School bus image by laterjay
Monday, August 29, was the first day of school in Minneapolis.
Lucy Laney Community School, a pre-K through 5 school on the city’s historically underserved northside, was ready to go. On a table at the front of the school, bordering busy Penn Avenue, someone had laid out boxes of doughnuts, bananas, and orange juice. Every parent, student or staff member who walked by was encouraged to dig in and join the “tailgating,” as a cheerful young woman called it.
A few kids, decked out in the school’s navy, white, and tan uniforms, shyly grabbed a snack before heading through the school’s sunlit wall of doors. Meanwhile, near the playground at the back of the school, a line had formed. Soon, the Lucy Laney buses would arrive, dropping dozens of kids flush with first-day jitters and hopes at the school’s rear doors.
There to greet them were the beaming faces and clapping hands of dads, uncles, moms, school staff, and community members, all under the banner of the school’s “Million Father March.”
The Million Father March started in Chicago in 2004 as a way to honor and nurture the role men play in their children’s education. Since then schools across the United States have hosted their own Million Father March events. 2016 is the fourth year Lucy Laney has invited men and other caring adults to help welcome students back to school.
This year that welcome is more important than ever. Just days before, Lucy Laney had held an afternoon open house, where kids and parents met with teachers, reconnected with friends, and could receive a donated backpack filled with school supplies. Amid the bubbling joy of something new and hopeful, gunshots rang out. Something had happened just half a block from the school’s front doors. The children seemed oblivious, but parents and teachers were not.
“Did you see what happened?” One teacher cautiously asked, after visiting kids had cleared the room.
What happened was not an anomaly, but a pattern. Lucy Laney sits in one of Minneapolis’s “hot zones” for gun violence and other crimes, and has seen an increase in police patrols since the start of 2016. But this incident was too close. In the hours after the Open House, Lucy Laney principal Mauri Melander took to Facebook, sharing her deep frustration and concern about the level of violence surrounding her school.
Today there was another shooting on Penn Avenue. This one was during our Open House. I'm going to repeat that. There was a shooting during our Open House. Meaning, while children were being shown their new assigned seats, people were trying to kill each other with guns and ammunition. In broad daylight. Across the street from an elementary school.
“There is no way that a civilized society with advanced degrees and expertise can justify a reality such as this,” Melander insisted. She declared her determination to move forward and name names.
“I am not afraid. Don't get me wrong. I'm angry. I won't run away. I haven't before. I won't start now. I will run into. But as I run, I'm shouting. And I'm pointing fingers. To the ones pulling the triggers, shame on you. To the ones who know who they are but don't say anything, shame on you.”
Melander called out the “ones who’ve allowed a society to create the depth of hopelessness that produces such a reality,” warning them that they have “no part in our joy.”
That joy—not the fear and anger of the recent gun violence—shone forth on Monday morning as sleepy-eyed kids rolled off of school buses and into the arms of the Million Father March.
There is great joy in our community. But there is also great pain. Hope can be the bridge from the pain to the joy. Caring adults bring that hope.
--Event notice for the Lucy Laney School’s Million Father March
Sarah Lahm is a Minneapolis-based writer and former English instructor. She blogs about education at brightlightsmallcity.com.