imitate shooting a gun. “One shot. I walked back to the car. Slow too. Got in the ride, hollered at some females and now I’m here.” He sipped his cup, codeine, promethazine and Sprite.
Strange stared at him. “Dawg… bro, that’s..” He dragged on his Black-N-Mild cigar, a blend of sativa cannabis, Mexican brick weed and the cigar tobacco. He paused, searching for the right words. W’Kendrick and Strange were close friends, not best friends. A partnership born of youthful dreams and ignorant ambitions. “bout the DUMBEST shit you could’ve done. How we starting a nightclub if you locked the fuck up? Damn dawg. Come on. It’s only two of us left. I..” He stopped, choking so hard from talking and smoking that he walked outside. He held a slug of spit in his mouth.
Strange stepped out and unto the tiny back porch of the efficiency apartment. On his left ring toe, he wore a silver ring and the right ankle dangled a silver bracelet. He shook violently for a split second, spit the slug in the grass, clutched his stomach and rolled his eyes. The entire ordeal lasted seconds. He quickly wiped his mouth with a bandana that matched the red jewels in his belt buckle.
“Pretty muthafucka.” It was Big Boo, a short, squat man with a low haircut. His fresh waves glistened in the lamplight of the apartment complex. “If I hadn’t just got off lock, I’d fuck you my damn self boy.” He folded a small stack of bills, popped a rubber band around the wad and slid it into his front right pocket.
Strange straightened himself again. “Damn bro. You almost scared me.”
“Nigga.” Big Boo blew smoke from a blunt rolled so tightly that Strange squinted to see if it indeed was a blunt or just a regular, swisher sweet cigar. “Why yo pretty ass always over here, nigga?”
“Shiiiiid, the chronic is cheaper and nothing but mud ducks on my side.” Strange gave Big Boo the special hand shake that ended with a shoulder bump and snap of the fingers. “What’s good tho bro? I heard you took the deal. Damn. The whole squad falling apart.”
Big Boo dragged his blunt, twice more, and passed it to Strange, tip slightly damp. “Errbody but yo pretty ass.” Big Body erupted in laughter and stared at Strange. “You ain’t eva done shit. Not real work anyway.” Big Boo always emphasized the word, real. Always. It didn’t matter what real referred to, he emphasized it.
It was a challenge. Strange knew it. For years, he had been proving himself to the rest of the P.I.M.P.ino Family. W’Kendrick was definitely the leader of the small crew of friends that called themselves, the P.I.M.P.ino Family. Big Boo and W’Kendrick grew up as next door neighbors. He resented that Strange was allowed to even join the crew. Strange wasn’t from their side of town. Strange hadn’t fought anybody. Strange hadn’t sold anything. All Strange did was bring the occasional college girls to the apartment for freak night. Well, that and the college white kids followed him like the Pied Piper for their cocaine fixes. Strange’s white college friends bought cocaine in hundred dollar amounts. The regular crackheads struggled to pay their $20s without loose change.
Strange pretended not to notice the inflection in Big Boo’s voice. “I don’t do real work. You don’t bring real hoes. We real even.” He used his left pinky finger, right thumb and forefinger to make a triangle that held the blunt and took a single, long drag. He passed it back to Big Boo.
“Whatever nigga. He tell you?” He accepted the blunt and stared, waiting for Strange’s response.
“He shot him. Over a couple hundred dollars.” Strange replied. “He told me.”
Big Boo laughed again. A loud, ugly, noise that forced him to double over and regain himself. When he looked up, tears of humor were gathering in the corners of his eyes. “Ahh. Guess not. He shot ol’ boy.” Big Boo dragged and blew smoke.
“In front of his momma.” Dragged and blew smoke.
“In.” Dragged and blew smoke.
“YO car nigga.” Big Boo laughed his loud, ugly noise again.
Chapter 3 of Da G.O.A.T. (Gangsta of ALL Teachers)
“So, you really WAS tripping on yo self!” screamed K’myree. She dapped Marcus. “Ooooooooooo E! I knew I liked you for some reason. I didn’t know what but I KNEW!”
