I am picturing a first grade boy running the perimeter lines of the playground – unhinged with excitement and unhampered by a trick knee or a bad hip. Germaine the Flash, one such first grader, could bolt faster than any first grade boy I had ever seen. I caught him in the school kitchen loading up his hooded coat with breakfast muffins. Then I witnessed his speed first hand. I knew I had a little spark of talent on my hands, even if I never saw the muffins again.
Germaine’s gift arose in him for good reason. His mother’s boyfriend had a thing for “whooping” and the boy’s mother, wrapped up in her own stuff, neglected her son. So he learned to sprint and must have had too many chances to practice.
I put him on the team.
However, by the end of the first week, Germaine’s classmates no longer wanted to run with him. Not that the kids had a problem with losing. Instead, one boy told me that during practice races, Germaine cut corners and tripped the other runners. Whatever it took, my emerging star needed to finish first. The light that came from that physical gift was dogged by a shadow that drove him to cheat.
Light that shines from within people can reveal core strength. That light can also illuminate shadow. When I have lost contact with what shines in me, I have sought people to assist me in stepping forward again. For Germaine, even in first grade, his odyssey began when he found his gift for speed. Left to his own, he might proceed unchanged. His shadow might win out. I decided to step his way, but who knows whether that will turn out to be helpful. Children navigate these unspoken turning points each day.
Two days ago, I drove along 24th Street, letting my thoughts drift back to a younger edition of myself as a new vice principal. I thought about Germaine in an attempt to gain insight into my own situation. My recollections drifted back to my first school, before all of the deep etched lessons. I had quicker answers then and knew without doubt that I could be part of big changes in my school – and maybe more. That young vice principal was the same man as the one in the car, but much had changed as well.
Next week, Germaine’s classmates have asked to talk with him. We do that by forming a circle on the playground or in the classroom, passing a talking piece, and naming the words or deeds that are tearing us apart. First graders can speak to their truths without a hitch, so I expect that we will get to the point in minutes. I hope the light we shine in circle will reach the light inside of this gifted little boy.
Meanwhile, I have revisited the spirit that shines inside me. Germaine the Flash is a sign of life, in spite of all. Watching him reminds me of myself as a self- assured younger man who worked from behind a nameplate. Today, some of the defensiveness has chipped away. I am coming to see this passage as a time for building the capacity for being who I am – letting my light shine with the knowledge that I am enough.