Letter to the Editor: Elementary, My Dear


I have been graced with three snippets of life. At age seven, my parents whisked me away from my tiny private school to an LA Unified Magnet Center. From there, I attended a Charter Magnet, an unwieldy hybrid of community gardens and toilet paper wads stuck to the bathroom ceiling. Entering Archer for high school felt like beginning all over again.

Nowadays, the more I stare over my shoulder and into the past, the more I find myself in a state of utter gratitude for that first switch. The most valuable starting point I could have received came in the form of determined men and women tapping into the capabilities of my pencil, my mind. My poem below, “Elementary, My Dear,” attempts to express that — for all LAUSD’s financial turmoil through the years — my education never felt in jeopardy. Quite the opposite, in fact. The same love of writing which pushed me to create the Salt & Light writing workshops for church youth groups came from my elementary school mentors. People with the heart to teach classes averaging 42 students using a budget stretched across 1,322 schools ought to be helped. Until then, I will show appreciation for the lessons they taught me.

So, without further ado…

“Elementary, My Dear”

Blue bricks and a concrete jungle gym
My little feet padded ‘til callouses coated them
Beckoned by the toll
Oh no, not a bell
The toll
A single note chain-linked overhead
Arching into the electric lights
Meshing their buzz with droning hummm…

That’s how someone might have described it for me
From the sidewalk alongside metal gates
Standing there, beneath the toll
Accosted by paint chips flaking blue

I’m here to say I was blessed
When solid walls stained me graphite gray
Minutes turned to hours as new, ornate phrasing
Pushed me to the sentence limit
Yes, reread that
The second-grade sentence limit
5 per paragraph etched to my eyelids
A smile not far behind it as I placed the last dot.

Is how I learned to write
And wouldn’t it be a severe oversight
To look past my face toward the height of that fence?

With scuffed shoes like any other child’s
Dressed to impress in sky-hued polos
My most ardent opponent to a fine education
Was kept far from my sight for years
That’s right
Had I not the mind to count bills
Or the will they instilled within me
To write to read to think to be better

I could not begin to comprehend the lengths my teachers went for me.