K’myree sits at the front of the classroom of 15 middle school students. I organize the rectangular, learning laboratory into five groups of five desks, twenty-five total, one in the center. My personal teacher desk is at the front right corner. Along the left side of the classroom are three desktop computer tables, each has its compatible harware and equipment. The door is set in the back, far left corner. Whiteboards cover the majority of the remaining front wall. Our classroom is a modified trailer, one of nine identical units. My classroom has two windows and our after school activities are often serenaded by the high school band practicing in the nearby parking lot.
K’myree continues, “This dude right here.” I use my phone’s pen to jot a mark her group. “Aye yo Marcus,” she begins. I jot another mark.
“Chill K’myree.” says Marcus. “He already marking today. Look.” Marcus nods his head towards my hands, holding the phone and pen. Their quick communication through body language is all I needed to see. I empower my students to speak openly using group seating charts, Knowledge Kash, weekly parent phone calls and rent. Marcus knew K’myree’s excessive talking would earn the entire table a higher rent. He also knew if his table, her classmates, convinced her to calm down and speak more respectfully, I’d slow their rent increase. The whole idea required little monitoring but it sure affected class moods.
“Awwww. Come on, Mr. Chase.” K’myree’s voice lowers. “You gonna raise the rent on the whole group just like that? No warning or nothing?”
I slide the pen into its sheath within the phone. The S-note markings auto-save with a loud cha-ching noise. “Yup. You’ve been clowning and nobody in your squad has checked you yet. It’s cool beans.”
“Wait. Wait. Wait a minute.” Jamaica held up his hand. “You mean K’myree is right? Like for real, for real? You wanted to be Jamie Saint Patrick and your homie was the black Tommy? You can’t be serious? I don’t believe that.”
“Shoooot. I DO!” shouts Cadillac. Twice, he bumps his right fist to left side of his chest. “Me and Mr. C. go waaay back.” Cadillac’s aunt, a prison guard, and I tried dating in college. I knew this because she brought him to last week’s Open House and aggressively flirted throughout the entire event. “But I know how to keep a secret.” says Cadillac. He winked and silently mouthed the words, ‘I got you.’
I saluted him. In reality, Cadillac terrified me. “Already!” I said with a quick head nod of appreciation. I had no idea just how much she shared and she knew quite a bit.
“Yooooo, the story doesn’t make sense Mr. Chase. So, your potna shoots somebody. Why YOU teaching us? What does that have to do with your whole nightclub dream? Getting girls? Being DA MAN and stunting on boys?” Jamaica challenged. He took off his glasses to make eye contact. “What are you leaving out?”
Throughout the class, I heard several students begin repeating Jamaica’s challenge. “Yea, something don’t make sense!” a few students stated. Others followed with, “Nope. Too crazy.”
“That’s because SOMEBODY decided to interrupt me.” I gave the class a quick scan, stopping to give K’myree a duck face. “To make a long story short, the homie got locked up for shooting somebody in the stomach. By the time he actually went to prison, it was years later and we both calmed down. He promised to keep my name out of everything. I promised to finish school and look out for the squad. I did finish. By teaching, I look out for the squad.” I shrugged my shoulders. “Sure; it’d make a better movie if I stayed in my hometown, but I don’t.”
“Well, I’m glad you don’t.” whispered K’myree. “You know your girl cut for you Mr. Chase.” K’myree was on her 2nd year in my class. The first year, she texted me a long, rambling message on a random Tuesday night. She had never texted me before and it worried me. I contacted school officials, met them at her house and found her unconscious. We were just in time to prevent her suicide. My reward? My phone was confiscated by those same officials and an investigation was opened to determine the nature of our communication. Nothing was there but the experience left a sour taste in my mouth. I felt it compromised my ability to teach students. Of course, my repeated infractions, write-ups and referrals didn’t help. I accepted all of it because I wasn’t teaching students a state mandated curriculum. I taught them what they needed to thrive in our society. That started with trusting me. Most of my kids dealt with a sickening amount of home drama and trauma, abusive parents, neglect, no utilities, hunger. After that, they walked through a neighborhood community of gangs, drugs and peer pressure just to make it to school. I knew their options, consequences and reasonings. It’s why I entered the profession.
