Last week, a young man by the name of DeSean Fountain was senselessly killed by an unknown gunman. Getting the call on a Friday evening, my heart broke. It broke for DeSean— a young man with dreams and hopes for the future. A young man with a life cut too short. It broke for his family and the members of the city community in which he lived. It broke for my students who have to go home and live this reality each day. It broke for those who knew him and those who didn’t. It broke for the many people, young and old, across the country who have to live in the reality of cyclical violence. The truth is that too many people in this country have to face this reality each day. Many of our young people exit the safety of the school and go home to a reality that many, including myself, do not truly understand.
I cannot claim to have had a close relationship with DeSean. I knew him. I had spent time at McKeever with him, and said ‘hi’ as he passed in the hallway. He was a gentle and kind young man who had dreams for his future like so many of the other students I greet each day. He was a part of our community— the Environmental Charter School Community. He was one of our own.
In the wake of a tragedy, I was reminded what it truly means to be a member of a community. Dictionary.com defines community as:
A social, religious, occupational, or other group sharing common characteristics or interests and perceived or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists.
I am here to say that community means something far greater than what is said in this definition. Community means something more than what the people within the community could ever put in words. Communities gather together and are solidified in the wake tragedy— we rise up and offer support to our members. We surround them with a warm embrace in times good and times of bad. In times of struggle, we may not first know what part of ourselves to give, but we know that we will give as much of whatever is asked of us. We can sense the pain and suffering of fellow community members and respond in kind. We provide a sense of calm, a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on. We walk in silence and think deeply about what truly matters. We never let one of our own go it alone.
In this time of struggle, we are reminded of the community we have built— a community that believes in a larger purpose. We have taught our students to empathize with one another— to dig deep and walk in others’ shoes. I speak with great pride when I say that our school is not entity that seeks only to teach the core subjects. We have set out to teach our young people a way of being in the world— to care for others even if they stand apart from ourselves. While we mourn the loss of one of our own, we are reminded of the work that we have done. From the school staff to the parents, to the students themselves, we have worked to create a place of kindness— a place of love. Without love, where would we be?
Walking the halls on these difficult days, it was strikingly clear the type of community that had been created within the walls of our school. It is a reminder that a community is not a building or a place, but a group of people who come together to honor a shared purpose and vision. The building would be nothing without the sum of people who are connected to each other and call it their own. It is a reminder of the power of a community that seeks to instill empathy at its core and works with love in their hearts. As with any community, we have our faults and our failings. We have our disagreements coming with strong emotions. But when time comes to pass and we are filled with difficult emotions, we come together and gather around a shared purpose. We are reminded that above all else we care about people.
As outside groups and agencies came to our school in order to help support our students and staff in their time of need, they all had beautiful words to speak about our school. They saw that our community is one that cares for the young people that enter the building. I don’t know whether this was a tactic to make us feel better or if it was truth that they spoke. I tend to believe the latter. There is something artherial that can be felt when walking the halls of our school. We have a love of our job, of our colleagues and above else: a love of the young people that we seek to teach. In teaching them, we realize that although we cannot shelter them from the harshness of the world we can create an empathic community of people who view injustice and hardship as a time to rise up and support one another.
Some of the happenings in life cannot be explained and the real reason for their happening will never be revealed. They are there to teach us a lesson. Although I am uncertain that I believe that this was meant to happen as it did, I know there is a lesson to be learned. These lessons are better learned wrapped in the comfort of a loving community. You, DeSean, have reminded us of the power of our community— of both the harshness of the few and the goodness of humanity. There is a lesson to be learned and a truth to be found even in the darkest of times. Our community will seek the lesson and rise up in your honor. You are and forever will be in the hearts of our community. We will not forget the love and kindness that you have provided us in your time here on Earth. As we mourn your loss, I pray in the comfort of our community’s arms, for God to allow us to see clearly the lesson that is to be learned from this tragedy and to take these lessons to make our world a little more beautiful.