XVI / by Ronald Clark

Period 3… 

World History. I still do not like how much the truth is despised here. Nevertheless, my approach to broadening the horizons of those who find solitude in their inaccuracies - primarily my teacher - could be retooled. No use in constantly barking about what I find ails our education system, and the below-average intellect that runs amok within it, if I can never properly engage in conversation that might change a mind or two. 

Being intelligent is only fun when you’re winning.

I hold back my tongue from even mentally calling my teacher a minion. That sentiment alone has ridded any opportunity for possible respect to be created. She had no chance to reach me. I hated how she delivered her subject matter, what subject matter she was delivering and the people that she set out to satisfy in delivering said subject matter.

But today is a new day. You can still teach a young dog new tricks. Even if that young dog might be the most stubborn pup of them all. 

By the way, my World History teacher’s name is Mrs. Ward. I know I refrained from naming her earlier, but that was out of utter disdain for her face. Her face is fine with me now. I can stand to look at it, if only because I have convinced myself that it would be much easier to look at her than to continually find new ways to rotate my neck in a direction that does not include her in my eyeline.

Apparently, God does have a sense of humor. Today, the day I am attempting to change my attitude towards my teachers and to give them at least a chance at educating me further than I have already educated myself, Mrs. Ward decides that she wants to tackle the controversial topic of police brutality in America.

She sends a sly smirk my way but I do not budge. I actually decide that this would be a good time for me to raise my hand. 

Hand is up.

“Yes, Vinnie? What am I doing wrong, now?”

“I’m just curious as to your view of police brutality from the perspective of a white woman in America. Not even in a sarcastic way, just in case you may have jumped to that conclusion. I am truly interested in hearing the opinion of someone so far removed from the topic. By no choice of your own.”

My classmates’ glares go from me to Mrs. Ward. She is somewhat stunned at this opportunity that has befallen her and is slow to react. She is used to going back and forth with me to no end but this calm creature before her who actually seems interested in her viewpoint is a creature she is not yet used to interacting with. I’d hate to say that this is actually more fun than my usual tactics with her but…

“Well, Vinnie, first and foremost, I don’t think I should give my opinion about such a divisive subject in class.”

“But we want to hear what you think, Mrs. Ward. Use this as a chance to truly give us your perspective. I mean, the only white women we really interact with are those of you that decide to teach in the inner-city for whatever reason, so please do enlighten us. Does your jaw drop in anguish every time you see an unarmed black man shot down by the police? Do you see our faces in theirs? Or do you think that we have our own part in our constant demise at the hands of the police, as maybe, we do in the high school suspension rates among black and Latino children? You’re allowed to have an opinion, Mrs. Ward. This is America.”

“That will be later in your high school career when you take U.S. History. Let’s stick to World History, shall we?”

“So I’m guessing then we will be engaging in the conflict in apartheid South Africa, won’t we, Mrs. Ward?”

“Can you let me teach, Vinnie?”

“By all means, Mrs. Ward. I am all ears.”

I might have raised my hand to either ask or answer a question about 12 times that period. Mrs. Ward had to have gotten sick of me by the fourth one, but she knew that I could not be stopped. I am now both every teacher’s joy and fear, dream and nightmare. I am a smart kid who knows he is smart. And once I decide that I want to be a challenge instead of a nuisance, the entire student-teacher dynamic changes and I am now a teacher’s walking insecurity.

You cannot come into class unprepared anymore, Mrs. Ward.


“Yes, Mrs. Ward?”

She stops to carefully choose her words, yet, she chooses something so simple, but it still resonates: “Thank you.”

I just smile the same smile I have recycled the past three periods. This period was going to be my biggest challenge no matter what kind of changes I was looking to make. It didn’t go quite like I planned, but it was still an improvement.

I don’t want to kill her and she seems like she doesn’t want to kill me. I’ll chalk that up as a win.

Period 4…

Art. My HB pencil sketch of a black man in his late 20s being lynched in rural Mississippi with the heavens opening up as he takes his last breaths is hanging up on the wall. It’s like a white privilege shield for all to see.

Ms. Scott sees me. And it is immediate. 

“What changed?”

“The wind.”

“Makes perfect sense to me.”

Ms. Scott smiles at me. I smile back at her. She senses the difference in my smile. The calm, the love, the freedom, her eyes tell me this. She knows how to communicate with me. We speak like artists speak. It’s just what we do. If anyone understands who I am in this moment, it is Ms. Scott.

I head to my seat.


“Yes, Ms. Scott?”

“I have something I want to talk to you about.”


“Not yet. But soon.”

“Sounds good, Ms. Scott.”

Whenever Ms. Scott says she needs to speak to me about something, it either has to do with my mother, or art, or both. My two favorite subjects. This puts yet another smile on my face. I am starting to get used to this whole smiling thing.

I get up to open a window. Need a little wind in here.

Period 5…

Sign language. I participate with earnest. Engage in the silence. Learn a few new signs. Truly enjoy myself. Word has spread that I seem to be a different person. I keep getting leper’s stares. I’ll take it, though. I am enjoying this sense of unpredictability. As we well know, I take pleasure in the oddest of things.


One of our counselors. His name doesn’t matter. Speaks with our teacher. Conversation is fast. Conversation is necessary. I cannot keep my eyes off them. Or…


Our teacher signs to us the most beautiful phrase she has ever produced. ‘Class, we have a new student joining us. Please welcome…’ Our teacher does not have a sign for her name. I do not think one would be available to her even if she wanted to. There is no sign that could properly put into perspective the beautiful being before us.

“Jhene,” the being says.

No taller than 5-foot-1. One hundred pounds might be a stretch. Short haircut, Halle Berry circa 1991. Shy eyes. A baggy long sleeve shirt. Beat up jeans with organized holes in them. Dirty black and white Chuck Taylors. A bag with pins and stickers tossed about its outside, it touches her right knee as it hangs. Avril Lavigne splashed with melanin. Her lips full, but not wide. Her smile, effortless, but I might be guessing. I don’t think she has smiled yet. That might just be me.

She looks my direction. I cannot escape her eye contact. I am entranced by her piercing brown eyes. She flashes a slight smile, a strategic move. Her smile, is indeed, effortless. This beautiful girl before me is everything...

She has me.

Period 6…

I’m pretty sure I went to class. I’m pretty sure I enjoyed it. And I’m pretty sure…