I saluted her back. “Already. I hope my daughters have your strength.”
“All this over a promise tho? Damn. Where is your potna at now?” asked Tre Slim. He sat at the back of the classroom and paid extra Knowledge Kash to sit alone. Tre was a legitimate gang member, born into the life. His father was incarcerated for triple homicide last year and left his oldest son, Tre, detailed instructions on running his fledging marijuana operations. I knew some of the inner workings because I was a customer. With Tre in charge, I stopped coming because regardless of how much pain I was feeling from my Multiple Sclerosis, I refused to buy from a kid.
Resounding, police style thumps at the door ended storytime and snapped us all back to attention.
Mrs. Locke and Detective Moore
Chapter 4 of Da G.O.A.T. (Gangsta of ALL Teachers)
“LET ME GET THAT FOR YOU MR. C!” Four boy students fumbled, bumbled and stumbled towards the door in a race of clowns. Marcus won by touching the handle first and peeked through the door’s window. His face went white and he stepped back.
“Ayyeee. Yo, somebody else can get it.” Marcus literally ran back to his seat leaving the other three boys still standing there. Not to worry however, their antics had just begun. They opened with an immediate roasting of Marcus. Jokes about his scamper rolled off their tongues in a rapid fire succession. To his credit, Marcus didn’t respond to anything. Once seated, he pulled out paper, pen and did his best impersonation of an exemplary, studious pupil. His sudden odd behavior was enough to raise my suspicion about the door and whoever stood on the other side.
I used my deepest, ‘Daddy’ voice and spoke loudly, “Ohhhh, I’m raising sheep today? Everybody has jokes. Marcus running in class. No one is rocking the rhino mindset?” The statement referred to a quote on the wall, ‘Be the Rhino, NOT the sheep‘. It was the first lesson that I taught as an elementary self-contained teacher, middle school social studies and intermediate character education. I’m crazy about interactive notebooks and growing the whole student, academically, socially, emotionally and interesting them in the surrounding community. ‘Be the Rhino, NOT the sheep’ was two-fold. One, the rhinoceros is never caged because it will ram its head into the bars/walls until it frees itself or dies. It will not eat, drink, anything until freedom is attained. Two, the sheep’s defense vs predators is simply blending in with its herd. When a sheep is scared, stressed, etc., it will mimic the behavior of herd and hope for the best. All year, every year, I drilled this to my students; be the rhino, not the damn sheep. Move, chase, dream like a rhino. Go after SOMETHING and be fucking free of the block, the neighborhood, the gang, the drugs, the peer pressure, social media, just be YOU. Do not give up and rely on copying others for survival or to avoid work. That first lesson was the most important message I could install in my students, be the rhino, not the sheep. As serious as I was, that’s not what stopped the horseplay.
Cadillac peeked through the peephole, froze and spun to look at me. He shouted, “IT’S PO PO FOOL!” The remaining three boys ran to their seats in the loudest display of student goofiness ever. It wasn’t the first time that Houston police officers visited my classroom. Currently, I taught character education and I proudly demanded that the students with the most referrals be placed in my classroom. This meant most school arrests, suspensions, misbehavior were my kids. Trey Slimm gave me a questioning look and I shook my head. No, I didn’t know an officer was coming and nope, I sure didn’t know why.
Mrs. Locke, head principal, entered the classroom by using her key. A tall, lean white man followed her in wearing a blue suit, brown tie and a badge hung around his neck. The underarms of his white shirt had light brown sweat stains. “Excuse Mr. Chase? I hate to interrupt.” she started. She looked at all 26 of us like we were students, including me.
“What up Mrs. Locke?!” I bounced up from my position sitting on the student desktop. The action was too quick and I almost fell, multiple sclerosis heavily affected my balance. I’d fallen before while alone in my classroom and Cadillac found me. He didn’t ask questions, nor report my accident or condition. I feared he assumed I was drunk but he assured me his aunt told him everything and winked. “The kids and I were just discussing how goals can change and its important to be flexible.” I turned my back to her, winked at the students and faced the white man. “How ya doing Mr.?” I extended my hand for the introductory shake.
“Detective Moore.” he responded without shaking my hand. “Can I ask you a few questions outside?”
I give my class mad props and big respect. I’m aware that we all share similar traits and perspectives. We also share similar fears, namely police figures. After the initial entry of Mrs. Locke and Detective Moore, every student sat quietly. They knew how to play the game and I adored them for it. “Hey Mrs. Locke, you two caught us in time to jam, Scholarships to tha Pen. It’s a song by local Houston artist, Lil KeKe.”
Marcus had pulled himself together. “Mr. C? Want me to pass out the Song Analysis papers?”
“I gotcha on the pens Mr. C.” Cadillac stood up.
“Students,” Mrs. Locke began. “Detective Moore and Mr. Chase need to speak about a private matter. Knowledge, do you mind if I take over your class?” It was not a question.
Detective Moore was next, “This won’t take long sir. You’ll be back with your students before Principal Locke can finish the lesson.” He smiled at me and opened the door for me to walk outside.
The air was brisk and chilly. I didn’t bring my jacket and worried about a multiple sclerosis tremor. The last thing I needed was to suddenly swoon, fall or worse start shaking like a seizure with this Detective Moore character as my support.
Detective Moore didn’t waste any time. “Mr. Knowledge Levar Chase, I understand that you’re a fine educator. Mrs. Locke and several other teachers have explained how well you work with these kids. They say you really make a difference.”
I smiled while rubbing my arms; it was definitely chilly. “Thanks sir. Are we outside about one of my students?”
“No sir, we are not.” he said. He stopped smiling. “This is about you. A couple of young men walked into our station this morning and reported you stole the rims off their vehicle.”
I blinked. “Excuse me, Detective? I stole rims?”
“It’s what they report. Which car is yours?” he refused to smile. “I have a license plate number that they’ve provided. Is this the first time you’ve heard the story?”
“Well Detective Moore, I am shocked but I do have a story.”
He stood there. Unblinking. Not moving. No smile. Nothing. “I’m listening.”
“Cool beans. Mind if I grab my blazer from inside real quick? I’ll explain what happened this weekend at the Mall.”
I don’t date thugs
Chapter 5 of Da G.O.A.T. (Gangsta of ALL Teachers)
Knoah was squatting and making faces at the big eyed, bubbly and bored baby girl in the stroller. She was chewing hard on lollipop #4 , pamper #3 and tantrum #2. Granted, baby girl only had tantrums when her mother was out-of-sight but her mother was out-of-sight. “See Raven? I’m good people.” he cooed and winked. “Tell your Mom that I’m good people and I’ll keep your lollipop game stocked.”
They had been to the zoo, sat in the park for a picnic and now, the Mall. It was a different kind of date for him, to include a kid. This was an entirely new experience that for years, he avoided. Knoah didn’t date women with kids, not even one kid. That wasn’t a knock on the women or their kid(s), but he didn’t do it. He was a serial dater, monago-HO, he wasn’t anybody’s role model, especially for girls. “Where is your Mom?” he thought. He scanned the long hallway of a shopping center in both directions. He wore a white, yellow and green colored University of Oregon Nike hat with a solid white T-shirt. The hat was pulled so low over his eyes that the brim touched his nose. The look scoured his appearance and kept him walking at a slow pace; as to avoid bumping into objects and people. It was the perfect camouflage to mask his spasticity, drop foot and walking gait. All were classic symptoms of a progressing Multiple Sclerosis. Lately, he had been skipping his morning yoga routine and meditation practices to squeeze time for hanging out with Cherry and Raven. He stuck a pierced tongue at Raven, which she ignored. He was determined to make this date perfect after holding a not-so-secret crush on Raven’s mother for a long seven years. Cherry didn’t date guys like Knoah. Regardless of his teaching profession, she considered him a thug. She wouldn’t tell him that exactly but he knew. “Baby girl, the lil homie ain’t going back to the friendship zone.” he whispered in her direction. Again, she ignored him, content with a 4th lollipop of a fourth flavor.
“You, SIR, are not a thug.” Cherty whispered in Strange’s ear. He spun so hard, in shock, that he almost fell. The heavy starch in his shorts reflected a sheen in the daylight that caught the attention of passersby. Silently, he thanked the heavens that he was able to regain his balance and abstain from a 2nd fall today.
“Whoa. See, that’s EXACTLY how grown folks get shot in the hood.” Knoah pulled Cherry close to him by the belt loop, using his middle fingers and smiled. “Yooo; so, where are we off to now? Gotta be dinner right? Fish? You know I got a hook-up.” He knew she thought the belt loop thing was sexy because her best friend told him. In high school, he accidentally slept with that best friend of hers, in a crowded bed, while other couples cheered them on. It was a knack, an innate ability, a trait passed down from his grandmother, the gift to make others feel comfortable, subtle shifts of movement, pauses in communication, eye contact. He could feel when other people longed to be part of something. Her best friend wanted to be part of the P.I.M.P.ino Family, he obliged her.
“Hmmm mmmh.” she replied. “But ONLY if you add your ghetto spaghetti.” Cherry smiled. She was darker than Knoah. Long, natural hair and a smooth complexion highlighted her movements as she slipped away to squat level with Raven. “Hey Momma’s girl! You miss me? Was Knoah being nice? I see he has given you another lollipop.” Cherry looked at Knoah, “Was she crying?” she asked.
Knowledge thought, “I want a slim, fine woman with some twerk wit her.” and smiled to himself. For years, Cherry escaped his attention and affection but he had a good feeling that tonight would finally be the night. “I gotta get this dinner right. No bullshitting. If you want my ghetto spaghetti, that implies you’re sliding by the crib?” He followed Raven’s example and ignored the question.
“How much time you got?” Cherry asked. She finished checking Raven’s clothes for stain drips and stood up. “No, I am not stopping by W’Kendrick’s real quick for nothing. Boo’s place either. Or anybody else in your lil squad.” She made sure to emphasize ‘lil squad’ with hand quotation gestures. “Just drop me and my daughter off at home.” She pushed Knoah’s hat up to see his eyes. “I mean it. No BS. Take us home before you do anything else. I do NOT date thugs.”
Knoah pulled his hat back to its original position, setting atop his nose, obscuring his image. “Gurl, I ain’t going nowhere because I’m broke. I don’t thug because I can’t walk in a straight line. I don’t sell because it’s too dangerous. I’m a good dude Cherry. You know I teach and all that now.”
They playfully argued back and forth a few minutes longer before Cherry finally surrendered and agreed to dinner. “Look, I know you’re supposed to be an ok dude but there is sooooo much drama around you. W’Kendrick and his shit. In college, you were always skipping classes and playing dominoes in the University Center. When my cousin and I rode with y’all to Da Club, a fight broke out. You and two fools stood there daring someone to hit either of you. Drama dude. I am done with drama after her father’s messes.” she squatted and wiped the lollipop dribble from Raven’s mouth and cheek before it ruined her clothes.
The three of them walked towards the Mall exit, Cherry pushing the stroller and Knoah just behind the two of them. He whispered just loud enough for her to hear, “You do know I chilled out now huh?” She ignored his comment.
As they approached the car, Knoah used his remote to auto-start the engine. Zapp & Roger’s 1987 classic love ballad, I Want To Be Your Man, could be heard over the sounds of families, patrons and vehicles throughout the parking lot. He stopped beside the rear passenger tire, a 20″ chrome rim glistened. Cherry rolled her eyes, “Really? You gotta be knocking pictures off the wall? Even on a date? And turn it down before you bust my baby eardrums!” She began to transition Raven from the stroller to the car seat while Knoah put the stroller in the trunk.
He grinned, “Ohh, you don’t want cold A/C blowing when you get in the car? You wanna wait like folks did back in the days? Doubt Raven agrees.” The music was screwed and chopped giving it an earthy, rich quality. “Relax and let things happen.”
A white Chevy Caprice parked directly behind Knoah’s car and he paused. “You got friends in a white old school around here?”
The driver and passenger, two Mexicans, exited the vehicle but left it running. Its creaky doors gave an ominous thud when closed. “S’up homes? The driver asked. “You from around here?” The passenger tried casually looking around the parking lot. Few people were paying attention.
Knoah calmly sized both men up by lifting his head 45 degrees. “Yup. I teach over at the middle school down the road. Got the lady and kid with me, shopping and hanging out.” He wasted no motion, efficiently moving from trunk to his driver’s side car door. He scanned to see if any other patrons paid attention. None, nobody. He sighed and thought, “well, maybe just a little bullshit.”
Inside the car, Cherry nervously watched the encounter through the rearview mirror. She rolled the window down, “KNOWLEDGE, I HAVE TO GET TO WORK!” she screamed the lie to all three men. All three ignored her.
“Easy there homes.” the driver attempted to speak without malice. “We just wanna know where you bought your rims. You get them around here?” His hands were open and by his side, he took a step toward Knoah. “Mind if we look at the car? Nice ride.” He smiled. The passenger stayed behind him, hands behind his back. There was no smile on his face. He simply watched as the driver stepped forward again.
“Over on 1st Street. Mr. Williams Used Auto and Tires.” Knoah replied. He turned to face the driver and now stood with the car door open, back to Cherry. He used his right hand to grasp the handle of a mini baseball bat. Years ago, he made a run deep into East Texas with a squad member for Thanksgiving. While there, his measurements were taken for a custom-made mini baseball bat and he kept it tucked in his driver side door slot, just in case. Its grip felt reassuring, safe. With his left hand resting on the car hood, he tapped the beat of the music, S.O.S. Band’s No One’s Gonna Love You, screwed and chopped. Behind Raven, a string of fluorescent lights jigged along to the drum line, alternating colors, green, yellow, red. Outside, the four tire gauges were capped with alternating, fluorescent lights as well, red, yellow, green. Raven ignored it all.
The evening air was suddenly split by the infamous sound of police sirens as a cruiser crawled toward the group. Knoah blew a kiss to the driver, frozen in his tracks. Inside the car, Cherry said, “This is why I don’t date thugs.”
Chapter 6 of Da G.O.A.T. (Gangsta of ALL Teachers)
“Welp, that’s about all I need from you.” Detective Moore said as he finished writing whatever he wrote in his notepad. “We had a report a few days ago outside the Mall that matched your story. Black family being bothered by some Mexicans. The two men were questioned elsewhere and said a black guy robbed them. Gave a car description, license plate, everything but their story never made sense.” He closed his notepad. “If we need anything else, we know where to find you.” Detective Moore nodded, winked, squeezed tight and rough as we shook hands. He leaned in close to my ear, “Gwen was my goddaughter. I know what you are. You fooled this school but I will dog your pathetic, sick ass until you are put down.” He spit so forcefully that I smelled old bus seats, cigarettes and coffee.
“Of course,” I thought, “this is why he’s here. It’s about Gwen, not car rims.” Gwen was my best friend in high school. We were so close that people often rumored we dated despite Gwen’s aggressively masculine appearance and personality. She committed suicide our senior year after a video surfaced. The talk around our small town was I posted the video because I was angry, jealous, pulsing with revenge. Her father, a police officer, never accepted Gwen’s sexuality and half-heartedly believed those lies. Her mother and I had a special relationship; Gwen suspected more and it affected the entire family dynamic.
“Is everything ok?” Mrs. Locke asked in a firm, booming voice. Neither of us had seen the large, dark-skinned black woman of immaculate attire step outside from the classroom. Her hair was permed and pressed, as usual. She wore her standard pant suit, power blue and black, kept a tablet hanging from her shoulder, not a purse, and spoke with military precision. Staring at Detective Brown, her voice cracked on the next words, “You will be missed Mr. Chase. The kids love you. I appreciate your energy and the entire staff benefits from your presence.” She looked back at the classroom door, reached to open it for me but stopped. “Detective Brown, do you need anything else from myself or Knowledge?”
He, Detective Brown, hadn’t moved and still stood inches from my face. Slightly taller than my 6’0 feet height, he whispered before turning, “I know what you are. Who you are.” He smiled at Principal Locke, tipping his head and leaving her his card. “I appreciate the chance to speak with him ma’am. I’ll let you two teach these kids and save the world. I got criminals to catch.” He walked away, head high, whistling Rolling Stone’s Time Is On My Side.
Mrs. Locke, the consummate professional, faced me, “It’s your last day and I’m not going to ask what that was about.” Her eyes softened, “I’m sorry how things went with Ms. Bryant. If you ever need a reference, please let me know.”
I gave her my best smile, “Cool beans, Mrs. Locke.” I felt awkward, like she was waiting for something more. “I’ve learned a lot here and loved every minute of it.”
She and I had the strangest relationship; it began 15 years ago, after I was awarded Student Teacher of the Year. I had interviewed with 50+ different schools but none resulted in a hire and I was losing momentum. I was struggling to pull my shit together, fresh out of college, knew I wanted to teach and save the youth but couldn’t get hired. I tried Arkansas, Louisiana, and of course, all over Texas. My goal was Dallas ISD, clean city, heavy into banking & tech jobs, higher teacher salaries. My college counselor, Anne Hughes, was adamant about me teaching in Houston; she and the University of Rosewood had contacts and tentacles there. I spent an entire summer taking road trips to various Teacher Job Fairs for introductory interviews every weekend. During the week, I made 2nd trips to schools for the follow up interviews. It was crazy exciting putting 1000 miles per week on the car, jumping city to city, state to state, plotting and planning a future. Exciting until a week before the start of the new year and I was NOT employed.
It was killing my vibe to be an educated, black man with the physical capacity to teach but unable to start my career. I was paranoid and blamed the Multiple Sclerosis and my activities with the P.I.M.P.ino Family. In my eyes, my medical diagnosis or the criminal arrest record would always prevent my employment. Finally, I received a call for a 2nd interview with Mrs. Locke’s intermediate campus. This is where the story gets interesting. In college, my crew had a physical altercation, fight, with a college fraternity. Damn right, my crew won. Nope, I didn’t throw the first punch or the last. One particularly non-athletic, fraternity member was actually chased to his car and got, “da business”. Fast forward two years, this specific, non-athletic, fraternity member happens to be a superintendent’s son. I, in the customary sense of youthful ignorant bliss, had no idea and applied to several teaching positions in said superintendent’s district. He, unbeknownst to me, had given terrible recommendations and reviews of my work, in his district, as a substitute teacher and teacher’s assistant. I wasn’t unemployed, I couldn’t find employment as a full-time, licensed educator. His plans fell apart when he bragged on what he doing and to Ms. Hughes, who informed my mother and 2 days later, I’m a real teacher under Mrs. Locke’s leadership.
“Mr. Chase,” she dropped the military precision from her voice. For the first time in our 15 years of a working relationship, she seemed unsure of what to say or do. “Knoah, I wish the best for you and although I understand why you’re leaving us. Do you know what you’ll do next? What kind of work will you do with your physical limitations?”
“I’m thinking real estate or insurance.” I replied. I looked down, Mrs. Locke intimidated me. Her precision, her appearance, her tone was always professional and unforgiving. She didn’t accept repeated mistakes and rarely laughed out loud.
“With your health conditions, how will you adjust and adapt to all the moving, driving?” her voice thundered even when whispering.
I have Secondary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis. It’s an autoimmune disease in which the body attacks the myelin sheath of the nerves. This results in loss of body control, neuropathy, bladder issues, blindness and a smorgasbord of awfully painful symptoms. Over the years, I’d left school with various ailments but after a day or two of self-medicating, I was usually good and back. “I’m working on somethings.” I smiled my best smile again. “Did you know that 80% of millionaires come from real estate or insurance? I figure, it’s gotta be easier than trying to save the world.”
She was undeterred, “How will you adjust and adapt”? I respected Mrs. Locke because she reminded me of my counselor Anne Hughes, sincerely concerned but ultimately dedicated to a singular goal, educating kids. Once, a colleague threatened to sue the school district over the ridiculous allegation that I would harm her. I’m a black man with several, highly, visible tattoos, a car with 22’ rims and a penchant for dressing with a tad too much flair. Mrs. Locke handled the situation professionally, quickly and quietly. I absolutely hated the resolution but it was done with gentle efficiency. I was ordered to attend all teacher meetings with an administrator, for the colleague’s protection. I considered rejecting the proposal but I’m not a dramatic person and wholly believe in team play. In the end, it worked. I stayed in my lane for the reminder of the year and eventually, it all died down. She was waiting on my response, not a joke but an honest, introspective answer and I didn’t have one.
“I’m good.” I promised her. I liked her even though; on another occasion, she threatened me with termination because I was using sick days to commute to a university for my Master’s degree. According to Mrs. Locke, I was “falsifying state documents as an employee of the state.” I had no idea what she was talking about and dropped my classes. Another time, a student brought a gun to school after writing a letter to me, “I will kill you Mr. Chase”. Mrs. Locke had city police officers waiting; it was solved with the accuracy and acumen of trained veterans.
“We’ve had our differences, Mr. Chase. We have the same goal and I want you to know that.” her voice regained its classic, authoritative tone. “As a principal, it’s my responsibility to place my teachers and students in the best environment for learning and growth. Your reckless optimism gives you the unique ability to communicate and build lasting relationships with these students.” She hugged me tightly, just a tad longer than expected. “Use it in your next career. I mean it, reckless optimism. You believed in these kids so much that you ran through brick walls. When you couldn’t walk, they ran to you. Now, believe in yourself that much. If you need anything, let me know.” She opened the classroom door for me and marched away.
Preview of Chapter 7 from the complete novella, Da G.O.A.T (Gangsta of All Teachers)
The Last Game of Dominoes
When I entered the classroom, the students let out a collective sigh of relief.
“Whew!” Cadillac yelled first. He was usually the first to respond to anything. “Maaaaaaan, I texted my big brother Mr. C.” He held up his phone to show evidence of his claim. “I said, Bro, 5-0 got the best teacher up here hemmed up. Principal escorted the laws right into our classroom.”
Jamaica was next, “Was you scared Mr. C?” he asked. “Bet you thought somebody in here snitched real quick huh?” Jamaica was impressed with the direction of his own questions. “What would you have done?”
“Shut up fool!” K’myree rolled her eyes. “He wasn’t gon have to do nothing. I’d have handled you or any snitch myself. AND nobody start asking why and what and stuff. It ain’t the first time some officer come here.” She squinted her eyes and sneered at the class in general.
I’ve always marveled at my students’ resourcefulness and resilience. Nothing within the borders and boundaries of this educational establishment could rock them. Today was my last day as their teacher; as my multiple sclerosis progressed to the point that standing was difficult. I was more choked up and emotional than any of them. Each of them had an amazing story. Each story was unfinished and I knew that by retiring early, I would never get to finish reading those stories. It’s a major component of my adoration for working with young people, the stories, the unpredictability of each day, the opportunity to make a direct impact. Mrs. Locke was right, I am recklessly optimistic. Throughout the years, I made a habit of diving headfirst into the lives of my students. If I thought I could help, I dove into whatever was happening. If asked, I dove into whatever was happening. Now, on my last day, I felt the significance of those decisions. Each of those decisions had a face in this classroom.
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